My time in the Sanqingshan mountains was a life changing experience. I had never imagined peaks on such a scale before and can understand why the Chinese people consider it a sacred place.

Every day I walked the mountains, finding and following new paths which disappeared into thick persistent mists. I would be the first to venture out in the mornings and last to return after dark, soaked by constant drizzle. I would walk for hours on my own, my mind wondering and completely in awe. When I met others, my Chinese words were inadequate for conversation, but it seemed the experience and presence of such an incredible place was all that really mattered.

A couple of weeks before I arriving I had never even heard of Sanqingshan. I had been in China on a work trip at a busy time in my life. Four days alone on the mountain changed me. Sanqingshan, I’m glad I found you.


2015, western side of Sanqingshan, China

Emerging Peak, Sanqingshan, China
A white veil lifts as a mountain peak emerges.

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2015, Sanquinshan, China

Revealed, Sanqingshan
A sudden break in the mist reveals the steep mountainsides of Sanqinshan.

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Here’s a diary entry extract from the day I took ‘Revealed’ to set the scene…

I walked exactly 20km today, so yesterday was probably similar. The weather is looking pretty hopeless out there, so I have retired to the hotel room early. My afternoon walk lasted two hours up and down steep stairs through the best parts of Sanqingshan but I couldn’t take a single photo because of the rain. I was pretty wet by the time I got back and the weather doesn’t look like letting up. I hope it can clear up tomorrow morning or I really will miss out on seeing Sanqingshan at its very best. It’s still been great but it could have been absolutely spectacular with the right weather. Having said that I did manage a few nice photo’s in the morning with some low lying clouds blowing around, it didn’t last long though so most of the pictures were taken in very short moments when the clouds cleared enough to see through them.

I started out at 6am and was planning to head up the sunshine coast way near the centre of the mountain overlooking the peaks, but for some reason I actually headed the opposite direction and by the time I realised it was too late to go all the way back. So I took the eastern path instead, it was similar to the western path with a track formed into the side of the mountain which wound around the cliffside contours. It was mostly easy going because it was fairly flat. Not long into the walk the morning fog suddenly opened up and kind of split in two, I could suddenly see a cloud of sea below and clouds above with a gap in the middle which exposed some mountain peaks in the distance. I was almost taken by surprise but I quickly had the camera out and snapped away. It didn’t last very long, there was only about a minute of clear space before it all turned back into fog again. It was a brief but beautiful moment which was fortunately too early for the noisy tourists so it was a very peaceful part of the day.

I continued around the mountain and as I climbed higher I seemed to be climbing into more and more fog, also it was wetter than yesterday. Yesterday was foggy but today was kind of misty and spitting which made it wetter, but on the plus side the viewing distance was a little further so more peaks could be seen. I kept on walking and went up past the sunshine coast or whatever it’s called, my map is terrible and doesn’t label the same way as the tourist signs do, so that was why I got a bit lost yesterday. Anyway I walked up the sunshine coast to the north west corner where there are several old relics in the pine forest. There were a couple of temples, a little pagoda on a rock and there were a couple of small lakes. It was a pretty spot without the big peaks but beautiful in its own way. I walked back around the west coast and saw some spectacular scenes when the clouds cleared enough to expose distant peaks.

Along the way I also came across a guy who I keep bumping into, he has limited English but so far I have seen him once a day in some remote part of the track on his own with his camera, maybe he is a Chinese version of me.


2015, Sanqinshan, China

Above, Sanqingshan
An incredible moment as the mists blew in and wrapped themselves around the mountain peaks.

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Here’s a diary extract describing the moment I captured ‘Above’

Sunrise was pretty good, after two solid days of nothing but fog and mist I was excited when I woke at 4am and peeked out the window, I could make out a nice clear sky and a sea of clouds down into the valley below, so good. It wasn’t long before I was outside in the dark and climbing two kilometres worth of stairs up to the sunshine way, which is where I thought the best chance of a sunrise photo would be. It was difficult to know if it would be good though because previously all I could see was mist and the closest peaks, but with a fairly clear night sky I was actually able to make out more of the peaks in the distance. I was looking for the same peaks I had seen in a photo on the hotel room wall, but as I walked I couldn’t see the same contours.

I was the first person up the mountain and after some time I was joined by another two photographers, so I figured the spot couldn’t be too bad. I rugged up with my jacket and coat to keep warm and fumbled a bit with the camera with cold hands, I was very careful though because one wrong move would literally drop the camera right off the cliff face. As the sky gradually lightened I could see that I was overlooking most of the Sanqingshan mountain peaks including the giant cobra. I could also see a cloud sea off into the distance, it was a real sight. Eventually the sun rose over the clouds and the mists blew in and wrapped themselves around the peaks, it was everything I had been waiting to see. I snapped away quickly and did the best I could with the changing lighting conditions, it was the best time of the day for sure.

Eventually the other photographer and I left the viewpoint just as another two photographers came up and had missed the best part. I did a quick loop around the main mountain peaks (about 6km) because I wanted to see them in good light. In some ways it took away the mystery and feel of the place when everything was visible, but it was good to see both ways. There was one peak I had to see properly though, “young lady with open breasts”, it just seemed too funny to miss seeing properly, I wonder if there is anything else like it in the world! I also realised that one of the features I thought was “young lady with open breasts” on the first day was actually just a feature near by and was more like “pregnant lady breast”.

John Hardiman