When planning our trip to China, one thing my friend Mia really wanted to do was climb the holy mountain of Emei Shan. Her father had done it before and only had rave reviews. The trip was billed as a beautiful hike through the woods with stunning vistas, and on the hike up you stay at monasteries, communing with the monks. I was sold hook, line, and sinker as we set off that morning to start our climb of Emei, loosely translated as Lofty Eyebrow Mountain.

If the bus ride to the start of the climb is this beautiful, surely the rest must be too! Right?

We started our ascent by cheating – we took a bus to about the halfway point. From there, it was 27km to the top, divided over 2 days. The first 3km were easy. It was a relatively flat walk on a brick laid path that was quite busy. It led from the parking lot, through a winding maze of trees to the Wannian Temple, one of the big landmarks of the mountain. There were tons of Chinese tourists as many climb the mountain in something like a religious pilgrimage, finding solace in their hike. And according to legend, many climbers in ancient times would reach the summit and at sunrise, see such a beautiful view with the light spectacularly reflecting off of the mist below, that would think they reached the apex of their existence, true happiness, and throw themselves off of the cliff in a moment of pure unadulterated joy. We instead watched fat women being carried up on sedan chairs. Just a little different.

There she goes!

Candles at Wannian Si.

After reaching Wannian temple and having a surprise encounter with our Canadian friends again, we veered right to continue up the rest of the way, leaving the crowds behind us and facing a near deserted trail. The path was brick laden and the mist rolled in thick. The sound of the mysterious insects indigenous to the mountain whirred at a splintering volume. But we soldiered on, climbing the stairs onwards and upwards.

Oh look! Some stairs! With a little rest stop at the top! How fun! This is probably completely different than the rest of our hike!

Now, part of my philosophy in writing this blog is to share how beautiful the world is, how great of a time I’m having, why it’s a valuable good experience, and to maybe encourage people to go the same places. Considering these goals, I’m really trying to avoid putting negative experiences up here. No one needs to hear about the times I got lost, had bad food, or wandered around Bangkok for 2 hours in the rain trying to find a restaurant and failing. It’s just not what I’m trying to do. This post might break the rules. The account ahead is not a rosy one.

The path started with stairs. On our map, we saw just ahead was a section called the Elderly Person Level Ground (or something to that affect). Surely these stairs would end soon and our walk would become a delightful stroll through the woods. Nope. There was not ever level ground. It was stairs, stairs, stairs for 6 hours of walking. Not uphill slopes, stairs. And about those views? Forget about it. The mist was so thick that we really only had about 10 feet of visibility. It honestly was like spending 6 hours on a stair master at elevation, in humidity, drenched in wet clothes. Oh yeah. It rained some too. I honestly can’t convey the mind-numbing monotony of the experience.

A break in the monotony. We pass a horse.

Thank goodness there is a rest stop before all of those STAIRS behind it. I hope they sell reasonably priced water bottles there.

The best view of the day.

As darkness fell, we finally reached the temple where we were going to spend the night. Our guidebook described it as “atmospheric.” That’s officially a code word for “shit hole.” It was so rundown, the bathrooms were offensively dirty (even by China’s standards). The one saving grace was that in our room we were with a good group of other unhappy campers and that they had amazing electric blankets. Those electric blankets may have saved my life.

We started out again the next morning with a hint of a view. Just a hint. Then another 10km of climbing that went by relatively quick, maybe 2 and a half hours. At “the top” we had to wait in an hour and a half line to take “The world’s longest no-support cable car” to the top because there wasn’t a chance in hell we were going to take the optional stairs. The top was underwhelming. Because at this point, we were above the clouds. If that sounds pretty, think again, this means that you can’t see anything below you, BECAUSE THERE ARE CLOUDS! Not cute white fluffy clouds, dismal grey ones. It was miserable.

See? Just a hint.

Our brief glimpse of “the view.”

And the view is gone. This literally what our whole hike looked like.

I forgot to mention that the whole first day we kept encountering signs that said “beware of the monkeys” or “the monkeys will steal all of your belongings” and we were armed with bamboo walking sticks to ward off the monkeys, but we didn’t see any until the middle of the second day when we were back in a tourist populated area. And they were mean monkeys!

MORE STAIRS?!? Curse you Emei Shan!

This dumb elephant statue is all that sits at the top of the mountain. 2 days of hiking and my sanity were the price for this!?!?

We had one more event planned for the day, a trip to the nearby town of Leshan to see the world’s largest image of a buddha. Thank god for Leshan. After a series of three buses, we finally arrived at the Leshan buddha and it was absolutely beautiful. Words can not begin to describe how impressive and powerful this buddha is. He sits so peaceful and meditatively, staring out over the river bank. You can climb down and spend some time at his feet, but we didn’t have enough time and just walked around the top.

These angry statues were absolutely beautiful and intricate. So much emotion!

Here he is! Look at those earlobes! They’re huge!

See all the people waiting in line to climb down? We did not have time for that!

Okay. Once the line died down, we climbed half way down.

Emei Shan sucks.

Mia, at her most beautiful, displays the stunning view of the not so distant opaque gray clouds.