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Young climbers aim too high in China

By Zhuomin Lee (Shanghai Daily)

09:09, February 19, 2013

The Pudacuo National Park in southwest China's Yunnan Province, in one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, is a popular destination among trekkers. (Shanghai Daily)

Alpine trekking and climbing are increasingly popular among young Chinese but experts warn that they need proper preparation and the right attitude - it's about the journey, not the summit. Zhuomin Lee reports.

China is home to some of the world's most challenging rocks and peaks, offering a grueling yet unparalleled surrealistic experience for the adventurous. Untamed terrain and punishing weather conditions en route to the top have always attracted throngs of adrenaline seekers hailing from far and wide.

In the recent years though, more and more Chinese people are also beginning to taking up the extreme challenge alpine trekking has to offer.

Small starts, big wins

Xu Ying, 26, remembers everything about her most difficult hike to date, a snow-capped mountain in southwest China's Sichuan Province, around 4,000 meters above sea level - except its name.

"It was rainy and snowy, I was cold and miserable. Conditions were so bad, there wasn't even a proper path," she recalls of the June 2011 trek.

She shudders at the memory of so-called guesthouses in some of these underdeveloped areas, piteous structures assembled from planks of wood. Toilets are a mere hole in the ground. Yet the novice trekker concedes brightly that she would do it again because the arduous journey gave her an immense sense of achievement, even though she did not make it to the summit.

Her marketing executive boyfriend, Dong Hao, enjoys climbing and trekking so much that he goes back to nature every two months.

"Mountain climbing is addictive," he explains. "There is this unexplainable sense of reverence for Mother Nature that offers a respite from the everyday chaos of city life."

The pair modestly considers themselves amateur after only five years of climbing.

They represent a growing number of young Chinese people who are becoming drawn to adventure travel and alpine trekking.

"Mountains in China have always had great cultural and spiritual significance for Chinese. Most of our clients are foreigners, but in the last two years we have received quite a lot of Chinese clients," says Joan Elizalde, manager of Yejo Travel in Shanghai.

Trekkers say people who have had a taste of adrenaline seldom look back and come back for more of the same in alpine settings. They typically start with leisurely hikes with friends, enjoy the experience and develop an appetite for more extreme exploits, such as those found in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. With each expedition, they become more deeply committed to challenge themselves with something bigger the next time round.

Around Shanghai, weekend beginner treks take climbers to Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province, Niutou Mountain south of Hangzhou and other peaks. These climbs are not big expeditions and climbers can build skills with a few friends.

"Climbing is also a great social activity and opportunity to build and cultivate relationships," adds Elizalde, who often insists that his organized groups should be a healthy mix of locals and foreigners for sake of cultural exchange.

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