Monkey Attacks and the Stairway to Hell

After leaving Leshan we took the 8 kuai bus to Emei, which drops you off in Emei town, you then have to take a cab (or a bus) to Baokuo Villiage, where Emei Shan (or Emei Mountain) is. They’ll try and get you to take a van, which is about 10 kuai more expensive, so just take a cab. We eventually arrived at the Baokuo village bus station and bought our bus tickets to Emei Shan. You can either buy a ticket for a bus that goes half way up the mountain, or all of the way. If you want to go to the top (without climbing the entire mountain up and down), you have to get the more expensive bus ticket, which is what we did.

Welcome to Emei Shan

Welcome to Emei Shan

Emei Shan is a big mountain and it took us almost two hours to drive to the top. We finally made it to the top bus station on Emei and it was freezing cold! I was wearing a shirt, thin under armor and a sweatshirt and I was freezing. The top of Emei Shan is up in the clouds so it is also covered in mist that feels like misty rain. You can rent winter coats up at the top, but we decided we didn’t need them. The plan was to hike two hours to the top, hike as far as we could down, stay in a monastery and hike the remaining distance down the next day. Lonely Planet said from the bus station it was about two hours up and ten hours down. How hard could it be right? *Insert sadistic, ominous laughter here*….. *and maybe some thunder*.

Started off easy enough

Started off easy enough

It never ends!

It never ends!

We started the hike up easily enough, there were a few steps here and there, but it was mostly flat with a general upward trend. And then the stairs started. And they kept going, and going, and going. An awful Chinese girl told us we were “almost there” about a half an hour in- then we discovered we had over an hour until the top. I almost died. We climbed and climbed and climbed, resting only to eat some weirdly spicy peanuts and buy water. We wanted to hurry so we could make it to the top and then back down to a monastery to sleep before dark. Plus we were hungry. One Chinese man saw me dying and told Nate to carry my backpack for me, which was probably the lightest backpack ever, so that wasn’t really the problem. We did it though- we did the ancient Chinese version of the stairmaster for two hours up to the top.

I’d seen pictures of Emei Shan from the group that went over spring break and I knew there was a possibility that we wouldn’t be able to see the huge golden statue of Puxian on his four elephants, so we hoped that we would be able to see most of it. The group that visited over spring break could barely even see the elephants, let alone the statue itself, but we were fortunate enough to be able to see the entire thing! It was still extremely foggy, but we could make out the entire statue. SUCCESS.

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At the top of the mountain we ran into a woman from Maine who was in Sichuan for a giant puppet show exhibition, which was hilarious because I had actually seen a billboard for it! She was dressed in hippie garb, had dreads, and to complete the outfit she wore those thin shoes that I call “toe shoes” because they form around your entire foot and have “toes”, so it’s almost as if you’re walking barefoot. She was definitely an interesting character, and introduced us to her other puppet troupe friends.

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After taking a few photos, and exploring the misty summit, we headed back down to the nearest monastery, about 2/3 of the way up from the bus stop. It took us about 30 minutes to get down, which was a welcome break for our legs. We finally made it to the Monastery around 7:45 and we were starving! Starving, freezing and exhausted is more like it. We were lead to our overpriced room up a flight of stars that were so steep and thin that even I had to step sideways up them, to a room made out of plywood. Literally, I think the walls were made out of plywood and the ceiling was definitely tin. After dropping off our backpacks, we made our way downstairs for dinner. We sat down at the table, waiting to be a handed a menu, but everyone at the monastery was too busy playing some sort of domino game to notice us. After waiting for what seemed like forever, we finally asked about food and were basically blown off. Eventually one man pointed us in the direction of a menu on a desk. Thanks. We ordered twice cooked pork and sautéed vegetables. For the vegetables, the one woman working in the kitchen asked what vegetables we wanted. We ordered baicai, and she pointed to tomatoes and said those would also be good. We thought that she was telling us that we got to choose two vegetables so we said tomatoes were great too.

When the food arrived we realized the tomatoes and spinach were two equally, not very good, overpriced dishes. Whoops. Everything was edible, but definitely not that great. We ate it anyway, and paid for our overpriced food to go with our overpriced living accommodations and made our way upstairs to our beds to try and stop shivering. Nate had finished the last of the hunger games on his kindle, and was currently reading Kosher Chinese, a book provided by Hannah, so he let me borrow his Kindle to start reading the Hunger Games- which is an AMAZING book, and I was up till about 11:30 reading, while Nate was fast asleep. Whoops, seeing as we were supposed to get up at 6 but I didn’t care.

Before we skip to how exhausted I was in the morning when I woke up, I would love to discuss the monastery accommodations in more detail. Thank god we had bed warmers (actually I had a bed warmer, Nate’s was broken), which is a giant heating pad in sheet form that goes into your bed and plugs in the wall so that you don’t die of pneumonia. However, even if I didn’t stay up late reading the Hunger Games, I probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyway, because somewhere in the hostel someone was blasting Chinese music on his or her phone. It was so loud I don’t think earplugs would have been any help. A couple of times I opened the door into the hallway to yell at someone because it sounded like they were in the hallway right outside our door, but they must’ve been in the room next door. The toilet situation was also very interesting. There was one squat toilet for the entire monastery guest house, and it was pretty gross, basically an outhouse that happened to be connected to the building. The best part was that while I was using the squatty potty, someone turned on the sink outside of the “stall/room” and all of the water flowed from the sink, through a pipe in the wall and onto the floor into the toilet as I was squatting over it. Thank god I was wearing dirty tennis shoes or my feet would’ve been soaked! But we knew it was going to be “rustic”, and rustic it was.

So we woke up before dawn (again), and started our climb down the mountain. We eventually made it to the bus stop, and decided to continue down to the Elephant Bathing Pool. I was thinking that we might want to take the bus down to the middle bus stop (there are 3 in total), because aside from the Elephant Bathing Pool, there was not much to see between the top and the middle. It was a resounding 9km from Jinding Summit to the Elephant Bathing Pool and another 7km to the next temple, and so on, and so on. So basically, a really, really, really long walk- enough to last 10 hours apparently. Nate really, really wanted to hike the whole way down, so I grit my teeth and agreed- how long can a kilometer be anyway?

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It started out easy enough, with good scenery, although a bit wet and misty… but then the stairs started. And they kept going, and going, and going, and going- down and down and down and down. A few hundred meters away from the Elephant Bathing Pool my legs started collapsing and they were shaking so bad I could barely make it down any more stairs. There was nothing to see between the bus station and Elephant Bathing Pool, except beautiful scenery- IF you can take your eyes off the stairs or you can see through the mist. We eventually stopped for some water at the Bathing Pool and heard a racket near us. The woman who owned the little snack shop pointed to the temple and said in English “monkeys!”. We had been hoping for monkeys all morning, so we gathered our things and ran down to find them.

Elephant Bathing pool temple

Elephant Bathing pool temple

Had I known Nate had not put his peanuts in his backpack, I would have warned him. After the episode my family had in Gibraltar, I knew better than to mess with monkeys and food. Plus there were signs everywhere telling us to “pay attention to monkeys” (yes, I will pay attention to them), not to disturb the monkeys, and most importantly HIDE YOUR FOOD. In Gibraltar, a monkey jumped on my mom, took her sunglasses, bit them- realized they weren’t food and threw them off a cliff. Then he proceeded to bite her, leaving an awful bruise, and stole the cookies my family had been eating out of her purse. So yeah, while I love monkeys, I definitely don’t want one coming after me. This monkey literally charged at Nate and his peanuts so Nate, threw the peanuts at the monkey, who took them happily and shared the remnants with its adorable baby. We saw about 6 monkeys in total at the Elephant Bathing Pool- Nate was terrified of them, but I was a little more daring with capturing photos. I still kept my distance, but they all seemed nice enough to me! Plus the baby was so cute I just had to get up close to take some photos.

With my newfound baby monkey obsession strength, and Nate’s fear, we continued on. We decided that since our legs were dying, we would take the shorter path to the middle bus stop, take that bus down to the bottom and walk around the bottom. We didn’t really have any idea what we were doing, but that’s what we decided. Eventually we made it down to the start of the loop where you could choose between the short path and the long path. We found a sign with a map and where we were on the map showed that the area to choose which path to take was a little while ahead, so we continued on. After a decent while it dawned on me that we had been walking for a long time with no break in the path… and come to think of it, the sign we saw seemed to only detail temples and important landmarks on the “long path” side all the way down to the bottom… maybe the choice between paths was at that last temple, and we had gone the wrong way? I brought this up to Nate, but we decided it was better to continue on that to turn around, since we had already come so far.

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After walking for an hour or so, through a rare plants corridor and down endless flights of stairs (the stairway to hell?), down a mountain and up another one through a mountain river valley, we finally decided to ask someone where the hell we were! We asked a man working at a small snack shop, selling maps. He told us we were indeed on the long path. We asked him which was the nearest bus stop, and he said the one at the bottom… which was FIVE HOURS AWAY. Immediately I burst into tears- not caring what this man and his wife thought of me. Nate, the least-comforting person I have ever met in my entire life, merely gave me a little pat on the leg, while he tried to figure out how to get us back to the bus station before six. We had already been going for a good 5 hours and ANOTHER five hours of a stair master was going to kill me. My legs were already shaking and randomly collapsing as it was, I couldn’t imagine going for ANOTHER five hours. I was just so tired and we were trapped on this mountain with no way out. What happens if someone sprains their ankle? Do they get airlifted out?!

I somehow pulled myself together enough to keep going, and we, along with our new Chinese friend, made our way down the mountain… or actually back up the mountain for some reason. This Chinese man lived a few hundred meters away and was going home for the day, so he decided to walk back with us- but he was trucking it! I had to almost run to keep up with him, and when the uphill stairs started, my asthma took hold of me. I was trying so hard to double time it up the steps to keep up with Mr. Mountain Man and Mr. 6’ 4”, but my breathing became so haggard that Nate told our Chinese friend to go on without us, while I took a puff of my inhaler and a sip of water. I absolutely hate being that person who’s not in shape, and it’s normally not a problem- I’m just not that great with stairs. I was on my school’s varsity crew team in high school (hard to believe right?), so I’m used to being very fit, so it was hard for me to be the one slowing us down. I also don’t like to use my asthma as an excuse, so I normally don’t even tell people about it. I just take my inhaler when no one is watching and keep on going. I try to just treat it as something totally normal: I need my glasses to read and I need my inhaler to exercise. No big deal.

But it felt like a big deal and it was embarrassing, and all I wanted to do was get off that stupid, cold, misty mountain and take a nice warm shower at Sims and pet their cat aka my new best friend. After taking a break for a few minutes we continued up the mountain at a slower pace- thank god. The way the rest of the map was written showed a very long flat part across the top, and then an extremely steep descent down the mountain. After heading down miles of steep stairs we came to the conclusion that we must be on the descent right?! We were making such good progress! On our way down we spotted a woman carrying supplies up the mountain on her back. I don’t know how she carried those supplies up there without dying! We all know I would have.

The stairway to hell

The stairway to hell

Mountain climbing in style

Mountain climbing in style

After what seemed like forever of going down, we decided to ask two men where we were. Now these two men were not ordinary men, the two of them acted as partners carrying… basically Sherpas that people could lay down in and be carried. They told me I looked like I needed it, and they’d give me a good price because I’m small. No way was I spending a couple hundred kuai to be carried! Not only is it expensive and slow, it’s also embarrassing. We saw a couple of people being carried earlier on, and they basically lay down in a hammock seat while getting carried like a princess by two Chinese men. No thanks. We decided to ask them where we were though, and they told us we were still on the long flat part, about halfway from where we bought the map until it started going down, and that we had about 4 hours left. What?! We’d been going for an hour and a half and we hadn’t taken any breaks! We thought they might be lying to us, hoping that we would take them up on their princess sherpa, but they weren’t lying, and the “straight” path went on and on.

Eventually it straightened out, but by straight I mean, not a never-ending staircase going up or down. There were sections of staircases going up and down, but it wasn’t a stairway to hell or anything. Now this I could do. I booked it on the “straight” parts, trying to make up time so I could take my time on the stairs. While I may not be great with stairs because I have 80-year-old woman knees from crew, I am a great speedwalker, and I often left Nate in the dust, whining about how his ankle was sore. Baby.

After hours of walking (no, I am not over-exaggerating) we finally made it to the temple that was the landmark for the descent. I rested my (shaking) legs for a bit while getting eaten to death by mosquitos who are apparently immune to bug spray- so I started spraying the bugs to kill them rather than just myself. Meanwhile, Nate wandered around this temple for a good 20 minutes trying to find the bathroom while a frustrated old monk was yelling directions in Chinese because he didn’t want to get up.

Eventually Nate was able to find the bathroom and we headed down the mountain. This was the part I was worried about- the map showed a steep descent of stairs all the way down to the bottom of the mountain. I wish they would just install some slides you know? That would be fun. But Emei Shan does not have slides, and climb the stairs we did. Eventually the path straightened out and it started to get nice and warm! I took off my damp sweatshirt and pushed up the sleeves of my equally damp under armor, wiping my wet frizzy hair off my forehead to let the sun shine on my face. We were finally out of the clouds!

We're out of the clouds!

We’re out of the clouds!

Before that point I had been commenting to Nate that Emei Shan reminded me a lot of Washington State: pine trees, thick forest brush, misty rain, and mountains. But once we stepped out of the clouds it was like entering a whole new world with butterflies and birds chirping. I would have enjoyed it so much if my legs weren’t shaking and I wasn’t so exhausted and we weren’t on such a tight time frame.

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The monkey that attacked me

The monkey that attacked me

Eventually we reached the MONKEY ECOLOGICAL ZONE. This was definitely not what I was expecting. There was a waterfall with a small creek and drawstring bridges extending back and forth with little wooden paths, and there were monkeys everywhere. I went up to one to take a photo and as I started walking away, the monkey jumped off the fence and started following me. ahhhhhh! I didn’t want it to jump on me and bite me, so I took off my backpack and started to try and push it away with the backpack. These monkeys are HUGE and strong. Apparently the monkey knew how to work zippers so he started trying to unzip my backpack! Not my iphone! Not my wallet! I flipped the backpack arround and he grabbed for the straps. I started trying to back away but he kept coming after me! Full blown panic attack! Eventually an old lady came running over with one of the many wooden walking sticks and started swinging it at the monkey until he backed off. The monkey ran up a tree and the old woman followed him, swing her walking stick at him and screaming up the tree. Note to future travelers: invest in a walking stick- it helps your knees and saves you from monkey attacks.

The monkey that attacked Nate

The monkey that attacked Nate

We discovered that to get out you had to cross a draw bridge though the ecological monkey zone. I was excited, but Nate was terrified. I knew we’d be okay because there were people with big long sticks everywhere, but Nate still hadn’t gotten over the peanut incident. After we crossed the bridge I was distracted, taking photos of a little monkey when all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I see a monkey jump on Nate’s shoulders. Now I don’t know if it was just Nate’s reaction, or it was Nate’s reaction coupled with the fact that he is 6’4″, but whatever it was I was glad I saw it. I feel like a normal person might scream but then stand there as someone gets the monkey off of you, but not Nate. Nate let out a man-scream that was so loud the whole mountain probably heard. He flung his body around trying to force the monkey off, almost breaking a sign and my face. Now this monkey wasn’t the aggressive one chasing after me, it was one of the friendly playful ones getting its photo taken by everyone, and it was about half the size. Biggest overreaction in history. All of the Chinese people were doubled over laughing, and one old man patted him on the shoulder and said “Don’t worry, if one jumped on me I’d be scared too”. Nate was comforted by this, but I can’t help but think the old man was joking. Nate asked me if his scream was manly and I assured him it was a little too manly. He had no recollection of almost breaking a sign in half (and my face with his flying elbows) but almost having a broken nose was worth seeing that whole display.

We continued down the surprisingly flat ecological monkey zone. Nate basically all but ran out of there. I took my time photographing (nice) monkeys while he waited for me out of harms reach. As we continued out of the ecological monkey zone, we stumbled upon astreet with vendors. YES! Almost home!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We bought some overpriced watermelon from a woman who told us we only had 40 minutes to go. Time for a well deserved break! We were amazed at how flat it all was! The map showed a steep decline for what looked like a good two hours, but it was virtually flat! -And the Lonley Planet map is just plain awful.

Beautiful purgatory

Beautiful purgatory

The whole area was so beautiful! A small river running past, a warm breeze and people everywhere, taking photos and enjoying the sunshine. The only problem was that it went on forever. The woman definitely wasn’t lying when she said 40 minutes. It just kept going and going and going, and even though it was so nice, I couldn’t enjoy it because I was so tired! It was almost like one of those movies that you keep thinking is going to end but it just keeps going and going. Every time we rounded a corner, we thought we’d be at the exit. When we were finally sure we were nearing the exit we came upon a lake. What?! Walking around the lake was physically painful. It was so beautiful and scenic but I couldn’t enjoy any of it. All I wanted to do was get on the bus home. (I guess that would make Chengdu home now?).

Eventually after walking for a good.. 40 minutes, we finally reached the end! Near the entrance we spotted a sign that pointed out a tree that apparently was supposed to look like Donald Duck enjoying the varied views of Emei Shan. What?! It took us a good 5 minutes to finally find it. More like it took us a good 5 minutes for Nate to find it, a profile of Donald Duck’s face. Really China?! China has an over-signing problem.

you decide.

you decide.

I still think it's cool

I still think it’s cool

On the way out we exited though a small gorge wich was pretty cool. A Chinese man was making a video of himself walking through the gorge which was hilarious. He was walking suer slow and we got stuck behind him on the path but it was entertaining. I also saw the coolest bug I have ever seen in my entire life: a bright green fuzzy caterpillar about the size of my palm. Nate didn’t appreciate it because of his irrational fear of bugs (to go with his irrational fear of monkeys), but it was really cool and it was just sitting on the path not bothering anyone, but apparently Nate thought it was “gross”.

We finally arrived at the bus station right on schedule, actually a half hour early! We were able to get the 5:00 bus, and I had the pleasure of reading the Hunger Games the whole bus ride back. Nate and I finally made it back to Sims, collected our stuff, ate dinner downstairs, took the best showers of our entire lives and collapsed, exhausted, into bed, ready to wake up for the bus ride to Songpan the next day- but only after I had finished the entire first book of the Hunger Games.

Overall, I did really like Emei Shan, I would just do it very differently next time. What I would do is stay at the Teddy Bear Hostel, wake up early and do it all in one day. I would take the bus up to the top, and depending on who I was with, either hike or take the cable car up to the top, and then hike down. Then I would take the bus down to the very bottom stop, and hike all of the way to the end of the ecological monkey zone, and back. If I wanted to do some serious hiking I would take the bus to the middle stop and hike down from there- if that’s possible, I don’t really know how it works. If I decided I wanted to sleep in a monastary, I would definitely stay in one of the ones near the bottom that lonely planet reccomends. Not only are they cheaper (probably because they actually have competition) it’s also a lot warmer down there. And FINALLY: I would have some sort of waterproff jacket. That would’ve been nice.

Stay tuned to hear about my adventures on the Tibetan Plateau!

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I currently live in China where I'm studying for my master's degree!
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3 Responses to Monkey Attacks and the Stairway to Hell

  1. Penny Vederoff says:

    Omg, again I am exhausted just reading about your hike. You have convinced me that the Buddhas and the monkeys and the elephants all wish me to wait for another lifetime to visit them.
    Btw, please tell Nate that I just finished Kosher Chinese and have recomended it to your Mom.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Sichuan | Richelle Gamlam Photography

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