• Josh Garman

The mountains that changed my life (Part 2)

Updated: Apr 4, 2020

These mountains have always been in my mind and since the last blog I wrote I have been desperate to finish this story! So let’s get back into it, I’ve journeyed across China from Shanghai to reach the yellow mountains and have made the decision to walk.

I was visiting China in a time where there wasn’t a lot of tourists about. This being China there was still a lot of people around but out here in the mountains the body count dropped significantly. Due to this I appeared to be the only one interested in walking as I followed the signs for the footpath. In hindsight I now know that it was actually due to the window of opportunity I had to actually reach the top. I arrived late in the morning meaning I would have a lot of hiking to do if I was to not get stranded in the dark. I carried with me a small bright white backpack with some simple gear I would need for the next few days. I paid an entry fee at the base of the mountain which I tried to not let myself get annoyed by. China after all loves to capitalise on any tourist opportunity they can.

Once through a tacky turnstile I was in nature, I sat down at the base of a long set of winding steps and checked over my bag and stretched off after the many long bus journeys. While I sat there I noticed two other people coming through the gate. They were a young Russian couple and I was immediately excited at the opportunity of meeting other travellers. The man had a big build carrying on his back a large backpack with a camping mat attached to the top. My first thoughts were that if I got into any trouble these two looked like they would know what to do.

It’s been a couple years since the trip now writing the story so I am unsure as to how we began conversation but after talking for a little while at the base of the steps, learning that we all spoke English. We decided to head up the mountain together and began walking up the many stairs that lay before us. Mount Huangshan is a serious mountain but there isn’t any climbing involved, it’s much more hiking based. I’m not sure how old the steps were but they ran all the way up the mountain. Your eye could make them out off in the distance, they stretched up into the trees and it gave the mountain a huge sense of scale. I must confess I was quite unfit at the time and I think having someone with me to talk to made a difference. We chatted away and exchanged questions of each other’s cultures, the time faded away and the scenes got more beautiful.

We were the only people heading up the mountain and didn’t see a single other person going the same direction as us. As we got higher up little Chinese men worked their way down the endless steps carrying rubbish down from the top. They had a wooden bar that sat across their shoulders. Either side of the bar hung huge packages of rubbish and cardboard, the weight must have been unbearable. They hobbled down one foot after another for hours and I suddenly felt much better about the little backpack I was carrying. The journey was incredible and it was made better by the contrast I had from life in the city. The air seemed so clean, the mountain seemed completely open to nature.

As we rose higher pumping our legs over the great stairs we would stop and gaze back to see how high we had come. Each time we began to be filled with excitement, the view was breath-taking and very distracting. Once stopped you could very easily sit there admiring this well earned panorama and forget about getting to the top. Together in high spirits we kept going on our way up and up. I had great company who were as adventurous as I, unbelievable views and a large supply of my favourite Chinese mango buns. Life was perfect. Around halfway up I could see the cable car running up the side of part of the mountain. I think with high speed it is supposed to take less than 3 minutes to reach it’s destination. With calves that felt that they were on fire I chuckled to myself, why would someone want to miss out on this beauty? Walking made so much sense to me and I always feel that on an adventure I don’t like it if there is no challenge. If I drive to a viewpoint it almost doesn’t interest me, I feel somewhat disappointed and lack euphoria. But if I’ve hiked for 8 hours, through forests, rivers and over mountains I look out with great satisfaction. I’ve earned the view, through my hard work I can experience something far more rewarding.

After a long day of trekking we had made it to where we were staying. I learned as we headed up that the others had planned to camp if possible but with the temperature rapidly dropping they choose to stay in the same place I had planned on. We headed up to our rooms and planned to meet for dinner exhausted. After a hot shower I headed down to meet them, the time was now late around 9pm and I hadn’t slept in a long time. I hobbled in with a grin across my face, I was hurting but the experience had brought me joy. The thought of food was now bringing me even more happiness. In a large room we headed over to a buffet and loaded our plates with food. I piled high rice, and all manner of different dumplings. But there was one thing I didn’t expect! Out here in the middle of nowhere, high up on a mountain. They had SMILEY FACES. I couldn’t believe my luck, how do they even know what smiley faces are? These smiling potatoes were a stable for pretty much every kid in England growing up and I couldn’t do anything but smile back at them. We talked over our day and made a plan for tomorrow. We intended to wake up at 4am to see the sunrise over the mountains. The sun was going to rise at around 5am so we wanted to head out and find a spot before anyone else had the same idea, we looked at a map of the mountain and thought where would be best to see it. After more chatting and a lot more eating we returned to our room to get some well needed sleep.

I however with my Shanghai lifestyle habits didn’t get off to sleep until about 12pm knowing that I would only have 4hours of sleep ahead of me. I slept fully clothed as the room was freezing and in my hat and gloves drifted off.

*RING RING* I abruptly woke up to someone calling me. Who on earth would be calling me at 2.30am! I was about to murder the person on the other end of the phone, I crept out of bed with a shiver over to my phone. It was a phone call from England, now what could this be? My dad was calling. I rang back straight away to see what was going on expecting the worse.

At the time I was really into aquariums, I had kept fish for a few years and it had really taken over my life (as well as my parents’ house.) The first room you enter in my parents’ house contained a huge fish tank. My dad, a couple of good friends and I had picked it up from Manchester to house some new fish. We drove 4 hours there and 4 hours back to collect this free tank. Why travel so far? The tank was huge. Not just your little home fish tank but more like opening your own aquarium, containing over 1000 litres of water and taking over the entire room. Beneath it were two huge noisy filters whirring away to clean the water. Inside I had a wide variety of river fish which I had begun to love. I had top dwelling river fish called arowana, as well as a shoal of large silver fish and my all-time favourite stingrays.

Freshwater stingray had been my favourite for a long time, all black with white spots. As I have got older I no longer have fish and realise that no one should really be allowed to keep river fish. They are just too big and should be left alone in their natural habitat. This being said the tank was huge and the huge volume of water sat precariously on our wooden beamed floor. The call I received during these early hours of the morning was to tell me the tank had cracked. An amount of water weighing equal to a ton was now pouring into my parents house and there was nowhere to move these river monsters to. In dazed confusion I desperately tried to come up with a solution. What could hold these creatures, I panicked. After some thought it hit me. In the shed at the bottom of the garden we had an old inflatable hot tub that no longer worked but still could hold water. My dad worked away into the night, brought the hot tub inside the conservatory of the house and moved the fish into their new home. My parents now had a stingray tub in the house, I’m guessing the neighbours thought we were making it up.

Crisis over I sat amazed staring at my ceiling and went back to sleep for a further 30 minutes before my alarm. Feeling in no way rested I got out of bed and headed straight out the door. Being fully dressed made this a lot easier but in my sleep state if I was naked I still probably would of headed out anyway without realising. With my fear of lifts I took the stairs and met the others at the check in desk. As we emerged from the door the cold hit me, my cartoon like expression was noticed as I attempted to cope with my new surroundings. Torch in hand we headed to one of the pavilions to witness the sun coming up. Here we sat and waited gradually waking. A perfect spot was secured looking out across a huge expanse barely visible in the moonlight. Over the next half an hour others began to stir and sit next to us in our new found spot. Greatly glad at heading out early we patiently waited. I checked my compass and cast my eyes to a set of peaks off into the distance. They resembled large stacks of rocks, they had a defined pointy shape reaching ever upwards. As the dark started to fade away the sun began to peak above the mountain heights. It slowly crept up and around me people were fixated, audibly announcing their satisfaction at what they were seeing. I decided to move to another location and film a time-lapse among others with more serious camera equipment set ups.

The day had begun and there was so much to see. I knew I had only come to China for 10 days and this meant I had very limited time for what I was doing. In this way I regretted how little time I had in the mountains. I had afforded myself only one day once I had arrived at the top. This new day had begun and I had until the afternoon before I had to head back and get a train to the city again. Together we began to explore the vast expanse of the mountain as much as we could. We climbed evermore stairs to peaks of outstanding beauty. My favourite by far was called ‘monkey gazing over a sea of clouds’ where a rock perfectly monkey shaped looked out into the distance. Around it’s feet mist surrounded and it appeared to be floating above the clouds. As I took some selfies trying not to tumble to my death I looked out one final time at this beautiful landscape. I definitely should of allowed more time for this incredible place but even this brief experience of really only one small part of the mountain was enough to take hold of me. As I looked over the edge at the view I made a mental note. This is what I love. I think without realising it that was the start of my desire to travel and would change the course of where I was heading. In that way I found immense beauty in another country and wanted to see more. I parted with my amazing new friends and began heading away from the mountain.

As I left, many groups of Chinese wanted to get photos with me. They took selfies on my route as they rarely see westerners. I headed back with a beaming smile. My first solo trip abroad was over. I had chosen China which was by far not the easiest place to start. However I had fallen in love with this strange country and it’s people. It was time to head home. It was time to start planning the next trip…

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