Huangshan, THE No.1 Mountain in China

We love outdoors, we love to hike.  Recently I hiked Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain, in Anhui Province in Southern China.  Let me tell you, there is nothing like it, nothing!

In China there is a well-known saying: 五岳归来不看山,黄山归来不看岳. Chinese people like ranking things, here five famous mountains are collectively called the “Five Mountains” with Mt.Tai in the East, Mt. Heng (衡) in the South, Mt. Hua in the West, Mt. Heng (恒) in the North and Mt. Song (famous for Shaolin Kongfu) in the Center.   The saying boasts that after touring these Five you can forget about the rest of the mountains in China; however if you come back from Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain, you can skip the big Five all together!!!

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Really?!! I was skeptical.  I had hiked to the top of Mt. Tai, the head of the Five Mountains, years ago when I was in college.  There was no cable then, I climbed the total 7,200 steps with my dad and my brother. Talking about steep and strenuous!!  There were temples dotted along the way which left the footprints and calligraphy of emperors and poets from various dynasties of past two thousand years. Talking about history! And we saw sunrise at the top of the mountain next morning.  Talking about glorious reward!!

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Well, I spent three days in Huangshan with my college classmates at the recent college reunion. I have to admit I am a new convert.  Huangshan blew me in every way! Check out my photos, if you are still not convinced, make your own visit! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

We average hiked about nine miles or 15 km, 152-floor high, in a day.  To release the muscle spasm, I feed on ibiprofen three times a day! Many thanks to my sister Wendy who brought pain med for everybody.

 

 

 

This is 西海大峡谷 the Grand Canyon of the West Sea. Down down down, it took us a whole morning to go down.  Thankfully there was a cable ride to bring us up!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huangshan is famous with 奇松,怪石,云海,温泉. The #1 attraction is the unique pine trees.

 

 

 

The #2 is the rock formations in all shapes and sizes.

 

 

 

The #3 is the sea of clouds. We were extremely fortunate with the weather.  The first two days were sunny, then cloudy, it rained on our last morning.

 

 

 

If you have extra time, the #4 attraction is the hot springs.

The below chart (L) is our hiking path, it proved to be a very wise design.  Thanks to my brother Chaoyang we did not waste energy on overlapping hike; and the chart on the right lists the hiking time between each sight.

 

 

 

If you want to reserve energy, take the cable up which drops you right in the middle of action, there is still lot of hiking once you get off.

Pack LIGHT.  A pound might feel like a ton after carrying it for eight hours uphill!! I was extremely grateful for my sister Lin who challenged me to a simpler mountain life without makeup and other accessories that I thought were “unpartable”.  You can leave your luggage at the train station or the hotel at the bottom of the mountain, start hiking early in the morning.  If I can live three days and two nights on a light backpack, you can too!  And a hiking stick is a must!

 

 

 


We stayed at Xihai Hotel西海饭店 on top of the mountain roof, an excellent choice both for the service and the location, highly recommended!

 

 

 

Go and conquer the most beautiful mountain in China!!  Enjoy!!!

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Hiking the Billy Goat Trail on Father’s Day

This year Arthur’s Father’s Day present was to visit his family in Maryland and hike the Billy Goat Trail.

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Billy Goat Trail is a 1.7-mile section of Great Falls Loop (4.3 miles) along the Potomac River.  According to alltrails.com it is one of the most strenuous trails in the east coast.  There are many attractions along the Potomac River, C & O (Chesapeake & Ohio) Canal National Historic Park on Maryland side and Great Falls National Park on Virginia side are just a few we frequent.

The entrance fee for the C&O Canal Historic Park is $10 per vehicle, good for 3 days. Make sure to first visit the Tavern Visitor Center, which opened in 1830 as an inn.  Imagine to reserve a bed (a bunk) for the night for only 25 cents!  During the weekend the mule-drawn canal boat ride is a popular family activity, see NP website for schedule and pricing.

We began our hike from the canal towpath, which was flat and shaded most of the way.  On our left we counted at least five locks along the canal. This wide open section of the canal is strangely named as “Log Wall”, I am not sure why since the canal bank is full of rocks, no logs.

On our right, the Potomac river, gushing through boulders and bedrocks, glittering in the afternoon sun, was quite inviting.  We saw parents with little children in strollers lingering along the towpath, having a good time.

About a mile into the towpath, the Billy Goat A Trail forked to the right.  The trail turned into a narrow and arduous rocky path.  This section A was what made this trail famous. It was so steep in some areas, we had to get on all fours, hands and knees.  Obviously the trail was destined for an agile mountain goat! 🙂 If not for the clearly marked blue sign, we would easily wonder off track since there was no visible trail, only rocky cleft!

However, our hard work paid off, the reward was the incredible view! And I haven’t mentioned the feeling of appeasing accomplishment! 🙂

When C & O Canal Company broke ground in 1828, their original plan was to dig a 360-mile canal to connect Chesapeake with Ohio River.  Of course, we know the canal never reached Ohio river.  At the time of its grand open in 1850, the canal was 184.5 mile long, getting as far as Cumberland, Maryland.  Coals were carried down on boats from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington DC through the canal.

We stopped briefly at Cumberland, Maryland on our drive back home.  This little historic town, the west end of C&O canal, is worth of a longer trip to fully explore.  We will be back for sure.

Georgetown, Maryland, the east end of the canal. The pictures were taken during Thanksgiving 2015.

So glad that Arthur rose to the challenge on this Father’s Day to tackle the Billy Goat Trail!  Now he has one more thing to boast about. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC

Every spring, visitors from all over the country come to Washington D.C witness the Cherry Blossoms near Tidal Basin. The beauty of Yoshito cherry blossoms captures the hearts of visitors, as they linger, admire, and marvel at the delicate blooms.  The visit often leaves an everlasting remark in their memories.  I know, because I am one of them.

The chase of the perfect blossoms is a constant battle. Timing is the key.  Because of the nature of the cherry blossoms, the forecasting peak bloom is near impossible more than 10 days in advance. As few have the luxury of leaving at the moment of calling, most of us often feel helpless with the situation.  We carefully research the weather trend of the current year, closely follow the online update, book our vacation to the best of our knowledge, then pray for the best.

Every year Cherry Blossoms in D.C. fall any time between March 15 to April 15. The blooms last from two days to two weeks depending on the weather conditions.  This year spring arrives early in east coast. The original prediction of the peak blooms fell on March 19-22, overlapping with my visit to Maryland!  Imagine the excitement when I found out that!!

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Then winter came, just two days before my arrival.  Long story short, the snow storm and the extreme coldness on March 14-16 tarnished most of the just out blooms and destroyed more than half of the flower buds close to final stage of opening.  Some even announced up to 90% of destruction and no Cherry Blossoms this year…

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I didn’t know what to expect, and didn’t dare to get my hope up. So imagine my delight when I spotted the first blooms after finally arrived in Tidal Basin!  Delicate white with faint pink, yet unmistakable, some cherry blossoms survived the storm, they insisted to let the beauty shine! What fighters they were!

We joined the Cherry Blossom Ranger Talk near Tidal Basin. It was very informative, we learned a lot about the history of the cherry blossoms and the lore of the annual Cherry Blossom Festivals in D.C.  The best photo spots in Tidal Basin are near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Besides the obvious, the beautiful blossoms, there are a couple of highly recommended sites near Tidal Basin: the location of the original Yoshino tree dated back to 1912, planted by First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. There you can also find a stone lantern, also a gift from  Japan (1954). Lighting this lantern by the Cherry Blossom Princess picks off the annual Cherry Blossom Festivals in D.C. If you like the lantern, make sure to check out the Japanese Pagoda, a stone statue, just outside of FDR memorial.

Other places also offer beautiful sights of cherry blossoms, such as along the shoreline of East Potomac Park all the way to Hains Point and Kenwood neighborhood in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Another interesting story is worth telling. As we know that the Yoshino cherry trees were the gift of City of Tokyo to Washington D.C..  More than three thousands trees were shipped and transplanted in D.C. in 1912, and many more trees in the years fo allowed.  Throughout the years, they flourished and eventually called D.C. home.  Today Yoshino trees are the most common cherry trees in D.C area.  Did you know the bombing of WWII destroyed the trees in Japan, at one point Yoshino trees were extinct in Tokyo?  Sending back the propagated tree from the 1912 donation after the war helped Japan to revive their Yoshino trees, and the genetic lineage of the original trees is preserved and continued in Japan.  It is through the cycle of giving that the cherry trees have fulfilled their role as a symbol of friendship of US and Japan.

What an uplift of spirit from Cherry Blossoms! No matter how short the life span, the cherry blossoms persevere and let out the beautiful blooms, even facing the storm.  How marvelous!!

The Natural Beauty of Taroko Gorge, Hualien, Taiwan

My First impression of Taiwan was her stunning beauty.  Although an island just about 14 thousand square miles, Taiwan has nine National Parks!

I visited Taroko National Park (太鲁阁国家公园) last November, it was a perfect time to avoid the island’s hot and humid summer. Taroko, a word for the Truku aboriginal tribe, Gorge is the main attraction of the national park, however there are other attractions in the park and surrounding Hualien City. So plan for at least two days, and be prepared to be blown away for there is nothing like it!

The park is free.  Most of the hiking trails are flat and paved, suitable to all physical conditions. Here is a short list of my must-sees and tips.

I recommend making Qingshui Cliff your first stop.  The morning is usually less crowded, and the lighting before 10 am is at its best.

Shakadang Trail has the most amazing blue stream running alongside the trail, with marbles, big and small, popping and scattered in the creek.  The best view is at the end of the trail.

The next one is Swallow Grotto Trail. It is mandatory to wear a helmet to walk the trail because there is an issue of landslide and falling rocks. Haha, I had the same thought–a plastic helmet vs falling boulders?! But a rule is a rule.

Lushui Trail is a bit more strenuous than the previous two. There is some climbing, here and there, and part of the trail is dirt road.  The words ‘Lushui’ mean ‘green water’. When we were on the trail, a gloomy cloud covered the sky, started drizzle.  As you could see from the photo, the water was not green at all.

The most iconic view in the Taroko Gorge is probably the Eternal Spring Shrine.  It was built to commemorate the lives lost during the construction of road through the Gorge. No one is allowed to enter the Shrine any more.

Looking for a quick stop for lunch inside the park? Look no farther than Tianxiang, a cute and colorful town inside the park. There are a couple of restaurants there with a reasonable price tag.  Since Hualien area is famous for rice, so I ordered purple rice steamed in a bamboo tube. To keep the bamboo theme going, I also had a broth made from the tender part of bamboo shoots.

Temples, marble gazebos, bridges and suspension bridges, the park has all, and many more.

A few words of cautions: we took Taiwan Railroad from Taipei to Hualien City.  The speed train tickets are usually hard to get for the individual travelers since travel agents often stock most tickets.  So remember to buy tickets ahead of time; an alternative route is to take the bus which takes 4-5 hours, double the time of the train. If you fancy Taiwan’s local food like me, make sure to have dinner at Hualien’s night market, 自强夜市. There are variety of local food, fruits and vegetables to choose from, I had the grilled squid (it was delicious!) and oyster as the island was famous for fresh seafood.

Also I highly recommend to hire a taxi for the day.  For $100 (New Taiwan $3,000) or less, you can hire a private driver for 8 hours.  Don’t pick up any from the train station, wait until you check in your hotel, the hotel staff can arrange one for you.  We were very satisfied with the service of our driver. He was not only our driver, but also our tour guide plus photographer, and he went the extra mile to please us. Simply decent down-to-earth people.

So with the spectacular natural beauty, stunning gorges, hiking trails, shrine, temples, waterfalls and bridges,  Taroko is not to be missed if you are in the area!