There are so many things I want to write about today’s annual Chris & Dani Labor Day Hike: the mountain, the views, the waterfalls.
The sheer happy giddiness we felt at our luck for having found such a beautiful hike among misty waterfalls, mossy green towers of cool damp rock and tiny pink flowers, mysterious carvings in the ancient steps along the way.
The incredible jolt of feeling alive as we walked over slippery bridges and watched fast white mountain water rush beneath our feet.
The smallness we felt as we stared at boulders the size of office-buildings, knowing that just 2 years ago they rolled down during the big earthquake, tearing through the tree-line and pulverizing the land and the river below.
It was our best Labor Day Hike yet. We couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. We traipsed up the steps without noticing the effort, we were that entralled with the rushing water and thundering falls around us. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a hike where I’ve seen so much beauty in such a short distance.
It was everything you imagine the Chinese countryside to be-deeply green, luscious, misty, full of looming mountain tops and mysterious carvings in the ancient stone steps.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe we were so frustrated before the hike that we almost turned back. For instance, maybe you’ve noticed the photos are a bit fuzzier today…
As we turned off the highway towards the mountain, my camera battery died and the spare battery that I had so carefully left out on the counter to bring with us, was-you guessed it-still laying on the counter back home. I was so frustrated with myself for forgetting it. I’d been looking forward to shooting this hike all week and had nothing but Chris’ old i-phone camera to capture the day with (thank goodness for that though!). As we wound around mountainous switch-backs, passing little 3 wheelers overloaded with construction materials, I fumed in my head.
Chris was also frustrated, though for something of a better reason. Sometimes finding a trail head can be really, really, hard in China. Hikes in China usually take the form of stone stairs going straight up. Most of the time there is no other way up, you have to find that first step or you’re done.
At one time in China, the placement of these stairs probably made sense, perhaps there was a temple there or some sort of road. These days, the stairs are as likely to begin behind a construction site or a noodle stand, as in any logical location.
And unfortunately, no one really wants to share that location with you before you eat at their restaurant or book a room at their hotel. If you really have no clue where you are going, as was the case today, it usually takes asking at least 10 or 12 people to get on the right track, all the while repeating in Mandarin, “thank you but we’ve already eaten” and hoping that they’ve charitably pointed you in the right direction.
At one point today a woman came running up to our car in such a panic that we were convinced mortal peril lay on the road just ahead. We stopped and rolled down our windows as fast as we could only to be told that we had better come eat at her restaurant, or else. Not quite the mortal peril we were expecting and, needless to say, Chris wasn’t thrilled.
Eventually Chris and I found our way up the steps-they were located behind a construction site this time. Within just a few stairs, we forgot all of the troubles below-though I mourned my missing camera battery as the realization dawned that we may never see that trail so peaceful and so quiet and so beautiful ever again.
You see, today we hiked the back side of Qing Cheng Shan and part of what made it special is that this side of the mountain is still under construction. The (oxymoronic) brand new “Ancient Town” at the bottom of the mountain is still more of a ghost town, with just a few vendors and restaurant owners sitting quietly in their store-fronts, waiting for the boon of Chinese tourism that the government is betting on. It’s quieter and more surreally peaceful here than any real Chinese town could ever be.
The touts and vendors and hotels and millions of Chinese tourists more interested in souvenirs and restaurants than actual hiking, have yet to reach this side of the mountain and it shows. The air and the scene just felt so much more peaceful. *
It truly was just us, the mountain, the waterfall, and a few friendly Chinese hikers-the sort of families and friends who were just out there, like us, to enjoy the beautiful scenery and a little bit of exercise.
There was the solitude, the excitement of reaching a new plateau and a whole new amazing view. The sunshine and the clear air. Every time we turned a corner we found something new, we marveled at the strange, powerful, misty beauty of it all.
It felt like the sort of hikes Chris and I used to enjoy back home, only even better in it’s own way.
Standing on the edge of a waterfall is amazing anywhere, but standing on the edge of waterfall that you traveled halfway around the world for is exhilarating in a way that I can barely describe. I can only say that the thrill of it made me want to simultaneously, laugh, cry, take a deep belly breath and whirl around in a happy dance all at once. And I’m pretty sure I almost did.
I dont’ know how long the back side of Qing Cheng Shan will stay so pristine and peaceful. Knowing how fast things happen in China, it may be that by the time we get back, it will already have changed in too many ways. Which I guess, in a way, makes me that much more grateful for today’s hike, i-phone photos and all.