© Christopher Earls Brennen

Hike E2. Huang Shan


Perhaps the most visited of the five sacred mountains of China, the precipitous, multi-peaked Yellow Mountains in Anhui Province of China are a spectacular wonderland of mist and cliffs and forest. It is said that in most mountain ranges one is drawn to look up; however, in Huangshan (Chinese for Yellow Mountain) one is drawn to look down. The mountains are believed to have acquired that name through association with the legendary emporer Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor), the mythological ancestor of the Han Chinese. The name Huangshan is attributed to Chinese poet Li Bai. Before 747AD the mountains were little-known and relatively inaccessible. But the name change seemed to increase the visitation and many temples were established there.

Nowadays, because of their relative proximity to major populations in eastern China, Huangshan is a very popular tourist destination and is witness to huge crowds of people anxious to ascend the cable cars and reach the spectacular views from the precipitous trails that wind through the high peaks. It is not a sensible idea to try to visit Huangshan during a holiday or weekend; even during a weekday you need to schedule your visit so as to avoid the rush hour of the morning ascent. Up on top you may still have to contend with crowded trails. In former times many of the trails used ``plank walks'' to negotiate steep cliff sections; those plank walks have almost all been replaced by concrete structures firmly attached to the cliff walls and bounded by stout concrete railings. Despite all these inconveniences this is a spectacular place with magnificent views that are well worth the trouble to access them. Several advisories for non-Chinese. First, few non-Chinese manage to get to Huangshan and so very few of the guides or other employees speak any language other than Chinese which makes it a difficult venue to manage without a Chinese-speaking companion. Second, it is advisable to book hotel rooms on the mountain well ahead of your visit; the Beihei hotel is my recommendation for non-Chinese.


On Aug.13, 2015, my guide (graduate student Zhiyuan Ren) and I flew from Shanghai (Hongqiao Airport) to Huangshan City (Tunxi Airport) on board Shanghai Airlines flight FM9267, leaving Shanghai at 14.20 and arriving an hour later at Tunxi in southern Anhui province. The name Huangshan means ``Yellow Mountains'' even though the city is some distance from the mountains of that name; the modern Huangshan City was known as Huizhou prior to 1988. From the airport it was a short, 20min taxi ride into the city where we booked into the Old Street Hotel in old Huangsan City at the intersection of Huashan Road and Yan'an Road and close to the confluence of the Hengjiang and Xin'an rivers. We spent the remainder of the afternoon strolling along the old street in Huangshan City which is famous for its writing equipment - the old street was lined with shops selling pens and paper and the raw materials for making inks. Then we took a taxi across the city into the surrounding hills to ``Ravishing Hot Springs'' (elevation 1240ft) where we sampled several of the many hot spring baths (indoor and outdoor) some flavored for example by milk, or tea or coffee. Then back into the city for a western meal at Pizza Hut.

Hanging trail near White Goose Ridge  Beihei Hotel from Black Tiger Pine

The next morning the tour bus and the tour guide (Miss Qian from the tour company Ctrip) collected us from the hotel at 8.00am. The bus ride to the Hungshan or Yellow Mountains took a little over an hour for the bus to travel the 70 km past many green tea plantations to the Travel Center (at 30o4.05'N 118o10.25'E and 1472 ft elevation) at the base of the mountains. This is a frentic place filled with buses and tour guides trying to shepherd their groups and buy the neccessary tickets. We then queued for the bus to the base station for the Yungu (or Cloud Valley) Cable Car, a distance of some 4.3 mi from the Travel Center through a valley filled with hotels, tourist shops and restaurants. At the Yungu Cable Car Base Station (30o7.267'N 118o11.644'E and elevation 2980 ft) we encountered a massive queue winding back and forth in the open space below the base station and it was 2 hrs before we stepped into one of the cable cars. As we rose past numerous sand-colored pinnacles we alternated between drifting through thick mist and awesome views of the cliffs and valleys below. However, at the top, the White Goose Ridge Station only appeared through the mist at the last moment and we had to hurry to disembark. This upper station of the Yungu cable car is at about 5488 ft elevation and near the White Goose Hotel at 30o8.211'N 118o10.238'E. Once assembled Miss Qian led us on our first tour of the high peaks, up and down steep concrete stairways some hanging from the face of vertical cliffs but with spectacular views through the mists of nearly pinnacles and deep ravines. Here the views were almost all out to our right, toward the east. We paused to take in the view at "Beginning to Believe Peak" (0.5 mi from the start) and at "Flowers blooming on the Brush Tip" (0.8 mi from the start) while the mist came and went much as we had been expecting. Eventually we came to a saddle above an interior valley pocket and in that pocket we could see the Beihei Hotel (North Sea Guesthouse at 5348 ft and 30o8.621'N 118o9.985'E and 1.0 mi from the start, our destination for the night. It was good to check in and know that we had a refuge among all the crowds but we also wanted to see as much as we could. Therefore we quickly resumed our roaming by heading along the trail north to "Refreshing Terrace" (5272 ft) in the direction of Lion Peak. We passed several viewpoints with reputedly famous views but where the mist blocked everything. Eventually we climbed to Lion Peak (5407 ft and 1.1 mi from the start) where the stone ``monkey'' on a nearby peak was barely visible through the clouds. But, as we waited, something magical happened. Gradually the mists shifted until the most spectacular vista revealed itself with the ``monkey'' surveying a truly grand domain that belied the name of the viewpoint, ``Monkey looking over a sea of clouds''.

Monkey watching the sea in clouds  Monkey watching the sea when the clouds lifted

We lingered there on Lion Peak watching the scenery shift with the mists until, eventually it was time to return to the hotel and our evening meal. We realized we had been fortunate. And, indeed, as things turned out, it was our best moment on Huangshan but so spectacular that it was alone worth the trip to this special place.

After a pleasant night and a rudimentary breakfast, we assembled once again at 7.30am at the front of the Beihei Hotel where Miss Qian led us off on our second day of hiking. This began with a long and arduous climb of 2.3 mi up concrete steps to Guang Ming Ding peak (Bright Light Peak) at an elevation of 6037 ft but, unfortunately, in an unremitting fog bank. Nevertheless a large crowd of hikers hung around in the vain hope of a break in the clouds. Some sampled the offerings at the collection of food shops on the summit in a structure whose roof also served, reputedly, as a helicopter pad. Apparently the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had made a visit some years before but his helicopter had been unable to land on that specially prepared pad because of the lack of visibility. We lingered awhile in the hope that the mists would clear but eventually realized that was hopeless and continued our hike down through the mist to a large resting place at about 5740 ft where it started to pour with rain. We learnt that one of our group had fallen and Miss Qian would have to see to his rescue. Thus we were instructed to make our own way down to the Baiyun or Jade Screen Hotel (30o7.932'N 118o9.846'E and elevation 5643 ft and 4.2 mi from the previous day start) near the Yuping or "Jade Screen" cable car station just below the hotel at 5333 ft. It was a long and very crowded descent but the mists began to clear as we reached lower elevations and we enjoyed some more great views. The Baiyun or "Jade Screen" Hotel rest area was jammed with hikers; indeed we were constrained to a long queue for the last mile or so of the approach and we had a long wait before the rest of our group showed up. It was a long and very crowded descent but the mists began to clear as we reached lower elevations and we enjoyed some more great views.

Descending toward Jade Screen Station (note line in back as well)

Eventually we were gathered and made our way down to the upper station of the "Yuping" or Jade Screen cable way at an elevation of about 5420 ft. After a relatively brief wait we were on our way down and arrived at the Mercy Light Base Station (at 30o6.294'N 118o10.377'E and 2740 ft) at about noon.

The rest of the trip was routine. We caught the bus for the brief trip from the Mercy Light Station to the Travel Center where we were treated to lunch before the bus ride back to Huangshan City. There Zhiyuan Ren and I had a long wait before our late night flight back to Shanghai and idled away some of the time at Pizza Hut where I (for one) enjoyed fueling up on western food. Eventually we caught a taxi to Tunxi airport and the 22.30 Shanghai Airlines flight FM9268 back to Shanghai Hongqiao Airport.

It was a great trip to a spectacular place that few non-Chinese venture to see and I am very grateful to my Chinese host Professor Hua Liu of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and my patient and friendly guide Zhiyuan Ren for the opportunity to enjoy it.

Last updated 9/10/15.

Christopher E. Brennen