Yes, they did! The Celestial Peak (the commonly-used translation for Tian du Feng) is one of the tallest peaks in Huangshan — the Yellow Mountain in China — reaching 1,810 metres above sea-level. We were there because we’d accepted an invitation to join a group organised by Patrick, who is one of the two brothers of my brother-in-law. I couldn’t find a convincing explanation of how that relationship should be described: brother-in-law-in-law? Brother-in-law once removed?
The 6-night stay (in three different hotels) in Huangshan was to be the highlight of the trip. We’d stopped the night before in a very nice hotel (the Xiangming) in Huangshan City. We were obliged to leave suitcases behind and pack sufficient for the next week in rucksacks, which we would be expected to carry, plus one holdall that would be transported by porter — more on the porters another time. After lunch our coach dropped us off at the cable car, which took us part way up the mountain. The remaining half a km or so was on foot up some pretty steep steps. That should have been a clue about what was to come!
The following day came the trek to Tian Du Feng.
To be honest, I had no idea of what to expect before coming on the trip. I’d been too busy to do much investigation of my own and I figured “how hard could it could be?”. I knew that most of the others in the group (25 in all) would be older than me, some by a considerable margin; so I reckoned that actual rock-climbing would not be on the itinerary and the purchase of proper hiking boots an expensive over-kill. Flip-flops are light, don’t require socks and are easy to dry. I knew from past experience that they’re good at keeping my feet warm in the rain: once feet are wet it only takes few seconds for the water between the foot and the rubber to warm up. I’ve found this to be true even in heavy rain, whereas normal shoes or trainers can become soaked and result in very, very cold feet.
The weather at the start of the journey to Tian Du Feng was not promising, but not actually raining. The first part of the journey was mainly downhill from the top of Yuping Peak (where our hotel was) to a sort of half-way area: a combination viewing platform with a small kiosk and paths further down the mountain as well as being the start of the ascent to Tian Du Feng. We’d seen this as we were coming down the opposite peak:
By the time we reached the kiosk, which you can see in in the bottom-left corner of the picture, it was raining, but not very hard. Gia and I both had jackets (supposed to be waterproof) and we had plastic ponchos that we pinched from the Xiangming in our packs; so we decided to go on. Before too much longer the rain became harder and I decided to leave the camera (I’d taken the Olympus EP-1) in my rucksack so it didn’t get wet, hence, no pictures from the top. You can see a few more shots here — choose Gallery Two>China and you’ll find Climbing Tian Du Feng in the list of albums.
The walk turned into something out of Lord Of The Rings: the “straight stair” followed by the “winding stair”. What you can see in the picture is no more than half the route as the path winds to the left and out of view.
There were a few people coming down the peak; they kept encouraging us that it wasn’t much further. They lied!
I have no idea how long it took, but we eventually reached the top and ritually stood on the bit of rock that proclaimed itself to be 1810m high. The rain was coming down in sheets. But this was not sufficient to dampen the spirit of Chinese enterprise: two men were up there selling drinks (which we didn’t need) and commemorative medallions, which were engraved on the spot:
Rain continued to pour as we made our way down. Water streamed down the steps and we were as wet as drowned rats by the time we reached the halfway house, where I insisted on a beer to celebrate before commencing the climb back up Yuping Peak to our hotel.