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Living in pancake flat Beijing, it' easy to get the itch to stretch your legs. Yes, Fragrant Hills is always within easy reach of downtown, but for those who are looking for something more, Lingshan Mountain is should definitely be in the running. It's Beijing's highest peak, and it doesn't fail to provide the stunning vistas worthy of that title.
Upon arriving at the base of the hike, visitors will quickly note the chairlift that disappears over the summit of a rounded hill not so far away. Many people have been deceived into thinking that that unimpressive height is the extent of the journey, whereas the true peak of Lingshan lies much further beyond.
The chairlift putters away, tugging people up the mountain at a leisurely pace. For others who are more inclined to commune with nature, a host of sturdy horses lie in wait, ready to navigate the way up or down the mountainside. Tibetan horse riders lead the horses up the slopes, and can also offer folklore tidbits. Prices may vary depending on distances covered, but the horses and their masters all work hard to make their living.
Like all of China's official "hikes", a staircase leads the way from the bottom to the top, so that even ladies in high heels stand a slim chance of attaining the peak (although this author highly recommends proper footwear).
Many hikers reject the staircase, opting to climb the horse trails that branch out to the right of the staircase. Some find the trails easier to climb than stairs, while others prefer the earthiness of navigating one's way up through a maze of roots, stones and piles of horse manure.
Horticulturalists are sure to enjoy the broad variety of mountain plants and flowers on site. Rhododendron, birch, lilac and more defiantly brave the mountain climate, with different species appearing at different altitudes.
Many horses and cows roam the hillsides freely. Even horses who work the dayshift, are set free in the evenings. Sheep have also apparently set up shop in this hillside neighbourhood.
Aerial views of animals and plants may be nice from above, but those who ride the chairlift may be disappointed to realize that its final drop off point remains a considerable distance from the final destination. Even horses do not complete the full journey. No, the final stretch to Lingshan's 2,300 metre summit must be conquered on foot.
A horseman enjoys his break at Lingshan Mountain.[Photo/CRIENGLISH.com]
Accordingly, the higher you get, the lower the temperatures drop. Be forewarned: despite how high temperatures may soar in downtown Beijing, a jacket and a hat will become welcome friends as you near Lingshan's peak. Heavy coats are available for rent if you don't heed my warning.
At this point, Hubei province has finally revealed itself on the far side of the mountain. The views in general have taken a definite lean towards the dramatic. Every step up wins sights of rows of mountains gently fading away into oblivion.
Cows stroll across the broken pathway near the peak of Lingshan Mountain.[Photo/CRIENGLISH.com]
The peak is marked by a tall pile of stones and a large tablet that somewhat unnecessarily informs visitors that they have indeed reached the summit of Lingshan. The air is crisp and clear. A view of the town behind the mountain has finally come into view, as well as the winding road snaking towards it. Blue-tinted mountains fade in the distance while jagged rock formations fill in the foreground. It is, in a word, breathtaking.
At the peak, hiker Ma Jun was preparing a pot of noodle soup on a camp stove, having just scaled the rugged backside of the mountain. It was his second time completing the hike, both times doing so solo. "Taking the stairs is more strenuous!" he laughed, emphasizing his preference to plant his hiking boots into the earth itself. "[Today] was really good… I like hiking by myself: it's more free."
Mountains fade into the distance at Lingshan's summit.[Photo/CRIENGLISH.com]
A woman had come up with her husband and four-year-old daughter, completing the trip in about an hour. "We didn't hike up. We took the chairlift and the horses. Today is our day to relax," she explained unnecessarily. "It's pretty nice because this is the highest mountain in the region. I appreciate the open vistas."
The hike down is certainly easier than the way up, and one can also continue the trend of taking it easy by taking horses to clod down to the base, providing riders heightened points of view。
Autumn grasses glow in dusk's light at Lingshan Mountain.[Photo/CRIENGLISH.com]
For those who choose to hike the entire way up and down, about four hours is needed. Considering the travel time out of and into Beijing, a nice way to avoid feeling rushed is to stay in a guest house or hotel at the base of Lingshan or in the neighbouring town of Hongshuikou. Hongshuikou is the official entrance to Lingshan Mountain, about 9 km from the base of the hike. Guest houses are clean and simple, with prices starting from 25 yuan per bed.
Also nearby in the Mengtougou District, one can visit Tanzhe Temple (once one of the most important temples in Beijing), Baihuashan Mountain, or Miao Fengshan mountain.