Hiking up Huangshan mountain with my phantom

Feb 11, 2015

Huangshan is a mountain about 6h south of Shanghai by bus. There is 2 ways to hike up. The eastern steps, which are 7.5km long and the western steps, between 12 and 15km long depending on if you hike to all the scenic peaks on the way. I hiked up east and went down west.

From Shanghai the bus leaves from the South coach station. It takes about 5h to get to Huangshan city, also refered as Tongxi in some travel guide books. Then from there yiu can take another bus to Tongkou where the entrance of the park is. If yiu din't feel like doing the whole trip at once you can stay overnight in Huangshan city. That's what I did, there is a hostel 5 minutes from the bus station. And they can arrange a minibus to come pick you up in the morning to take you to the entrance of the park. From the entrance, I got into another bus to a 20 minutes ride to the start of the eastern steps where I purchased a ticket for ¥120.
The hike is only made of stairs and can be really steep. I started around 8:30am and it took me about 4h hinking up to the top. And I was not walking fast, I had my quadcopter in my backpack and I stopped a few times to fly it and to take a rest. 

Get ready to eat some stairs

The weather was sunny but still cold and I don't know if it was because of the cold or because i had forgotten to recharge the battery but on my very first flight of the day, after about a minute I noticed that the quadcopter would not ascend anymore. This means the battery is almost dead and that the phantom is on "auto landing" mode. I freaked out a bit because I was quiet far and I did not have fpv at that time. - Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the night before, preparing for a flight and willing to readjust my fpv screen I got the good idea to break it. So I filmed the mountain without fpv which was very frustrating and scary since I hadn't done it that way for so long - Anyway, I held the elevation stick all the way to the top and guided my drone back to me at full throttle. As it was coming back my way I could see tha phantom slowly going down, it reached me just before hitting the ground and I managed to catch it at the last moment. No need to mention that I was relieved it ended well. But I was not going to let this event hold me back from filming this majestic mountain. So I changed battery and went for another flight without any issue this time. I'm usually very careful with which batteries are charged and usually go to a place with all my batteries fully recharged so I was quiet surprised this happened. It could be because of the cold temperature. This happened to me in Central Mongolia as well where it was freezing cold.
As I kept hinking up, I would turn around and see this endless succession of mountains and hills. It is really something to see.

What a great idea just before hiking up a magnificent mountain

When I got to the top, I was just sweat - gross! - I checked-in the Bai Yun hotel. It is a proper hotel but they do have dorms... For ¥100 a night, ¥110 if you book at the reception desk. Another thing to know, you will find a lot of small booths where you can buy drinks and food on the way, and the higer you get, the higher the prices.

At the top, the scenery is just amazing. It was sunny and there was very little wind so that helped appreciate the view. You have a few different hike options up there that will easily keep younbusy for a whole day. I flew my phantom once again, and as usual it intrigued people and even some officials that were looking at it with more concerned eyes than other people. As the quadcopter was in the air I noticed one of them making a phone call - that is never a good thing -
I finished my flight, put it back in my backpack and headed to another spot. As I was walking, another official came up to me and asked me if I had a drone with me. And he looked quiet surprised when I told him yes and that it was in my backpack. He asked me to have a look at it and to see the video i just took. At this moment I thought that would be the end of it and that I wouldn't be able to fly it anymore. After watching the video he asked me what was my purpose, and when i told him I was travelling and doing this for fun he gave me the memory card back and told me it was fine. I was relieved and happy niw that I had the blessing of the officials to fly my quadcopter around.
The rest of the day was quiet uneventful, I did a couple more flights and watched the sunset. unfortunately it was very windy at sunset so there was no chance ton film it with the drone. in the evening I just looked at the footage on my computer and it was not too bad giving that I had no fpv. But I couldn't help but think of what I could have done if I had not broke my screen the day before - yes, I'm one of those never satisfied person :-)

Sunset over Hunagshan

The next day was quiet windy in the morning so I decided to wait and see how the day would unfold. Turned out the wind stopped by noon so I decided to stay one more night and do some more filming. It was another beautiful day and I hiked around discovering other very nice spots. There is no trails on Huangshan, everywhere, every path, it's all stairs, which I hated by then end of my stay on the mountain. I had noticed a peak on the first day, and thought it would be a great spot to fly from. But unfortunately, it turned out the highest peaks were closed for maintenance since December. I don't know if it happens each year but this is something to keep in mind if you're planning a trip there.
For those of you who own a multirotor and have a fpv setup, you probably understand how weird it feels to go back to flying without it. Not only do you need to keep it close enough so you can see it, but you also have to make sure which way it is pointing. And this last part is not always easy. You always have the option to activate the "return home" option but I only use this when I have no other choice.

For the last day, I woke up early and went to see the sunrise and took a timelapse of it. Then I skowly started heading down by the western steps. I have read that this side was more scenic - although the eastern part is just beautiful - and it is true. Both sides are amazing but I have a preference for the western way. And anyway, if you hike there, you should definitely check out both paths. You can also take a cable car. At this time of the year only the one from the eastern side was open, the other one was uner maintenance. It can be a good solution if you only do a 1-day trip there; going up by cable car and hike down. Pricier though, and cable cars in China are not cheap. 
It took me a bit less than 3h to hike down, stopping once to fly my phantom and another time to eat, and obviously a lot of small stops to take pictures and admire the landscape. It's nice sometimes to just seat and look at the scenery in front of you, not even taking pictures of it, just keeping the souvenir for yourself - selfish bastard I know!

At the bottom of the stairs, I took the bus back to the entrance of the park, and yes you have to pay for that - ¥19 - before getting onto those minibus that leaves only when they are full back to Huangshan city. There may be a regular line but this option is cheap ¥20. From Huangshan city bus station I took a bus to Hangzhou and its west lake where I spent a day before heading back to Shanghai.

Huangshan mountain was one the places that was on my top list of things to check out in China. And although the hike up is all but relaxing - who would enjoy going up 7.5km of stairs - it was worth it. The way up to the top is already rewarding and once you get up there it is just breathtaking! It was cold, but after crossing Russia and Siberia in October and Mongolia in November, I have somewhat developed a resistance to the cold, which I thought was impossible for me. If you're stopping in Shanghai I recommend you pay a visit to this mountain, you won't be disappointed.

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