The yellow mountains were unjustly named. The ‘Mountains of Many Colors’ would be a more appropriate designation. We had mapped out a precise itinerary beforehand but as excited and anxious as we both were, we took wayward routes all over the mountain, letting our instincts guide us to every trail and, consequently, to every peak the land had to offer. The scenery was stunning. The actual mountain rock seemed flawless, streaked downwards on smooth, sprawling surfaces. The hillside and valleys were covered with lush nature, mostly green, yet an autumnal scattering of vibrant red and soft yellow dotting the landscape like freckles on a pale face.
On a perfectly clear, cloudless, sunny day, we didn’t miss a thing. The hike was like nothing we had ever done: the paths and trails just thousands of manmade stairs. We frolicked up and down happily, stunned into a (finally) peaceful silence by the grandeur of the mountain and the perfect weather that had unveiled her in sunshine before us. We were on a seven-hour constant Stairmaster, with a panorama of stunning views to keep us distracted. We inhaled the smells and sights deeply, cleansing our bodies one step at a time. The sun was just beginning to rise and we hurried out of the shadows into the sparkling light that shot out of the rock crevices.
We soon found on our quest that there are two kinds of people in this world: those that carry and those that are carried. The strongest, most determined workers I have ever seen represented the first. These men carried around 300 pounds of weight strapped across their back on bamboo sticks, up and down the entire mountain. We were told that some make eight trips throughout the day. Whenever we saw the small sprightly men coming with their fruit, meat, gravel, trash, or slabs of granite, we always jumped to the sides to give way and marvel at such strength. And then, there is the latter: the ones being carried (for a small price) in a throne-like chair supported by two men, up the entire mountain like an emperor escorted through his city. Summer and I were a happy medium on our own two feet.
That being said, Summer and I consider ourselves very happy people. Some might even call us jolly and chipper—not that anyone ever has. However, when we learned that we were female, tall and lanky versions of Santa Claus, we were astounded. Without including the random passerbys who were our unofficial tag team of paparazzi, a tour group of about twenty Asians all came scurrying over during our lunch break (i.e. sitting on a rock eating sandwiches) and took turns posing with us while their friends eagerly snapped away. It was an impatient queue and each recipient waited until it was their turn with the ‘whities’ who would smile in the face of any lens. We should have started charging…
Somewhere on about hour five, we realized we did not bring enough money, (notice a trend forming) and because there were not countless ATMs plastered atop the mountainside, we could not pay for the gondola ride down the last eight kilometers to the bottom. We were forced to walk down about a million stairs—a rough estimate. With our knees crumbling and our backs breaking, we had to ‘crab walk’ down: legs bent out awkwardly to the sides, arms stretched in front for balance, palms up, feet splayed out at a 45 degree angle, in order to crouch down each step. It looked hopelessly ridiculous. But we made it! And were humbled and exalted by every second on Huangshan. (Even by the loose and comical translations that instructed us to “stop climbing”).