An ascent of Emei Shan can be tackled via two main routes from Baoguo: the 60km, three-day long route; and the 40km, two-day short route. Most people knock 15km or so off these by catching buses from Baoguo to alternative starting points near Qingyin Ge (Wuxianggang bus stop) or Wannian Temple; leaving early enough, you could make it to the top in one day from either of these via the short route, descending the next day – though your legs will be like jelly afterwards. If you’re really pushed for time, you could get up and down in a single day by catching a minibus between Baoguo Temple and Jieyin Hall (Leidongping bus stop), located a cable-car ride (¥120 return) from the summit, but this way you’ll miss out on what makes Emei Shan such a special place.
Bring a torch in case you unexpectedly find yourself on a path after dark. Footwear needs to have a firm grip; in winter, when stone steps become dangerously icy, straw sandals and even iron cleats (sold for a few yuan and tied onto your soles) are an absolute necessity. Don’t forget warm clothing for the top, which is around 15°C cooler than the plains and so liable to be below freezing between October and April; lower paths are very humid during the summer. You’ll also want some protection against the near certainty of rain. A walking stick is handy for easing the pressure on thigh muscles during descent – a range is sold along the way – or for fending off aggressive monkeys (the macaques here have been known to go for people, particularly when food is present). Store any heavy gear at the bottom of the mountain, or in Chengdu if you’re contemplating a round trip.
If you need a guide, an excellent choice is Patrick Yang (0137 08131210, emeiguides.com), who speaks good English and often takes tour groups up Emei Shan. He also arranges local “culture tours” for about ¥100 per person, touring a kung-fu school, noodle factory and kindergarten, with lunch in a farmer’s house.