Wednesday, November 4, 2015

TianMenShan, Zhangjiajie, China

Our last day in Zhangjiajie ws on Tuesday, October 20, 2015, and we went out with a bang!  After morning meetings, our group took a bus to another section of the National Park, home of the infamous Tianmen Mouintain.  This mountain, with it's iconic keyhole "cave" (or arch) penetrating it's peak, has been made famous by the many Wingsuit and aeronautic competitions held there.  Just search online and you will find many videos such as this one.  (Click on "Video Favorites" and select the clip titled "Best of WWL China Grand Prix".)  While we didn't see any airplanes or wingsuits flying in formation through the cave, we had an amazing experience hiking through it ourselves!  On approach to the mountains, which were very different from the sandstone pillars of Tianzi, we could see this area would have a grandeur all it's own.

A twisting dragon-like road from the foot of the mountains led to the 'Heaven Ladders' of Tianmen Cave. The road is less than 7 miles but the elevation rises rapidly from 650 feet to over 4,250 feet.  It reminded me of the winding bus route to Machu Picchu, which was a much more primitive one-lane dirt road.  This one has 99-bends which created an amazing sight from the trails and cable-cars above!


The surrounding mountains created dramatic scenery.

The stairway to heaven, as I will call it, consists of 999 narrow and steep steps leading to Tianmen Cave.  The final ascent was more challenging that it looks, and was topped with a love-lock monument.

Here are views of the "cave" from the front, from underneath looking up, and finally from the backside.  The cave is 431 feet high, 187 feet wide, with and depth of 196 feet, and opens to an inspiring view of the forest below.

We walked a narrow path along the edge of a cliff to the entrance of an extremely long series of escalators which took us from the Tianmen Cave to the highest peaks of  Mt. Tianmen.  The seemingly endless 12 sections of tunnel, spans more than half a mile, hoisting a height of 370 yards. It is equipped with 16 sets of 100-foot heavy-duty escalators and three sets of 65-foot ones. These escalators can carry 3,600 tourists on a one-way trip per hour.  What an engineering feat!  Our amazement continued as we slipped on protective shoe covers and slid along the glass "walk of faith" which clung to the side of the sheer cliffs ahead.

The trail continued along the top of the mountain where a viewing platform perched on the edge of the tallest peak providing commanding views of the valley below.  We took photos of the 99 bends of the road below as we traversed across the top of the keyhole cave.  Surprisingly, there was a concrete log-shaped concession stand along the trail.

We made our way to the Tienman Cableway, where we stopped for a snack before beginning the descent from our heavenly mountain abode.  The cables stretch for a mind-blowing 24,459 feet.  That's more than 4.5 miles, making it the longest cable-car ride in the world!

Spectacular vistas emerged from the dusk as four of us passengers twisted and turned to capture the beauty on film.  The 30-minute descent to the city of Zhangjiajie, was an incredible "flight".

As we bid farewell to Zhangjiajie, I found myself reflecting on our wonderful experiences in the magnificent snow-capped Swiss Alps.  And just as then, I was feeling sad to say good-bye!  The gorgeous Tianmen peaks, remain forever in my memories, the Alps of Asia.