Just a five minute walk from our hotel we were whisked up Tianmen Mountain on the worlds longest cable car. It took 30 minutes to reach the top just over 7 kilometres away.
Tianmen Mountain is a high plateau with sheer edges on all sides. We practically brushed past bushes and trees and creaked up another layer till we were so high above the ground that everyone in our car looked wheezy, including Craig. I however was loving the ride, and to everyone’s dislike I was standing up taking photos with a big grin on my face. The cable car offers the best view of ‘The Heaven Linking Avenue’ road which climbs upwards for 10km with 99 sharp bends (9 is lucky in China) and is quite the visual treat twisting and turning around the mountains.
As we headed straight towards a sheer wall we could see a dusting of snow and got all excited like kids…then we saw meter long icicles, ‘Craig…I think it’s going to be quite cold up there!’. And it sure was! In fact we couldn’t believe how cold it was after the nice sunny day in Zhangjiajie, and even when we hiked in Huangshan we were sweating in all our layers, here the cold just hit us and it was FREEZING!!
The mountain had received a fair amount of snow and it was left in its natural state, un-gritted and up to 2 inches thick on paths. If it was fresh snow it would of been fine, but it had obviously been there a while and had frozen into a block of ice. I kept stupidly mistaking black ice for a puddle of water and a potential grippy area and would end up flinging my arms in the air as I tried to re-balance myself.
We headed to Yu Hu Peak first and soon realised the mountain was tiny and we were making quick progress, even though we were walking so slowly. The trails were a nightmare, we were clinging onto the banister and locals were cockily trotting along like it was a casual walk in a park. And what really made us look like dicks was the fact that we were walking so slowly and precariously while in our hiking boots and outdoor gear, and the locals were strutting past in high heals like it was a goddam catwalk.
One of the main features of the park is the famous glass walkways which go along the cliff edge. It cost an extra 50p for shoe covers, I don’t know why that pathetic fee wasn’t just incorporated in the extortionate entrance fee of £25! But of course we paid and stepped onto the turquoise glass path. It wasn’t scary actually, I had a good look over the edge but felt pretty safe – even though I recently read an article about a group walking across and one of the glass panels shattering!!! The glass glared so you couldn’t really see the insane drop below us. But we had fun walking along and watching the locals cling to the walls for safety.
It also had a good view down Tianmen Cave; a massive hole in the mountain that became rather famous when American ‘bird man’ flew through the hole. But looking down at it, it was nothing like the photos we’d seen, it looked like a building site and the steps leading up were now piles of rubble. We asked a worker about visiting it and she said no and we found the elevator down but it was all under construction which was a shame.
We then headed to Tianmen Temple which we thought had been poorly printed in the brochure and it looked like it had been double printed with too many edges. It hadn’t! The temple really did have an unusual look to it with lots of corners and lovely bright colours.
The last section of the mountain to see was the plank road along Guigu Cliffs. It was a path that was built hanging over the abyss 1400m high. I can’t even fathom how they built the walkway, it was probably the craziest path we’ve ever walked along. It actually got my vertigo going as the path was so icy and we were having to just slide our feet along as if we were skating. Then Craig made the valid point that the concrete railings (made to look like bent wood) had really big gaps, especially at the bottom where there was easily a 1ft gap – an adult could slip on the ice and fall under and there is no way of surviving that fall. Now imagine how easy it would be for a child to fall through. It seemed so irresponsible to bring a child to this place, local men in smart business shoes carried babies in their arms. And we saw a mum with a 3 year old letting it run ahead of her. The glass walkway didn’t scare me – it was ice free, this path however was a goddam death trap.
From one side we could see the rest of the cliff walk so far away and just clinging onto the sheer wall. After lots of photo taking our hands were numb, we were numb. It was just unbearably cold. We stopped on a cold bench to have some snacks and I was incapable of doing the simplest tasks. My hands were bright red and weren’t doing what I told them. I couldn’t open a packet of crisps, and I tried over and over to undo a resealable bag of banana chips and failed so many times that I gave up. We had our balaclavas across our faces but even that didn’t help much. The locals baffled us, they were in city clothes, glove-less and hat-less and they didn’t even seemed fazed by the below zero temperatures.