Huang Shan, like Mogan Shan, is endowed with 4 wonderfulnesses – Oddly shaped pines, Hot Springs, Weird Rocks, and Clouds. The mountains are shrouded in cloud on most days of the year, and today was one of those. Sometimes the clouds nestle just between the mountains, a cloud-like sea with mountain peaks for islands. At other times everything is covered in a dense damp fog that swallows noise and turns hulking rocks into vague threatening shapes, like icebergs rearing up out of ocean mists.
And so began the long walk down the mountain by the Southern Steps. The first two hours of the six hour walk went up and over several peaks before the inevitable downward path, and I’m sure at points along the way there would have been spectacular views on a clear day, but all I could see was the dense fog and the convincing sensation that three steps from the path would lead me to the edge of a yawning chasm, and certain death.
But I had good company on the way down, and we probably enjoyed the quiet and mysterious feel of a mountain in cloud just as much as we enjoyed the spectacular views of the previous day. All the way down we passed porters bringing up goods to the kiosks and hotels on the mountain top. They were short and stocky, with a resigned and stoic air, and carried carefully balanced loads on either end of a bamboo pole across their shoulders. Every 20 steps or so they would stop, adjust their 40kg loads, and continue. Never once did I see one look up at the path ahead. Better to just look at your feet and concentrate on a step at a time.