April 11, 2016

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

The Beginning

This past Friday was Shanghai Jiao Tong University's 120th anniversary, so we all got out of classes for a day. Since we don't have class on Thursday, this created a big four-day weekend that we wanted to use to our advantage. Some people went to Beijing, some stayed in Shanghai and relaxed, some went elsewhere, and five of us decided to jump on a 20-hour train to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

The Crew: Samuel S, Cai, Sam B, Me, Tyler


That's right, 20 hours. We also had the bright idea to get seats for the cost savings and the experience. These weren't your plush comfy seats that lean back (even if it is a little). No, these were uncomfortable, rigid, narrow seats. Samuel Stoddard (henceforth identified simply as Stoddard since there were two Sams on the trip) was a bit smarter and purchased a hard sleeper ticket and so was able to sleep for the majority of the trip. The trip was long, but I had a good book with me ("The Children of Húrin" by Tolkien), so it wasn't too bad. I managed to grab a few hours of sleep here and there, keeping me from being totally exhausted by the time the ride was over.
Along the way, the train made many stops picking up some people, dropping others off. At first, we had plenty of room to sprawl out and make ourselves comfortable, but as time went on, the seats filled up. At one point, there were even people standing, the train was so full.

Almost constantly through the entire journey (save a few hours in the middle of the night) there were people going up and down the train selling anything from fruit to external battery chargers. After a while, they got pretty annoying, especially the lady selling hot meals who had an incredibly whiny voice.
Day 1 - Tianmenshan (天门山)

We finally arrived in Zhangjiajie mid-afternoon and made our way to our hostel. (Side note here: those beds were the hardest I've slept on in China. just wood slats with a few thin blankets and a comforter on it and then another comforter to sleep under. Not ideal.) Our main purpose of the trip was to hike around the National Park, but the plan was to visit Tianmenshan the first afternoon before heading there. The lady working at the hostel when we checked in told us we didn't have enough time that day and should wait till the next day. It's a good thing we didn't take her advice; we would have been hard pressed to milk a whole day out of that single mountain.

The way to the top of the mountain was a cable car, which provided some spectacular views. The hole in the left side of the mountain is called "Heaven's Gate", or in Chinese, "Tianmen" (天门), hence the name of the mountain. Around the edges of the top of the mountain were walkways above drops of hundreds of feet, some of them with glass floors. The scenery around the mountain was absolutely incredible.
I kept thinking my roommate, Ryan, would love to drive this road

Tianmenshan is higher than its surroundings giving a wonderful bird's-eye-view in every direction. We were able to walk around almost the entire mountain in just a few hours and then went down (all except Sam, who wasn't feeling the best and so headed down early) through Heaven's Gate and down the road of 99 bends. I'll just place a bunch of pictures here and let you scroll through them.

This picture makes me think of Lord of the Rings (my favorite picture of the day, and maybe the whole trip)

Looking out over the city of Zhangjiajie

At Heaven's Gate

Day 2 - Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (North Side)

The next morning, we got up early and took a bus to what would be our hotel for the next few days, located on the west side of the Park. It was owned by a couple, and the wife was super friendly and outgoing. We entered the park at about 11am and didn't end up getting back until 8pm. We even hiked the last half hour in the dark. Since pictures do more than words, I'll just place more here again and do any talking in captions.
I got to meet my old enemy again: stairs

The Natural Great Wall

It's so hard to capture the depth of this in a picture

It's also hard to see how massive the pillars are. They are hundreds of feet tall. Some, I'm sure reach over a thousand.

We decided to just sit and chill for a while
Here's where we went off-road

This was on the edge of a pillar. The drop goes down a few hundred feet.

We found a way to the top of one of the pillars and so got a view without guardrails.

Here I am, hanging my feet over hundreds of feet of open space (sorry, Mom)
Day 3 - The East Side

On the third day, our goal was to take the less traveled roads to the lake on the west side, but accidentally took some wrong turns and ended up on the same route we took the day before. It was also raining the whole morning. We were actually expecting two days of rain and so were well prepared with waterproof coats, pants, and shoes. The rain and fog gave the mountains a mysterious, eerie feel. We traveled to the north side again and then walked down near the east side to the lake. By the afternoon, the rain had quit and the fog lifted, giving us another beautiful day. It was beautiful, and we decided to go off-road again and went down to one of the streams that feed the lake. 

As you can see, the rain didn't faze us much

Honestly, it felt like a different planet

We definitely stepped into Pandora or Jurassic World
I really did enjoy the fog around the pillars

The off-road adventure was a huge success! I even drank from that stream (with a filter)
There's just something about bodies of water...

We walked along another stream for a while

I just can't get over how incredible these pillars are!

Day 4 - The South Side

We only had one destination the last day because Sam had to make his train from Zhangjiajie city by 6:30. To save even more money, he chose to take the train both ways. The rest of us opted for a flight back to Shanghai. Our final day was spent climbing and walking around a giant pillar that was home to a village. There were viewing platforms all around the pillar, giving some most spectacular views. We invited a little boy who presumably lives up there to join us in our hike around the top with us. He didn't know English, but with my very limited Chinese, we were able to get along. Sorry if these pictures are starting to look the same. The camera does that. I really wish you could just see them in person! Enjoy this last set.
A few great views along the way

We had about an hour and a half climb of just stairs

We saw some monkeys, but they were much more skittish than at Emeishan

And the view from the top was so worth it! Absolutely magnificent!

The beauty of God's creation!

I tired to capture the magnitude of these things

I hope this shows you how high we were. And it dropped straight down on all sides.

Our Xiaopengyou (Little Friend) for the day

At the bottom a large group wanted to get a picture with us

Our final, breathtaking view of the trip. It was a blast Zhangjiajie!

As you can see we were pretty tired after four days of hiking and climbing stairs. Sore, tired, and completely worn out, we enjoyed our last meal before Sam hopped on his 20-hour train. I don't think I could have gone another day. Not at the pace we went. If I ever come back to visit China again, I'm going to push hard to make it back here. There are still parts that I haven't explored and I would love to see the same sights again, too. If you ever find yourself touring China on vacation, you definitely need to make your way to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. It will definitely be worth it!

Have a Splendiferous Day!