We were right about the wakeup call coming early; the phone rang at 4:50am rather than the expected 5:15am. Since we had already been hearing people stomping and laughing down the halls we decided to get up and see if we could find the appropriate perch for the sunrise. We were glad that we had rented the coats.
The coats were after the style of what I would visualize for the Red Army wearing during the Korean War. They were by no means top quality and were not nearly as good as the real Red Army coats that I saw on the young men who would have been the right age to actually be Red Army. The buttons were not high quality and the fur was more like the green shag rug my parents had in the living room of the house at 390 Roberts. The coats do go below our knees, mine a little, LaDawna’s a little more; still enough of my legs uncovered to remind me that I am going to be a little cold.
When we exited the hotel it became immediately obvious that unless the wind really picked up there was no chance of seeing the sun rise. The fog was as thick as pea soup. But we were mighty glad to have the coats, and we were wishing for pants that had legs all the way to our feet. LaDawna noticed it first and mentioned it, do you hear that sound? It sounds like a flock of sea gulls at the dump. You know the sound, the incessant squawking not really a distinct sound but just kind of a mid-toned rumble kind of sound. No really distinctive recognizable sound almost something like white noise. We followed the noise and the groups of people to the observation area. We realized that it was just the conversations of several thousand people speaking in a language we couldn’t understand.
We followed the crowd as it made its way in the fog. We made a left and then a right but it was dark enough and foggy enough that there were no really good reference points to make it on our own. I was glad we had the crowd to follow. On our way we meet many going the other direction, it was obvious that they had come to the conclusion that the sun wouldn’t be showing its face anywhere close to the horizon on this day. We noted the more hardy souls that had either climbed during the night to be present for the sunrise or had spent the night on the ground. There were young men and women sitting on the stairs with their winter coats pulled tight slumbering. Or the groups of small tents pitched on flat rock surfaces where someone continued to rest. When we reached the vantage point it was a sea people. We maneuvered ourselves through the living breathing mass of humanity in search of glimpse of what we knew would occur but had great doubts about seeing.
We waited and observed the crowd ebb and flow. It became clearer as light returned to the mountain that we were standing on what would be better described as something slightly less than a cliff. It was a very steep incline dotted with some very large overhanging rock ledges and boulders. Brave, that I am, I found an unoccupied spot out on the edge of one of the large boulders/ledges and claimed the spot.
Sunrise was to occur at 5:46am. I noted the time on my watch and snapped a picture in the direction of sunrise, knowing that it was occurring but seeing no visual evidence to confirm what I knew to be true. Once we determined that we had “experienced” sunrise on Tai Shan, we made our way back towards the hotel.
We realized that we should have paid better attention on the way up as we were not able to recognize our surroundings. (OK, so it was dark and foggy, still should have paid better attention.) We had temples where we didn’t remember temples being on the way up. We knew that we only needed to continue toward the bottom and we would eventually end up somewhere we recognized and then we could find our way back to the hotel. Fortunately we were not really lost, just hadn’t noticed the temple and the incense hadn’t been burning when had passed it on the way up. (So it was now foggy and smoky and still not very light.)
We showered and prepared for our trip to the bottom. We stopped at a couple of the restaurants outside of the temples area and got one of the egg crepes and some fry bread for breakfast. We went back out the Southern Gate to Heaven and rather than proceeding down the stairs went to our right. We decided that due to time restrictions related to getting to our other destination, Qufu, and seeing other points of interest we would take the gondolas to the bottom.
We purchased the tickets and proceeded to the loading area. We rode the gondola with a young Chinese couple. It was obvious that they had ridden before and she didn’t enjoy the ride much. As soon as she sat down she took her scarf off and covered her eyes. As foggy as it was it wasn’t like you could see much and in my opinion the transition from the platform and across the towers compared to the more flexible ride of the cable without being able to see and expect the change coming would have been much worse than it was. About half way down the fog began to clear we could see the expanse of the mountain beneath us. We are certain that we missed some nice pictures because the fog obscured the view.
We made our way from the gondola house toward the buses. We were of course now willing to purchase items to reflect our Tai Shan adventure. We found plenty of opportunity and purchased some small carved buddas and then the other vendors approached to see if they could get the rest of the money I had left from that 100 RMB note. I realized how badly I had bargained on the first one when I bought similar items for about 25% less without bargaining. I felt like a sucker but they still only cost me about $3USD so I am not complaining.
We called our driver and told him we were on our way down and had gotten on the bus. We still have communication issues; I think he thought we were already at the bottom. It takes about 20 minutes to travel from mid-mountain to the bottom. He called and ask where we were about the time we got to the reservoir and the ride was so bumpy I could barely speak to him.
We had a young man in one of the seats in front of us take our picture with him in the picture. He thought he was being sneaky but we saw and gave him the standard Chinese peace sign. Don’t know what it is with the peace sign over here but that is the thing they always do with Americans in the photo.
We arrived at the bottom and the buses are backed up halfway to the reservoir and we have to walk several hundred meters to get to the normal exit point. We find our driver and make our way to the parking garage to begin our travel to Qufu.
Mount Tai is most definitely one of the must do locations in China. It has such a historic role in China. We were in awe at the mountain. When you think about climbing a mountain in the USA you don’t often think about climbing a granite staircase and granite paved walkway all the way to the top. This climb, while vigorous, was not overwhelming. I expect that we will do this again. My colleagues at work have indicated that since I didn’t have a Chinese speaking translator with me I missed some of the significance of the locations. Some have volunteered to accompany me on my next climb so that I can get the history that goes with the gates, temples, and carvings. I am looking forward to doing it again. I would also like to climb the alternate route just because it is much less travelled to see the difference in the two paths.