This is an important post from my travel blog from my China trip in 2006.
6990 steps + km of walking + 1545 m mountain (well, almost) + 30-35 degrees celcius = one tired & sweaty Linus… But eventually I made it all the way up to the peak of China’s holiest of holy mountains, Tai Shan.Me, Rosie and her “brother” (acutally real, that is on father’s side, cousin) Long took the bus from Caoxian early in the morning to Tai’an, the city on the foot of Tai Shan and after 5 hours or so we found ourselves standing at the base of the looming mountain. We had filled our backpacks with water and supplies and we had our experienced Tai Shan climber, Rosie, equipped with a map of the summit. Climbing Tai Shan is basically divided into two sections, one section up to “Midway Gate to Heaven” and one section up to “South Gate to Heaven”. The first bit I found was pretty comfortable, even though my t-shirt got completely soaked by all the sweat (my body really doesn’t know how to handle this heat ;)). The other section was OK up to we had about 1600 steps left and the “Ladder to Heaven” began (the incline become steeper and steeper) my energy started to wear out and every step was a challenge. Eventually though, with the help of some expensive Red Bull (€1 a can!) and some gathering of motivation from a group of soldiers we met I made it up all the way, The Tai Shan area is truly beautiful and quite unspoiled by man (Tai’an being pretty clean for a chinese city) and there were no heavy air pollution, as could have been. The scenery on the way up goes from being spectacular views to lush forest to 1000 year old temples to beautiful calligraphy, within a few hundered steps or so.
Tai Shan is probably the largest open-air exhibit of calligraphy, with each and every famous person, read royal, priests or Mao, (dating back a few thousand years) putting their mark by having a poem, short word-game or notice inscribed onto a stone on the way up. These range from small inscriptions just by the way to a great big ones high up on cliffs. Of course, the meaning and the puns were all lost on me (not being able to read classical chinese) but I could enjoy an alternate, uinofficla exhibition – the one of funny english translations. For some reason, they can never really get it right (that is, they never hire professional translators) and tourist signs, maps, etc .etc. always have some of the most funny english translations (see my photos for some great examples).
I would greatly have regretted not taking the pain-staking walk up as this is when you can really appreciate all the nature, the calligraphy and the temples. Going up by the cable car takes about 8-10 minutes and, sure, it gives you a nice glimpse of it all but not at all the experience you get from walking up (also, not to be forgotten not getting the “yes, I did it!”-feeling). Anyhow, when we arrived the summit was pretty much covered in clouds and fog and there was maybe 5-10 metres of visibility. Finding a hotel, though, was easy as all of them had people out in the “streets” trying to get you to stay at their comfortable place!
I had one in my guidebook which seemed reasonably well-priced and shortly we bumped into a person from that very hotel. With the others away talking about prices regarding another hotel I used my excellent Chinese to not only ask for the price but also haggle a bit and get it down even further (40 yuan – I was pretty proud!). The printed price in the hotel was 550 yuan but the price we eventually got was 200. A must-do when visting Tai shan is at least to try and see the sunrise, so as good tourists we were up at 4:30 am, donned our rented surplus army coats and joined the tired army of people trying to climb the last hundered steps to the summit in the twilight. This mornin, though, prooved to ber as foggy and cloudy as the night before and no sunrise appeared. I didn’t mind, but the fog made the summit much less interesting than the way up. Short notice… the chinese seems to have chosen “Mount Tai Shan” as the official translation for “Tai Shan”. The only problem is that “Shan” itself means mountain (that is “Tai mountain”).