Have you ever wanted to: start a hike at 8pm, climb up thousands of steps through the night in the pouring rain with 30 pound 70 year old jackets, and still miss the sunrise? Well, I have the place for you. Tai-Shan – one of the five sacred mountains of China. On your journey up Tai-Shan you will walk over 6,000 steps and climb 4,000 feet; the whole walk up and down will be well over 10 miles. That hike is hard enough on a dry, moonlit night, but it makes it a little more difficult when you have a deluge running down the steps.
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Our adventure started in Beijing with a three hour train ride to Tai An, Shandong. Arriving late, skipping dinner, we jumped right into the hike. Fortunately, we had granola bars to sustain us. I started the hike warm and energized with some middle-aged westerners, but it soon became obvious we weren’t fully prepared. As we made our way up the mountain, both the temperature and the rain start to fall. It didn’t take too long for our spirits to sag.
Half way up the mountain we were thrilled to stumble upon a little shack renting out 1950’s Russian army greatcoats. I was skeptical at first touching these worn, ragged coats that men had probably died in. Then, remembering how cold I was, I snuggled into the disgusting, comfortable warmth. A mile later and 40 pounds heavier we realized the blessing was a curse. The water soaked jackets hung heavy on our shoulders. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it.
We were all shivering and tired when we saw a restaurant in the distance. It was no longer serving food but the owners let us take a quick nap on their tables. Happy with what we could get we laid down on tables and chairs using our war jackets for bedding.
A nap was just what we needed to revive us and we resumed our journey up. The summit was not much further, just about 1000 more steps to go… We reached the summit and found the perfect nook for blocking the wind and watching the sun. We waited and waited for the sun to pop up behind the neighboring mountain. Three hours passed and still no sun. The lightening sky was covered with thick fog blanketing the sun.
Realizing we wouldn’t see the sun rise we followed the flood of people and rain down the mountain. The water was running well above our ankles, filling our shoes and drenching our clothes. Excited to leave the coats behind, our pace quickened. We made it about three quarters of the way down when we saw a shuttle service that would take us back to town. We weighed the consequences of truly finishing our hike or succumbing to exposure. With our stomaches growling and our limbs shivering, we chose the shuttle. We hopped on and shuttle took us down the mountain where it stopped right in front of a Hilton Hotel with an open buffet.
Picture seven, mud-caked, sodden, exhausted, famished lao-wai dragging themselves into a white carpeted, white upholstered, upscale hotel. The staff was obviously used to this because they didn’t blink an eye as we ran over to fill our plates with food. Half eating, half sleeping we awaited our train back to Beijing.
Laying across the chairs in the hotel lobby I realized that I had experienced something that I will never forget.
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