A Day of Labor on Mount Tai

I’ve been hiking in the sacred Daoist mountains of China since 2007. As luck would have it, the first one I visited was probably the toughest: Mount Hua ( Huashan-shan means mountain in Mandarin). Since then I’ve been to 8 different mountains associated with Daoism. All of them have involved strenuous hikes up and down man made stairs which are usually too low and too short for my 6’2″ proportions and size 13 feet. The views are always beautiful but what’s always amazed me is the lack of a road to the top of these beautiful peaks. This is quite puzzling since I stayed at a comfortable hotel on several mountains, including my recent visit to Tai Shan last week. One can visit these mountains without ever thinking about how your bed, or dinner, or water bottle made it to the top of the mountain but the answer is there for everyone to see. It’s the men (I’ve never seen a woman) who carry all the food, and water and concrete, and steel, etc up and down these mountains every day. I once asked one guide if everything was brought up by porters and he told me about the time he saw four men carrying a grand piano up the path! I didn’t think to ask if they were bringing it up in one piece or in parts, but it’s still an amazing story. Dennis Hu and I were hiking up Yellow Mountain several years ago and we came across two huge bags of rice a porter was bringing up the mountain. Just for fun I picked one up to see how heavy it was. except I didn’t. Because the bag weighed in excess of 60 pounds. I sheepishly stopped my efforts so as not to embarass myself further. But the realization that the man who sped past me carrying about 120 pounds of rice made two trips up and down the mountain every day left a powerful impression.

The most amazing thing I saw a porter carry was two 4’x6′ pieces of sheetrock on the hike up Huashan. This mountain is rated as one of the most dangerous tourist sites in the world. Articles indicate that almost 100 people die on this mountain every year. We passed him just after I had down-climbed the most dangerous section on Huashan aptly named The Thousand Foot Precipice. In 2007 I had been a skilled rock climber for 24 years climbing up to the 5.12 grade. This section of trail was one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever done on rock. And I wasn’t carrying two bulky and heavy sections of sheet rock as I ascended it!

So anyways, this is mostly a photo essay homage to the porters who bring everything from sheetrock to cases of beer, to vegetables, and anything else which needs bringing up or down these mountains. It is with a great sense of appreciation for what they do that I offer up some images.

2 thoughts on “A Day of Labor on Mount Tai

  1. I remember how amazed I was watching those guys carry cases of beer and live chickens up 6,000 steps twice a day. Too bad that you didn’t get a picture of the calves of one of the porter. was told (and tell my students) that you could hit a porter’s calf with a baseball and he would hardly notice. I was also told that the porters die young having exerted themselves to an early death.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember asking my first guide, a devout Buddhist, about these porters. His reply stays with me even to today. He said that the occupied this position because of sins they had committed in a past life. Fascinating take. I never asked the porters themselves but it’s an interesting different take on why we have the lives we do.


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