Posted by: John Hall | February 14, 2010

Reflections from China – Huang Shan

This was a gray area in our trip.  Everyone who travels to China seems to go to Huang Shan, but there is surprisingly little information about what to expect when you get there.  Descriptions sound like this, “…archetypal peaks and twisted pines are wreathed in spectral folds of mist, Huang Shan’s idyllic views easily nudge it into the select company of China’s top 10 sights.”  Who wouldn’t want to go?  In fact every one of my wife’s family that have traveled to China has been there too, but still the details were not forthcoming.  We found a vague mention of stairs and packing light but little detailed info like – How far is it from the top of the gondola to the hotel?   Nobody could tell us! Elevation gain, conditions of trails, distance – all seemed to have gotten lost in the ‘spectral folds of mist’. 

Still, we pressed on.  We couldn’t miss one of the top ten sights in China, and so before we left Shanghai I got on the computer and booked our hotel on the top of the mountain.  Staying on the top of the mountain and watching the sunrise is supposed to be an event not to be missed.  On limited information I attempted to pick the hotel that was closest to the top of the gondola.  Then we visited the Shanghai train station to ask questions about where to catch the train and about the tickets before my parent’s arrival.  We felt as prepared as could be expected.   

Our train trip passed pleasantly.  We had a wonderful soft sleeper and met fantastic people on the train who took pleasure in having captive English speakers to practice on.  Just prior to our arrival a few tour operator’s plied the cars selling transportation from the train station to a town close to the mountain.  The deal looked good, we took it and it worked out. They would store our luggage and get us to the base of the mountain.  In addition they informed us that our rolling luggage would not make it up the mountain giving us minutes to repack and downsize to daybags.  On a scale of 1-10 I would rate our panic at that point at about 7.  Overnight clothes, rain jackets, toiletries, Canadian snacks and tea, cameras, and about four pounds of unnecessary equipment got stuffed in bags to go up the mountain. 

Several hours later we arrived at the mountain.  In a light mist we began walking, the peaks were wreathed in clouds, the giant bamboo were swaying gently in a light breeze and it felt like we were entering a scene from a classic Chinese painting.  Soon we arrived at the gondola where we found that the guide book was right about the exorbitant prices for the ride, but not about the crowds.  Apparently the gondola had been upgraded a year earlier and the line-up was non-existent.  Up, up, up through the clouds we rode and eventually topped out at the gondola station where we were faced with two paths – up or down?  We chose down and began the long walk to our hotel.

Even in the clouds the mountain was beautiful with wind blowing the mist through the trees.  Etched into the mountain, the first kilometer or more of the lower path has sheer drops or is totally suspended on beams driven into the mountainside.  Eventually this part of the trail ends and ‘up’ begins.  It was ‘up’ that was our nemesis.  All of us were tired from a restless sleep on the train.  My mom’s knee had been hurt prior to the trip and she required frequent stops, and the rain caused a degree of disappointment in us that seemed to be in stark contrast to the excitement the hordes of camera clicking, loudspeaker toting tour groups exuded as they blocked the path.  Our walk up the mountain became mad dashes to pass tour groups, punctuated by rest that saw the tour group catch us up again. 

It was with great joy that we were told of our close proximity to the hotel.  As I walked those last few steps into the hotel lobby I thought, “O boy! Everything is going to be OK!”  The burden I was feeling for the happiness of our little tour group could finally be laid down.  That’s how I approached the front desk, weary, but with a sense of accomplishment.  I gave them my name and that I had a reservation.  My jaw dropped when the clerk told me that they didn’t have a reservation for ‘Hall’.  I was more than shocked, I was upset – I had paid for the hotel in advance and now I was out the money.  I opened my documents to check the reservation.  Sheepishly I asked, “Is this the Xihai hotel?  “No”, the clerk replied, “Beihai”, she looked amused and pointed down the road.  The groans from everyone when they got up from the plush chairs in the lobby were like daggers in my heart.  (See I’ve learned a thing or two from Chinese drama.)  We reached the hotel about forty minutes later and I’m happy to say had very little in the way of other serious complications. 

I will add, that during our stay the fog never lifted, so for our family the mysteries of Huang Shan will forever remain shrouded in mist.



  1. John, I’m finally back to normal enough to be checking out your blogs. You write so well that I feel myself there in China with you!

  2. Amazing story John, I felt as though I have now been there. I also know the feeling of your group when you have arrived at the wrong hotel! Looking forward to your next post,

    your friend,

    • Thanks Rob, these stories would be better with your pictures.

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