Rearing over southern Anhui, Huang Shan – the Yellow Mountains – are staggeringly scenic, with pinnacles emerging from thick bamboo forests, above which rock faces dotted with ancient, contorted pine trees disappear into the swirling mists. This magical landscape has left an indelible impression on Chinese art, with painters a common sight on mountain paths, huddled in padded jackets and sheltering their work from the drizzle beneath umbrellas. Indeed, so great is Huang Shan’s influence on the national psyche – it’s said that once you’ve ascended these peaks you will never need to climb another mountain – that it’s the ambition of every Chinese to conquer it at least once in their lifetime. Consequently, don’t expect to climb alone: noisy multitudes swarm along the neatly paved paths, or crowd out the three cable-car connections to the top. All this can make the experience depressingly like visiting an amusement park, but then you’ll turn a corner and come face to face with a huge, smooth monolith topped by a single tree, or be confronted with views of a remote square of forest growing isolated on a rocky platform. Nature is never far away from reasserting itself here.
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Ascending Huang Shan
Ascending Huang Shan
Huang Shan barely rises above 1870m, but as you hike up either of the staircases on the trails it can begin to feel very high indeed. You’ll need between two and eight hours to walk up, depending on whether you follow the easier eastern route or the lengthy and demanding western route. Alternatively, cable cars take upwards of twenty minutes to ascend, though queues can be horrendous (there’s usually less of a wait to go down), and services are suspended during windy weather. Once at the top, there’s a half-day of relatively easy hiking around the peaks.
Ideally, plan to spend two or three days on the mountain to allow for a steady ascent and circuit, though it’s quite feasible to see a substantial part of Huang Shan in a full day. Accommodation in Tangkou and Wenquan will store surplus gear: just bring a daypack, suitable footwear and something warm and weatherproof for the top – not forgetting the likelihood of year-round rain, and winter snow.