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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: China

Solar Flare
Tracey Doxey in China

It is 4.30am, total solar eclipse day Huangshan - China
The residents of the Bei Hai hotel have been shouting and moving outside for over an hour to jostle with each other to find a good spot to see the sun rise. Even now, they follow the megaphoned tour guides. We are living in total cloud, missing the rain by a sliver. There is nothing to see.

After the sun has secretly risen, without them seeing it, the majestic mountain peaks and the pines slowly come into view, the swallows arrive and the wind rustles a new sound for me in china - the sound of rustling leaves in wind blown trees. I am in the north sea clouds.

There is no sound of soundlessness here. Always these people are excited by the new things - being out in the dark at 4am, using a torch, something in the clouds that cannot be seen.
The very best thing here is that it is all outside. As much outside as you can take.

I’m sitting on the fire escape with a green tea and a borrowed coat just listening for the sound of silence.
To get here is a doddle, just catch an overnight train, a taxi, a group coach, a crazy shuttle bus, pay at the gate and walk up thousands of steps, check in, make tea and wait.
It’s easy.

9.50am, 22 July 2009
We have all just witnessed the most amazing sight and experience on the top of this mountain. Thick rolling clouds and grey skies meant that the eclipse was veiled at times but during the 2 hours it took to cover and uncover the sun the whole area became animated with the most amazing atmosphere. To be honest, it was like the most important football match in the UK, one that only happens once in a life time.

Every time there was a break in the clouds and the sun and moon became visible everyone cheered and shouted like their team was scoring a goal and each time, before it all came into view, there was a lot of shouting - ‘it’s coming, lai le lai le’

And, moments before the total eclipse there was the strangest light that I can’t explain and have never seen before, almost seeing but not quite. Amazing. I sat with Chinese Len who is the calligrapher in the hotel. It so was Len but Chinese. He gave me his welding glass and I gave my eclipse glasses to a little boy who was using 35mm camera film to look through - not good.

The moment of total darkness was very moving. Everything stopped everyone became silent - even the swirling birds and then, we saw it, the corona. So exciting. Everyone jumping and shouting. - so glad I witnessed the whole experience on the top of a mountain.

23 July
Walk down day. After some negotiation, it was agreed that we would take the west steps down. The west side of the mountain is much longer than the east and with the addition of the Celestial Peak, which I had whined about wanting to see, it's a long haul.

So we set off in variable weather with threatened thunder storms. The first step was to climb high again to the meteorological weather station site so that we could climb down the other side towards Jade Screen Mountain and then up again to the Celestial Peak or Carp’s backbone. I’m not good with heights and after 2 hours of normal walking up and down, we were faced with the steps to the celestial peak.

Even I could see they were sheer and daunting and that 90% of the people on the mountain veered south and ignored the whole carp’s backbone experience. Not to be outdone now, we climbed the thousands of steps to the top, at the top, I faced the scariest sliver of a rib cage walk across the top of the pin head of the mountain with totally sheer drops on either side of nearly 2,000 mtrs.

At that point with the wind howling over the top and cloud swirling around like smoke, I couldn’t look anywhere but the space in front of my feet and feel my way over the ridge. The walk down was sheer, howling wind swept and wet with some low rope on the side or the odd hand hole. This was my biggest achievement and much scarier than any mountain I’ve been on before just because I’m scared of great heights and there was very little to hold onto. But I did it and bought the medal to prove it. Getting down is not a doddle and, Dave, compared to the walk to Everest base camp, it's on par but different.

And, Mir and Jane, no, I would not do it again for 500 but it was one of the best mountain experiences I’ve had because it pushed me.

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