In eastern China, there is a mountain range called Huangshan, an otherworldly place where jagged granite peaks are shrouded in mist and pine trees grow out of the rock.
Located in southern Anhui province, the mountain range is both a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I left my hotel in the dark in order to arrive in time for the first cable car that whisked me up into the clouds over 2,500 feet in 8 minutes. The experience was a bit daunting, but the views extraordinary, and I was even more eager to explore the breathtaking scenery.
The mountains are named after the legendary Chinese Emperor Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, who is the ancestor of all Han Chinese. According to legend, the beloved Emperor was a disciple of Taoist masters who sought to make immortality pills and believed that the best place to make them was in the mountains where the spirit world was near. After travelling throughout China, they chose a place then known as Yishan to make the pills. There, the Yellow Emperor took the immortality pill and road off to heaven on the back of a dragon.
Who knows if Huang Di really is immortal, but certainly the mountains have been immortalized by centuries of Chinese painters who were inspired by the mystical landscape.
To this day, the mountains continue to inspire painters, poets, writers, film makers and even photographers like me. I have always wanted to visit the Yellow Mountains of China and when something has been on your bucket list for a long time, it’s always an especially profound moment when you finally see it with your own eyes.
There are 60,000 stone steps leading the way from overlook to overlook, along the edges of cliffs, and up to the top of some of the peaks. I’ve never seen so many steps!!! For the many miles I walked each day, virtually every step was either up or down.
The day I arrived a storm had just passed through leaving behind the fog and mist I was hoping for. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I got drenched in the rain in Shanghai, that very storm created the magical moments I later experienced in the Yellow Mountains.
As the weather changed constantly throughout the day, the mist came and went. But I had all day to get to my hotel on the top of the mountain so when I found a composition I liked, I would often just wait and watch for the sea of clouds to obscure and reveal the mountains.
After a day of walking for miles up and down, up and down, I was really glad that I only had to carry my camera gear. I whittled my belongings down to 20 pounds for porters to carry to my hotel. I saw some porters along the way, and was astounded by how many bags each one could carry. With poles draped over their shoulders, they had dozens of bags hanging on each end of the pole.
Along the way, I came across this sign which brought a smile to my face because it’s odd translation made perfect sense.
The photos in this post were all made during the day and, surprisingly, they were all made with my older camera, the Sony NEX6. When I carry my gear, I usually have one lens on each body and one extra lens, so often when I want to use a different lens, I simply pick up one camera and put the other down. But I was so enchanted by the scenery, it didn’t occur to me that if I was going to use my 18-55 for most of the shots, I probably should have switched it onto my newer A6000. But you know what, the gear truly doesn’t matter! The NEX6, even at 5 years old, is still an awesome camera.
In Part 2 of my story about Huangshan, I’ll show you some of the photos I made at sunrise and sunset, when Huangshan shows its colourful side.