All the photos in this blog were taken by me on an iPhone. Do the hike, you won’t regret it!
Climbing Emeishan #Emeishan #Mt Éméi was one of the hardest but best things I have ever done. It’s basically 50kms of stairs over 2 days to reach the Golden Summit at 3099metres/10,126ft. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! Each step is one step closer to the Golden Summit that sits up above the clouds. That was the allure of deciding to take on the challenge at the start. Climbing a mountain that’s summit is higher than the clouds. The stairway to heaven. Challenge completed. No regrets. I am so proud of myself!
Mount Emei is a UNESCO world heritage listed mountain in the Leshan city, Shichuan Provence, and is the highest by 1000metres, of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China. Mt. Emei sits at the western rim of the Shichuan Basin. The mountains west of it are known as Daxiangling. Emeishan is the home of the first Buddhist temple in China. The mountain is dotted with monasteries and temples filled with Tibetan Buddhists scripture and text. It has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years, originally being a Taoist retreat. With over 200 plant species and wealth of resident wildlife, Emeishan has also been an important pilgrimage site for botanists and zoologists.
One of the most important artifacts on Emeishen is the statue of Samantabhadra, an imposing golden stupa which has this bodhisattva sitting on four elephants, each looking in a different direction.
There are over 30 buddhist temples on Emei Shan, 10 of which are very large and very old. They are considered masterpieces of creative ingenuity in the way they adapt to the natural environment and beauty of the holy mountain.
Elephant Bathing Temple at 2000 m.
At the mountain base is Baoguo Monastery, built in the 16th century. The monastery has serene gardens with rare plants, a library of sutras and a huge porcelain Buddha. In the stone staircase of the rear hall are figures of the Eight immortals betraying the temples Taoist origins.
How fit do you need to be?
12 months prior I decided to get fitter and drop some weight and be healthier. I wasn’t training for or planning to climb a mountain. It was more about general health. I joined a life style program to give me some focus. I always admired those who did climb mountains, but never believed it would be me. Deep in my mind it was on the bucket list but that’s it. When we had to change our holiday itinerary due to an earthquake in the intended national park we were planning to visit, a mountain climb was one of the options given. The seed was planted. I could climb a mountain. Ted and I started to talk about it but just in light banter, I don’t think either of us thought it a reality.
The idea kept growing in my mind. Was I fit enough? Could my new lifestyle choice of healthy eating and regular exercise have put me in good stead to do a mountain climb? Our conversations started to become more purposeful about our ability to do so. I started researching what this climb would entail, and what the conditions of this mountain were.
We were novices at mountain climbing. We had never done anything like this before. Until the last 12 months I had lived quite a sedentary lifestyle. Ted had always exercised so was much fitter than I but until you know more detail you don’t know what fitness level you need. Bottom line is you don’t need to be super fit. It won’t be easy but with average fitness it’s doable. If really needed there are sherpa’s that for a fee will carry you up certain points of the mountain. Negotiate a fee with both sherpa’s before using this service.
There was 3 of us doing the climb. Our guide, Ted and I. I found it interesting that we all did it differently. Ted would walk for periods and stop for 30 minute breaks. Eben our guide tended to sprint up like 100 steps then break for a bit and eventually take a good break. For me it was slow and steady. I did it best by walking at my own pace, being in my own head space and walking as many steps as I could then stopping for a minute and keep going. I didn’t want 30 minute breaks.
The first day we all kept together. I think Eben was seeing how we wanted to do the climb and walked at a pace that suited us. I felt I had to keep up with them and this was difficult. After spending the first day together I think Eben had built a rappore with Ted and I and felt we were ok for him not to necessarily stay at our side. I preferred the second day.
The first day it rained and was humid. We had bought our bamboo canes to ward of the monkeys we may encounter on the mountain at the bottom of the mountain and also plastic rain poncho’s to keep us dry. I had also purchased from a stall at the beginning some plastic covers for my runners. We all wore runners to climb in. Ebens runners were waterproof and this was probably a better option. Ted chose to not have the plastic cover shoes and get wet feet. Eben chose to just use an umbrella for protection from the rain.
It rained the entire day and I became soaked from sweat under my plastic rain poncho due to the humidity and ended up discarding the poncho as it was not keeping me dry in a sense. For most of the day my feet were kept dry by the cheap plastic cover shoes but towards the last couple of hours I had worn a hole in them and they were holding water. I kept them on to the end of the day because I thought at least they were giving some protection to the top of my runners. In the end I had opted for the umbrella like Eben to keep me dry. A bit of vanity also because I have quite wavy hair and that morning I had gotten up early, straightened my hair fresh and clean for the next 3 days. By they end of the day I literally didn’t care what I looked like. I was wet, tired and just wanted to make it to the monastery. There was no room for vanity. This feeling sort of tickled my sense of humour that I must be a serious hiker now. The city girl with straightened hair long left behind down the mountain. When we reached the monastery about 5pm it was cooling down, I was wet and exhausted and had become cold waiting for Eben to check us in. You will need to show your passport on check in to the monastery and hotel at the summit.
Day 2, I woke wondering if I had another day of climbing in me. Wondering if I had taken on too much doing this and could I realistically make it to the summit. My legs were sore and stiff and felt weak. We wanted to make an early start so we met Eben and ate breaky at 6am and set off at 6.30am. As we walked the sun came out. Initially when walking on day 2, I noticed that when I stopped my legs were shaking. My muscles were fatigued from the day prior still. I needed to hold onto the had rail not to fall as it was hard to stay upright whilst standing still as my legs didn’t want to hold me in that position. Incredibly after an hour or so this went away with any of the stiffness I felt in the morning. The weather the second day was great walking weather. I think this is partly what helped make the second day better for me. It was better because, 1. I knew what I was in for, 2. the weather was better and 3. we walked our own walk.
When Eben and Ted rested I kept walking. For me it was better to walk slow and steady, stop a few seconds and keep walking. There were times when I could only walk 3 steps or 6 steps and have to stop. This is why I was better to walk ahead because it gave me a chance to get out in front and go slow and at my pace. Occasionally Eben would sprint past but we all stayed within a couple hundred metres of each other. As much as this is a physical challenge, it’s also a mental challenge. I needed to mentally encourage myself, talk to myself in my own head.
Prior to leaving someone from my lifestyle program had done a few climbs and she advised me to go slow and steady. I would say to myself, slow and steady wins the race. You can do this. I would hear my physical trainer say in my head. These muscles are stronger than you think, you can do this.
A few people commented to us when we said we were going to do the climb. Do you think you can, you haven’t trained for this and I found myself second guessing myself. Ted was great. He said don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do this. Believe in yourself.
I guess I am writing this to say, walk your own path, be prepared for the physical and mental challenge and believe in yourself. If you have good health and average fitness, you will be able to make it the whole way and you will be so proud of yourself. The personal reward is one of the highlights of my life.
Do we carry our own luggage. What do we do with our suitcases?
Mt Emei is 150km from Chengdu, 130km from Shuangliu International Airport and only 28km from Leshan city. Access to the mountain is via Emei Shen town, 7km from the base. Minibuses and public buses leave from Emei’s main street depot to the trailhead at Baoguo and for those not wanting to do the hike, minibuses can take people most of the way up and the a swiss style cable car sours over the pines to the Golden Summit.
We stayed in a hotel at the base of the mountain and left our main luggage in storage there whilst we climbed the mountain, taking only a backpack carrying a change of clothes, basic toiletries and snacks for 3 days. Day 1 we stayed in a monastery deep in the mountain so did not require to carry bedding.
Where do you stay on the mountain?
We stayed in the Xiangfeng Monastery after a 7-8 hours climbing. This was pre booked by our travel agent. The accommodation was simple but more than adequate. It had single beds with electric blanket a portable heater and ensuite. I found after a full day, it to be very warm and comfortable. If wanting to eat tea at the monastery I’d advise you plan to be there by 6pm to freshen up and be ready to eat by 7 or else you may find it hard to get a meal. An after climbing for 8 hours we all had built a good appetite and I don’t think I would have been a very happy camper if I’d missed my tea that night. Our guide organised for our tea to be cooked in a ‘outside restaurant’ area. It was an open place with just the basics, like if camping. I was cool in my jacket but the amazing meal made it worth braving the cold. Our breakfast the next morning was a very basic monastery Chinese style breakfast. Local style porridge, bread and boiled egg.
I advise staying at accommodation on the summit the day you reach it and wake for the sunrise the next morning. That is a spectacular experience. It also gives you time to fully appreciate views, the golden statue and golden temple.
- Best time to see the sunrise: 6.00am in Summer, 7.00am in Winter
- Best time to see clouds sea: 9.00 -10.00am; 3.00 -4.00pm
- From January to March visitors can go skiing on Emeishan
- You can rent cotton jackets on the Golden Summit
- Summer is always rainy and the mists may stay around the mountain for a whole day. Advised to take raincoats and umbrellas whilst hiking
What do we eat during the climb, can we get food on the mountain?
Before leaving we stocked up on trail snacks. Mixed nuts, chocolate bars, fruit and some water bottles which we were able to carry in our backpacks. There is no shortage of stores on the mountain run by locals who live there. You definitely wouldn’t go hungry or thirsty but be prepared to pay a premium price. We ate lunch on day one at a stall but found we had ample snacks of our own to keep us going. Tea and breakfast were had at the Xianfeng Monastery which was in our booking price for the guide and climb. Once we reached the cable car area you can decide to catch the cable car which takes a couple of minutes up to the Golden summit or finish walking the final leg to the summit. At the cable car we had a selection of eateries to choose from. We had a fabulous Chinese feast in one of the restaurants before climbing the last 7kms from the cable car area to the summit over 2 more hours. We had walked 43 kms over 2 days and although catching the cable car was tempting, we wanted to do the full 50kms because we wanted to complete the whole trek to the summit on our own. Those last 2 hours were the hardest. I had no petrol left in the tank as the saying goes on reaching the summit.
What is the track you walk on like? Is it safe? Do I need to consider altitude training?
The terrain and scenery are beautiful. It’s green and lush. People live and work on the mountain. So you see workers, monks, homes and little food stores managed by locals along the path. Once you leave the area where the day trippers go, it is quite peaceful. During our walk we came across about another 5 or 6 coupled other trackers. There’s a sense of kinship when you do. You don’t need to speak the same verbal language to understand each other. It’s hard work and they know it as well. A smile and acknowledged nod of the head speaks a thousand words. One lady we saw the next day on the summit and we smiled beaming smiles at each other. Both acknowledging that we had made it and happy to see they had also achieved making it to the summit. This is all part of the experience, the feeling of accomplishment that only others who have walked the same path can truly appreciate.
Day trippers take the bus and cable car up to the summit to pray or just take in the views and many choose to walk down from the summit to where the cable care begins. As we were walking up those last 7kms it was past 2pm and people where gesturing to us that it was a long way up and giggling with humour that we were walking up. They were walking downstairs and were on their last 3 or so kilometres and huffing and puffing. They have no idea that day you had already walked 20km plus upward. Ted and I chuckled at that.
The last few kilometres are the hardest because you are close to 3000metres and the air pressure is lower and although all air contains 20.9% at all altitudes, lower pressure at higher altitudes makes it feel like there is lower oxygen percentage. At 3000 metres the effective oxygen percentage is 14.3 as opposed to 20.9 at sea level. This altitude category is rated as ‘high’ by the higherpeak.com website. You do not need to do altitude training for this hike. What you will find is you have less energy and feel more short of breath. Your breathing will be more laboured as you approach higher altitudes. 0 – 610 metres is categorised low altitude, 914 -2134 metres medium altitude and 2438 – 3658 high altitude. To give some perspective, Mount Everest is 8839 metres. and classified ultra.
The track all the way up the mountain is stairs. It was very safe when we went in late September, which is Autumn in China, but I have heard at certain times of the year the stairs can be slippery in some sections. The stairs are endless and often quite steep. You do occasionally get a reprieve where you go down hill a little and some flattened areas but it’s very short-lived and going down hill only means at some stage you have to go back up. You don’t get to 3099 metres by going down hill!
There are wild monkeys along parts of the trek. Bamboo canes can be purchased at the bottom of the mountain to ward of approaching monkey’s. Don’t have food out and keep your bag closed. Don’t stay to long to watch them. Keep moving and avoid looking them in the eye as they see this as a form of aggression
What will the weather be like and what sort of clothing will I need to take?
We did our hike late September 2017. Lower on the mountain day 1, I wore bike shorts. In the evening at the monastery it was quite cool I. had my puffer jacket on. Day 2 I wore thin sports pants and a windcheater with a t-shirt . Up on the Golden Summit I once again wore my puffer jacket.
Comfortable runners were fine to do the walk in.
The best time to visit Emeishan is Spring and Autumn, especially April and October, for these two months are covered with sunny days than other times with most cloudy days. From April to May is also the best time to enjoy the blossom of the Azaleas, whilst October is the best time to enjoy the maple leaves on Emeishan.
The coldest season is January with the average temperature being 4.3 degrees celsius (40F) and the lowest -4 degrees celsius (25F). Snowfall generally starts around November on the upper slopes and snow covers the areas over 2000 metres (6,562ft) for about half the year. On the Golden Summit, the average temperature is about 11.8 degrees celsius (38.7F) and highest temperature is 20 degrees celsius (68F).
How do we get down the mountain?
To come down the mountain you can catch the cable car and then get a bus which will take 2.5-3 hours.
Please share and comment. If you are planning to do this climb, I hope you find this blog useful and share your experience with me on return or if you have climbed Emeishan I would love to read your thoughts.