If any of you had a chance to talk to me before I departed on this trip you'll probably remember me banging on about a mountain in Xi'an where you can walk around the edge of a cliff, with nothing but 3 very narrow, broken planks supporting you from the 2000+ metre drop.
This was something I had seen once on a YouTube video. I couldn't quite believe my eyes. Once I'd seen the video I knew it was something I wanted to do before I died. That day had finally come.
It took a 2 hour coach journey to get to the ticket office of the mountain. You have to buy tickets for everything here in China from walking in a park to climbing a mountain. Once we had our entrance tickets we had to take another bus to where the cable cars left from. None of those cars were for us though, oh no. We planned to take a route rather ominously known as 'Soliders Path' up to the north peak. The north peak was the lowest of the 5 peaks (north, east, west, centre and south). From there we planned to climb to the summit of the south peak, which was the highest. After that we planned to head for west peak to catch the sunset, then descend slightly further to book in to one of the over priced hostels on the mountain.
Soliders Path was certainly an appropriate name for the route we took. It was gruelling, with stack upon stack of seemingly endless, steep and arduous stairs to climb. The views were spectacular however, even with the deep mist decreasing our visibility. It felt almost eerie as we climbed higher and higher.
The route we'd taken was needless to say the toughest of the three routes to north peak. It twisted and turned below the effortless route of the cable car. Some sections were completely vertical, so we had to cling to steel chains as we climbed up. This is no mean feat when your thighs are already burning intensely. The stepper machine in the gym seems like a piece of cake compared to the 2 hours of relentless, unforgiving stone stairs.
Along the way we passed an enormous frozen waterfall. It looked incredible, like it had been placed on pause mid flow. It was stunning scenery like this that spurred us on to reach the viewing platform at north peak.
As we got closer and closer to the first proper stop of our climb the sun gradually started to pierce its way through the clouds and mist. I remember thinking that was someone or something smiling down on us, telling us we were nearly there. A short while later we'd reached the north peak, sweating but at the same time completely exhilarated.
After a brief stop to catch our breath, we trekked on. Our next obsitcle was called 'Blue Dragon Ridge' a long, narrow stretch of rock with laced with steps. After navigating that we reached 'The Golden Gate' - the entrance to the paths that lead to all four of the remaining peaks. With our game faces on we headed straight for the big one – South Peak.
The steps were relentless. Never-ending. After another couple of hours we reached a fork. One side leading to South Peak, the other to the notorious 'Cliff Walk'. As many of you may recall, I went on and on about a plank walk on a mountain in China – this was it! I couldn't believe we were finally there, about to walk on some shaky planks around a 2,200 metre mountain. I'd seen this in a YouTube video a long time ago, and I remember saying to my brother 'I'm going to do that one day'. Well, the time has finally come. It was incredible! My stomach was churning as we climbed vertically down the cliff face, held on only by a small rope and our fingertips. Next we had to navigate some indents in the rocks, and finally the planks! The view was breathtaking, and the feelings rushing through my body filled me with energy and at the same time tranquillity.
Both our faces carrying wide smiles, we climbed further, still heading for the summit at South Peak. A short while later we reached it. I'm starting to get a taste for mountain climbing. The feeling of being on top of the world is very addictive!
Now our day started to get interesting. We descended a bit to West Peak, where we knew of a hostel to stay at for the night. This hostel turned out to be closed, probably because it was low season. Fortunately for us we had meet a Chinese lady and her boyfriend during our climb to the summit, and even more fortunate – she was an English teacher! She told us she had booked a room lower down at North Peak, and that we should get there pretty quick as it was getting late in the day and the rooms might be booked up. She also told us how much she had paid for a room (which was much more than we had been told) and consequently could not afford. Luckily for us she offered to barter a price for us, so we walked together down to her hostel. After a nervous wait she confirmed that she had negotiated a rate of around £7 for us to stay the night! Grateful already that she had got us a bed, she then offered to buy us dinner! We sat down and although feeling a little guilty, tucked in to some delicious spicy beef noodles. After dinner we learnt how to play Chinese poker, and settled down for the night.
The next morning we climbed to the East Peak to watch the sunrise (which was completely obscured by cloud... boo) and started the long (loooong) trek down to the bottom. Eventually we reached the bottom gates, and started our hunt for the bus back to Xi'an. We were directed by a number of people to a bus, which did go to Xi'an, but some random bus station, not the rail station! Now we had no money and no idea where we were. Not the best situation to find yourself in. We tried several banks to withdraw some money for a cab, but none would accept Visa! Good times. Now we were tired, hungry, dirty, poor and lost. After an hour or two we found a bank that was kind enough to give us some cash. Immediately we grabbed some tasty buns from a nearby stand, and hailed a taxi. Before we could get the car type of taxi, we were approached by a motorbike/wagon taxi. We negotiated a fantastic price, and hopped in, clueless that it would be the wildest ride of our lives!
Heading in to oncoming traffic such as buses and coaches, swerving around cars, darting on to the pavement and multiple near misses with women and children and finally some skidding where the pavement was so drenched in rain. Talk about adrenaline filled! I was buzzing by the time we got back to two feet.
48 hours of my life that I will never forget. What an adventure!