Article by Malcolm Aquino
Another month of the grind, another need to get the hell out of the city. A tip from a friend told me about an area to the south called Cui Hua Shan. About half way up there is a lake on the mountain where you can rent small boats and is surround by forests and the Qin Ling mountains. Fast forward a couple weeks and a few friends and I were heading south on Line 2 to Wei Qu Nan station, the end of the line. There’s a bus station nearby where you can take the 905 bus to Cui Hua Shan.
After about a thirty-minute ride, we found ourselves in what looked like a small bus station. We had to switch buses to complete the journey and pay another three yuan. The rest of the trip winded through a string of small villages and ended at another nameless village. There wasn’t much to see there, but the fifteen-minute walk up the hill to the entrance had a couple paths that offered some solid views of trees and mountains. After paying for our tickets, we walked through the gates and started for the Sky Pool. My friend said that the hike to the Sky Pool would take about an hour and a half to two hours. There weren’t any seasoned hikers in our group, so the pace was a bit slower than average.
The initial hike consisted of winding stone paths, stairs and bridges. The paths were well maintained and had spots to take a breather, something we made use of quite a bit. The paths were littered with massive, terrifying and harmless spiders, so arachnophobes beware. An hour and a half passed and we found ourselves at a sketchy-looking bridge. Luckily, it seemed to be built with some pretty thick metal. We crossed without much fuss and walked up a steep set of stairs to a road.
The road was clearly used by the staff of the park and for the less adventurous visitors who decided to take electric carts to all the big sights. Along the way there were a few rock formations that had names and histories, so for those interested in such things, Cui Hua Shan will deliver. As we were climbing higher up the mountains, the views started to improve quite a bit, with scenes of small mountain peaks and verdant growth with rock formations jutting out in several directions. It looked like something out of a fantasy book. After about another hour of climbing stairs, we arrived at a wide-open area with benches and basic amenities. There was also a sign with arrows pointing in all directions. It turns out that, in addition to the Sky Pool, there are quite a few other interesting places to see including a long food street of a couple of the local groups, three different caves, and the path to the peak of the mountain. We decided to check out the underground ice cave, since it was on the way.
The way down to the main part of the cave is a bit treacherous, with narrow stone steps and tight spaces between massive rocks. As we got lower, things started to get darker and we had to watch our step. Soon, it started to get chilly and the path went into total darkness. We wondered if we had wandered to some uncharted part of the park due to our poor sense of direction. The only thing to do was keep pressing forward to the Sky Pool. We used the lights from our phones to help get through the pitch-black caves. The dim lights were enough to find the reason for the cave’s namesake; it turns out that this section of the cave is cold enough for ice to develop from the drip of the rains that come down from the mountains. Huge pieces of ice were all around us, making it like a natural refrigerator. As it was summer and outside was warm, we were not properly dressed and felt that we should make our exit with haste. More darkness followed and a noise of something scratching the floor crept closer and closer. My friends and I are sensible people, but we were also in underground cave with little light and not much direction other than to go forward. The noise ended up being one of the shu shus who was cleaning the area. He had no light and seemed to be doing his job in total darkness.
Eventually we found our way out of the Ice Cave and back outside. There were two ways to go, but no indication to where we had to go. We just started on one of the paths in hopes that our guess was right. A supposed two-hour hike was becoming a four-hour hike and the day was slipping away. There was still no Sky Pool. After climbing even more stone stairs, we found ourselves at the foot of a massive stair case. We figured it was the only way to go and we didn’t have a lot of time to waste so we walked up the staircase. I had experience with massive staircases during my climb up Hua Shan, so I knew what was coming. The rest of the group did not and the climb was an arduous crawl to the top. When we reached the top and after we caught our breath, we had found the Sky Pool at last. It was at the bottom of the mountain. It turns out that we went the wrong direction and ended up going up to the peak instead. It was certainly worth it, as the view was immaculate and much better than anything we could’ve seen from the ground. As a reward for our intrepid explorations, we rode a slide down to the foot of the peak, something that was questionable in safety but a good way to decompress after climbing a thousand steps in the wrong direction.
On the way back down, we found a local who we hired to drive back to Wei Qu Nan, as the bus back had ended an hour earlier. Cui Hua Shan and the Sky Pool were certainly an adventure worth all the stairs climbed. While we didn’t make it to our goal destination, but the journey was well worth it. Isn’t that the point of travel?