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.
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.