After we arrived in Chang Bai Shan, we spent the first day just exploring and checking out the waterfalls and hot springs, where people were dipping their feet and boiling eggs. It was a minor madhouse of Asian tourists, but it was fun to people-watch and check out the area.
The next day, we decided to hike to the lake itself (formerly a volcano) based on a hike that Max, a former PiA-er, had done before. It was a somewhat hidden trail that at first was pretty steep, and then evened out somewhat. Here is a picture of us, cold but enthusiastic, in the wild tundra of northern China.
Things are going well at this point. I'm slightly behind everyone, due to the fact that I have short legs and a terrible physique, but overall we're enjoying the hike. Yes, it's getting colder, and yes, Jessica sidles up to me once in a while to whisper, "I don't like the look of those clouds" (big, dark, looming over the mountains) but we're all young and invincible-feeling. The wind, which was crazy to begin with, gets worse. At points, we are scrambling over rocks (Labyrinth-style!) and climbing up steep inclines. I can't think of what kind of outdoor adventure movie it reminds me of, but...it was like that. At this point, it begins to dawn on me that:
1) Nobody knows where we are.
2) Which happens to be on a completely amazing but completely desolate mountain ridge.
3) Literally on the border of North Korea.
4) In a miniature blizzard.
And oddly enough, I wasn't concerned. Maybe it's foolish, but I felt really safe in the hands of my co-fellows. Also, Jessica was doing most of the worrying for me. I think my favorite part of the hike was when we weren't 100% sure that we were on the right path (we were waiting for a fork in the road) and Jessica leaned over to me and said, "It's really important that we make it there." I nodded and said, "Yeah, totally." A moment later, I looked at her again and said, "Wait, are you saying that if we don't make it there in a few hours and it gets dark, we'll freeze to death?" She looked at me gravely and nodded.
How awesome is that!?
Luckily, we found the fork soon enough (also spotted: a ragtag set-up in the distance, North Korean border patrol) and kept on trucking. At this point, I've borrowed Chris's gloves and Tae has switched his shoes for Chris's shoes and put plastic bags on his feet and Pat is wearing socks as gloves. It's very very very cold.
Eventually we reach the lake. We realize that we are at the edge of the cliff, and there is no easy path to the lake itself (where there might be transportation) and so our only choice is to backtrack. We probably looked at the lake for about two seconds before starting back down, in order to beat the sun. It was a steep climb up the mountain and an equally steep climb back down.
Our weird little hotel/hostel never looked so good. A bowl of bland noodle soup never tasted so delicious. I thought maybe it was just because I'm not an experienced hiker, but my adventurous co-fellows all agreed that it was one of the best hikes they had ever done, if not the best. It was exciting, exhilarating, snowy, and crazy, and just generally awesome.
Next up on the Travel Journal: We see the lake up close, and eat some interesting food. Stay tuned!
Photo credits: Taehoon Kim, Christopher Hildner.