Take a hike

Today, Thursday January 20, 2011, Travel, Page T14 - T16
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Source Website: http://www.todayonline.com/Travel/EDC110120-0000156/Take-a-hike
By Suzanne Ma, travel@mediacorp.com.sg, 05:55 AM Jan 20, 2011

PHOTO: China's Huangshan, awe-inspiring natural wonders
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China's Huangshan and Tiger Leaping Gorge are awe-inspiring natural wonders - especially when seen on foot
Mount Huang, also known as Huangshan (Chinese: 黄山; pinyin: Huángshān; literally "Yellow Mountain"), is in Anhui Province in China. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is famous for its exceptionally beautiful, even legendary, scenery. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular China's major tourist destinations.

Yellow Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge are among China's most popular and significant attractions, akin to the Grand Canyon in the United States. Yellow Mountain, or Huangshan, has been an icon in Chinese culture for centuries; Tiger Leaping Gorge ranks among the deepest gorges in the world.

PHOTO: Huangshan Mountains in Clouds, Huangshan (Yellow Mountains), China

Standing atop Huangshan, silvery wisps of billowing clouds part in front of you to reveal a stunning mountain range of yellow granite. A moment later, the scene changes once again as clouds drift on to unveil a canyon filled with a sea of peaks. This scenery has long inspired poets and painters; most recently, James Cameron who based the fictional Hallelujah Mountains in Avatar on the beauty of Huangshan.

PHOTO: Standing atop Huangshan, a canyon filled with a sea of peaks
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Mountain high
Huangshan is not actually one mountain as its name suggests. It is actually a mountain range spanning 150 sq km in southern Anhui province. These cliffs were formed 100 million years ago when an ancient sea disappeared. During the Ice Age, glaciers carved out more than 70 remarkable peaks, and this beauty is a challenging one to trek on.

There are two routes for the hiker: The western steps (a longer hike with spectacular views) or the eastern steps (shorter but not as striking). Either can be done on a day-long hike or via cable car, and costs 80 yuan ($16)

I rode the eastern cableway up with my baby-boomer parents. The new cable cars, built in Switzerland, are efficient, but you may have to line up with annoying tour groups and their megaphone-wielding guides.

PHOTO: Huangshan is actually a mountain range spanning 150 sq km in southern Anhui province.

On foot, the climb can be a painful pilgrimage. On a different trip with friends, I endured a nine-hour hike up the western steps, stayed overnight at a hotel at the summit, then withstood a nine-hour trek down the eastern steps the next day. I found myself at times practically breathless while trying to admire breathtaking views.

However, thousands of stone steps have been carved into the side of the mountains allowing for a steady, safe climb. There are well-signed maps, as well as public toilets and snack bars along the way. You can pay a porter to help carry your pack up. He can even carry you up for about 430 yuan. Alternatively, purchase a wooden walking stick at the base of the mountain for only 10 yuan - your knees will thank you later.

PHOTO: Mount Huang, also known as Huangshan (Chinese: 黄山; pinyin: Huángshān; literally "Yellow Mountain"), is in Anhui Province in China. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is famous for its exceptionally beautiful, even legendary, scenery. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular China's major tourist destinations.

Keep an eye out for rocks and trees with peculiar names (the signs include English translations): Welcoming Guest Pine, and Mobile Phone Rock.

Stay at least one night at the summit and wake up for the sunrise. Huangshan's best-kept secret may be the hike down the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon. The four-hour route is only for the physically fit though, taking you down steps, up mountain trails, over bridges, through tunnels and offers awesome views without crowds.

PHOTO: Stay at least one night at the summit and wake up for the sunrise - AP
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Valley forge
Tiger Leaping Gorge in the Yunnan province is named for a tiger that is said to have escaped humans by leaping across the fierce waters where the canyon narrows. But you're more likely to encounter donkey manure instead as you breathe the crisp air, gaze at snowcapped mountains and hear the churning, wild waters of the river below.

PHOTO: The trail became an actual river, with ankle deep water and mud rushing over

This is a frontier adventure, and a little donkey dung was not going to stop me, not even on the infamous "24-bend path", a rocky road that spirals upward at least 24 times before reaching flatter terrain.

Local men who rent the donkeys told us we would be too weak to make it all the way up. "Don't put yourself through it. Just hop on," they badgered. But adrenaline and pride goaded me forward, and before I knew it, I had finished the 24th bend.

I had hiked 29km on a rocky trail past cascading waterfalls, and climbed down rugged cliffs on worn but sturdy ladders. In the background were panoramic views of green mountains dotted with humble villages and terraced rice fields.

PHOTO: Suzanne Ma looking up at a cascading waterfall along a rocky trail in Yunnan's Tiger Leaping Gorge. AP Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd
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Extreme caution by hikers is warranted. Half a dozen people have died hiking the dirt trails, which can give way after heavy summer rainfalls. I experienced a near-miss here: I lost my balance and landed precariously in a large bush, the last bit of vegetation before a rocky, vertical drop to the rushing river waters below. My six travel mates scrambled to form a human chain and pulled me up.

PHOTO: The most narrow part of the gorge, where a tiger can easily jump over the Jinsha River

But it was worth it to make it down the gorge (in one piece), stand on the slick boulders and feel the water's power as it rushed past. AP

PHOTO: Tiger Leaping Gorge is a canyon on the Yangtze River or the Golden Sands River, located 60km north of Lijiang, Yunnan.

PHOTO: Covering an area of 250 kilometers, this mountainous landscape features 72 distinct peaks, magnificent rocks, odd-shaped pines and a sea of clouds.

Getting there
You can get information from websites, such as www.chinahighlights.com/huangshan. Buses from Tangkou, the town at the base of Huangshan, run daily to and from major cities like Nanjing and Shanghai.

From Tangkou, you can take a shuttle bus to the mountain entrance. There are hotels on the mountain but book ahead. Entrance fees to the mountain are 200 yuan ($39) for adults, and 60 yuan for students, seniors and children.

Tiger Leaping Gorge
From the city of Lijiang, it is a two-hour bus ride to Qiaotou for 16 yuan, where you can flag a bus or hire a cab to get to the gorge. It is best to travel with a group; solo travellers have been known to be assaulted on the trails.
By Suzanne Ma travel@mediacorp.com.sg, 05:55 AM Jan 20, 2011

PHOTO: Bridge in Anhui Province, China

PHOTO: The Yangtze River, China's longest river and the third longest waterway in the world


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