“How far is it to Taizi Ping?” we asked.
“Around 2.5 kilometers,” the guard said.
Manfriend looked at me. I could see it in his eyes — another 2.5 kilometers? We had already been hiking for almost nine hours and were now looking at another hour at least. Folks from nearby hotels were calling out, trying to lure in customers, and a hot shower sure did sound nice …
It was time to call it. No need to push things, especially with sunset so close.
So ended our first day on Mount Emei, in Sichuan, China.
Very early that same morning, our train had pulled into the village nearby. We tossed our bags into storage and hopped on the bus to our starting point. After plenty of research, we decided to opt for the second station up the mountain. It would save us quite a few kilometers but leave plenty ahead for us.
With a bamboo walking stick in hand, purchased for 30 cents from a kind old woman along the path, we were on our way. (The stick was practical, not just for walking, but for warding off the allegedly aggressive monkeys we were likely to encounter. (Spoiler: We saw the rumored monkey gangs but kept out of trouble.)
The stairs were plentiful, but so were the gorgeous sights. The first time we reached a temple, we were still smiling.
A few hours later, things weren’t so cheery. There were just so many damned stairs. And our 30-something bodies weren’t loving it. I mean, I’d done the “Couch-to-5K” program in my Colorado past, but a “Couch-to-1,000,000-stairs” was way more than my sofa-loving soul bargained for.
Others passed us by — those who had taken buses and cable cars to stations along the route, or those simply riddled with all sorts of muscles. I wheezed out a “ni hao,” clinging to the railing nearby.
Alas, the hotel was just what this weary traveler needed.
By the next morning, we set out feeling, well, not optimistic, but eager to finish. The weather had taken a nasty turn, but this hike wasn’t about the summit. Not anymore, anyway.
I’d never before done something so physically challenging. Seems my many hikes at true Colorado altitudes were long in the past. This time, it was a day and a half through some of China’s dense mountains, gaining more than 2,000 meters in elevation over something like 15 to 20 kilometers.
At the top, I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe we’d done it. And while all we could see was dense fog and a few statues, we were ecstatic.
We didn’t do things the way the super fit folks had — those boasting plans of summiting and returning all in one day.
But we had made it and done so our way. We’d seen views that took our breath away even more than the stairs had.
This time, the long way was definitely the way to go.