Tianmen Mountain

View from our hotel room

This mountain is high. Higher than the previous scarily high mountains that we have been up. It is over 1500 meters high (4980 feet) which for any UK readers is higher than Ben Nevis. But unlike any British mountain which has a wide base and gentle inclines, this again was mostly sheer cliff faces rising majestically towards the clouds. It is the highest point in the whole of the Hunan province.

To reach the summit you take a cable car which alone took half an hour. HALF AN HOUR of swinging precariously over great gaping yawning sheer drops!!! I tried not to look! It is apparently the longest passenger cableway of high mountains in the world.

Drops like this!!
I looked up rather than back which helped (slightly)

Alternatively there is a road with 99 bends which also reaches the middle of the mountain. 9 is an auspicious number in Taoism. Some keen (crazy) drivers do challenges on this road.

Tianmen means ‘Heaven’s Gate’ Mountain. The name comes from the feature hole near the top. There is also a myth that an ancient general hid stolen treasure in the mountain because it was so inaccessible.

The hole from below
The other side of the hole

Some keen (crazy) pilots have actually flown through the hole, which is impressively skillful flying!

For us, we spent the day walking around the flat top. There are several routes you can take but ALL of them include the solid but narrow paths built on the side of the cliff face.

Like this
And this. You will notice that while I made it up there I was not near the sketchy safety rail!

In fact for much of the walk I was like this

Or this

Or clinging onto Kevin’s hand, especially the highest, narrowest and most exposed sections. The group were very good at saying encouraging things to me as we walked. They even tried singing to take my mind off it but only came up with ‘Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away’ or ‘Don’t fear the reaper’. To be honest even some of our group who don’t have vertigo said that their stomachs were churning a little at those points.

These were the views I was missing.

I did at least have the option of avoiding the glass walkway. Phew!

Lisa B on the glass Braver than me.

We didn’t go to the very highest point which was here.

The platform you can see is the point from which the totally insane launch themselves off in wing suits. This daredevil sport (!) is known as flying squirrels and even the most hardy in our party blanched at the thought of doing that.

No, thank you.

What was stunning was the beautiful red ribbon area. People write wishes or prayers and tie them to the trees. It’s nearer to heaven I suppose.

We wrote one for the family and I very bravely went near-ish to the edge to find a space to tie it on.

The walkways were fortunately very sturdy and made from concrete. It made me shudder just wondering HOW they built them at such heights. I later learned that they would have constructed bamboo scaffolding like this on the cliff face.

The scaffolders must have been as crazy as the flying squirrels!!! I just hope that they were well paid but I suspect not.

What was fascinating was the way the concrete was constructed around the trees

Oh and you have to laugh at some of the translations on the signs

Fire engine!!!! Up here!!!!

Then there was a short suspension bridge which I liked least of all because it MOVED as we walked across. I traversed that as rapidly as I could.

The others enjoyed it and waited until I had crossed before jumping!!!

I decided that I needed to conquer this fear so I tried very hard and did this

Take a look at the railing. It was strong but it does have gaps in it. What was most shocking to us all were the number of people up here with small children. Toddlers who were not on reins! Would you bring a small child up here?!?! We were extremely glad that we visited while the Chinese schools were still in session. We might all have had heart attacks if there were more children running around.

The way down was easier with an extremely long escalator ride inside the mountain which just felt like being in the London Underground.

Then there was the final challenge. 999 steps. Those auspicious numbers again. And they were STEEP

Each tread was quite narrow

In 2018 a Range Rover drove up the 99 bends and 999 steps as a challenge. They did it in 23 minutes 41 seconds which was quite an impressive feat. Check out You Tube if you are interested.

I made it!

We certainly put in some steps and stairs over the 4 days. All in all it was quite an adventure and I feel proud of what I achieved. Well I do now that I am safely back on the ground! As the book says ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ and I certainly did that.

Next holiday should perhaps be somewhere flatter.

Many thanks to Ron, Laurie, Janice, Arthur, Lisa B and Kevin for sharing their photos

The great glass elevator and other scary tales!

The Zhangjiajie region has soaring towers of quartz sandstone topped with tufts of vegetation. These rise to some spectacular heights with sheer vertical sides. It makes for the most amazingly breathtaking scenery and today it was our turn to go UP them.

I don’t really know what possessed me to think that this trip would be a good idea! It seemed fine when it was all theoretical from the safety of our sofa in Shanghai. But other people said they had enjoyed it, so now we’re here.

Those who know me well will know that as I have grown older, I have developed vertigo. I not only get scared of heights but I also don’t like other people going near the edges. I have even found myself holding the handrails every time I go down any steps or stairs.

It is a real nuisance and it has been getting gradually worse. I don’t like sheer drops. I don’t like going anywhere remotely near the edges and looking down makes my stomach clench in gut wrenching sickening spasms accompanied by cold sweats, heart palpitations and something akin to a panic attack. So why in the world would I agree to go on a trip here? The place in China that is famous for its heights! Not only that, I arranged the whole trip!!!

This morning as I faced the glass elevator gliding effortlessly up the sides of the mountain I asked myself that very question. Was I out of my tiny mind? Did I really think that I could do this?!? What on earth possessed me?!?!

It is nothing if not HIGH. See…

But by now there was no turning back. I had committed to this and I was determined to do it! No matter how hard and how scary it was. Not only was I about to step into a great glass elevator in a Roald Dahl-esc way but I was then going to spend all day wandering around on the tops of these monoliths!!!

This is what the ascent looks like on one of those days with wispy ethereal clouds. Everyone in the lift Oooohed and Ahhhhed as we ascended but I show this video here because if I am honest, I didn’t actually look at the time.

Here I was doing one of my least favorite things but I did, have one secret weapon in my campaign against vertigo. I have been learning Taiji.

There are a great many benefits to Taiji but one of them is improved balance. I had noticed that over the course of the 10 months that I have been learning, that my balance has improved noticeably. I can now do all the standing on one leg exercises without wobbling much at all! My core feels stronger and I generally feel more stable. I have been delighted with this and I was banking on that being a huge factor in what was causing the physiological reactions when it comes to heights.

The views up here were stunning and spectacular

But we were high. Oh boy we were high!!!

Now normally even just a photo of this kind of drop would have me sweating and feeling peculiar. But I was ok (ish)

Look I went near the edges (sort of) I’m rocking it.

Actually I am pretty proud of myself for managing this. Only months ago and I wouldn’t have even entered the glass elevator never mind stood as close to the edge as this.

So, to celebrate I did some Taiji. It really helps to keep me calm, balanced and focused. Was i scared? You bet. But I did it anyway. I was up there. Not maybe as close as everyone else. And I certainly didn’t lean over the rail like others did or anything stupidly ridiculous like that. But I did it.

And the Taiji had really helped.

Then came the big test. The GLASS BRIDGE

This was easily the most terrifying part of the entire holiday. I had seen previous news reports of a tourist being trapped on a glass bridge in China during a gale when the glass panels blew off (possibly my worst nightmare). What on earth was he doing out there in a storm anyway?!?! He had to be airlifted off and I cannot imagine how he felt being buffeted about over a gaping void.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached THE BRIDGE…

This was what I was facing.

We were surprised to see the grandstand at this end as we didn’t think that crossing a glass bridge was a spectator event!!

We were not allowed to bring heavy cameras on the bridge, only phones and I could not bring my flask of water. We were told that it was in case the heavy items dropped and cracked the glass!!! Hearing that did not exactly inspire my confidence in the strength of the structure!!

But I was determined to do it. We had to wear special overshoes to protect the glass.

And then it was off. As you can see from the picture below, the glass is interspersed with metal sections so my plan was to walk briskly on those parts and not to look down. The other end seemed to be very far away!

Like this. ‘Don’t look so scared’ said Kevin!!!! But I was. Holding the Qi helped

It worked though. I kept my focus on the destination and did not dare look at the drop below. Others strolled and admired the view but I had one goal and one goal only – to make it across to the other side.

People got in my way but I didn’t deviate. I waited for them to move. At one point everyone was crowded round a couple of panels which I later learned was the bungy jumping view point. Like this.

Not my photo, obviously!!!

Mad fools!!! Then I made it!!! I got all the way across. Kevin helped and held my hand for some of it. And he wanted a couple of photos to prove that I had done it. On the glass.

It was quite an achievement and although I was pretty sweaty by the time I reached the end I was really pleased that I had made it! All thanks to Taiji.

I did though draw the line at the zip wire descent. You can have too much of a good thing!!! Maybe with another year of lessons I might be more able to do that.

Just when I thought that it was all over, I discovered that we had to traverse a glass walkway that wound along the cliffside in order to get down!!! They wanted a group photo but this was as near to the edge as I was willing to get!!!

Huge thanks to my fellow adventurers for permission to use their photos as I wasn’t up for doing any photography myself!!!

Zhangjiajie: the world of the Avatar Mountains

Pronounced Jang-jia-jee, this region in the Hunan Province of Southern China is just over 2 hours away from Shanghai by plane. It is a area of outstanding natural beauty which inspired the setting for the film Avatar (see picture below)

The region is a geological marvel comprising over 3000 quartz sandstone peaks shaped over 380 million years by weather, erosion and water cutting to create a ‘forest’ of sheer towers, capped by exotic vegetation. Coming from the urban mega-sprawl that is Shanghai it was a pleasure to see some natural beauty.

As there is no heavy industry in Zhangjiajie the air is particularly clean, even though the main city has 1.8 million people living there.

This is an extremely popular tourist destination and a must see on any visitor’s list after the Great Wall and the Forbidden City etc. Making the most of our early release from school, 2 weeks ahead of the local school summer holidays, we headed here before the crowds hit.

After an incredibly early start and a most disappointing meal on the plane, we arrived to begin our adventure with a hike along the Golden Whip stream. This stream is 7.5 km long with crystal clear water babbling through the verdant lush forest floor. It is not surprising that it is a designated World Heritage Site.

As a National Park we walked along a well maintained path and were advised not to step into the vegetation at the sides in case of snakes. We were more than happy to oblige with that!

We admired the lofty pinnacles which all had been named after their shapes. The one below, for instance, was called ‘the old man gathering herbs’ as the vegetation gives the appearance of a basket on his back.

The local minority group who live here is called the Miao (pronounced meaow) and they dressed in beautiful silver-laden costumes.

This lady was on our bus

Drums are very important to the Miao and walking on these drum shaped stones is supposed to bring serenity.

We will see if it works…

At intervals along the path we came across little shrines full of sticks.

The Miao put straight sticks there and make a wish. They wish that their bones and their spines will remain as straight as the stick. Generations of Miao carried heavy baskets on their backs causing them to have spinal curvature and consequently be in great pain so this is a very understandable wish.

The forest is also home to wild monkeys. In fact they call it an ‘infestation’. These creatures whilst they look adorable can be vicious and we took great care not to let them have any food.

The dragonflies and butterflies that darted around us were captivating. They were huge. I have never seen any this big. I didn’t manage to capture any of the midnight blue butterflies but they resembled small bats! This is one of the dragonflies on the leaf in the foreground

It was extremely hot and humid and we were soon dripping wet with perspiration and resembled ripe tomatoes but it was so nice to be out in nature again. We were delighted not to have rousing Chinese music blaring at us (like last summer)

After lunch we hiked again, this time along a gorge called The 10 mile Gallery (we didn’t walk for 10 miles though) I reckon that we probably did 10 miles altogether which was enough in the 30 degrees heat!