Posted by: 1of10boyz | October 20, 2011

Mount Tai – Tai Shan Part 2 of 3.

We climb to the sign. Yes, it really does say – The climb starts now. My, it sure seems like we have been climbing, what is in front of us, if we haven’t been climbing yet? I look back and see the winding snake of the path below us. The mass of people making the trek, some nearly finished as they are headed down the mountain, while others still not even to where we are. The change in elevation tells me that we have been climbing. We are somewhat blocked from the path forward up the mountain by the temple and its location to the mountain terrain. We cannot see what is in front of us but we anticipate that we have a ways to go.

The temple at this point is actually the Five Pine Pavilion. We found this to be fascinating with all of the locks attached to the fence. Not quite sure what the locks represent but someone makes a nice living hauling locks to the people selling them there and the guy that was engraving them probably was doing ok as well. We continued to see locks on the fences for the rest of the trip including at the very top.

The pavilion had a small incense “house” inside the fenced area. It appeared to be some sort of wishing well with opening in the structure that resembled the old Chinese coin. The goal for getting your wish granted required that you throw your money inside the building based on my observation of the people attempting. It resembled that old game at the carnival where you would win the glass item if your dime stayed in the item. There were lots of 10¢ pieces around it. Found it humorous that we also observed many of the 10¢ and 50¢ paper notes in the area also. You would have had to be pretty confident in your throwing ability to try to throw a randomly folded paper note into the hole.

Once we rounded the temple pavilion and mountain shoulder we recognized why the sign indicated the climb was just beginning, we are now actually high enough that we can see the glint of the final assent in the distance. Yes the climb is beginning. We attempted several pictures but they don’t do justice to the view of the climb that lies ahead at this point. LaDawna and I have been able to climb and make the assent together at this point. I know that is about to change.

We pause for some fruit along the way. Our driver and his family have graciously bought some fruit from one of the many vendors on the route and are sharing with us. We eat some apples and some cucumbers. I eat apprehensively, I know that they are well intentioned but I worry about cleanliness and sanitation. I have observed that the fruit is kept fresh and cool by being sprayed with water that looks like it is being recycled in a bucket below the trays of fruit. We have been very careful in our approach to food and have been very fortunate, we have not really had any event of significance related to diarrhea in the nearly two months we have lived in the Middle Kingdom. This is one location I do not want to have to need a bathroom urgently. We are certain that all toilets are not the western “sitters” but the oriental “squatters”, so the challenge to stay healthy is never far from our minds.

I find long stretches of stairs are the norm at this point. I have not really become winded in the climb until we reach these long stretches. I have decided that I will only pause and rest at those spots on the stairs where there is more than just a stair width to rest and form some small resemblance to a landing. To complicate the climbing process at this point the height between stair treads is now inconsistent, the change is not necessarily obvious, but my legs tell me there is a difference. I look for a difference but am not able to perceive it; I know it’s there because the top of my thigh burns in those stretches and it doesn’t otherwise.

Each time we have rested and restart climbing I start with LaDawna to try and keep her motivated. She can see the top now and she is determined. At this point you really don’t have much choice, the trip to the top is better than the alternative, which would appear to be to die right there. Going down after so much going up seems like a recipe for disaster with the noodle legs and lead feet that we now have.

We pause, a little longer than normal, before the final assent at the last of the seven arches, Archway to Immortality. It is believed that those passing through the archway will become celestial beings. I think the significance is lost to most climbers at this point as their legs have turned to lead. The goal is now in sight, the Southern Gate to Heaven.

We are passed by many more youthful climbers at this point. Our age is showing. We pace our climb, sadly with the “old and feeble”. We have been climbing with or near several octogenarians, I encourage LaDawna to rest when they rest and climb when they climb. We later learn that our octogenarian “pace car” is completing his 40th assent this year. He was actually in the paper the week before for his 39th climb and he shares with us a photo from that climb. We will remember this in our selection of pace cars in the future I am sure.

My legs are burning and I can “feel” the finish line taunting me from above. I squeeze her hand and begin my final assent. My legs will burn and I will breathe heavily, but I finish strong and turn to see the magnitude of the stairs that wander below me into the fog and disappear. I know that there are many below me that just blend into that granite stairway.

I find a perch on the edge of the Gate to Heaven and wait for my wife. I wonder if that will be how it will really be when the time comes. Who will wait for whom? I suspect she will wait for me but one never really knows. I guess that comes from childhood experiences that really aren’t applicable to our circumstances but she and I have talked about that over the years. I document her final climb with help of the telephoto lens. She doesn’t look too bad for having climbed nearly 7000 stairs to this point. We walk through the Southern Gate to Heaven together. I imagine that if there really are northern and southern gates we will really pass through the Northern Gate based on our Tribe of Ephraim heritage when the time really comes. Funny what you think about after such a climb.

We are officially on the summit. There are still a few hundred stairs to conquer within the summit area but we will climb those after we eat some lunch. It took us just over 3.5 hours to climb from the Midway Gate to Heaven to the top and through the Southern Gate to Heaven.

 We realize that we are a little past hungry. Even though we have only had the driver for a short time he understands that one of his jobs is to order our food. I must have been unclear that I always pay for the meal and have to insist again that he eats on my treat. It seems to be the least I can do since I can’t do it on my own and I appreciate the variety that I get when someone else orders. He knows my restriction – it can’t be more than a little spicy. We have done well. I have to insist that he use my money for the meal. We appreciate a little more than normal the food and drink at lunch. We can’t help but notice the lash marks on the cardboard packaging of the water bottles as we get our bottles and those markings remind us of what it took to get them there for us.

We enjoy the meal and I think are getting used to whole eating habits of China, we are no longer really notice the spitting out pieces you don’t like on to the floor and the otherwise unacceptable habits that so frequently exist here in the Middle Kingdom. We intend not to acquire those habits as we know that at some point we will eat with those that will be offended by such.

I am concerned that we have ordered too much food as usual. It is the custom to order enough food so that some/much is left. We have 6 courses and amazingly they are pretty much gone by the time we push away from the table. Soup broth and some noodles is all that we leave. I leave full.

We wonder around the top of Mt Tai and take many pictures. The fog is below us and the clouds are not so many that it feels cloudy. We visit one of the smaller temples as we are approaching the summit that is slightly off the beaten path. We notice a large patch of weeds, on first glance they look like they might be poison ivy or poison sumac; on second glance they also look very much like weed. I am sticking with ivy or sumac, LaDawna is sticking with weed. All I can say is that if it really is weed the monks are going to have a pleasant winter. In my experiences with poison ivy and poison sumac I don’t remember every seeing buds like what we saw in this weed patch. I can’t imagine it is weed as none of the leaves appear to be pinched off so the locals know it isn’t weed or don’t dare take some with them.

We get checked into our hotel, ShenQi Hotel, near the summit about 5:30pm. I think that we paid way too much for this room but I wasn’t willing to take a room that was a 2-star hotel or less. I think we are just a little too new to the chinese hotel business to try and rough it at this point. It is by no means the Ramada. We rent coats for in the morning. We will be arising with the desire to watch the sunrise.

We must have checked in earlier than the hotel normally has guests. We hope to be able to get some rest and recover from the climb. We had several times when the hotel sent people to room to provide us with items, fruit baskets, wake up card, etc. We really just wanted to rest.  We had hoped that we would be able to use the toll-free number for the District Conference that was occurring that weekend. We were not able to call out and phone China outside of the hotel. Interestingly when we tried to call the toll free number it rang through to the “massage” person. She sounded nice enough but we really didn’t dare ask for a massage. Just a little worried about the implication of some miscommunication related to what we really needed. I am certain that we could not talk our way out of a misunderstanding. If the staff at the front desk couldn’t understand that we wanted to call a toll free number we weren’t going to chance it with the massage girl.

We settle for some Chinese TV and there aren’t any English stations. We don’t mind too much, we are tired and have placed a wakeup call for 5:15am. We drifted off to sleep knowing that the 5:15am wakeup call will come too early.


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