There used to be this show called Fear Factor, which unashamedly lived up to its name. Sometimes contestants would eat bug larvae or live spiders. Other times, they would lie in a fetal position as snakes slithered over their body or escape from a car before a monster truck flattened them. Needless to say, it could be downright terrifying just to watch the show.
During the past holiday, a group of intrepid hikers experienced Chinese Fear Factor. We all wanted to climb Xiao Zhu Shan, a moderately sized mountain (600m) that towered behind the city of Huangdao. Two of us had hiked it during the past spring, and we were excited to climb it again. Or so we thought. After reaching the entrance of the mountain, we walked past the turnstiles and followed the path leading to the summit. Initially, we followed a broad, paved road that wound up the mountain. Then it petered out into a series of concrete steps that bordered a hill used for grass skiing, which frankly seemed a bit contradictory to me.
After climbing the steps, we reached a wall, which looked like a diminished, less reputable version of the Great Wall in Beijing. As we walked along it, some of us had this disquieting feeling that something wasn’t right. And then we realized what it was – spiders. Not those microscopic ones the size of a pencil tip, but some the size of a child’s hand with red and yellow streaks on the abdomen. And naturally, they had decided to create webs spanning the trail where they calmly waited in the middle for unsuspecting prey to land. I don’t know about the rest of the group, but I felt like I was the prey.
Needless to say, not only did the wall have these delightful creatures, but a good portion of the trail that led to the summit had many of these arachnids too. If I were to describe this part of the trip as a hellish, traumatic experience, I might be overdoing it somewhat, but not by much. At any rate, we persevered and finally passed the domain of the spiders. Unfortunately, China’s Fear Factor had a second round.
Spiders are bad enough, but heights aren’t so great either. Picture yourself in a 30-story office with glass walls. You press your hands against the window and look down, causing your heart rate to spike dramatically. Then you get that churning, queasy sensation in your gut. So now imagine that you’re in the same office, the glass walls are gone, and you’re looking down at the ground. Welcome to Xiao Zhu Shan. Most of it wasn’t too treacherous, but at one point, you had to hug a rocky outcrop while avoiding a leisurely 100′ fall to your death on the other side. But without some difficulty in the climb, what’s the fun in climbing a mountain?
After we had passed the rocky outcrop, we spotted the peak and shortly after, stood on top of the mountain. The spiders may have been terrifying and the heights unnerving, but the view from the summit was spectacular. Towering peaks merged into modest hills which then became slight mounds that blended with the skyscrapers of Jiaonan, which were partially shrouded in fog. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay on the top forever, and had to face our fears once again (we did toy with the idea of taking a helicopter ride from the summit to the base before we realized it wasn’t terribly economical).
But this time we knew what was coming. Although the descent may have been somewhat treacherous, no one inadvertently plunged into the 100′ chasm on the way down. After we reconquered the heights, we were in the spider realm again. Most had decided not to rebuild their webs, except for one the size of a ping-pong ball that seemed determined to complete one web before sundown. With a slightly less stressful hike back down the mountain, we were relieved to see the miniature Great Wall again. Our hike was done, and we had faced our fears and made it to the summit. Maybe China’s Fear Factor wasn’t so bad after all (aside from the spiders and heights part).