The weasel was an unwelcome bedfellow, but as such fellows are, tough to toss out. He had gnawed holes in the lower walls and could come and go as he pleased. Oddly he seemed to prefer Richard to me and had a real liking for the Irishman's nose and wooly cap.
We were up at 5.30am to watch the sunrise. Another clear, crisp morning that would soon fog in. But we enjoyed it while we could.
We left the cabin at 7.30am. As always the first length of trail was straight up as we began to the climb to Pintianshan at 3524m. Cane overgrew the path but the hikers we had shared the cabin with had gone first and shaken the dew off.
The views as we climbed higher were stupendous. That's Chiyoushan in the background.
As we reached top of the meadow the fog was already rolling in. For the next few hours we hiked through a marshy landscape of yellow cane and dark Taiwan firs with blue-grey cones hanging plump on the branches.
The cane soaked us once more and my feet got very wet trudging around Pintian Pond.
As we approached Pintianshan we got our first taste of the dangers that would lie ahead. Can you see the hiker on the other side of this pic?
The top of Pintianshan is surprisingly flat considering it looks like a massive frenchman's cap from the distance. The amazing folds are known as "box folds" in geology.
The back side drops violently in a broken face of shale and sandstone wedges. Getting off the peak was one nerve-racking climb after another. Like descending a series of giant loose steps.
But then the descents and climbs continued as we had to pass over Bushoulan Mountain (布秀蘭山; 3438m) and then the massive stone upthrust that is Sumida (素密達山; 3517m).
The crossroads: east to Pintianshan, south to Snow, north to Dabajianshan:
After the hairiest descent (several hours later) we entered a beautiful fir forest with a deep green carpeting of grass.
Some twenty minutes later we reached Sumida cabin. It was 5pm and we were exhausted from the physical exertion of hiking all day in challenging conditions and the adrenalin of climbing down multiple sheer rock faces with bulky packs.
My feet again looked like they have been in water too long.
My favorite day. Steep cliffs, hairy climbs, hours trudging over crag and col, exposed on both sides to precipitous drops. For eye-candy there was the awesome Dragon's spine, the sublime North Face, epic panorama's, a textbook perfect glacial cirque, and an A-frame cabin nestled in a centuries old Juniper forest.
We left Sumida cabin around 11.20am. We had woken much earlier but Richard was suffering from malaise, and needed to rest for a while. We had to skip a climb up nearby Mutelebu Mountain. According to Richard, who climbed it on another hike last year, it is well worth it. The views are wide and inspiring.
As always it was a straight climb away from cabin followed by several long rope climbs and a long, long scramble down a deep ravine.
All in all it was about one hour of rough climbs up and down with fixed ropes.
After the last rope descent it was another four hours humping over the contours of ridgeline. We averaged about 3300m in altitude, and when the fog cleared we could see the entire sweeping broken outline of the Holy Ridge: from Dabajianshan south to Snow Mountain (including the little yellow mound of the east peak) and east to Taoshan.
The trail at times was no more than a foot wide, with a small barrier of rhodendron shrubs and low alpine junipers guarding the drop 1000m meters to the Qijiawan Valley to our east. The west side was often more crumbling cliff face than slope.
I probably shouldn't have stood so close to the edge here:
Nor should Richard:
The final crossing before the side path up to the North Peak is called the Dragon's Spine. It's a suitably awesome name for a rather frighteningly exposed and thin causeway. There isn't much between you and oblivion, and every gust of wind is met with a twinge of anxiety.
After crossing the spine, we clamored up to the North Peak (3703m). It was 4.30pm.
We rested at the top for some time, taking in the views of every major peak in the region, and admiring the way the fog, sweeping up from the west, could blanket us one moment, and then disperse as quickly. It was truly one of the most enjoyable alpine experiences I have ever had.
A surreal Buddha's Halo, or Broken Spectre, greeted us on the way down the North Peak. As I have written elsewhere, a Brocken Spectre is light phenomenon which enables you to see your shadow in a wall of fog in the distance with a rainbow or colored aura around it.
The Brocken, also called Blocksberg, is the highest peak (3,747ft, 1,142m) in the Harz mountains. This range is eight miles southwest of Wernigerode, Germany.
The Brocken Spectre, also called the Brocken Bow or Glory Ring, is produced by a low sun, casting silhouettes on the fog surrounding the mountain peak. Often these shadows have rings of light surrounding them (due to moisture in the air) which are similar to auras. This phenomena has given the Brocken a mystical significance in German folklore.
Due to magic connotations and stories surrounding the Brocken, witches began to celebrate the sabbath (April 30/ May 1st) midnight rituals there. The mountain even has a witches’ altar and devil's pulpit.
Descendants of the Brocken are known to have a sixth sense. They also possess the ability to feel poltergeists and perceive emotions in others. Equally sensitive to their powers, most are quiet about these abilities.
Goethe also made a trek to the Brocken in 1777 and the trail he took is now a tourist attraction. There is also a scene in Faust that occurs on the Brocken.
By 5.30pm we were making our descent to the north peak cabin, tucked into a sheltered juniper forest on a fairly wide and flat shelf on the east side of the ridge. It's only about 20 minutes from the peak to the cabin so it's also possible to just push on and then return to the North Peak later without your pack.
We had the cabin to ourselves again that night.
Click here for Days 5-6.