Like anywhere else, tour companies can be hit and miss in China but if you find a good one, not only can they open you up to new experiences in traveling to places you've not been before but they can also introduce you to a community of like-minded people who might even become your lifelong friends out there in the world.
We were interested in Mountain Cat Club, a new Shanghai-based outdoors club, after seeing the pictures of the group online. Small groups of hikers out in the middle of green and blues expanses, climbing across rocky crags, hanging from walls, and swimming in clean and clear mountain rivers.
Our interest grew when we did the research and discovered that they've got lots of dog-friendly single-day trips out of Shanghai, available for beginners, along with more involved multi-day treks into the untouched wilderness and gear-assisted rock and mountain climbing for pros. Prices are never more than a few hundred RMB, split between a group that maxes out at 10. They even have a pretty heartwarming and altruistic discount policy: if you adopt a stray cat (or dog) you get 10% off all trips.
Hey, if saving the kitties (and doggos) is an integral part of your business plan, we're interested in finding out more.
Mountain Cat Club specializes in hidden gem hiking in regions around Shanghai. They travel to mostly obscure rivers and ranges outside surrounding villages, in places like Ningbo, Dayewa Valley River, and Anji. Their trips offer an equal emphasis on community, teamwork, and coming together to overcome challenges, along with the guiding appreciation of nature and the impulse to get out of the big city for some activity, peace, and quiet.
SmartShanghai had a chat with the founders of Mountain Cat Club, Adela and Charles, about taking roads less traveled out of Shanghai.
SmSh: Can you introduce Mountain Cat Club to people who might never have heard of it?
Adela: Mountain Cat Club is a Shanghai-based outdoor club that specializes in arranging small-group hiking off the beaten path. Our founder, Charles, has extensive experience as an outdoor leader, but we are continuously learning and hope to grow with our members.
Our aim is to cultivate a vibrant and well-informed outdoor community. We want to take people into nature, develop a deep connection with it, and foster a profound respect for the environment. We have organized a line of hiking trips that are very well-received. We are also in the process of planning workshops in Shanghai, where we will share outdoor knowledge and bring expertise to our community.
SmSh: Adela and Charles, can you introduce yourselves? How did you meet up and what are your backgrounds in hiking?
Adela: We met on a river hiking trip in Wenzhou three years ago. Charles was the trip leader, and that was my first hiking trip ever. With no prior knowledge of hiking, I packed only a swimsuit and jeans, under the misconception that river hiking meant strolling alongside the river and jumping into the pools whenever it gets hot. Little did I know that it would be a breathtaking journey, both in terms of the spectacular scenery and also the exhilarating challenges it presented. Charles was a great leader; thoughtful and caring, with agility and composure in the face of challenge. That's how I fell in love with river hiking and with Charles.
I am local Shanghainese. As I grew up, I visited many popular tourist destinations with their paved paths, human-made attractions, and bustling crowds, which left me disillusioned with travel. It felt monotonous, and the natural beauty was obscured by the masses of people.
River hiking in Wenzhou is like visiting an untouched paradise. Our group was small, and at certain spots, we found ourselves the sole visitors. I never imagined that such a pristine location could be accessed on foot. No matter how hard it was, it was definitely worth it.
Charles: I have been leading a variety of outdoor adventures for four years now, including snow mountaineering, rock climbing, rappelling, and river hiking.
During one trip to Anhui, we discovered a trail that was perfect for technical climbing, and there were no outdoor clubs organizing a hike on this trail at all. So, that's where it all started, trying to offer locations where other people aren't going, while also doing better on support and safety education.
Through my previous experiences leading groups, I noticed some room for improvement which we're trying to build on, such as improved communication, safety education before the trip, better route information, and more accurate assessment of difficulty. Lately, for my part, I've been thinking about how to provide a more professional and standardized experience, and am enhancing my own outdoor skills. I have actively pursued various outdoor training programs, such as the rope skills training organized by the Chinese Mountaineering Association.
SmSh: What sorts of people are signing up? Where are people coming from and what skill levels are they coming with?
Adela: Our initial intention was to primarily serve experienced hikers and venture into pristine locations that demand a specific skill set to access. I personally hate large groups and well-paved tourist attractions, so I want to create a club that caters to the needs of people like me.
However, as our videos and pictures on social media attracted the attention of many friends, they expressed a desire but also hesitancy to join us. They were afraid our trips were too physically challenging since they didn't have prior experience. We then realized it was wrong to exclude beginners. Instead, we focus on connecting people with nature, inspiring them to appreciate and protect natural beauty. Now, we are also welcoming beginners and providing them with a progressive learning curve to enhance their hiking and survival skills over time.
We want to create a friendly atmosphere, unlike led group tours, but akin to a group of friends exploring together, while ensuring safety by providing an experienced trip leader and a local guide. For safety concerns, we limit the group size to 10 people.
SmSh: It seems like you are going to a lot of places where there are no people at all. How did you guys discover all the hiking routes?
Adela: A bunch of different ways. We've got a network of local guides that we work with and who come with us on the trips, and they share their knowledge of local trails in the region. Sometimes, we might come across a beautiful post on a friend's social media and we'll find places that way. Charles has also participated in outdoor training programs, where he has had the opportunity to meet outdoor experts who would share knowledge about lesser-known hiking trails.
We then go to scout all the trails to assess the level of difficulty. There are so many trails out there waiting to be discovered, and we welcome outdoor enthusiasts to join us in our exploration and scouting of these hidden gems.
SmSh: Can you each pick a favorite hiking route and explain why it is your favorite?
Adela: My favorite hiking trail remains the first river hiking route in Wenzhou. It's not just the scenery, but also about the perfect balance of challenge and the sense of camaraderie it fosters. The sight of crystal clear pools nestled amidst majestic mountains and lush greenery took me back to my childhood imagination of where nymphs take baths.
The trail was extremely challenging for a beginner. There were some sections that seemed impossible to me, but we, as a team, overcame each obstacle, and our group had a remarkable bond. Though we were complete strangers to each other, we cared for one another throughout the journey.
Whenever we encountered a treacherous section that posed a potential danger, a teammate would always wait for those behind, offering cautionary advice. There were some slippery spots on the rocks where I struggled to find footing and some members offered their knees or feet as stepping stones to help me progress.
Hiking is like a team sport, but not competitive at all. The kindness and teamwork displayed during this trip left a lasting impression.
Charles: My favorite route is Mount Taoyang, a technical snow mountainlocated within the Four Sisters Mountain range in Sichuan. Unlike conventional snow mountain climbing, Mount Taoyang requires the use of technical equipment to complete the ascent.
I experienced my first taste of Alpine-style climbing here. My guide and I were roped together, navigating the rugged ridges and continuously ascending with the help of technical gear. After hours of thrilling climbing, we successfully reached the summit, greeted by a breathtaking view. I really enjoyed the process of this climb, and upon reaching the top, we descended using rope techniques. After this experience, I fell in love with this style of climbing as it allowed me to communicate with the mountain itself.
SmSh: What's this discount all about? People who have adopted pets get 10% off?
Adela: We are very passionate about helping cats in need. Our club name was inspired by our beloved cats. Our three cats were rescued from the street or shelter, so we're very well-connected with rescue groups in Shanghai.
We offer a 10% discount on all of our trips if you adopt a stray (cat or dog). We're also organizing dog-friendly hikes. If you feel like adopting a stray, feel free to connect with us, and we'll direct you to shelters. We're also brainstorming ways to further support this cause.
If you have any ideas, please share your thoughts with us...
If you're looking for in-roads into off-the-beaten-path, small-group hiking in Shanghai's surrounding regions, check out the listings of Mountain Cat Club's upcoming trips right here. Search them out on WeChat at WeChat id: MountainCatClub.