Stuff I Know

Just stuff by me about me and my life, such as it is.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Of Mountains and Men

In my life, I think I have encountered three main philosophies for when it comes to people and climbing mountains.

In the west (America,let's stick to what I know) the general philosophy is to leave well enough alone. Leave the mountain in as much a pristine state as possible. We really only build trails so as to keep people on a path and keep them from wandering wherever they may choose and causing too much damage to the rest of the wilderness. If you are able to get up the mountain, however difficult the terrain may be, then congratulations. Good for you!

In Korea, it seems to me, the idea is to make the mountain more accessible to the general public. Since there are fewer mountains and maybe more of the general public climbing them, then this makes a bit of sense. Build some steps into the trail now and then. Add a hand-rope where the trail may be steep. Even add a few stairs now and then. OK, maybe you are taking away a bit from the "naturalness" of the hike into the mountains, but as I said, this is understandable.

In China though, to me, the philosophy seems to be one of ... "A mountain? Then we must conquer it. Let us build a concrete covered path. When the trail becomes steep we must haul up granite and cement and build stairs. Better yet, let us carve steps into the very granite of the mountain itself. Let us create paths on the sheer rock face where no path should even exist. And when we get to the top? Let us plunk down several hotels, not heeding the fact that water at the top of a mountain is rather hard to come by. But wait, what about those who feel they don't want to climb the stairs? Then let us build cable cars and tramways to haul those people, and many more, to the top."

I generally like my mountains in the more natural state, but when in Rome ... So I climbed Ht. Hua, one of the 5 (?) sacred mountains in China. No, I didn't use the cable car.

It had been cloudy for days, so I didn't expect to see too much when climbing, even though I had read that the climb up was one of the best parts. The climb started nice, in a temple, but then sure enough, I was walking into clouds. You probably couldn't see more than a hundred meters or so in front of you on the trail, and even less if you looked off the trail to see the mountains that were supposedly just across the valley.There was some nice scenery now and then, though.

The hike was nice, until it came to the stairs. Oh sure the trail was still nice, but with a total length of about six kilometers, the last two being nearly all stairs, one's legs can become a bit tired. Stairs may be a shorter way up the mountain, but a nice trail with a bunch of switchbacks is certainly easier on the legs and knees.

Two kilometers of stairs, can you imagine that? I don't have to anymore. But I must say, getting to the top and seeing the scenery was worth the climb. The top of the mountain, at least what I could see from time to time, with its five peaks, was very dramatic. I spent the night up there hoping the next morning would be better. Other people do the same apparently hoping to see the sunrise. I had no such expectations, so my hopes were not dashed when the next morning also brought clouds.

But though the sunrise had come and gone, the clouds did eventually move. Actually, two layers were created. There was still a layer of haze above the peaks, but the majority of clouds were now below the peaks. So for a while, I was in a sea of clouds.

Despite the growing ache in my legs, I scrambled up and down the peaks, around ledges, and across rather precipitous ridges. I was about to head back down when I realized there was still one of the five peaks I had yet to summit, I couldn't leave with just one peak unclimbed, so it was back up, down, up and then down again.

By that time I knew I should be heading back down the mountain. I was a bit worried about how long it would take, so I walked over to the cable car station to see how much it would cost to go down. Sixty yuan(about $8 US)!! They must be crazy. I figured I had enough time to get down the mountain, especially if I took the other trail down. Besides, this would add more conquered trail under my belt. Down into the clouds.

About halfway down this trail, again at least two kilometers or more of stairs, I began to wonder if I had my priorities screwed up. I wouldn't pay 60 yuan to save myself some time and future pain, but I would spend 20 yuan to buy a Big Mac meal. Hmmmm?

Anyway, I made it down the mountain, opted for the bus for the 8 km road back to the main road, found a bus back into town and rested well that night. But damn did I feel that hike the next day. And the next. And still. Interesting how muscles you didn't even know you had can ache so much. My right Achilles' tendon is a bit swollen, still, and a bit painful to walk on. But it will get better. And I climbed the mountain, up and down. Me, with my own legs. Everyone else I saw up there were obviously cable car riders.

Enjoy the pictures.

(You can click the above image to see all the pictures and see where they were taken.)

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At 6:57 AM, Blogger SuzieQ501 said...

Those are some tiny steps! Looks like the cloudy/misty sunrise was just as beautiful as a sunny one.


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