Readers of my blog will know I’m no stranger to climbing Buddhist mountains but unlike climbing with my colleagues I was craving a more spiritual journey. I should’ve been careful what I wished for as I traveled to the highest sacred mountain of China. A journey that would have me climb slippery stairs for days through dangerous jungle, rain and pitch darkness.
Surrounded by the worlds most sacred sites of Buddhism, I felt there had to be a more spiritual journey awaiting me. During my previous hike I’d been discussing video-games with my colleagues the entire way.
I already had in mind the location for my next adventure. As I was living within short travel distance to Mount Emei, ranked officially as the highest sacred mountain of China.
I was afraid this was too dangerous of a hike as warned by several TripAdvisors, but others misled me by claiming it was a piece of cake. Turns out there were varying levels of difficulty and I was about to embark on the most excruciating path. But this hardship would not come without it’s rewards, for at the top awaited me the spiritual guidance I sought.
Mount Emei: Sacred Site or Tourist Trap?
Despite its UNESCO World Heritage Site status the mountain has come under criticism for being poorly protected. Having built lifts to the top it’s turned from rare & sacred into an overcrowded tourist spot, something many TripAdvisor’s are quick to point out.
What the online naysayers forget to mention however, is that the ancient stairways are still freely available for anyone crazy enough to climb. Far from overcrowded, a lone hiker will have to deal with loneliness as he walks for days without another tourist in sight.
Seeking adventure, I looked down upon any cheating transportation system. But what I failed to consider is that it’s built for a reason. Emei is a brutal mountain, not necessarily wise to climb.
The Difficult Level of Climbing Mount Emei
With stairs leading all the way to the top, it was easy to mock it as an easy hike, but what I failed to consider was the fundamental uniqueness of the Chinese landscape. Unlike the smooth mountains of Sweden, the mountain ranges of Sichuan are brutally steep, covered with thick rainforest inhabitable only by the most agile of monkeys. Without man-made stairs, you’d come tumbling down if you managed to climb up in the first place.
Although the stairs made this steep terrain climbable, it didn’t help making it any less excruciating.
As someone who chooses the stairs over the elevator to the office every morning, I thought of myself as trained for the task. When convincing colleagues to do the same I enjoy laughing as their legs turns into spaghetti on the 5th floor, while mine lasts double the distance. But since our office was on the 9th floor, my daily stairs didn’t prepare me how painful it gets once you “hit the wall”. Unlike a 9th floor office, the steep stairs of Mount Emei lasts not a few minutes but a seeming eternity of continuous climbing.
How Long Does it take to Climb Emei Mountain?
Although it was difficult to find the true extent to this answer, there were several warning signs I should have paid more attention to. When I originally had the idea I asked my Chinese friend to come with me but the answer was no. Athough she was up for hiking, she had climbed Emei with her school class and swore never to return. Claiming it literally takes days of continuous climbing I was put off by the idea, but later heard contrary opinions.
A foreigner at work said “It takes a few days if you’re Chinese, maybe 8 hours for a foreigner”. Althought hilariously racist I knew he was just joking around, especially since a Chinese colleague who likes to make fun of fat westerners was at the same lunch table. However I foolishly felt maybe there was some truth to it, as our walk up Mount QingCheng had been painfully slowed down by the people walking sloth-speed in front of us.
Another westerner bragged he even made it up in a mere couple of hours due to his extreme athletic abilities. I already suspected he was exaggerating, but after actually performing the climb myself I accused him of being an outright liar. He insisted he was telling the truth but we eventually discovered he was thinking of a different much smaller mountain.
Despite taking all those stairs to the office, it turned out I was unprepared for a climb of this magnitude. After only a half hour I was beginning to think I couldn’t take one step further. The height and steepness of the stairs making it a fundamentally different hike than anything I’d previously experienced. I might have stopped & returned had I known I had only climbed a fraction of the way.
As exhausted as I was, there was little time for rest. Despite starting at the crack of dawn I knew I had no time to waste if I wanted to reach my mountain hotel before nightfall. Despite my haste and only a short stop for noodles, nightfall hit and it hit hard. Still to this day I am absolutely shocked that none of the guides I read mentioned bringing a flashlight. Spoiled by the artificially lit city life I was surprise by the complete pitch darkness of the rainforest.
Luckily I did bring flashlights out of own initiative, had I not I have no idea how I would have made it any further. With the rain pouring down even my 4 battery ultra strong LED light could barely illuminate the stairs ahead, the light from my cellphone would have failed miserably for the job.
The benefit of following a narrow path of stairs was that I only had to worry about the stair in front of me, not concerning myself where I was going. Eventually in the middle of the night however I reached an open space in the forest, unable to find a path. After half an hour of search for a new path I started giving up. Having to conserve my flashlights batteries I decided to turn them off for a while, suddenly I saw the solution.
With the flashlights off the night around me turned to complete darkness, apart from what now appeared itself as a ever so slight red glow in the distance. Guessing the red glow was my hotel I sat off in that direction, eventually finding my bed for the night.
The next morning my bleeding feet was ready for a new day of endless stairs. At this stage I was past fatigue, each set of stairs no longer felt intimidating but merely like a way of life. When I finally reached the top I was almost surprised, I had began to think that the stairs really were endless and forgotten I was climbing with a destination in mind.
Finally reaching the top, I approved to golden temple. Although in awe of its decoration I was still in disappointment. I had risked my life to climb all the way to the top of this Buddhist mountain, yet upon exiting the golden temple had still not received the spiritual guidance I sought.
After disappointingly walking out the other side of the temple, the wisdom awaited me in the form of a talking guardian animal. Right outside the backdoor exit was a chipmunk, staring right into my eyes as to grab my attention.
Just as the wise chipmunk was about to speak however, he turned around and disappeared down the 90 degree cliff.
The chipmunks action could only be interpreted one way. His hasted run down the cliff must be a sign that I too should get the hell off this damn mountain and get back to making games.
I chose to heed the chipmunks wisdom, and took the first transportation back to home.
So hopefully in the future you’ll see something actually game-related from my so called “game development blog”. Make sure you don’t miss it by signing up to blog updates by email!