I didn’t walk up all 7000, or however many, stairs there are going up Taishan. It took me so long to get to the halfway point that we decided to take the cable way to the top. But I didn’t feel deprived: there were plenty more stairs once you got to the top!
I have to commend my son’s excellent “parenting” skills: he let me figure out for myself that the cable way was the path of wisdom. Only later did he confess that he had been figuring that he could wear my backpack on his front going up the steepest part and was, even at that, trying to figure out how to prevent me from falling. He had been up before and the steepest part was yet to come and much steeper than the stretches that had challenged me.
More lines, horizontal this time from Mount Tai (Taishan)’s stairs. This flight is smooth and regular.
Taishan, a.k.a. Mount Tai, a.k.a. Mount Taishan (this is redundant since shan means mountain, but some websites use it, including UNESCO) is a mountain that has important historic, cultural and religious significance for Chinese people. Taishan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is a Wikipedia article about it.
Mount Tai, also known as Mount Taishan (it is called this on the UNESCO World Heritage website, even though it is redundant: Shan means Mountain) or Tai Shan, isn’t high by world mountain standards, at a mere 1545 meters above sea level (5,069 ft) but to ascend is to climb a whole lot of stone steps. Mount Tai is in the Shandong Province. In the fall of 2015 my son got a couple of days off work when I was visiting and we took a quick trip to check it out. In the photos he is the one with the pony tail and grey athletic pants.
The recorded number of steps varies, most sources put it fairly close to 7,000. Some sources attribute the differing numbers to how many of the temples and shrines one visits along the way. I personally believe that when one is ascending it is too easy to loose count, and honestly, how much does it really matter. It felt like a million to this slightly over the hill mama, and I didn’t even go the whole way afoot.
Near the halfway point there is a cable car that takes you to a spot a bit above the famous entrance gate. You then follow a path that takes you down a bit and through the entrance gate.
I felt like it was cheating but my son was obviously relieved when I gave up the idea that I was going to make it all the way. He had been once before [he has also climbed both Mount Olympus (7.980 ft) and Mount Rainier (14,411 ft-although the climb starts at about 5,400 ft)]. He had been trying to figure out how he could carry both of our packs up the steepest part (known as Shiba which means eighteen, a nearly vertical stretch of eighteen steps) and stay behind me to keep me from an unbroken fall. Sometimes he can be very sweet! I am not the best balanced person in the world.
My decision was eased by two things: visibility was low so I wouldn’t get any views to compensate for the labor…and I learned that emperors didn’t climb the whole way themselves, they were carried up in litters to near the gate the walked through the gate themselves. Before that I was being very impressed by the level of fitness expected of an emperor!
Even taking the cable way there were plenty of steps to experience between the station and the top.
At the top of Tai Shan there is a round gate called the “eye of the tortoise”. The tortoise is one of the nine sons of the dragon.
The gate itself is pretty cute.
Eye of the tortoise gate on Tai Shan.
View of the “eye of the tortoise” gate on Tai Shan.
Post sunrise exodus.
The eye of the tortoise is a gate to a viewing area. This is one of the places people come to watch the sunrise (to read about our sunrise experience check out Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye). More famously, it is where Confucius came to view his territory, the stae of Lu.
I have wondered about the significance and connection between this formation and the bixi, which are a statue of a tortoise carrying a stele on its back. Mount Tai is a very old place of importance and it would be interesting to know if this granite formation helped shape the mythology of the region.
If you recall we were trouping, somewhat bleary eyed, out of our hotel. We were more awake than many of the others since we had to battle with the alarm on our door.
Watching the sunrise on Mount Tai is, to quote the commercial, “what you do”.
As we walked out of the hotel we were joined by others, and as we walked along toward the viewing area groups of folks who had come up in the night joined the throng. There were vendors renting big army looking coats for 20 RMB and photographers that would take your picture then “photoshop” you into various wonderful, but, in many cases, geographically impossible backgrounds.
I was awfully glad that we had sent James the high-vis hat which made him easy to spot in the dim light and crowds. The pictures are blurry, even with a mono-pod it was hard to stay still in the chilly morning as I tried to keep track of James (I gave up trying to keep up with him years ago) and keep out of the way of more vigorous others (pretty much everyone).
Why were we all there?
The sunrise on Mount Tai is splendid and one of the marvelous spectacles of the summit of Mount Tai and is also the important symbol of Mount Tai. While the first beam of sunlight tears the last beam of darkness before dawn, the east sky turns dull black to grey, to red and then to dazzling golden yellow jetting out rays of morning sun and brightening the whole sky. Finally, one fireball suddenly jumps out of sea of cloud. The whole process is like a peak of perfection which likes thousands of polychrome pictures brought by a lofty magician.
There came a point when both the clock and the amount of ambient light indicated that the sun had risen. But no one wanted to give up and walk away.
Then someone started pointing and others joined in. There it was, the sun.
My son said “sleeping dragon slowly opens one eye…then hits the snooze button.”
We were now free to file out through the “Eye of the Tortoise” and find some breakfast.
I am just back from a trip where I was planning to do so many things that I couldn’t manage. One was to keep up with Cee’s Compose Yourself series. This is probably late, I can’t seem to get my dates straight.
I am using this week’s essay and prompt to look at pictures I took while away instead of trying to take new ones. To try and see the pictures with new eyes.
The above three pictures all have straight leading lines. When I took the pictures part of what I was trying to show was a sense of how big distances were. I think that is why the lines wound up dominating the pictures.
Here are two pictures taken of the same archway, with the leading lines of the wall on the edge of the steps at two different angles. Picture 1, before and after editing:
I cropped it slightly and removed the bit of my son’s head since it seemed a distraction. With his head gone the horizontal line of the wall leads your eye to the stairway.
Picture 2: I left James in since he seemed to be a leading line:
The bent lines of the dead tree draw you into the living one planted in its core:
While this picture is pretty dark, experiments I did with compositions led me to prefer this one, which has a road curving toward the temple gate just slightly visible because it reflected the lights shining on the gate.
in this picture the curved edge of the koi pond leads your eye to the boy and his grandfather.
Train tickets safely tucked in my neck pouch, we began to ascend Mount Tai.
Mount Tai, a block uplift formation, rises somewhat abruptly from a plain. It has been a center of worship for time out of mind. Both as a location for and as the subject of worship. The origins of its significance are related to it forming a physical connection between the earth and the sky.
It is a place where myth, legend, mystery and history intermingle.
It reminds me of the “old magic” that is referred to in literature such as the Lord of the Rings, Narnia, the Dark is Rising series and other fantasy genre books. One almost expects that one of the nearby peaks, barely visible through the haze, might house an oriental version of Hogwarts.
But when you start up the thing you most notice is the stairs.
Mount Tai is well known for stairs. Many sources give step counts, 6660 to 7000 is the most common range.
As we climbed up the stairs I had to “stop to take pictures” pretty often, especially on long steep stretches. A few times I got lectured by my son that I shouldn’t stop except on landings, because he was afraid I would topple over. What he didn’t realize was that the stopping was in part needed to preventing the toppling. The scenery was okay, it would have been better had it been less hazy. Few pictures I took were all that great. If the air had been a bit clearer the fall colors and mountain scenery would have been “just like a Chinese painting”.
As we started up the dominant traffic was folks coming down. I wondered how many of them had come on the train with us. There were people of all sorts coming down, young and old, hale and ones that were being assisted, a fair number of folks were limping a bit or seemed like their feet were hurting. As the morning wore on the downhill traffic slowed to a trickle and, while it was never a wilderness experience, it wasn’t crowded any more. It took us about 4 hours to reach the Midway Gate to Heaven (Zhong Tian Men).
Travelers who don’t need to “stop to take pictures” as much as I do will do this in about half the time. After lunch we assessed the situation and decided that
I was already dragging, and it would be after dark before we reached the top.
We had packs on that affected our (especially my) balance. James was talking about carrying both packs and staying behind me in case I fell as we went up the steepest part, which was very, very steep (his concern warmed my heart , but the plan seemed like it would set up a domino effect more than it would prevent a disaster).
It was pretty hazy so visibility wasn’t terrific, we weren’t going to miss any spectacular views.
We wouldn’t have any time or energy to explore at the summit if we continued up on foot.
So we took the cable way.
In some ways this follows the tradition of emperors, who were carried up on litters then got off to walk through the South Gate to Heaven, reputed to be the way to immortality. The emperors probably walked a shorter distance than we did coming downhill from the cable way to the gate.
Guess what you did after going through the gate?
Our hotel was just below the Jade Emperor Summit, about a half a mile up stairs from the gate! Boy was I glad we weren’t going through that gate well after dark to learn that we still had a fair ways to go!
We explored until dark.
View from pathway exiting cable way.
Panoramic view of the summit, a bit too hazy.
Did I mention that this is not a wilderness experience?
This sign makes it sound like the rocks are either profound or a little kinky.
Rocks described by sign.
View toward the southeast.
View from pathway near Azure Cloud Temple.
View of Confucius Temple from Shenqi Hotel entrance.
View of Qingdi Palace and Shenqi Hotel from Jade Emperor temple.
We think this may be a weather station…it looks a bit like something Dr. Seuss might have drawn.
Evening fire lit at Qingdi Palace.
The Shenqi Hotel, which calls itself a three star hotel, was comparable to the hard sleeper on the train. The beds were a little wider and we didn’t have to climb up to them, but the room was barely large enough for the two beds and a modest walkway between them. We had kind of a scary incident when we realized that our door did not lock. The maid for the floor came over locked the door with her key then took our key away to fix it while we were out doing the exploring that resulted in the gallery above. That meant that our belongings were in a locked room for which we didn’t have a key…we weren’t sure if that was an improvement over the previous foray when, unbeknownst to us, it wasn’t locked at all.
When we got back she had made the key work, but an alarm went off every time you shut the door…a loud one. It always took several tries before the door would stay shut quietly.
The towels were threadbare, the shower cubicle moldy and the toilet made a little noise when flushed but nothing actually disappeared. We were told that hot water would be available for showers from 8 to 11 pm.
In spite of hard beds, alarming door and cold water wash up, we were so tired we slept through the hot shower window. We were awakened by the call for folks to go out for sunrise. We bundled up and trundled out.