©Barbara Bornet Stumph, 2016

Huang Shan means “Yellow Mountain” in Mandarin Chinese.  Ancients believed that mountains insure the cosmic order. One cannot be in the presence of granite mountains like Huang Shan without feeling this is a place is where “ten thousand things” began; yin/yang, male and female forces, are always changing places. Crevices formed by sheer rock walls march in every direction. We are in Western Anhui Province at a UNESCO Heritage site.  One can now catch a bullet train that runs from Shanghai to Huang Shan mountain range.

“Are these necklaces the yellow rocks that the mountain was named after?”


I purchase a stone necklace saying, “I’ll never forget my walk on Huang Shan with my ink painting teacher, Shunghwa!” The clerk appears curious at my use of Mandarin. “I am a retired teacher of English,” I add. “I studied your language in college.”  The honey-wheat colored stone, which is tied with a red chord for “good luck and happiness,” dangles around my neck.

Before we left the San Francisco Bay Area for China, Shunghwa said to me, “ If I go with you to the Hangzhou, China Art Academy, we’ll be so close to Yellow Mountain. Let’s go!”

In October of 2015 Teacher Shunghwa and I flew to the China Art Academy International College to enroll in ink painting classes with master teachers in four ink painting genre, namely, Calligraphy, Figures, Landscape, and Birds and Flowers. “Next week we study Landscape,” we tell Mr. Wu, the China Travel Service tour planner. “ We’re old. Can you arrange a trip that is not too much hiking?  We are slower, old folks.”

“No problem. No problem. Huang Shan is perfect this time of year. Autumn. No crowds. Gorgeous!”

We pay our hundred dollar fee to cover a local hotel and the four hour bus trip.

Saturday morning at five am, we grab our gear and leave. Mandarin orange peels fill the air of the comfortable bus with their tangy sweetness. We are the only Americans on board; I am the only Anglo. Friendly passengers smile and greet us. People are twitting, listening to I-pads or Chinese brands, checking emails, and chatting just like home. A bathroom break at some massive truck stop gives me a chance to buy sweet pomelo, red-skinned peanuts, and a Magnum ice cream bar. The further away we get from college, the more we get our second wind. As we leave the city, we pass through rural villages. Motorcycles are more popular here than cars. Rice paddies cut into rocks are neatly planted up the verdant mountain sides. A peasant in a conical hat may be walking his dog or holding the hand of her child. Gone are high rises, neon signs, Mercedes, and gargantuan banks. Here is a slice of rural China life. When we arrive, we check out our hotel room.  “Time for your tour!” the clerk calls.

They take us to Nine Dragon Pools. Dense, semi-tropical foliage lines the trail along the river bed far below us.  We savor the ferns, mossy rocks, and the trickles of water that ooze out of the rocks. “It is more fun to be in nature that to sit in the classroom and paint nature!” I say.  As we climb down a steep trail, alluring Nine Dragon Pools below are blue-green jade. Here is a place worthy of a poem….many poems. Some say over 20,000 Chinese poems have been written native visitors to this mountainous area.  No Time to write. We giggle, as we watch honeymooners take their selfie photos. Then a professional photographer commands a lithe model to pose by thin waterfall. “It is so steep. Let’s just stand here.”

As Californians, we are accustomed to Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and Yosemite.   Huang Shan is not one massive volcanic mountain. Yellow Mountain is really mountain-s. Here is where the Spirit of the Mountain resides. Ancient stories abound. A Chinese folk tale claims a goddess once performed the ‘clouds and rain game’ with a handsome prince here. Clouds on Huang Shan are internationally renowned for stirring hearts over the millennia.

Mao used another Huang Shan tale, as moral propaganda, to encourage people to work hard for their future to rebuild China: the story goes that a ninety year old simpleton was tired of climbing over the mountains to reach his village, so the man started to dig a tunnel through Huang Shan. When asked, “ Why try to dig a tunnel at your advanced age through solid rock?” The man replied, “My sons will help; my family ancestors will be here in the future… they will assist me.” The God of the Mountains and the God of the Sea took pity on the old farmer. They reported to the Supreme God, who ordered the tunnel built by his minions.*

Sunday morning, Shunghwa and I board a modern tram that ascends Yellow Mountain. Chills! Thrills! “Look! See that black stain on the rocks over there? It’s like someone dripped ink on rice paper!” Our artists’ eyes absorb the scenery like two solar panels welcoming the sun.

“Feng-jyan hau bang! The view is splendid!”

“I count seven layers of mountains!”

“ I still can’t believe I dropped my camera yesterday! Look how close we are… can almost touch the trees! ”

I take off two layers. Tie the vest and jacket behind me. Good thing we ignored advice not to come, even though several of our classmates, who had made the trip said, “ The weather…unpredictable…I have never been so cold in my life!….take extra clothes…I hiked eight hours…got lost…I had rubber legs afterwards…”and so on.

Our Huang Shan tour guide says, “Here’s a map I made for you, Teachers. You can meet our group here in three hours. Be sure to go right at the Dragon Well. Take your time. The group will go ahead. You are slower. No problem. Okay?”

Hundreds of Chinese are already on the trails. Thousands of ancient, slate steps snake ahead of us—great for senior citizens like us. We hike slowly, holding onto fake fences, which are crafted to look like bamboo. We read a sign that Premier Deng Xiao Ping had ordered China to build the infrastructure for Huang Shan to welcome more tourists. Rhododendrons have been planted around an elite hotel where Deng and Party officials welcomed foreign guests for overnight stays.

Trail signs say, “Viewing the Dawn Pavilion.” Or “Host Pine Tree. ” My heart speaks in poetry:

     Bend low, pine guest, towards peaks afar;

     Curve twigs, upwards, like black fingers;

hawk talons claw silver fish for

hungry nestlings, heard, yet unseen.

Step. Step. Step. Step. Upward. Up. Down. Down. Trail is rarely level. Locals sell hard boiled eggs to my friend, but I pass. Salty peanuts in my pocket taste great. Red skins stick to my sweaty hands.

“Take your time,” strangers stop to tell us, as we pause…puffing. “Good job!”

“Thank you,” we say. “We’re old folks.”

“Not so old! Go slowly!.”

“I am 70!… birthday… three weeks ago. My teacher is 78!”

“Wo-o-ow! Good. Man man zhou! (Take your time…go slowly and carefully.)”

Rocky crags split the blue haze like fingers of a fruit called the Buddha’s hand. Ice has cracked elephant-sized boulders in half.  Oddly, a single rock sits atop a massive outcropping, as if a giant had dropped his medicine ball. “If we paint that, no one will believe it’s real.”

“Turn ‘round,” says my Teacher, “there’s a whole new view…every corner is new….”

“We’ll never see it all.”

“We should’ve stayed overnight to see dusk and dawn….”

A Chinese tour group passes us like an ocean of yellow caps. Their guide shouts into her megaphone, “See that huge bamboo forest way over there? That’s where Flying Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed.”

“Let’s rest. I want an orange.” Benches are placed strategically along the way. We ignore more spry Chinese, as they zoom past. Some folks are leading toddlers. More than one couple carries a baby. “That woman is lugging her suitcase. Why didn’t she check it in?” We see folks in flip flops. High heels. Shoes that don’t fit correctly tramp past us.

We sip bottled water. Catch our breaths.

A family of four stops. “Where are you from? You’re artists?….” (The son speaks another dialect to his elderly grandfather, then Mandarin to his daughter.) “ Americans. Ink artists. This lady is her Teacher!”

“… knee hurts, “ says one.

“…feet are tired.”

Suddenly, a woman with a bad hip and one shorter leg steps cautiously toward us.  A daughter ushers her mother past the slower moving woman, while avoiding the other woman’s walking cane.

“How dutiful she is.”

“Is it far to the tram?” we ask. “Not very far,” says the brave woman.

“Look at this lady!” Teacher says, after the woman is out of hearing range. “If she can walk with her bad hip, we can. Let’s go!”

Poetic signs say, “Turtle Watching Sunrise” trail to the left.   We pass several trees labeled, “Cinnamon Tree” in both English and Latin.

Near the end of our trek, we sketch the “Black Dragon Pine Tree.” Surprisingly, we sit in total silence except for peeps of miniature black-crowned heads with white chests, alert little birds, who dart into nearby underbrush. Oversized fronds of bamboo bend over the edge of the trail. I have never been in an area where pines and bamboos thrive together. Is that red sumac? Quaking golden ginko?

We are grateful to be safely aboard the tram for our descent.   Teacher blurts out, “Look!” Heart pounding I turn to look. “Clouds are rolling in finally! There is a Chinese saying,” reminds Teacher. “Folks looks up at most mountains. However, on Huang Shan, one must look down at the mist around these mountains.’ Huang Shan is in a Sea of Clouds.

Massive white-cloud-fog-mists are blowing like a wedding veil over the vast mountains surrounding us. “Tips of mighty granite peaks look like chocolate truffles.”

“Painter Wen Cheng-min. Poet Li Bai. Are you here?”

“This is why we came all this way!”


* (It should be noted that Mao left off the magical ending of the tunnel myth, according to Wolfram Eberhard in his book, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols.)


©Barbara Bornet Stumph, 2016

Barbara Bornet Stumph, M.S. Retired ELD Teacher; Ancient World History Honors at Pittsburg High; Mt. Diablo Elementary Itinerant Teacher. Chinese ink artist, writer, and former Teacher Consultant/Trainer with the BAWP. Also, Northern CA East West Center Association coordinator. bbornets@yahoo.com

One Response to “Huang Shan Mountain by Barbara Bornet Stumph”

  1. I enjoyed reading this over again. It is a nice job. Congratulations. PS the person before you on the list Fred Salas is Evan’s cousin. He is an accomplished writer.

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