Monday, November 8, 2010

Climbing Mount Tai

This weekend I checked an important thing off my list: Climbing Mount Tai! I've been living just an hour away from this famous mountain for over a year, so it was high time to check it out.

Mount Tai is called Tai Shan in Chinese; shan means mountain and is the same character in the name of my province: ShanDong (east of the mountains).

Anyway, Tai Shan is one of China's five holy mountains. The path is paved all the way to the summit -- over 6000 stairs! -- and there are shops and temples the whole way up. We were fortunate to visit on a cool, sunny day without many crowds.

In ancient times, new emperors climbed to the top of Tai Shan to pray to the gods. Many people who climb it these days still consider it sort of a religious pilgrimage and will stop into the small temples to make a wish for their families, burn some incense, or hang a symbolic padlock to wish for long romantic relationships or future health and safety. My tutor just told me today that if you make a wish on Tai Shan and it comes true, you have to go back to offer incense at that temple. (For this reason, she chose not to make any wishes when she went.)

We had a great day climbing, in spite of wearing way too many clothes (on the advice of our students) and nursing sore legs from all the stairs. Enjoy the pictures!

Writing on the Red Gate, our starting point

Brandishing our walking sticks

Fall foliage

My teammates Chip & Mallary with Megann at the money tree. Must be another good luck thing.

Praying at a small temple

Tarah and me

Lucky locks

The famous Tai Shan "guest-welcoming tree"

Looking up at the South Heavenly Gate, which sits close to the summit above a gruelling 1600-step climb known as "Eighteen Bends"

On Eighteen Bends

One of many photos with Chinese tourists who stopped us for "photo shoot with the foreigners."

Buildings by the South Heavenly Gate, where many people spend the night and wait to see the sunrise.


The sign in the foreground shows that we are on one of the five holy mountains, and the building in the background is a hotel for tourists awaiting sunrise.

The summit, 1545 meters above sea level

Post Edit:  Travel details, for the curious
How we got there:  Arranged a private driver and van from our base in Qufu
Time to climb:  All day (morning until sunset), with a slow pace and lots of stops
Getting down:  A few people took the cable car, some of us clumsily climbed down in the dark.  That got us to halfway, where we tried to have our driver meet us.  But apparently that's not allowed, so eventually we somehow got on a bus that took us to the town below, where our driver met us.  Would have been hard to arrange without our Chinese-speaking friend.


  1. How did 18 bends compare to 28 bends? Equally strenuous? :)

  2. Haha. 28 Bends was more strenuous... It was higher altitude, and it lasted a lot longer. But still -- 1600 steps is nothing to sneeze at.

  3. Very true. I'm typically wheezing after about 12. Anyone who witnessed my struggle at 28 bends would back me up on that.