A HIKING TRIP


A HIKING TRIP

 

Hiking is one of the few activities that put me completely at ease, for I am close to nature when I am hiking. I like it because it is casual and I don’t need special gear for it. A backpack, with a pair of comfortable shoes on, will see me off on a hiking trip.

 

My family was on an extraordinary hiking trip back in the spring of 2001. A seemingly pleasure trip in the beginning turned out to be an exciting, risky and enlightening affair.

cliff 1 

My colleagues, Mr Liu, Mr Zhong, Ms Liang, and Ms Zhang, together with my family of three, set out on the trip. It was organised by my team leader, Mr Liu, with the school authorities’ permission. Every year the staff are entitled to two excursions, one in spring and the other in autumn. Both are financed by the school, and the transport is free of charge.

 

Our destination was a mountain peak called Sai Wudang. It is located in a suburban district of the city, where thrive virgin forests. The name Sai Wudang literally means “better or higher than Mt Wudang”. Mt Wudang is a world renowned Taoist summit, located in a different suburban district of the city. Legend has it that Sai Wudang is 3.3 chi (a Chinese unit of length) taller than the pinnacle of Mt Wudang. Hence the name.

cottage on the way to the park 

It took us over an hour to travel from downtown to the foot of the mountain by mini-bus. A small hotel was situated at the entrance to the park. The driver wouldn’t go on the hiking trip with us. He would rather stay where the bus was parked and walk around. We agreed to come back around 4 p.m.

 

The first leg of the uphill climb was very nice, with refreshing scenery along the way. I still remember it was some time after May Day. Azaleas were still dotting the hillsides where the forests were less dense. Another interesting memory is that there were a lot of peculiar trees here and there. It appeared that three trees were shooting up from the same root, but on closer examination the three trees were in fact three trunks of a tree, for they shared one root.

trail lined with azaleas 

My daughter was about four or five years old then. Excited to be close to nature, she walked with us for long stretches of the journey. Of course when she got tired, I would give her a piggyback. She enjoyed those piggybacks all through her childhood. Riding up there on my back, she giggled and chatted with me.

 

The upward hike was very difficult at two places where the trail was precipitous. The footpath was roughly paved with rocks and there were no protective railings or chains on either side for us to hold onto. During the course of the climb, I kept reminding my daughter to cling onto my jacket, for she was still giggling and chattering all along. She was too young to know how risky the crawl was. I had to grip the rocks with one hand. Meanwhile, I had to balance my daughter on the back with the other.

trail with railing 

Having beaten the second challenging part of the climb, we came upon a ridge. The altitude is high there, I am sure, for up there the views were breath-taking. With ranges and ranges of mountains running in all directions below us, it was obvious we were standing on the very highest place. Along the top of the ridge we walked easily for about 20 minutes before a simply-constructed temple came into view. There a Taoist monk was working, tending the burning incense at the shrine.

 

While some of my colleagues were doing some simple Taoist service at the temple, we inquired how to go back to the foot of the mountain. The monk suggested we follow a different trail, down another side of the mountain, for the scenery was different and we could see more virgin forests. Some of my colleagues insisted on retracing our way. On thinking of the two difficult parts of the climb, I realised climbing down would be riskier. I would still have to carry my daughter along the way. Therefore I opposed their idea. In the end we agreed upon following the recommended path leading back to the foot of the mountain.

dead tree 

The monk showed us the start of the new path. We resumed our ramble after a short rest at the temple. After going down for about 10 minutes, we came upon a complex of temples nestled in a cove of the mountainside. A temple stood in the middle, with a wooden cottage on one side and a stone cottage on the other.

 

Some carpenters were making furniture for the temple, three or four of them. I stopped over and entered the temple. Two Taoist nuns were there, two aged ladies. One of my colleagues said a prayer in the temple. We chatted with the carpenters and the two nuns. They all said the path we were following would take us to some stunning scenery. One of the carpenters, however, cautioned us that the path was rough and that we should take great care.

 

Time now was probably 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The downhill journey was easy and pleasant, and all the travellers were tired but in a merry mood. We were all expecting to see the hotel and our minibus soon, but it was a long way downhill. We had already walked for about 2 hours before we realised something was seriously wrong. We saw a valley somewhere in front first, and then a village presented itself.

summit 8 

We went on walking to the cottages. Upon arrival, we surprised the farmers there. They told us we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere down the way. We were actually now in a county called Fangxian, a long way away from the entrance to the park where our minibus was supposed to be waiting for us.

 

It was around 4 p.m. then. Not a native of my city, our team leader, Mr Liu, was not familiar with ways things were done in the mountains. I found myself asking the villagers this and that. I learned it was over 20 kilometres from the village to the nearest town where we could access a bus. The problem was that we would not be able to make it there before dusk. To make matters worse, we were strangers in the area. I asked the villagers what they thought we should do now. One young man said that we still had plenty of time to retrace our way to the temple before dark fell. We could stay the night in the temple with the nuns and the next morning we could go back to the entrance where our hiking had started. I thought he was right. After consulting with each other, we adopted this young man’s suggestion. We also asked him to be our guide to walk us past a cottage somewhere halfway up the path. There was a fierce dog at the cottage. It had attempted to attack us when we were coming down. The young man agreed after we promised to pay him 10 yuan for the help.

 

While we were comparing notes on what to do at the village, I felt some of the team members panicking. My youngest colleague, Ms Liang, was city born and city reared. She was terrified, I reckon.

trail on the ridge 

I asked all the members to have their drinking bottles refilled with clean water in a villager’s kitchen before our uphill climb started. One member, Mr Zhong, complained a lot on the way about having lost our way. I worked the hardest, I think. I had to carry my daughter on my back for the upward endeavour. When I was exhausted, I coaxed my girl into getting off my back and walking on her own for a while. She was still as chirpy as ever. She didn’t have the slightest idea that we could actually be in danger. What was happening excited her.

 

The young villager bade us farewell once he escorted us past the fierce dog. But for his company, I bet the dog would have bitten some of us. Time was flying. Evening was befalling us. I called on everyone to quicken their pace for we could end up in the open air if we couldn’t make it to the temple at the top of the mountain before complete darkness set in. All the members were overstretched. Ms Liang suffered the most. This was the first time she had ever been in such an experience. I saw she was almost worn out.

 

Along the way I found a lot of wild garlic amid the bushes. I told the members this plant was edible. Pungent as it tasted, it might provide energy for my starving body. Remember we had only had some snacks we carried along. Nothing else.

 

As we were approaching the temple, day was gradually giving way to night. Some thoughts crossed my mind. The worst to come about would be that we couldn’t reach the temple before dark. In that case, we would have to stay the night in the forest, which was certainly home to wildlife. I asked if someone had matches or lighters on them. Luckily someone did. A lighter would help start a campfire. I kept encouraging the members all along. Time now was passing like an arrow flying. Everyone was terrified of the idea of spending the night in the wild. None of us had done it before. What if wolves or other beasts should show an interest in us? And a child was here with us.

 

Luckily when we finally reached the temple, weary and breathless, it had not gone completely dark. The carpenters were putting away their tools for the night and the nuns were preparing to cook supper.

 

When they saw us, they were shocked, but they guessed what might have happened to us. One carpenter told us a lot of hikers had got lost in this part of the park. Some ended up spending their night in the bushes, full of fear. Some strayed and had to wait in the woods until the searchers located them. They explained that we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere down the way, where the path branches off in three directions. We should have followed the branch on the right, but we did the middle one. Gosh.

 

We had supper with the nuns and the carpenters. I ate like a horse. The meal was coarse. The nuns charged each of us only ten yuan for the supper and a meal the next morning as well as a bed to sleep in for the night. Some members didn’t eat much, for they found the food unappetising. I ate both some fried rice and some noodles. Though cooked with very little oil, they satiated my hunger and thirst.

 

Seated around a fire in the stone cottage with the nuns and the carpenters, everyone was relaxed and relieved, especially after Ms Liang said that one of her classmates in junior high school had slipped off a cliff and died in this park on a spring outing some years before. Fortunately she had not come here on that trip. What a comfy feeling then! My daughter was intrigued by all this. It certainly was a real-life drama to her.

 

I asked the two nuns about their life in the temple. It was hard. The meal told everything. They were poorly clothed. Actually they would have to use all their reserves to provide the supper and breakfast for us. The park administration gave them some money but very little. Because it was still inaccessible to ordinary citizens, the number of tourists to Sai Wudang was small.

 

Altogether there were only four beds available in the temple and the cottages. Three men had to share a bed. I had a sound sleep while my two male colleagues groaned about the hard bed.

summit 1 

The next morning everything was plain sailing. We found out why we had made the mistake the day before. We had not noticed at all a sign nailed on a tree trunk where the trail forked. It was not our fault, anyway, because the sign was in a higher place than normal eyesight could reach. We would have had to tilt our heads up to see it.

 

We took the path we had missed the day before and the downward way was rough but picturesque. The path was not maintained at all. Instead it was beaten by travellers who had ventured there. The forests were dense and vines everywhere. Some trees, dead from old age, lay where they had fallen, rotten. It was shady and cool all the way although early May is not when vegetation is the lushest in our area.

 

When we eventually saw our bus parked at the hotel, our driver jumped with joy. He had spent a sleepless night in the hotel. Some workers in the park, after our driver alerted them that we failed to return, had climbed up in the early morning to find out where we were. They followed the upward trail we had done the day before. Had we been gobbled up by some wolves or tigers? Ha-ha.

view from the ridge 

LESSONS

 

1. Something that appears safe may turn out to be dangerous if you do not watch out for the potential hazards. Walking downhill merrily, none of us guarded against any possible mistake.

 

2. Do not panic when in danger. Stay calm and figure out what to do.

 

3. Ask others for information you need. If we had asked the carpenters more questions, we could not have ignored the sign.

 

4. Do not travel alone. We felt strong and optimistic as a team.

 

5. Let others know where you will be going. Our driver took action though in our case his action was fruitless. However, if we had got stuck in the bushes, his action would have saved all of us because he knew where we had gone.

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