The best way to visit Tianmen Shan is via the longest cable car ride in the world. The gondola carried us over verdant hills and farmland. We watched farmers working below. Upwards, a peak display stretched from east to west, piercing the horizon and filling our peripherals.
Nearing Tianmen Shan, details in the jagged peaks were revealed. An epic valley of mist-capped mountains leant on one another in an eternal embrace.
We were plunged into surreal oblivion. We had entered the clouds. They engulfed the gondola entirely. We were hoisted rapidly higher. It seemed as if we were making no progress, caught in some purgatory cycle.
We exited our ride into the void itself. We wandered through mist-filled trees hoping for a glimpse through the grey shroud. Red banners, tied to branches, represented the wishes of visitors past and present. Musicians played tranquil flutes and shamisen. The traditional Chinese melodies hung heavy in the still air.
Before we knew it, we had completed the Tianmen Shan summit circuit. We'd seen nothing of the surrounding landscape. The stubborn cloud had made the glass walkway especially disappointing. With hope, we began our second loop of the mountaintop.
The rising sun was trying to lift the veil. Rounding a bend, we watched awestruck, as peaks pierced the cloud layer. A giant pyramid of rock erupted first. It rose steadily from the white as if shedding its skin and sent wisps tumbling down and around, like a waterfall. Brethren peaks followed. They hung, billowing with cloud, suspended side-by-side in the sky.
At Yu Hu peak we watched the sea of clouds. It was a tempestuous sea, ravaged by wind and often stained grey. In the opposite direction, frothing branches of mist spilt over onto Tianmen Shan and lapped against the cliffside.
The final highlight was Tianmen cave ('the heavenly door' or 'door to heaven') for which the mountain is named. 999 steps, named the stairway to heaven, lead to the revered hollow in the rock face. With a touch of imagination, you can complete the journey.
Words & Photography: Scott Norris (@radventuresofficial) // Summer 2016
Access by cablecar directly from Zhangjiajie city. Many buses run there, simply ask for Tianmen Shan.
Entry includes a cablecar ride/bus journey and is 258元 (standard) 155元 (student >24yrs, pretend driving license is student card for discount). Optional glass walkways are 5元 each.
The mountain is accessed via cable car (30 mins).
Once out of the cable car, head east or west and follow the obvious path in a loop. In case you get lost, there are maps (in English) everywhere. We suggest first taking the lift to Yunmeng Fairy Peak before joining the West line and following that until it turns into the East line.
You will have to descend via the trans-mountain elevator to access Tianmen Cave. From here you can take a shuttle bus back to the cable car station. If you would rather descend via the cable car you will not be able to see Tianmen Cave, as stewards will not allow you to return up the escalator.