Exploring – Climbing Mt. Tai (泰山)

10 Jul

Our first view of the Gate to Heaven on Mt. Tai

We took advantage of the Dragon Boat Festival long weekend for a trip to Shandong province to climb Mt. Tai (Tai Shan 泰山) .  The new high speed train turns what was an 11 hour trip from Shanghai 15 years ago into 3.5 hours today – and only 1.5 hours from Beijing.  We chose Mt. Tai for a couple of reasons – we wanted to climb a mountain, it was pretty close and I had enough hotel points so that our three nights there only cost about $25 USD – total.

Mt. Tai is not known for its beauty like Yellow Mountain (黄山) or Flower Mountain(华山) but is instead a very historic mountain.  Given its location it was a common trek for the emperor to come from Beijing and climb the mountain asking for blessings – a place of pilgrimage.  It contains temples and ancient scripts and focuses on the Taoist beliefs that were commonplace in ancient China.

The temperatures in this area of Shandong were very warm so we decided to wake up early and get to the mountain before it got hot (in theory).  By 6:10 in the morning we had arrived and in the cool of the morning bought our tickets, starting the climb from the Red Gate at the bottom of the mountain to the temples at the top.  We came prepared with multiple bottles of water, almonds, crackers, dried fruit and even bought a couple of cans of Red Bull at a store at the bottom.  It was going to be a very long day.

I know now that we were preparing to walk 7.5 km pretty much vertically with over 6000 steps to the top of the mountain.  Looking back I’m glad that I didn’t know that when I started.

As we climbed we saw many people with walking sticks.  At the beginning though the stairs were not that steep and there were flat areas.  We decided that we didn’t need walking sticks – at least not yet.  There were a lot of locals who had climbed the mountain and cut branches from certain trees to celebrate Dragon Boat festival with, but they were walking down as we were walking up.  In general though, the paths were relatively uncrowded and the scenery was nice – very dry – the area is having a drought, but lots of names carved/painted in the rocks and monuments to long deceased individuals with carvings on black stone.

It took us three hours to reach the halfway point, with one detour to see an area where large sections of the Buddhist script had been painted on a hill side.  Looking at the script it was obvious that it had been repainted sometime recently.  It was very nice, but didn’t really feel old, which is a problem that I have in China.  Sometimes the restorations are so shiny new that you know this was not what the original pilgrims saw – whether it is a temple or building or tombstone.

Upon making it halfway – at the appropriately named middle door – we had to reevaluate.  The next section of walking was known as the 18 turns (18 盘) and it looked pretty intimidating from a distance.  At the top of that section was the gate to heaven – that looked precariously perched on the top.  We bought walking sticks.  At 5 RMB (80 cents) for the two, it was likely our best purchase all day.

The 18 turns were a grueling set of steps that just never seemed to end.  By the time we got to the start it was well past 10am and the sun was beating down on every step.  I think if it hadn’t been so hot it wouldn’t have been such a challenge, but it was and so we plodded on – each curve thinking we were “almost” there, but of course we weren’t.

Finally getting to the Gate to Heaven more than 5 hours after we started, I thought we were at the top.  Li, however, who had planned this part of the trip, then informed me we needed to hike another section to get to the top of the mountain – this was just the gate.  He also then mentioned that we could have taken the cable car to this point.  Really?  Cable car?  That may have made sense.

It was obvious that many people had decided to take the cable car up because the next section was packed with people.  The prices were also much more expensive for a bottle of water or popsicle than they had been during the previous part of the climb.  Luckily though, the terrain at the top wasn’t nearly as steep and we covered the last section in less than an hour, finally making it up to the temple.

Li then said that he thought we now needed to walk down.  What a joker.  We took the cable car to the mid-point, then took a bus to the city center.  At about 3:30 we got back to the hotel, showered and promptly fell asleep.

Would I do it again?  There are lots of other mountains that I would like to climb first.   But I would have to say that Mt. Tai was certainly a special type of trip.  The second day there we were too tired to climb another section of the mountain so instead went to Qufu, the hometown of Confucius which is a post for another day.

The slide show below has some photos that show our adventure until the first view of the gate to heaven.  I’ll post more photos of our trek to the top later.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What’s the most physically demanding travel that you’ve done?  This definitely is close for me – with that many steps and the demanding heat.  How did you feel when you were at the end?  Was the accomplishment worth it?

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7 Responses to “Exploring – Climbing Mt. Tai (泰山)”

  1. valerie July 10, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    Wow — good job! The most physically demanding travel I’ve done is when I went skiing for the first (and only) time — I thought I was going to have a heart attack at first and not make it through the weekend, but after I got some better lessons (Pat’s were horrible), I was able to enjoy being on the mountain.

    • gkm2011 July 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

      You are more coordinated than I am then. I tried skiing twice and spent much more time on my rear end than I did on the skis! Glad that it turned out ok.

  2. expatlingo July 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    Have to love (or hate) hiking in a place where you can buy walking sticks and more water whenever the need hits!

    • gkm2011 July 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

      Yes, in this case having the steady stream of popsicles, red bull, water and other random snacks made it much more tolerable. Sometimes the group mentality for vacations really makes a big difference!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. More photos from Mt. Tai « 中国 Jumble - July 17, 2012

    […] previous post about our trip up Mt. Tai only had photos up the first half of the mountain.  Here is a slide show of the rest of our trip […]

  2. Exploring – Qufu, Shandong Province « 中国 Jumble - July 19, 2012

    […] went to Qufu the day after we climbed Mt. Tai, too tired to contemplate climbing another section of the mountain.  We took a taxi from the hotel […]

  3. Meiji Shrine in Tokyo | 中国 Jumble - August 4, 2013

    […] own, but viewed what others were hoping for.  It reminded me of the wishes I saw in Seoul and the locks attached to the Buddhist shrines in […]

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