Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jinan Part 2, or, Climbing Mountains

So our last full day in Jinan, Bob, Charis, and I decided to go climb a mountain – more specifically, Mount Tai, located in the town of Taishan. Initially, I hadn't realized that Mount Tai was in a different city, so looking around Jinan and seeing only small mountains, I was anticipating this to be more of a long walk than actually climbing a legitimate mountain. However, after an hour and a half bus ride, I woke up to look out the window and see what was in fact a very legitimate mountain. At the bus station, we got a taxi to take us to the base of the mountain, and the climbing commenced.

At first, it was easy going – climb a flight of stairs, walk twenty feet, then climb another flight of stairs. It continued on this way for much of the trip to the top, about three hours. Halfway up, we stopped and had snacks at the Middle Gate to Heaven. The views were gorgeous, and we got to see the sun setting, which I got a nice picture of. It was starting to get dark as we left the middle gate to keep climbing, but we were far from the only travelers, and Bob had brought a flashlight, too. Still, living in Montana has made me healthily afraid of climbing mountains in the dark, but Bob and Charis assured me that there were no mountain lions.

For awhile, the stairs weren't too bad. I discovered that it's far easier if you keep a rhythm, and I tended to get ahead of Bob and Charis, who were walking a bit slower (Charis was getting a bit tired at that point). Finally, after about an hour and a half of climbing in the dark, I wondered aloud if we were almost to the top. Bob said, “Almost, but we haven't reached the 18 twists yet”. Now, considering that I had started this day thinking we were climbing more of a hill than an actual mountain, I had no clue what the 18 twists were.

Turns out, they're the steepest part of the climb.

Also turns out, I have an extreme fear of steep stairs.

My active imagination had no problem contributing to my thought of what would happen if I slipped. I'd fall down roughly a hundred stairs at a very steep angle, cracking my skull open on the rock below. Being in a remote area, it would take forever for a helicopter to get me out, and I would end up dead in a small Chinese hospital, only making it back to America in a coffin. Entirely unrealistic and entirely too morbid, but such was the picture my imagination offered me.

Bob, however, found it amusing that one of his climbing companions was wearing an oversized sweater and carrying a cane (Charis, who with the addition of the cane I started calling Grandma), and that the other was clinging to the railing for dear life. Halfway up the 18 twists, we stopped at a small platform house for dinner. Since food is fairly scarce this high up the mountain, we ended up getting big cups of Ramen noodles, which at that point tasted incredible, and helped warm us up. There were a lot of these small houses on the path up to the top, usually made up of a small family who sold water and food to people climbing. As you get further up the mountain, it also starts to get colder (obviously), so a lot of the 'checkpoints' have coats you can rent for the evening. The coats are huge army green communist style coats, and it felt a little surreal eating ramen noodles on a mountaintop in China, surrounded by people in Communist-era coats. It was as if I had gone back in time. :)

After making it to the top (with me clinging to the handrail all the way), we bought a bowl of porridge, which tasted like cream of wheat, except kind of chickeney, and played some poker. The views from the top were gorgeous, but because we were so far from the valley bottom, my camera couldn't adequately capture them. :( After awhile, we went to see about checking into a hotel for the night, planning on seeing the sunrise and then coming down the mountain the next morning. We went to a building halfway up the mountaintop village (which was awesome and adorable, by the way), where we were showed a room that had three separate beds. Charis seemed a little leery of it, but at that point, a pillow and a down comforter sounded fantastic. We paid, and apparently got the last room in the hotel, because a lady started screaming at the front desk; from what I understood, she had been shown the room first, but hadn't decided to take it when we got there, so when we made a quick decision, the staff gave the room to us.

After paying and getting a room key, I was excited to go to bed (silly me!). Going back into the room, it became a little too generous to call it a “hotel”, as that implies some kind of cleanliness to it. It wasn't until after paying that I saw the bathroom and smelled the mildew and realized why Charis had been uncertain about it. I sat down on the bed, and not only was it hard (which I've come to expect in China), but it was damp! You could practically feel the grime on the pillowcase, and the floor was in shreds. It was the first place I've stayed where I fully expected cockroaches to come crawling out and bedbugs to bite viciously. Climbing into our beds for the night, we all made sure we had as much clothing on as possible, trying our darnedest to avoid more contact with the sheets than needed. This made for some hilarious pictures which should be on facebook soon, but it did not make for a good night's sleep. We ended up not even brushing our teeth, preferring instead to wait until we got home to Charis's house. Moral of the story: if you're planning on climbing Mount Tai, just rent a tent at the top. Just as warm/dry, and far less bed bugs.

We woke up (although woke up might be a bit generous, as I think we were already awake) the next morning to go see the sunrise. Surprisingly, a ton of people who also climbed the mountain also decided to, which I wasn't expecting, based on the earliness of the hour. We climbed to the absolute tippy top of the mountain, where again surrounded by people in communist coats, we waited for the sun to rise. Unfortunately, there were clouds surrounding the mountain that morning, so we didn't actually get to see the sun rise; we just sat on a rock for thirty minutes staring into the fog. We opted to not go back to sleep, and instead took a cable car and a bus down to the base of the mountain. After we got out of the mountain top clouds, the view was again spectacular, making climbing 7,000+ steps the night before completely worth it.

We took a bus back to Jinan that morning, and left for Beijing that afternoon. Although we had taken a train to Jinan, by the time we bought tickets back to Beijing, they were completely sold out. We had to take a bus back instead, which was supposed to take 4 ½ hours. With all the traffic, however, it took eight. We got to back to our rooms by midnight, and then were up by six the next morning, to start helping with the grand opening of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing! :)

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