Tai Shan 泰山

April 1, 2018


Tai’an / Shandong Province, China

The isolated massif of Tai Shan rises more than 1500 vertical meters immediately north of the city Tai’an in the province of Shandong. It is known as the “East” of the “Five Great Mountains of China” with some great historical, cultural and religious significance. From tourism point of view, this is by any mean one of the most popular mountains in China with thousands of people visiting on pretty much any day of a year. It is possible to take a bus ride to the “halfway point” and then take a gondola ride to near the top, but those of us into hiking will choose to start from the bottom. It’s about 1300-1400 m elevation gain on nothing but concrete staircases… Picture the image!

Transportation logistics in China is very complicated for foreigners especially those who cannot speak/read Chinese fluently. As a Canadian citizen I no longer own that Chinese ID card but I do not have any problem with the language. In fact in many aspects I think my Chinese is still better than my English. This was part of my 2-week vacation in China in this past spring break. The main purpose of this trip wasn’t for myself but I did manage to squeeze a couple days into tourism and hiking. Leaving Shenyang in the morning of 31st I arrived at the city of Tai’an about 6 hours later via High Speed Rail system. The traim I took travels at about 300 km/h and I have to comment that the railway system is super convenient in China. I then settled in a 4-star hotel which is moderately expensive. For the rest of the evening I spent some time on the streets, resting up and killing time. The industrial smog/smoke is thick enough that visibility is down to within 10 km but that’s normal in China so there’s nothing to complain about.

Evening in the city of Tai’an

The next morning I woke up at around 7 am, had a breakfast in the hotel and then took a taxi ride to the “Red Gate” – the starting point for those wishing to hike the whole route. At first I just followed the hordes into the walk and through countless gates and temples. After what seemed like a while I came to the place where they sell the ticket which’s worth roughly 25 Canadian dollars. Beyond the ticket’s gate there’s a slow transition from the urban feeling into “wilderness feeling”. I give a quotation mark because technically there’s nothing wilderness on this hike. I was still following a paved path with lots of concrete staircases, but the route roughly follows a creek meandering uphill.

At first the route follows this creek up.

Despite the amount of tourists and the lack of wilderness feeling I felt pretty excited – a familiar feeling but also strange. I made quick progress and before realizing I was already close to the “Middle Gate to Heaven”. The last 300 vertical meters to this halfway point is fairly strenuous but not so much for me. I passed almost everybody I met on this path and I believe it took me just over 1 hour to get to this point. I slowed down a bit letting myself soak in the experience. This “Middle Gate” is a natural place to take a food/water break.

Upwards and upwards…

Just as typical as this section goes. It soon will become steeper

The “Middle Gate to Heaven”

Resuming up I followed the hordes downhill for a short while and then the next stage is a flat walk. This is place where I joined the other hordes that came up via bus ride so there’s a net increase in the volume. Once the grade picks up the hordes slowed down again and I could finally resume my speed. The grade on the upper mountain is sustained especially at the “18 levels stairs”. This is the crux of the route and I was actually expecting something out of it, but I was wrong. It was just a long stretch of plain staircases walk. The grade isn’t as steep as expected and there’s no exposed feeling whatsoever. I asked others where the heck is that “18 steps” and they said I had already passed it… Oh well.. Looking uphill I could see the next destination – “South Gate to Heaven”.

Just past the “Middle Gate” there’s a decent viewpoint.

Don’t be surprised to see anything here…

It’s becoming steeper again.

Typical, typical…

Just some stuffs en route.

Red flags like this are related to religion

Staircases into sky.

Just another temple en route.

And, just another gate…

Almost at the “South Gate to Heaven”

This is looking down from above the “18 bends/levels”

Beyond the “South Gate to Heaven” the grade suddenly eases off. The next stage, “Sky Street”, is a long stretch of flat, paved road with markets on sides selling food, water and all sorts of stuffs you can imagine. Of course I didn’t pay any attention to those as I had brought enough food/water and I wasn’t interested in buying “small stuffs”. Towards the summit there’s another stretch of steep hike but again, nothing worth noting other than the amount of tourists. The actual summit is actually occupied by a temple without much of distant views. I walked around the summit plateau and found a couple scenic and quiet spots on the south side to explore.

Onto the “sky street” now

Trust me, this isn’t even the busiest day, not even close…

Temples and the distant peaks

This is taken somewhere close to the summit.

The true summit is in a temple and the view is like this…

Me on the summit of Tai Shan

Exploring the plateau. This is looking back towards the summit

Another picture of myself

Apparently this rock is famous so I took another photo here

I didn’t get to see the “see of clouds”, but rather “sea of smog”

As much as the distant views go

One of my favourate scenery shots from this trip. Not much to see at all.

I only stayed for about half an hour up on the summit plateau because time’s getting on. I had choices to use gondola and/or bus ride to get back to Tai’an to fasten things up but in the end I opted to complete the round-trip hike. Descending 1400 vertical meters of staircases was fast and fun (under 2 hours), but a strenuous workout. I could feel my legs tiring out for the next couple days.

Back to the “sky street”

Me descending the “18 bends”…

This is from below the “18 bends” looking up

For some reasons I really liked this tree

Continuing down. Not a lot of people here

Passing another gate

Sneaking in some views

This waterfall is almost dead…

Almost back to the “Middle Gate”

Looking back towards the upper mountain from this halfway point

As crowded as it gets around “Middle Gate”

Descending past the “Middle Gate” the crowds eased off again

More and more green colours at lower elevation

I enjoyed this part well.

This brought my memory back to 10 years ago… 

“Red Gate” at the start..

Not wasting much time I took another taxi ride back to my hotel, and then took a bus ride to the High Speed Rail station. I had about 2 hours to kill and then my next destination would be the city of Qingdao.