Tai Shan or Mount Tai is the first of the five great mountains of China. It is known as the eastern mountain out of the five and is the most climbed mountain in the world. The close association with birth and renewal has led to the practise of ascending the 6,500 steps at night to view the sunrise from its peak. You can also climb it during the day and sleep at the top (in a hotel or even just a large coat) or forego the sunrise and take a bus and cable car to the top during the day. Rosanna and I decided we would attempt the night climb to see the sunrise and take advantage of the cooler temperatures.
I was excited and nervous as we set out and this anxious energy lead me to make a spur of the moment decision to make a video record of our ascent. I’m too lazy to edit it so apologies in advance for the lengthy pauses and repetitive script!
This was how we progressed for the next while, with the darkness obscuring the extent of the task ahead of us. However our spirits were high, despite a slight moment of panic:
We kept seeing the same people as we climbed. We’d pass them as they rested and nod or smile, then 10 minutes later while we sat recuperating they’d overtake us with a look of understanding. The most notable of these people was a man who wore military style boots, trousers and backpack with a vest and head torch. He looked very prepared. His steady, unrelenting pace was almost robotic and his headtorch had a rear light which glowed red as he passed us. This plus his habit of sticking his arms out at right angles to his body when he needed to cool down lead me to dub him the Chinese Terminator. The first time he passed us I assumed that would be the last we would see of him, so I was very satisfied when we caught up with him later on.
The route is split into two stages that are roughly equal in terms of time. However to call them halves is a bit misleading as the first part is over a longer distance but with a smaller ascent and part two is not that far as the crow flies but the climb is gruelling. After passing the mid-point the increase in exertion hit me and it took an hour or so to become acclimatised to the new level of intensity.
From the midpoint onwards we started to see people sleeping. They were just lying on the floor covered in large green Chinese military coats which are available to rent all along the route. Maybe they had a strategy to climb a chunk, then sleep, then make the final ascent just before sunrise. Possibly they gave up. Every time we passed one though it reminded me of what my body should be doing at this time of night and I felt a small temptation to join them.
Here is the view I was trying to show you:
Upon making it to the top we received one final confirmation that we had reached the best spot to view the sunrise. There, surrounded by his now discarded tactical clothing, was the Chinese Terminator. No way he would be in the wrong place to enjoy the spectacle that was about to unfurl.
The sunrise, when it finally came, was magnificent. As the light grew around us and we saw the level of air pollution were worried that we wouldn’t see it. Instead what we did get was the gradual rise of the sun from the smog, first burning dull red and then moving through the spectrum to its usual brilliance.
It definitely was appreciated by all of our companions who had made the trek with us.
The descent was surprising. Seeing how far we had walked, and all the temples and shrines we hae missed in the gloom was astonishing. Here are a few of the things we passed on our way up and discovered on the way down.
Here are the full photos from Tai’an – including the Dai Temple which is the official start of the trail. It’s closed at night which is why our videos start with us walking beside its outer wall: