“A moment worth the climb”
7000 steps and over five hours of climbing. It had rained almost all the way up until we’d climbed too high for it to rain any more. For the rest of the way towards the summit we were passing through a whiteout that still hadn’t shifted by the time I went to bed. It didn’t look good for the sunrise.
But you pay you money and take your chance. And if you can see no further than your outstretched hand on the only day you’ve got to go up there, you’d better be praying to everything you can on your way to the top for a clear sky in the morning.
I’d set my alarm for 04:15. Sunrise was at 05:20. With the state of the weather the night before I hadn’t held out much hope of clarity. But after I’d been woken from my fitful sleep, pulled on my still-wet shoes and socks with five layers on top, hauled my backpack back onto aching shoulders and dragged my weary legs down the still-dark corridor and out of the hotel door, there was, miracle of miracles, no mist to be seen.
I made my way by torchlight to Sun Viewing Peak not far from the hotel. There were already people gathering in the dark. A few photographers were setting up their gear. More voices in the distance towards the North-Pointing Rock gave warning of the crowds to come. I found a spot a little way back from the chatter, perched on the rocks, and waited for the action.
It was never going to be the most peaceful experience being up there with a hundred other people. Giving a mountaintop lookout the name Sun Viewing Peak is hardly a pseudonym of Enigma-like opacity. Yet I was also aware that set against the crazy numbers that swamp the summit during the holiday peak season, many would consider my sunrise viewing experience sedate by comparison. There were the tour guides and their microphones, the tour groups and their clamour. There were the guys renting overcoats and those selling photographs. But I was too busy trying to take some photos of my own to worry about missing out on the chance of some enlightenment.
I took a few as the darkness lifted – the moon still out and the sky still pre-dawn blue – then raced around to get a better view of the mountain and the clouds below as the sun emerged over the horizon. There were cheers as it did so, as I quickly set up my tripod to capture the moment, the light spreading in a golden flood across the peaks. It was a moment worth the climb. And as the sun rose further and the good light bleached to white, I gave I nod to the Tai Shan weather gods, without whose late reprieve, all I would have seen would be a misty kind of nonsense and a lot of disappointed people.