Cock-a-doodle-dos sounded in the early hours of Wanjia Yunshan village. Mist thickened the air and water vapour sparked under torchlight. As the morning dawned and I stepped onto the Wu-Yue ancient trail, daylight broke on shafts of bamboo and swaying vines. The rush of the river and its many waterfalls filled my ears.
Once I finally broke through the layer of fog I spotted a lone sakura tree. The delicate pink blossoms were unmistakable. Another soon sprung up on the riverbed. I detoured to get a better look and was stunned by the sudden concentration of sakura trees decorating the mountainside. I followed the contours of the slope, hoping for a better vantage point. The whole valley was lined with hundreds of cherry blossoms.
In the distance, rivers of cloud arched over the mountains of the Wu-Yue Gu Dao, flowing uphill. Islands, the heads of little mountains, poked through the low cloud. The speed at which the cloud was rising was startling considering I felt not even the slightest of breezes. I blinked and the hillside was hidden in a grey veil. I blinked again and all was revealed. In places, the cloud mimicked the shape of the mountain, as if it were a hat upon its head.
When I arrived at Tianchi (Sky Lake) it was fog filled, but patches of scenery were revealed to me as I sat in wait. There were islands which hovered hauntingly in and out of sight. The shadows of the many surrounding peaks shifted in and out of focus. Then for a moment, the wind lifted the fog completely. I could make out a dam on the far side of Tianchi. Circling the lake, I found mist filled pines and more sakura. Chinese style pavilions provided a chance to stop and rest. I was resting in one such pavilion when a dark brooding fog swept over the water. It had a sense of finality about it so I decided to head back downhill.
Upon leaving the Wu-Yue trail and reentering the village at the base of the mountain, a group of villagers I had befriended were eager to see my pictures. At first, they thought it was Huangshan. They couldn't believe the magic was their mountain. Who'd have thought a cloudy day could be so special?
Words & Photography: Scott Norris (@_scott_norris) // spring 2016
Planes/buses/trains run from all over to Ningguo city. Once there navigate to the bus station. From Ningguo bus station take a bus (14元) to the village Yunshancun (吴越古道) near the Wu-Yue trail. It is the last stop. Check the last bus back as times vary (it was 3pm on the day I visited) and you may have to arrange a taxi back. Long distance buses tend to leave Ningguo early morning.
Currently (April 2016) a ticket office is being built. I assume you will have to pay to walk this at some point in the future. As a result, transport links to Tianchi Lake and the Wu-Yue ancient trail will hopefully become more frequent.