My eyes are more than healed enough to process photos, but I am still going to just fish into my archive of photos I have already completed but have yet to post. I think that snow monkeys and Fuji must be my weakness, because after a couple of hours around either, I end up with way, way too many shots! I don’t remember if any of these shots were DRI’s or not, but I am pretty sure that at least one of the color ones was a DRI.
I have two friends travelling around in Thailand right now, one of them has a Flickr page and some great shots of Thailand found here. Naturally I am jealous, especially when I see shots of the Andaman Sea. I started going through my shots from our last trip to Thailand back in November/December of last year with the intent of putting together a tutorial on exactly how I throw together a lot of my DRI/HDR blended shots. I spent all morning on it, but I was not happy with the shot and scrapped the tutorial part. I cannot just delete the photo after all that work though! This first was taken in the city of Ayutthaya in one of the many, many shrines they have. The other is the 6 shot DRI that I worked on taken during the early morning sunrise at Railay Beach. If you could deport all of the tourists from the area except me and my wife, give me about 100 bags of sea salt and vinegar potato chips, a kayak and couple of years supply of sunscreen, it would be the ultimate beach paradise!
I have only a couple of weeks left here in Japan and kept realizing that there were quite a few shots that I did not have due to my short notice move to Turkey before last summer. Now that I am back, I now have only a few weekends left before leaving Japan for good. We basically only had this last weekend as our only time when we don’t have something planned and getting a good shot of Fuji was one of “those shots” I was missing out on. So we threw our sleeping bags into our small little Toyota Starlet to camp out on Friday night for a 4am viewing of Fuji across Lake Motosu as long as our luck way for clear viewing conditions.
Two people sleeping in a Toyota Starlet goes against the grain of the universe and I would never recommend anyone ever try that. On top of not being able to sleep in 3 cubic feet worth of space, I also omitted my allergy meds, and allergies in Japan kick my ass. Luckily the weather cooperated and we had our first clear skies in what seemed like weeks. Not only did we get an awesome viewing at Lake Motosu, but we were also able to get some nice warm light paint on Fuji across nearby Lake Saiko.
Here we are, 2,160 meters up on the tallest of five peaks of Mt. Huashan in the Shaanxi Province of China, South Peak. The layout of the upper mountain makes it easy to summit all five peaks within about an hours worth of time if you have some spring to your step. The mountain is basically surrounded entirely by sheer cliffs accessed by a couple of narrow, often sketchy trails that would excite any lawyer in the states within a 500-mile radius. Taoist temples are sprinkled about this massive, flower-shaped spire of rock, lined with iron links of chain to accentuate the thousands of steps carved into the skin of the mountain.
The main trail is actually lit in a lot of areas, full of handrails, and has steps carved or paved anywhere that it is steep. It is still breathtaking in many areas, but this is not the crazy part. For 元30 per person you can strap on an old chest harness and take a walk on wooden planks that cross a section of sheer cliff that is well over a 1,000 foot drop straight down. It is kind of short and delivers you to a little shrine that has been carved into the side of the mountain.
This is the entrance to the plank walk, and in person it seriously looks sketchy. In some countries, just because you are allowed to do it, that does not necessarily mean it is safe. That thought made this very interesting, but those springs along the cable you run your carabiners across looked like they would do a great job of padding your fall. I just hoped that the anchors would hold. I was actually fine walking down the ladder with my back to the wall and my face towards the cliff.
Once I reached the planks where you walk across the cliff, things started to change, my boys became light headed, and I started concentrating on the precipice directly under me and it was beginning to whig me out enough to have to consciously not look down for more than a few seconds at a time. The entire time we were doing this, we all had frozen hands from the strong winds and rain that was constantly falling. My wife and the lone Canadian badass from Canada we came across in our mountain top dorm room, Sam, were both completely devoid of any worries. I felt like a wuss, but it sure was fun, albeit a bit short with only about 50 meters of plank each way.
We felt extremely lucky to be able to do this. For Sam and both me and wifey, this plank walk is the reason we booked tickets for China. There is a gate that opens at 9am to let you into this area, and we were worried it would be closed due to the strong winds and rains. Not in China. I love that country! For those interested in the logistics, you can take a train or bus from the Xi’an train station to the base of the mountain. The buses (East side of train station) head up for the West Gate entrance of Huashan (120km) at regular intervals and will cost 元30 per person each way. It was about an hour and a half and you are dropped off at the very base of the mountain and it surely looks more intimidating than it is. Entrance fees are 元120 per person. The first 4km are easy going, then you start getting into spectacular scenery and some perilous sections of trail from there.
Lodging on mountain is plentiful with at least 6 Inns, and during the weekday they were all but vacant and ran us 元100 per person in a cold, and very stale 6-person dormitory. There are private rooms, but they cost a lot more. We stayed on the East Peak since that has the best view for a sunrise. Don’t miss the breezy chance to drop trou, literally off the side of a cliff as the wind caresses your ass cheeks. A bucket of ramen will set you back 元15 and water about 元10. In case you were wondering, 元100 is roughly $15 US dollars, so this is really dirt cheap in the grand scheme of things, but expensive by Chinese standards. There is a cable car that takes you near the top of North peak and we elected to take that down just for the hell of it. That was 元60 for a one-way trip, although, I wished we had hiked down the trail below the tram, it had amazing waterfalls that Maynard, my trusty and sometimes fogged over Nikon, missed out on.
Getting back to the bus stop at the base of the mountain will cost another 元10 for a quick bus, and another 元10 taxi ride to the West Gate to meet the 元30 bus that heads back for Xi’an. If you are ever in Xi’an, do not miss this climb! It can safely be done at night, in the rain, or even in the snow as long as you are dressed right and bring a head lamp while carefully holding the hand rails and methodically placing your steps on the really steep sections. Do not miss this!
Well after about a month of waiting for my new laptop it has finally arrived. But this semester of school is a lot more difficult than last. So needless to say, it has been pretty desolate in this blog. We barely have time to go out on the weekends except a few when it was a down pour! Anyways, here are a few more pictures from our last Fuji climb.
This picture below was taken about an hour after the sunrise looking up at the last few switch backs. We had already turned back because that line was not moving anywhere and it is not possible to hike away from the trail without endangering everyone below.
Amber took the picture below which I really like. It was so noisy when I first opened it that I thought the camera was dropped before the picture was taken. But sometimes you have to love Photoshop and Lightroom!
On the night of the 30th we set off from our place in Fussa around 1930 to the 5th station on Mt. Fuji. This is the last night of the season before the huts close down for the season. We new it would be crowded, but damn! We had no idea of the spectacle we were about to witness.
We made it to the 5th station around 2120 and found parking right at the base. At this time of the year the sun rises at 0400 and last time we hiked to the top in 5 hours despite me getting killer high altitude sickness. This time I took Gingko Biloba for about 4 days prior to avoid the high altitude sickness this time around. So we thought leaving at 2200 would give us more than enough time to make it to the top.
When we set off, there were not quite as many people around as I was expecting. Then when we reached the 1st hut after the 6th station all hell broke loose! It was complete stop and go traffic from that hut until the very top. Sometimes you would stop forever before the traffic would creep forward. It was crazy to see the zig-zag of lights above and below you as far as you could see.
By 0400 we were still just below the Tori gate before the very top. I decided to break out the tripod right there to catch the sun. The entire line followed suit and within minutes the sun started to make its’ appearance.
Around this time we could have ran up to the top as the line was mostly off to the side taking pictures and admiring the sunrise. But I too wanted to take pictures while the colors were most vibrant. Once I collapsed the tripod to get back on the trail, the line was in full effect. We made it about 4 switch backs from the top and the line was at a complete stand still for unusually long periods of time. I became so frustrated I made the decision to turn around and just start heading back. We had already been to the top before, and the last 4 switch backs would probably take about an hour to complete!
So to make a long story short. Do not climb Mt. Fuji on the last day of the official season! And if you do, climb up the descending trail. I saw a lot of groups doing that but I was not sure if we would get in trouble for it.
Early April we found out we had the opportunity to take a somewhat impromptu trip for about ten days. There is a lot to do and see in South East Asia, but the prospect of climbing Mt. Kinabalu sold us on a trip to the region of Sabah. So we planned on using our free “company” flight from Tokyo to Singapore, and then using purchased tickets to from there on to Brunei for an overnight layover and then to our final destination, Kota Kinabalu. We also booked two nights at a nice resort in KK at the Magellan Sutera.
When we showed up to the counter the morning of our flight we were informed the flight was canceled indefinitely. This was the second trip that our “free” flights suddenly were not free anymore. This meant we had to by tickets from Tokyo to KK for the following morning. Luckily for a grand a person, we both had round trip tickets on Malaysia Air for the following day. Royal Brunei of course would not refund us our tickets, but they were nice enough to refund the airport taxes.
The next day was an entire day of riding trains and then flying. Besides our stop over in Kuala Lumpur, the flight was easily the best flight I have experienced as it is the only flight were you had your own TV monitor and choice of entertainment. We finally arrived at KK around 12am. Of course no visit to a foreign country is complete without the obligatory F1 racing taxi driver. Despite the resort only being a few miles away, this ride did not disappoint!
The Magellan Sutera Resort entrance itself was jaw dropping. My picture does not capture the sheer size of the lobby. We were both surprised at not only the amazing view of the South China Sea from our balcony, but the room itself was easily the nicest room we have ever stayed in!
When we woke up in the morning we were also treated to on the the best breakfast buffets I have ever had. And the picture below was taken from the table we ate at!
The Magellan property is also connected to another resort called the Pacific Sutera. We decided to enjoy the pools for the day over on that side as we practically had it to ourselves. Below is a night picture of the harbor between the resorts.
Despite the warnings I read online about the power of the sun in this latitude and being pasty white during that time of the year, I spent way too much time in the sun that day and burnt myself to a crisp. Luckily my fair skin is so use to it that I recover quickly. But it was enough to warrant spending an additional night at the Magellan for a total of 3 nights. This provided plenty of time to take more photographs of the resort.
My only gripe about the place was that the food in their restaurants was super expensive. We ordered take out one night and despite the high cost, I was not happy with the meal. Luckily the resort offers frequent shuttled into the center of town so you can easily manage eating in KK which has tons of excellent options for SUPER cheap.
Since the Magellan was a bit beyond our budget we eventually reserved a room at the Best Western Kinabalu Daya Hotel in KK. It was a fairly good price, included an edible breakfast, and was close to bus station.
We ended up paying for a little tour near Mt. Kinabalu to see some botanical gardens, some crowded hot springs, and a tree top canopy walk. The world largest blooming flower, the Rafflesia Arnoldi also starting to bloom which Amber was able to get a picture of.
We also stopped by a local market that had a huge variety of fruits and vegetables I never knew existed. We purchased a couple of fruits, but none of them had much taste unfortunately.
It was a decent excursion, but we were really excited to climb Mt. Kinabalu. To climb this mountain you need to reserve one of the three huts high up on the mountain. Since this climb is very popular, we were very lucky to get a room in the non heated hut called the Gunting Lagadan. The Laban Rata Hut is the most popular one because it is heated, which is nice because it was damn cold up there!
We really did not do much planning beyond reserving the hut which came with one of the park admission fees. Early in the morning we checked out of the Daya Hotel and headed over to the bus stop. We were hounded by the taxi driver scam artists (not all were scam artists, but you could easily tell who was going to Shanghai you). We were set on riding the short bus up so we purchased a ticket. Unfortunately the bus was having problems, so they put us in a taxi anyways.
Once we reached the park, they turned us upside down and shook all the money out of our pockets to pay for the climbing fees (luckily the exchange rate was in our favor.) We were told we needed a guide as well, but luckily there was still one available, as it was about the last hour of the day when hikers start heading up the mountain. We later found out you do not need a guide and even though ours was nice, it is impossible to get lost on this trail. We also rented out a storage shelf for all of our items we didn’t need. This lightened the load considerably.
I have climbed some steep trails in my time, but this one is pretty much straight up. Even the steps built into the mountain seem to be designed for people with 6ft long legs. But the worst part is the mental destruction that is inflicted when a local guide/porter goes walking past you with two backpacks and bare feet or massive propane canisters on their back with burlap straps!
Of course just like my climb up Mt. Fuji, I got altitude sickness while Amber was running up the trail. At the end of the day when we got to the hut at 9,000ft my head was ready to explode! I could barely eat anything at all that night and I thought Amber was going to have to complete the climb without me. Luckily when I woke up I was feeling a bit better.
It wasn’t too long before we were above the tree line and the scenery became absolutely stunning.
13,435 ft is the height of the mountain. As we got higher and higher my head again started to pulse and pound with every step. I was taking baby steps and Amber was having no problems at all, hurting my pride in the process! I am pretty sure she poisoned me though..
Finally the sun rising from the top-
I was losing brain cells at a phenomenal rate so we decided to turn around after about 20 minutes of taking pictures and enjoying the view. The rest of the day going back downhill was about as fun as having my knees hit with an aluminum baseball bat one hundred times. Both of us knew we would be walking funny from our sore muscles for at least two to three days.
We split a cab fare with another couple and headed back to the Daya Hotel in KK. We spent the rest of the day limping to nearby restaurants and watching TV at the hotel, and boy was it wonderful! The remaining two days we decided to visit Islands at the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. The ferry boats departed a short distance from our hotel. The first day we went to Sapi Island.
It was somewhat crowded due to its’ small size, but the water was crystal clear and the island was full of Monitor lizards.
The last day we headed to Manukan Island which was not much further away than Sapi, although this island was much larger so their was more room to spread out.
Overall we both loved the trip and we are still a little bummed as we will probably never get a chance to go back despite feeling like we missed a lot of other opportunities that are so close by. Diving at Sipidan Island and seeing the Orangutans would really have been nice. Our next trip to SE Asia we will set aside an entire month so we hopefully don’t feel like we missed as much.