It had been a difficult climb,
but well worth it. I had set off on the early morning of the 30th. It took
me an entire day to get to Hongchun Monastery, where I spent a ridiculously cold, damp night. The following day, the climb grew steeper and the weather colder. It was snowing heavily, and visibility was down to fewer
than 50 yards. The thick ice had made the path treacherous. Thankfully, a man in a small hut at about 2,000 metres above sea level was selling metal
cleats (as well as Dove chocolate). He tied the contraptions to my boots (my
hands were far too cold to do this), and miraculously the metal spikes were able to grip the ice and I
was able to trudge onwards and upwards, arriving at a small hostel near to the Greeting Gate just as the light was fading.
My clothes were soaked with sweat, and there was nowhere to dry them.
The food in the small restaurant next to where I was staying was appalling and the beer was far too cold to drink. I got in to the damp bed and looked at my watch. It was 11pm: the last hour, of the last day of the
last year of the decade. I fell asleep shivering, but nevertheless despite the hardship, I was happy to have got this
far in two days – 50km from where I had
started and 2,000 metres higher. Only another 10km and 500 vertical metres to go.
I had to wake up the receptionist to check out. I was keen to continue my walk up the mountain
before sunrise. Not that I had seen any sun during the previous three days.
Then something incredible happened.
I had been walking for
an hour and could sense that the sky was brightening in the east. I looked in that direction and then I saw them. The first
sun rays of the year (decade!) were filtering through the low cloud.
Then, unbelievably, I saw the sun rise above the sea of low clouds. I watched in awe as the orb
became brighter and freed itself completely from the clouds that seemed to be doing their best to hold it back. My heart
was soaring. What an incredible experience. I looked around for someone to share my joy with, but I was on my
own (no one in their right mind would have got up that early and climbed in near-darkness).
Then I realised that it was my Chinese birthday! (Every one in China ages a year on January
1st.) This New Year's Day was even more auspicious as my age has reached a round number. Another reason
Enthused, my pace quickened and within
the hour I had reached the summit. The jinding [golden summit] was indeed bathed in an ethereal golden light. The views from here had to be seen to be believed.
Then they started arriving.
First a few, then a few dozen, then hundreds, then a continuous stream of people climbing
the steps to join me at the top of the mountain. The day trippers had arrived!
They hollowed, they whooped; they threw snow balls; they punched the air in delight.
Their exuberance was contagious. I found myself grinning
madly as one, then two, then three people asked if they could have their photo taken with me.
"Where are you from?" I asked one of my new friends, who was in his mid-twenties.
"From Beijing!" Mr Zhou gushed. "I
just had to come to Emei for New Year's Day. It's such a holy place!"
I could sense that Mr Zhou thought that a visit here, to one of if not the holiest mountains
in China, was karma-boosting.
you a Buddhist," I asked him half-jokingly.
really," he told me, "But I don't not believe!".
I smiled at his pragmatism, otherwise known as agnosticism I suppose.
I talked some more with Mr Zhou, who simply shook his head when I told him that I had walked
all the way up the mountain (taking the longer, south-eastern route).
"No one climbs all the way up," he laughed. "Didn't you know you could
take a bus most of the way!?"
"You're telling me I've taken
three days to do something I could have done in two hours," I said with as earnest a face as I could muster.
Mr Zhou looked uncomfortable, thinking that he had upset me.
"I'm only joking," I laughed. Of course
I knew about the bus, but I thought the walk would be more enjoyable!
"What do you do for a living," I enquired.
'I'm in IT; I'm responsible for my company's computer system".
"And what are you hoping for in 2010," I asked.
Mr Zhou thought for a moment, before telling me:
"I just want to keep moving upwards."
I knew exactly what he meant.