On Saturday, four intrepid hikers decided to climb Laoshan. The Chinese team (Joshua and Cheer) and the American team (Vanessa and I). The weathermen had predicted possible showers throughout the day, but thankfully they were proven wrong with a beautiful, sunny day instead. After meeting at KFC in Huangdao, we hopped onto a bus and our trip to Laoshan began.
Even though we left in the morning, we sat on the bus for more than two hours before we could see the initial peaks of Laoshan in the distance. After drinking several cups of water, I was quite eager to leave the bus and find the nearest restroom or clump of trees, if need be. Unfortunately, the bus slowed to a crawl when another lane had to merge with ours. It painfully inched along until the doors swung open for the next bus stop. The adventure had begun. Before we started the hike, we grabbed some water bottles, spread suntan lotion over our faces, and began walking up the mountain road. Occasionally, buses would rumble past us, and some motorcyclists enjoyed flying around the bends of the road. At least we had a shoulder to walk on. After walking up the mountain road for a while, we decided to accept the generous offer of a Chinese man to drive us the rest of the way, for a fee of course. Ten minutes later and 40 kuai poorer, we arrived at a small village.
Naturally, I had no idea where the trail was, but it also seemed like Joshua and Cheer were a bit puzzled too. Nothing like being directionless on a mountain. Being the seasoned, experienced hikers that we were, we randomly chose a direction and began walking. Soon a Chinese driver in a “bread” van was strongly encouraging us to ride with him to another part of the mountain. We ignored him, which somehow made him think that we were still interested. After several more minutes of our outright refusal and his incessant rants, we parted ways for the last time I hoped. Once he left, we entered another village without finding any trails along the way. Joshua suggested we try walking along a dirt path that led to terraces of cherry trees, which I was happy to do. Inevitably, our self-made trail led to a dead-end. Once we reached the highest terrace, we had the choice of embracing a dense batch of briars or retracing our steps. The latter won the majority vote.
After jumping and stumbling down the terraces, we met our old friend, the mountain road. We just couldn’t seem to leave him for that long. Since we had exhausted ourselves climbing over cherry tree terraces, we decided to eat lunch. We left the second village for the first one where we found a suitable restaurant. Vanessa and I let Joshua and Cheer choose our meal, which was probably better than us pointing to Chinese characters or attempting to pronounce the words for chicken or rice. After some bowls of rice, a seaweed and egg dish, some salty Chinese “grass,” and chicken, we were ready to climb the highest peak in Laoshan. We walked along a road behind the village, which surprisingly led us to the beginning of a trail. Of course, it wasn’t free, and even with the student discount, we had to pay 60 kuai each.
Like most mountain trails in China, this one had paved stone steps that led to a waterfall and inevitably a mountain peak. I used to think steps were easy until I got to China. After a couple hundred or so, your legs begin to rebel against the rest of your body. We hiked at a fairly good pace until the last part of the climb. By that time, we used any open, flat spot as an excuse to rest or take pictures. It didn’t help that we were hiking during the hottest part of the day. Finally, we noticed the distinctive red tiles of a pagoda that was perched on the mountain peak. We had conquered one of the many peaks of Laoshan. As we looked around us, we saw the raw beauty of jumbled, jagged rock formations looming over lush. pine-covered forests and misty valleys. As the wind rushed through the pagoda, we snapped a few more pictures and then reveled in the beauty of Laoshan. Just a fleeting glimpse of God’s masterpiece.
As the sun began to descend, we reluctantly left the pagoda and went back down the mountain trail. Going down is always easier, and in an hour or so, we were back at the beginning. Once we reached the village where we ate lunch, we debated whether to walk down the rest of the mountain or hitch a ride. Walking proved to be the better choice since there was a massive traffic jam on the road. While it was the better option, it may not have been the safer option. Most of the road had little if any shoulder for pedestrians, and buses did not offer much room for anyone else. At one point, we decided to face oncoming traffic and jump along intermittent stone posts on top of a stone wall. On one side was a 15-foot drop, and on the other side was a bus that could turn you into a human sandwich. We may not have been thinking logically in our haste to get down the mountain, but thankfully we survived the trek with nothing more than throbbing feet and ankles.
Once we reached the base of Laoshan, we boarded a bus that offered seats for us weary travelers. One more bus exchange later, and we were nearing downtown Qingdao. As the time slipped past 8:30 pm, we were praying that we could still catch a bus back home. We came just in time. Bus 1 came around the corner with two busloads of people inside. Whether we liked it or not, we basically became human sardines for the ride back to Huangdao. It had been a long, tiring day full of crowded buses and unending stone stairs. But through it all, we had conquered a peak of Laoshan. A day well spent.