It was terror!
9, caged like animals, hanging by a cable 1.5km above a precipice in the dying light as maddening, childlike laughter spread a panic amongst us, the captives. A Chinese teenager in the biggest pink duffel coat, during a moment of unthinkable disregard for regulation, had Kung Fu leapt through the closing doors of our cable car to join his friends on the way down from Tianmen Mountain. His wild abandon had spread laughter amongst his friends and panic amongst Mira and a middle-aged Chinese gentleman.
“Nooooo” Mira cried in anguish, “Maximum of 8 people, not 9!” But it was too late… the doors were shut tight, we’d left the station, hanging high above the ground below, and we were going to be trapped for the next half an hour. Would the reinforced steel cable be able to take the additional burden of a young man who probably weighed less than his coat? Mira tried to convince herself referring to the row of Chinese teens “It’s probably okay, they’re all quite small anyway”
After an overnight train from Beijing – soft sleeper, no cockroaches or mice despite what we’d read on the net – we visit Hua Shan mountain, one of China’s 5 sacred mountains. We climb 3 peaks of the mountain over 2 days, pulling ourselves up thousands of the world’s steepest steps, ladders, the famed Heavenly Staircase, and one of the world’s highest cable ways, dangling us 2km up in the sky between two peaks as I try to snap pictures and Mira wonders what the hell she’s doing in a box attached to a piece of string in the stratosphere.
Whilst single-handedly keeping the Redbull and Snickers companies in business we witness some of the most breath-taking views China has to offer, sample some of the best bbq bacon-steak cooked and sold by the locals, and leave our mark on the bitterly frozen West Peak in the form of an engraved pad-lock, as is the tradition.
Our tour through China takes us to two other mountains. The first one is Tianzi Mountain in Zhanjiajie National Forest Park – the place that inspired and featured as the floating mountains in James Cameron’s sci-fi epic, Avatar. We arrived early and stepped into a sky elevator to take us up 800 metres to view the pillars. 8 of us in the elevator when suddenly we hear a chilling sound. The megaphoned shrilling rapidly heading our way meant only one thing – A Guided Tour had arrived. Suddenly a worker was packing bodies into the elevator as the tour guide and her flag joined. “Come on! 32, 32!” the worker was yelling. Referring to the number of sardined humans she intended to cram into the lift. No joke. Mira and I try to keep sight of each other as we drown in a sea of obedient Chinese OAPs nodding and inching in with their bazooka-sized cameras held above their heads.
The plateau at the top provided no escape, there were already a dozen guided tours each with there own megaphoned or amped up drill-sergeant. If you ever go to Tianzi Mountain, get there early. Tianmen Mountain was the final climb of our Chinese adventure featuring a 7.5km cable way – and the aforementioned cable car incident. Reaching an altitude of 1600m, glass plank walkways around the table top mountain at the same altitude, and a serpentine mountain road of 99 bends, built over 80 years that takes tourists to the highest karst cave in the world, Tianmen Cave. This again was a completely different breathtaking experience.
Our adventures up and down the mountains of China took us to over 25km of cable ways and probably 2,000,000,000 steps. Full of challenges and jaw-dropping wow moments that stay with you forever, completing the mountains was a fantastic life experience I’d recommend to anyone.