We woke up at 4AM, cleaned up camp, and had a light breakfast. I felt surprisingly rested and never woke up in the middle of the night due to the cold. We began making our way. It was all concrete and stone steps on this mountain. Accompanied by the bitter cold and the piercing wind, the climb to East Peak with my pack (East Peak is known as the best peak for the sunrise) was my knee’s first true test. Just a few days earlier, I spent one of my days in Shanghai walking/standing for 7-8 hours straight. My knee was sore, but not in pain. Now this climb was the REAL deal. I rest of my body wasn’t in proper shape either, since I could not train, given the bad knee and wrist. In the Lord of the Rings series (nerd alert), Frodo, Samwise, and Smeagol climb a dark, treacherous pass that takes them up a towering flight of stairs (The Stairs of Cirith Ungol). Well, the climb up this ridge line closely resembled that.
We reached the peak and we all threw on an extra jacket as we waited in eager anticipation for the sunrise. Apparently, the tourism to Hua Shan brings in swarms of people. In my opinion, there were still too many people, but the cold during this time of the year kept most people at bay. The darkness slowly retreated as the first light of dawn crept in, but the clouds blocked the sun. When it became evident that we won’t see the sun, we began our descent to South Peak. However, within 20 minutes of our climb down, the clouds made way for the spectacular radiance of the sun…and it was absolutely breathtaking.
Before reaching South Peak, we stopped for a second, heartier breakfast. It consisted of a delicious honey oatmeal, the yogurt that I loved so much, and some dumplings. The hot oatmeal was a godsend. The warmth in my belly made the frigid conditions so much more bearable.
On the way to South Peak, we stopped by the plank path that is mounted off the face of a mountain. This was the main reason I wanted to come to Hua Shan. The plank is just over one foot wide, and if you were foolish enough to carelessly slip and fall, it’s apparently a 5,000 foot plunge to your death. I decided to call it the Heavenly Plank, just because it’s so high up. But I realized the exact inverse can be true as well…the Plank from Hell. Guess it all depends on a person’s affinity or dismay for heights. Hahah. We have a chest harness to give us some security, but a Polish climber that joined us between peaks said that the aged and rusted steel wires that we clip onto were insufficient in terms of security. I have never gone skydiving or bungee jumping, but I would imagine this was probably a resembling exhilaration. Alternating between wooden planks and carved grooves along the cliff for footing, we arrived at a humble temple. Since it was a dead end, we had to make the same trip back. Since it’s such a narrow plank for people to travel both ways, the more daring person had to walk around the edge of the plank while the other clung to the wall of the cliff. We then proceeded to the climb to South Peak.
The view from South Peak provided a view to a completely different set of mountains. There was a ring of mountains that made it seem like a massive volcano.
We then proceeded to West Peak. We were granted with another great view, but it was probably the weakest among all the peaks. My knee began acting up just before the summit of West Peak. I could tell that if I kept going, my knee was going to experience sharp pain. The relief that there was a cable car that takes people down the mountain from West Peak quickly evaporated when I found out my roundtrip ticket was invalid for West Peak. We ate lunch at the base of West Peak, in between the West and North. We were all facing Central Peak, the only one we didn’t climb. We all agreed the mountain looked like the back of a turtle, ready to move at any time.
Klaas gave me one of his two knee compression braces to use to return to North Peak. Klaas always used two knee braces and two trekking sticks when he had rigorous walking/hiking to do. He used these as a preventative measure. He thinks he did some permanent damage to his knees in an event in Belgium a few years back. The event consisted of covering 100 km on foot in 24 hours. His girlfriend Analese had to pick him up when he could no longer go on at about 94 km. He intends to give it another shot one day.
So with the knee brace and a trekking stick with my one good hand, I did my best to pace myself and protect my knee. It was a long descent and climb back to North Peak. I did not realize how much I climbed to go to East Peak since it was pitch dark. Slowly but surely, I made it to North Peak. I felt very grateful to Andreu. I think he was the most fit and capable, but he always moved with me.
I took the same cable car back down. I can understand why Hua Shan is a sacred mountain…it was truly something else. The three others took the Soldier’s Path, which follows along the same route as the cable car. It is insanely steep, but a much faster route than the trail they used to climb up. About 4 hours versus 2 hours. Since this path fell in the valley of two mountains, they said they were able to experience the true grandeur of the mountains.
As much as I wanted to hike everything like them, I had to accept my body’s current limitations. I could not afford to overexert myself into another injury. I had many more mountains to climb after all.