I have been warned about hiking the most popular mountain in China on a public holiday. I chose to ignore the warnings. I chose to think that a mountain could not possibly be so packed with hikers. I was wrong. It felt like you are buying bread in 1989 Russia. It could not have been any more packed. If you can believe it, the trails of Huangshan were just as gridlocked as an escalator on a busy Shanghai metro station during rush hour.
Huangshan is one of the five sacred mountains of China. It is known for its pointy granite peaks, twisted pines and the beautiful fog that rolls through the mountain mid morning. Whatever tranquility this mountain may have had in the past no longer exists. The mountain now hosts full fledged resorts, restaurants, basketball courts – albeit covered in tents in the evening – gondolas and funiculars. It is, quintessentially,the Disney Land of hiking, though the crowds at Huangshan can give Disney Land a run for its money. And like Disney Land it has “must see” attractions such as the sunset, the sunrise, Lotus Peak, Turtle cave or anything close to the gondola that requires the least amount of walking. Every trail, every path has been carefully planned out just to make sure you follow the path that the Huangshan development committee wanted you take. There are designated photography areas because that is where there will be the best views. Those areas are packed with hungry tourists. They are so hungry for a low res cellphone picture of the view that they will elbow you and your mother out of the way. There are poorly translated plaques of Chinese poetry that will inspire you if the scenery doesn’t do the job for you. If you are hungry, you can stop by a resort where you can dine on the best 4 star meal that only a Chinese mountain resort can offer. Essentially, everything that I like about hiking the Chinese government and hikers have gladly taken away.
You can easily manage to avoid congested areas and go up to a peak after the sun has risen or go to areas farther from the gondola where you could find nice pockets of tranquility. You won’t, however, be able to find complete silence as no matter where you stand you will always hear the buzzing of a gondola and a speaker announcement on repeat. You cannot escape machines or people at Huangshan, but you can briefly hide from them. For us that involved forging past barbed wire into a “closed” section of the mountain. In those moments where you don’t have to race up the stairs to avoid hundreds of other hikers and the eye poking sun umbrellas, you can simply sit on a jagged rock and enjoy the beauty that this mountain has to offer.