Huangshan, the mountain not the town, is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. The scenery is simply sublime and its reputation as one of China's most spectacular landscapes is well earned.
Huangshan, which translates as Yellow Mountain, is really a series of mountains linked together by a trail from one mountain top to the next. While it's possible for the extremely fit to hike the entire length of the trail in a single day, as a photographer, I very much appreciated the 3 days I'd set aside for the journey.
Into the Landscape
The above photo was made very early in the morning. I was up early for a sunrise, prior to heading back to the hotel for a shower and some breakfast. It was then a matter of packing up and hiking to the next hotel, stoping regularly to make photos or catch my breath. I have the capability to walk, on a gentle trail, for many hours without too much trouble. But I hate hills and the mountain trails, often steps cut into stone stairways, across Yellow Mountain are quite steep. I remember one morning stripping down to a T-shirt during the hike, despite the fact that it was around -10C. But I was carrying my camera kit, including a tripod, laptop, winter clothing and personal effects.
The fact that it was only a few hours hike to the next hotel, where a hot lunch and a nice shower awaited, kept me going. That and the spectacular scenery. After lunch I'd head out again for more exploration and photography. As the days are relatively short at this time of year I'd stay out for sunset returning, just in time, for a nice hot dinner. Dinner and a sunset! Really, it doesn't get much better than that for a landscape photographer.
So, while not a spectacular scene, the ice covered trees, mist and enveloping stillness indicated that the hike onto the next hotel was going to be fun indeed. And it was.
When to Visit
I visited Huangshan during late January 2011 and enjoyed 3 fabulous days on the mountain. One potential problem for the enthusiast photographer, seeking serenity and landscapes bereft of people, is the literally millions of tourists who visit Yellow Mountain each year. To avoid the crowds I decided to schedule my trip in the middle of winter.
While some of the mountain trails are closed during that time of year and the deep set mist, which closed around me like a veiled curtain, no doubt hid many spectacular views I believe the timing of the trip was appropriate. I doubt that I saw more than 100 people over the 3 days, most of whom I spotted in hotel restaurants. So, for me, the loss of potentially striking scenery was a reasonable compromise given the deep sense of tranquility, punctuated with moments of exhilaration, I experienced along the way. Huangshan is very much a place to experience serendipity.
You simply have to be there, get out into the landscape and be prepared for a little hardship. Bliss, like all good things, comes to those who are open to possibilities and are prepared to take risks.
While the mountain is susceptible to mist throughout the year it would be great to experience Huangshan in spring and autumn. And I'd love to return, for an extended visit, during winter. Perhaps we'll visit together.
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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru