I woke up a bit before my alarm went off at 7, probably a lingering effect of yesterday. I got on my computer for the hour that I had, and made some progress at both a math problem, and some programming. I went down to some breakfast of porridge, some preserved vegetables, and hard boiled eggs. Enough to sustain life. Some of the kids were worried about the mountain and paid for extra bread that they packaged up to take with them.
My backpack had a beanie, my camera, a couple bottles of water, a two pack of muffins I picked up at the supermarket, and random stuff I haven’t bothered to take out.
After breakfast we got in our normal bus and drove the 5 minutes to the base of the mountain, something that probably could have been walked, but we were a tour group after all. We stopped in a parking lot, which was the end of where civilian vehicles could drive, we went through a metal detector, and showed our entrance tickets, and then were taken to another bus to take us to the gondola. That bus went up a good 20 or 30 minutes on a winding two lane road, the only traffic were other identical busses coming down past us.
At the gondola we had to walk for a bit past stalls selling walking sticks and sweatshirts. I just had on a t-shirt and shorts, and it was a bit nippy, but I wasn’t that worried. I did get some sunscreen from steven, since it looked like it was going to be another hot day. The line for the gondola wasn’t ridiculous, probably less even than it is a whistler sometimes, and the gondola looked much newer than the one from earlier on the trip.
We got up to the top to some beautiful scenery, and me and jeremy bid farewell to the group. I guess I didn’t write about this yesterday, since it happened pretty late, I ended up talking for a while with Prof. Wang to figure out what we could do. I wrote out a liability release saying that I was aware of any dangers of separating from the group, and would pay for additional costs. I then grabbed jeremy and had him do the same, and we talked with Prof. wang about where we would go. She recommended an area past where the down terminal to the gondola was. (three gondolas in the area, two parallel that we rode up, one that we rode down, and a cable car that goes to some other settlement that’s completely in the middle of nowhere.) The area recommended was called the fishes back, and was apparently a big exposed rock face that you would climb up with indented holes and a chain, she warned that it might be crowded though.
We got up, not really knowing what we would do, the maps we were given really weren’t very good, and seemed to partially show some of the trials that existed, but were more for decoration that guidance.
We started out on the main drag, exiting the gondola. and there were people everywhere. We walked out for a bit and there was an overlook and we took some pictures. Of note was that the path was new, very even steps and platforms the whole way, and there was always a guardrail of cement shaped and painted to look like logs.
We headed north, and eventually the crowd thinned a bit. The pavement was still new and even, but we weren’t in quite the majestic area as before and so not on the main drag. We passed several hotels, Prof. Wang had said that in the event that we couldn’t make it down and were stuck on the mountain after 6pm we should find a hotel rather than try and get down. The hotels looked very nice, they also had a camping option, possibly specifically since this was the national holiday week. The basketball court in one was filled with numbered tents, and another had pitched tents in a garden in front of it. Not exactly what we would call the wilderness experience. There were also many gift shops and restaurants along the way.
We started following signs at the forks to something called the north gate to the grand canyon, which sounded interesting. The crowd continued to thin but there were still people all around. Eventually we came to a smaller turn off called purple cloud peak, that looked deserted so we decided to take that. The stairs were older on that path, and we didn’t see anyone else besides a cleaning lady coming down. (china has janitors for their national parks, also fire hydrants and trash cans.) At the top of the ridge there was a wonderful view of the valley we’d been in. Across from us was one of the hotels we passed, and above it was a dam holding a large lake. The fog started to descend as we continued up the ridge, over a little bridge, and we finally saw some other tourists taking pictures. Continuing to what looked like the final bump, we got most of the way up to be stopped by a sign saying that the peak was closed by restoration. (and by sign I mean a big chain link fence across the whole path and extending in both directions.) Probably why there were so few people.
We went down a different way than we came up, and ended up quite near the northern cable car terminal. (the one that goes to some town that doesn’t appear to link to anything.) It was only 10am, and so the park as we understood it was much smaller than we had been led to believe, since we’d seen a quarter or so, and it seemed strange that the short path the main group was taking was really 20km.
We continued past the cable car after wandering around to figure out where the path continued and ending up at the employee dorm. The path was new again, and mostly stairs down as we entered the grand canyon area. These were some of the best views we got all day, the path was on pure cliff a lot of the time, and you could see the steps wind all the way down to the valley floor. The grand canyon appeared to be an area that you could go down and up, we weren’t quite ready for that, so after looking around and seeing the stuff that didn’t require dropping down too far, we headed back.
This whole area didn’t have that many people, there were people everywhere of course, but there was always plenty of free space, and you could easily pass anyone going slowly.
We walked back to where we’d entered that trail, and headed towards one of the main attractions (bright light peak or some such.) The lines weren’t too bad getting there either although we got stuck behind tour groups a couple times. (i’m alluding to this point a lot, it gets better). at about lunch time we ended up there, the fog had settled by this point, and most of the upper mountain was shrouded in thick fog, masking the views. We met up with the main group at that point purely by accident, they were heading on their path and we were planning to stop there to eat some lunch. We didn’t really talk to them except to say where we’d been and they were quite impressed at how far we’d gone.
After lunch (we sat at one of the observation points and looked at fog, then some chinese guys came by and we talked to them for a while) we continued on the main path. It was pretty crowded, and we ducked out to try our luck at the other entrance to the canyon. That is, heading to the other ridge that the path come back up to, that showed a bridge and another attraction on our map. That trip was about 3km out to the bridge, which was spectacular. Again, the path was much older than on the main road, and there were many fewer people. We stopped at the bridge for a while, snacked and had water, and then made the return journey (uphill this time so a bit longer) by 1:45 ish.
From here, the only real option was to go to the cable car, on the other side of it was the fish back area, and the only mountain between us and that station was closed for restoration. Another interesting thing is that heading out we passed a construction site for a new eco-hotel. The picture on the blue tin wall that blocks all construction sites in china had grass growing on the roof, and looked very integrated into the hill side. On the other side of the trail were a bunch of laborers with chisels and hammers turing blocks of concrete into fake logs. (chiseling the wood grooves into the concrete pillars.) it didn’t look like they had the best jobs in the world.
We headed down the main trail next, and were quickly stopped by the fact that nobody else was moving. We continued in this way for the next 4 hours. (that is, it took 4 hour to go the 1km or so to the cable car) The path was nice, is suppose, but there was a constant full press of people, between 6 and 2 wide at all times. At the point where we got to the turnout for the fish back mountain it was already 4 ish so we decided to just grab the gondola down. We called the main group, and they were saying that they were going to walk down, since they’d been told there was a 4 hour wait for the gondola, and it was four hours to walk down. (note as to where the line starts, and the conversation happened. The conversation happened when we were in the official line and had about an hour left to wait. The actual line started about a km earlier, but there wasn’t a designated lane for us to cram into until after the turnoff to go down by walking or over to the fish back place.)
I mentioned the weather earlier, I guess this is a decent part to mention it again. The whole upper mountain was fogged in for this whole time, so past the fake cement tree railing there was just fog. I put on my beanie and was a bit chilly in just shorts and t-shirt, but it wasn’t that bad. There were many many chinese people around of course, all in large winter jackets, who unanimously looked concerned and asked me how I could be not cold. By the end I kind of wished I’d brought my jacket.
We came down at just about 6pm, and the professors had just reached the bottom and waited for us at the bottom terminal. We took a bus down to where we’d gotten on, (longer since it was coming from a different gondola) and walked back to the hotel. Prof. wang was right that it got dark at 6, because it was light coming down the gondola, but definitely night by the time we finished the bus ride.
There was it turned out many confusions in the main group, and I’m glad we did what we did. It sounded like they stayed on the main drag for the whole time, and really didn’t see much. They got split up into several group, one of which didn’t have phones and was worrying to the profs. Additionally the tour guides were quite unhelpful and didn’t tell the profs of any of the places that weren’t on the main drag or under the cloud level.
We got back, dropped our stuff and went out to dinner with the main group. This was probably a mistake, and I should have rested and gotten food on my own, especially since it was national holiday and so all the restaurants were in full gear to get as many people through as possible. Me and steven got tasked ordering, and eventually got through 8 dishes. (It’s a pain when multiple people are doing it, some people were requesting spicy food, he was only ordering non spicy because he didn’t like spicy food,… etc.) At the end I left my portion of the bill with jeremy and left, leaving the others to squabble and try to get a discount because the food had taken too long.
I came back to the room, and rested for a bit. Had some tea, finished up the programming I started this morning, wrote this. I’ll probably go to sleep pretty soon, I’m pretty tired. I took at least a hundred pictures today, we’ll see how successful I am at finding a good way to post them online.