I arrived back at home from Songshan mountain last night hardly able to think I was so tired. And let me tell you why.
I left the apartment for the bus station at about 7:20am, and the bus departed for Dengfeng at 8:10. Having traversed the terraced hills and clay formations that separate Zhengzhou from Dengfeng, we arrived in the small town at 9:15 or so.
Just like last time I was there, the bus terminal was swarming with money-hungry taxi drivers and tour guides eager to show me around Shaolin Temple. I needed a ride up, so I asked one man how much it would cost. When the others heard me ask, there was a general uproar of offers, all too expensive. So I walked away, saying I’d take a minibus. At this, one man shouted out “shi kuai!” (ten RMB). I turned around with a smile and got in the car. It was competition’s finest hour.
On the 15 minute ride out to Shaolin Temple (which is how one gets to Songshan mountain, a 1500m-high peak), we stopped and picked up another man who happened to be a kung fu teacher at Shaolin Temple. We talked for a short time as we drove, and he eventually offered to get me into Shaolin Temple without having to pay the expensive gate price. After arriving at the gate, the two of us walked in through a side entrance, and I was ushered through the student dormitory of the school. After passing through this area, I found myself on the other side of the tourist gate, 100 RMB richer than I should have been.
I commenced my ascent immediately after stocking up on lunch supplies at the base of the mountain. I bought five eggs boiled in black tea, and a box of sweet crackers.
Songshan, in contrast with Huashan, was devoid of tourists. Choosing to hit the wilderness trail rather than the chairlift, I didn’t see a single person until I reached the first peak – and from that point on I literally didn’t see one person for the 2 hours I continued climbing. The trail, while at times consisting of decaying stone steps, eventually gave way to a barely discernable dirt path. When I was unsure of which way I should go, I fell back on the mantra of “always up,” which usually worked. In any case, I never had to retrace my steps – until I reached the top of course.
When I did reach the top, I lamented that I hadn’t brought a tent, because it would have been amazing to camp up there. A cool breeze wafted across the top, which was covered in waist-high bushes and shrubs, sprinkled throughout with full-sized trees. On all sides were the lower peaks (though still awesomely high), vegetation grasping their sides desperately.
It was while I was at the top that I realized how far I was from the base of the mountain. There wasn’t anything to be heard except the buzz of the insects hiding somewhere in the foliage, away from the heat of the sun. For a few moments I contemplated just staying up there overnight – I was quite literally exhausted, and living primitively on the highest point in Henan Province for a night had its appeal. In the end, the thought of watching a movie and eating a bar of chocolate that night motivated me to begin descending towards Shaolin Temple (which was nowhere in sight). If I had had a tent, my decision would have been different, but I’m glad I decided to go down because I awoke this morning to a torrential rain.
I survived the descent, though my knees and feet were beginning to rebel near the end. Also, my shoes (which have now seen the top of three mountains, two of them sacred Buddhist peaks), were worse for wear. My heel projects out the end of my left shoe now.
The bus ride back to Zhengzhou was perhaps the most trying hour of the whole affair; the water I’d been drinking, no longer needed for my sweat glands, decided it all wanted to exit my body at the same time. I could only walk hunched over when the bus arrived in Zhengzhou – literally. My mind was flashing to a story I’d read about a lord in ancient Rome whose bladder had burst because he’d been afraid to excuse himself in front of the emperor. I was truthfully afraid this was going to happen to me. It was bad.
Sleep came around 9:45pm, and I awoke this morning about twelve hours later.