Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain, has become one of China’s most recognizable and frequented tourist attraction sites. Located in Huangshan City of Anhui province, the massif spans across a total expanse of 1,200 square kilometers with a core area of approximately 161 square kilometers. Renowned for its natural beauty, unique geological history, and geomorphology, the cliffs first formed over 100 million years ago during the Mesozoic era due to crustal movements and subsequent uplifts.
There is a Chinese saying that goes, "Mount Huangshan is picturesque all the year round.” Most known for its five wonders: sea of clouds, uniquely shaped pine trees, jagged granite peaks, springs, and magnificent sunrises, Yellow Mountain is worth seeing at anytime of the year. It is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is often the subject of traditional Chinese paintings, literature, and poetry. Nowadays, it is one of the most photographed icons of China.
My trip to Huangshan was an impromptu one; I flew in to Shanghai from Hong Kong and hopped on a five-hour road trip with my family and friends immediately upon landing.
I was very delightfully surprised by how well preserved and logistically organized the site was. The infrastructure of the whole region is generally safe and steady. Tens of thousands of stone steps have been carved into the mountains over the years and the paths are clearly marked. There are directional signs, maps, and checkpoints wherever you go. Two trails are available if you decide to skip the cable cars and start hiking from the very bottom. There is the longer “Western Steps” (14km, ~6-7 hours) with mind-blowing views or the shorter “Eastern Steps,” which is still lovely but comparatively less grandeur (~2-3 hours). Of course, you can always take the cable cars up to the upper reaches of the peaks (which is what we did) and start walking from there.
There are only two things I’d warn people about. One is to keep alert at all times and watch out for the mountain porters who carry food and supplies up to the hotels and stores at the mountaintops. Remember that they’re carrying cargos with weights heavier than themselves (I’m guessing 140-180 pounds) and balancing them on the long poles rested on their shoulders and backs. It would be stupid not to sidestep for them as they’re moving swiftly on the thrust of momentum and aren’t fully in control of their movements. Stay out of their path if you don’t want them to collide into you.
All the materials available to tourists and residents on the mountain are hauled up and down on the backs of the carriers. This includes food, drinks, construction materials, hotel supplies, linens, and all other goods and necessities. To say that I’m in awe would be undermining my respect for the hardworking porters. How difficult it must be to be carrying beasts of burden everyday back and forth on these ceaseless steps...
My second warning would be to plan your hiking route ahead of time and make realistic estimates about your pace. The cable cars shut down early afternoon and being trapped in the middle of the mountains after dark would not be a good idea. It'd probably take (at least) another 6 hours to hike back to where you started (also because there are barely any night lights, so bring a flashlight just in case).
There are hotels of various prices at the mountaintops and I recommend staying over for at least a night to try to catch the sunrise at 4:30am. We weren't so fortunate in seeing the sunrise however. We woke up early, climbed to a peak, and waited. We waited and it started to drizzle but we continued to wait, to no avail. The sun had sneakily creeped up behind the heavy clouds. It was beautiful and a great experience regardless and I'd love try it again another time.
I had high expectations prior to this trip and it turned out to be nothing less than exceptional. There's no question that I'll be back again in the wintertime someday to catch the sunrise and of course, the sea of clouds.