Sunday, September 06, 2015

Emei to infinity

Was it all the fitness I'd done in the last year? It will remain as one of the times I've most surprised myself.

Context is always a factor in a story: I'd headed to Chengdu in Sichuan province for a three day conference. The previous day I worked half a day, then flew in in the evening, hotel at 10:30pm, went out snacking and drinking baijiu quite liberally till about 3am; got up at 8am the next day, got my bearings and read my book, spent the afternoon in sessions, dinner out in a scenic area, drank a lot of baijiu, went to a bar, drank more, boss got drunk, she kept ordering whiskey for me, got to the hotel at 3:30; woke up 10am missing the panda tour, went with another group for sightseeing, had Sichuan hotpot that evening with all the delegates then after speeches with a few small bottles of baijiu, walk/ran 7 kilometres on a whim to our hotel (everyone else took a taxi, I'd tried to get someone to come with me but no takers), with two others went for a massage but went to "the wrong kind" of place, went for street side drinks instead until 2:30am; got up at 8am the conference's final morning and went to sessions, went out for food in the evening and initiated others who were staying for the weekend into baijiu, drank and ate spicy food till about 1am and got up at 6am to catch a speed train to Emei mountain for a two day hike. And on the train, I wasn't the least bit sleepy.

In other words, the context was a mountain of sleep deprivation and booze before one of the more extreme fitness challenges. In my uni days I had student conferences with equally arduous party schedules but without the alcohol nor impending physical exertion. I'm quite proud of it alone.

Anyhow, with the hike now contextualised, let's talk mountains. Emei Shan is one of the key Buddhist mountains in China. It's huge, too. Other mountains here you could ascend and descend in a day on foot; on Emei it isn't an option for anyone but the superfit. It tops out at just over 3000m above sea level, starting about 500m with long tracks up ridges and traversing gulleys. I ascended by the longest route, doing about 33 kilometres of flats and ascents in a quickish 6.5 hours. There were gorgeous gorges, a macaque attack (I lost one of my bottles) and the joy of powering past lots of young people.

One of the joys though would be the monasteries: they're the accommodation! They're basic but had hot running water, a basic canteen, often vegetarian and most importantly self-selected awesome people (those who eschew cable cars, are daring enough to walk the track and be fine to settle in a monastery are clearly different from the majority). 
I woke at 5:30am to eat, check out, see the sunrise and then head onward. I charged through the other early risers but at the following temple found someone of roughly the same fitness. He was a 23 year old hair stylist from a neighboring district. The route to the summit was another 25 kilometres but with more sharp ascents with some descents. We summitted around noon where the cable car carried throngs amassed. The astonishing temple and gold Buddha was something to be seen while they were concealed then revealed from wafts of clouds.

And then, 3000 metres up it began to rain. The whole route was paved with concrete stairs which became perilously slippery. It'll remain a mountain I've never descended. I cable-carred and bused back down and we all know that doesn't count when it comes to mountains.

The remaining time in Chengdu was a time of lethargy and fatigue. My body knew the party was over and it wasn't having a bar of me having much more fun. But that's where the reflection comes in. In terms of sustained action it was an unprecedented five days. I'm not going to do it again so I'll just let it sit coolly in my memory, like a disco king, in the corner after dazzling on the dance floor.

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