For most tourists, traveling to China conjures up images of Beijing’s Great Wall, the Forbidden City or even the commercial capital of Shanghai, which are all without a doubt beautiful and iconic places to visit. However, few are aware of the immense beauty that lies in the shadows of these tourist meccas. Recently, I had the privilege to spend five days visiting one of China’s most cherished heritage sites, Yellow Mountain. It’s one of the five most heralded mountains nationwide and is located in a remote area of Anhui Province, about 300 miles southwest of Shanghai. It’s famous for its mystical “sea of clouds” formations, which when viewed from the mountain’s highest peaks, imparts a feeling of looking down on the clouds from the heavens. As a well-known 14th century Chinese geologist once quoted, “You don’t need to see any more mountains after seeing ‘The Five Mountains,’ and you don’t need to see the other four mountains after seeing Yellow Mountain.”
One of the most memorable moments for me was spending an entire morning hiking to the Jade Screen Pavilion, a popular lookout point, in torrential rain, high wind, scattered thunder and dense fog. Like many others braving the elements, I was doubtful if there was any chance at all to witness the sea of clouds. Although the weather forecast never called for it, at midday the sky brightened, the rain tapered off and the fog began to dissipate. I could feel my heart and the passion of the many Chinese tourists around me soaring. They clapped and yelled in unison, “chu-lai-le, chu-lai-le,” which translates to “it’s coming out, it’s coming out!” The rising energy their voices carried was electric and blanketed the Pavilion with newfound hope. At last, the sea of clouds had revealed itself! Using the diagonal ridge in front of me as a leading line, I did my best to capture the sea of clouds while trying to tame my breathing with all the excitement in the air. This “sea” was doing a major psychological job on my mind as if it had a life of its own. One image in particular that made my imagination run wild was a cloud formation that took on the shape of a tidal wave about to crash into the valley before me.
Yellow Mountain left me with lasting impressions that were far reaching. The intricate coupling between the drastically changing weather and the lighting conditions that resulted is something that I really enjoyed. Having these weather dynamics take place in a region so rich with captivating scenery was a win-win situation. After experiencing Yellow Mountain’s high altitude drama for myself, I was left with a feeling of being such a small and inconsequential part of the landscape. While decompressing on the bus ride back to Shanghai after completing my stay, I came to realize that the well-known Chinese geologist was right on target with his quote.
Equipment & Settings:
Sea of Clouds: Canon 7D, Canon 17-40mm f/4 L, f/13, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, 24 mm, B+W Circular Polarizer
Tidal Wave Approaching: Canon 7D, Canon 17-40mm f/4 L, f/11, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, 21mm, B+W Circular Polarizer