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Rising to 1,056m (3,464 ft.), Yandangshan is my favorite mountain park in China, a feeling that is heightened by the knowledge that I am one of the few foreigners to have explored here, even though accessibility is good and ticket prices are, for the time being, reasonable. The peaks themselves are magnificent works of natural beauty, combining danger and elegance, seclusion and mystery. Unfortunately, the man-made structures are less impressive, and as usual, propaganda centers such as the Revolutionary Martyrs' Memorial (Le Qing Ge Ming Lie Shi Ji Liang Guan) on Jingming Lu can safely be skipped.

For those willing to explore out of town sights similar to what's described below in "Climbing the Peak of Mount Yandang," on the far side of the mountain, away from the resort, there's an amazing stone arch locally known as the Immortal Bridge (Xian Qiao), while the Xiansheng Gate (Xiansheng Men; ¥10) is a temptation to any serious climber.

Climbing the Peak of Mount Yandang

From the resort area, jump on a public minibus (¥3) back into the old town and disembark at the petrol station (jia you zhan), so that you can transfer to a slightly larger bus, headed for the hideously ugly town of Dajing. From here take a taxi down into the back end of beyond, to a small village known as Feitou.

You will pass a collection of five overrated arches and Nange Village on the way that some drivers might persuade you to stop at, but it's probably safe to give them a miss. Further down the road in Feitou, look for the footbridge across the stream from the main road, at the end of the village. This will take you out of the village and up to the pine forests. At first, you can follow the hydroelectric pipes until you get to a concrete bridge, about an hour up the mountain. This is a great place to stop for breakfast or snack on the enormous boulders, and then explore a little upstream to secluded pools and secret waterfalls. If you have your sketchbook or diary with you, then once you sit down you may not make it beyond this amazingly tranquil point, and end up spending the rest of the day here with the squirrels and the emperor ducks.

From here it is a rigorous two hours of seemingly endless zigzagging as you leave all the other surrounding peaks behind on a path of rock hewn steps that is steep, but in good condition. The sheer drops to each side are not for the faint hearted or the acrophobic, but the views down onto the nearby outcrops are something that you will not find anywhere else in the country.

By lunchtime you should have reached the terraces of the Dalongqiu tea company. Check inside the drying rooms for a quick sniff of what I personally think is the most fragrant tea on the planet, fill up your bottles with icy mountain water, and say hello to the handful of picking ladies that live and work up here. Dalongqiu is the most expensive tea in Zhejiang, fetching thousands of RMB per half kilo depending upon the time of year. Needless to say, most of the stuff that you will see marked as Dalongqiu down in the valleys is fake.

The path splits into two here, the gentler option snaking away to the left, around the shoulder of the mountain. The more energetic can opt to heave themselves up over the peak by way of a shortcut up a steep staircase of roughly cut lava blocks. These give way just before the very crown, but you can scramble up the last hundred meters to a swathe cut into the rushes that will lead to the very top where you can stop for lunch. The view from here is amazing. Some folks pay thousands of dollars to join Himalayan treks so that they can look down and see all the mountains below them. Here is an opportunity to do the very same without all the expenses of a major expedition.

The descending shortcut path is distinct underfoot even though the thick vegetation pushes in from all sides, and will take you down to the main rock-inlaid path. Paths lead away in many different directions -- it was here that we became hopelessly lost. After a series of worrying dead ends, I actually thought that I might have to use some of those overnight survival skills that I had watched Bear Grylls make look so easy on Man vs. Wild. To avoid the same fears, bear right, through a pine valley and along a ridge to the left of a tumbledown dam until you see Yan Hu Gang (a security post) on your left. Those expecting Crater Lake will be sorely disappointed, as this is more like an over-sized pond with distinct white rocks that give the water its name. Never have I been so happy to see discarded cigarette butts and snack wrappers as I was here, as this clearly signified Chinese tourists, and a sure route down.

Thirty minutes below is the tiny cluster of houses know as Yan Hu, where the main product seems to be plastic bags and empty cigarette packs. From here it is a careful two hours down steep, well-worn paths into the Ling Yun valley. The conditions on this side are not nearly as good as those on the north face, which is why I would recommend this side as the descent rather than the climb. The stone steps have crumbled away completely in places, and I would only attempt this trek on a clear sunny day. In the rain, this descent could quickly become a bobsled run.

Xian Ling Dian Temple means that you are about halfway, and Luodai waterfall across the valley means that you are almost back down to the valley floor. Keep walking past the toilets and ticket offices until you reach the car park at the foot of Ling Yun Hotel, where you can flag down a taxi back to the resort area for ¥40 or ¥50.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.