The View From Mt Emei
Muscles aching, feet throbbing, we forced ourselves up the last few concrete steps. Finally, after day and a half of climbing, Adam and I had reached the summit of Mt. Emei. Giant golden elephants adorned the mountain peak, and China lay spread out below us.
Of course, we couldn’t see any of it. We couldn’t even see each other if we were standing more than two feet apart. All we could see was the thick cloud that had chosen today, of all days, to rest atop Mt Emei.
Missing out on the view was of course disappointing, but at least we’d enjoyed climbing the mountain. We had started early the previous morning, taking a taxi (¥20 per person) from the village of Baoguo to Wuxiangang Bus Station, where the trail began. After paying the extortionate entry fee of ¥185 (£18.50/ $29), we started hiking up Emeishan, as it’s locally known, alongside Jamie and Lara, two students from England who we’d met on our hostel.
Opting for the left fork in the trail, we trekked along manmade steps along mountain ridges. The walkway took us by scenic streams, ornate pavilions and signs warning us about vicious monkeys that attack visitors to get their food. When we finally came across our first Tibetan Macaque, we were understandably cautious. As he came nearer, we realised just how huge he was, with muscular arms and a serious, humanoid face. Keeping our distance, we snapped some photos as he sat seemingly unbothered by our presence.
We made the 15 kilometre journey up and down (mostly up) to Magic Peak Monastery in six hours. The map had said it took eight, so Adam and I were feeling pretty proud of ourselves (even if we had lagged far behind Jamie and Lara). Just as the monastery came in sight, we spotted a gang of monkeys gathering on the trail and eyeing us menacingly. Looking straight ahead, as we’d been warned that looking them in the eye was seen as a sign of aggression, we continued onwards, hoping they would see that we had no food. But this didn’t seem to deter them. One climbed the handrail to snarl threateningly and reach out towards me, clawing at the air, while another grabbed onto Adam’s bag and dangled by his leg. Half amused and half terrified, we hurried swiftly along, trying not to show fear.
After a lunch of rice and cabbage, and lunchtime entertainment in the form of the chef showing us how to scare thieving monkeys away with a slingshot, we all headed onwards. The steps thankfully headed downwards for a while, before turning steeply uphill. Jamie and Lara, determined to spend the night near the summit, once again powered ahead, while Adam and I lagged behind, feeling painfully unfit. After two hours of dragging ourselves up the steps (though the map did say it took three, so that’s something!), we reached Elephant Bathing Pool Monastery. We probably had two more hours of daylight left, but by then the cloud had already started to form around us, and drizzle started to fall.
This, added to our aching legs, prompted us to stay the night at Elephant Bathing Pool. We asked for a room from a horrible woman who yelled at us in Chinese for reasons we’ve yet to figure out, but she eventually led us to a dorm (¥50 per person per night). After a welcome vegetarian meal from the monastery kitchen, we spent the night huddled together in the freezing cold.
As soon as it was daylight, we took off again. I was instantly grateful that we’d given in and stayed the night at the monastery rather than continuing, as the trail was now a steep staircase up a hill, that would possibly have broken me (mentally and physically) had I attempted it the evening before. When we later met with Jamie and Lara, we also learned that they had had to continue far longer than they’d intended in order to find an affordable room, which again confirmed to me that we’d made the right choice.
The trail was still shrouded in mist, so it was an uninspiring climb to Ieidongjing Bus Station, where we were joined by crowds of tourists who had taken the easy option and caught the bus up the mountain. The next half hour was a hectic bustle of crowds making their way up the steps to Jieyin Hall. Thankfully, most of the crowd opted to take the cable car (¥65) the rest of the way, leaving us free to continue our uphill struggle. The final leg of the journey was tough, but enjoyable. People stopped us to take smiling selfies with us (a common occurrence in China), and we bumped into a few people we had met earlier on the trail (though now we all looked a little rougher around the edges).
And at last, we reached the top. Disappointing view aside, we were proud to have made it to the top of the famous Mt Emei.