Viewing Tianmen Mountain from a Great Distance
November 3, 2009 9:54 PM   Subscribe

Tianmen Shan (天门山, Heaven's Gate Mountain) is an incredible cave natural arch eroded through a karst syncline. And yes, someone had the bright idea to fly stunt planes though it - an opening only 30m high, 70m deep, and 30m wide - it's a great video, though.

Tianmen Shan may be unique among the world's great arches(view from the back) in that its formation is recorded in history. Documents from China's "Three Kingdoms" period report that the entire opening formed in one cataclysmic event when the back of a huge cave collapsed in 263 AD. As a result, the name of the mountain was changed from Songliang Shan (嵩梁山) to Tianmen Shan by the emperor of that period, Emperor Wujing. Thus, Tianmen Shan is also one of the very few natural arches with a precisely known age.

To get there, you drive up Tongtian Avenue (Avenue toward Heaven), which has 99 turns, symbolizing that Heaven has nine palaces.

Then you take the Tianan stairs (also known as Tianti, or the Celestial/Heaven Reaching Ladder), all 999 steps - and there's no platforms for stopping.

Alternatively, you can take the cable car (if you're at all afraid of heights, don't click on this pic) straight from the city - which they claim is the longest cableway in the world with a distance of 7455 meters and a height gap of 1279 meters.

The mountain itself is quite famous, being the subject of a poem by Li Bai, 'Viewing Tianmen Mountain from a Great Distance.'

Should you want to go, it's located about 8 km south of the city of Zhangjiajie (formerly Dayong) in northern Hunan Province, China.
posted by HopperFan (16 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
cable car (if you're at all afraid of heights, don't click on this pic)

I thought, "pshaw".

In reality, nearly brown trousers time here on the couch. Holy smokes!
posted by pkingdesign at 10:34 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

formed in one cataclysmic event
And there's all some silly bastard trying to add another one.
Wanted to visit that part of the country for many years now - I hear it's not just the crackers pilots that are spectacular.
posted by Abiezer at 11:24 PM on November 3, 2009

This is also a scary cable car. Could well be in the same locality.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:29 PM on November 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

That is really, really cool.
posted by DU at 4:26 AM on November 4, 2009

Some of those planes look like they fly pretty close to the sides...for what, an extra challenge or something?
posted by telstar at 5:14 AM on November 4, 2009

Great post, thanks.
posted by The Straightener at 5:55 AM on November 4, 2009

Here is a China Daily article about the flying-through stuff. (No longer available on the net.)

by CHEN LIANG, China Daily staff, 12/13/1999

It might be mankind’s first effort at flying planes through a natural cavern. And a smooth exit might land the pilot in the Guinness Book of World Records. But Hungarian Peter Basenyei did the stunt with ease. At 2:33 pm Saturday, the ace pilot, who just won the bronze medal at the 1999 Zhangjiajie FAI World Aviation Grand Prix, flew through a cavern here named “Heavenly Door” while turning his Extra 300S plane upside down.

“It is really exciting and impressive,” he said after landing at the Zhangjiajie Lotus Airport. “When I was there, I found the cave was bigger than I thought and so I decided to fly my plane upside down,” he said. “It was a little windy today and I did have some hesitation at one moment. I knew I had to be careful. But I just wanted to do it the harder way because I am confident in myself.”

Inspired by his gallant creativity, 10 other stunt pilots pierced the cave safely and artistically with their planes. They made big loops around the cave. They spun and rolled. Four planes of the Czech Republic’s “Sky Box” team went through the cave in an orderly vertical row.

But at 1,261 metres above sea level and set on top of steep cliffs, the mountain cavern did challenge the pilots’ flying skills. An unsteady air stream and whirlpool, which results from the temperatures varying with height from time to time, posed the biggest risks.

However, the cave is 127.37 metres tall and 279.42 metres long with a minimum width of 28.03 metres. These measurements provide enough room. With modern flying skills, said Swiss-born Jacques Saillard, chief engineer of the grand prix, planes with seven to eight metres and a wingspan of at least eight metres can master this cavern.

Fifteen pilots from nine countries participated the grand prix, which opened in Zhangjiajie on December 8. Lithuania’s Jurgis Kairys won the event’s gold medal and Viktor Tchmal from Russia won the silver./
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:22 AM on November 4, 2009

Awesome post, thanks for bringing it onto the blue.

In trying to find out if it was actually in a syncline I found this picture, which was more helpful for that purpose and some people might like to see so, eh, there it is. And a picture from the top of Tianmen Shan! Cool stuff.

Karst is a big deal in China, the whole natural disollution of limestone/gypsum thing resulting in what I think are some of the most amazing landscapes on the planet (warning: not all pictures show karst landscape... but that's okay). It results in mountains that jut up out of the landscape, seemingly from nowhere. If you're ever in China, especially South China, go see it (and send me pictures).
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:34 AM on November 4, 2009

Great post! Thanks so much for the links & pics.
posted by lagreen at 6:40 AM on November 4, 2009

Thanks, six-or-six-thirty, that picture from the top is amazing. I have the first link you mentioned, but not in connection with syncline - it's linked to 'Heaven's Gate Mountain.'

I've been interested in karst since I saw a post about it here in the blue some time ago - neat stuff.
posted by HopperFan at 6:40 AM on November 4, 2009

Great post! I can't imagine how those cable cars keep from sliding down the cables!
posted by jefficator at 6:54 AM on November 4, 2009

Magnificent post.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:07 AM on November 4, 2009

I can't imagine how those cable cars keep from sliding down the cables!

The cars are clamped onto the cables. The cable moves, and pulls the cars along. They all work that way AFAIK.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:18 AM on November 4, 2009

Scary thing about the cable cars is that they use detachable clamps; at the top and bottom, the jaws open and the car comes off the cable, so that it can travel slower than the cable while people unload. Essentially one is trusting friction and the strength of the spring that keeps the jaws shut.

The from-the-top photo shows an amazing highway. I've always been impressed with BC's highways, as the entire province is a series of mountain ranges running north-south, while transport is mostly east-west. But that mountain road knocks all our highways into a cocked hat. Wow, the things you can do when you have virtually unlimited labour.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:10 AM on November 4, 2009

That was cool and all, but my wife and I just watched the video and we were expecting someone to fly a 737 through there on its side or something. It's an impressive location, but I'm not seeing any real risk or highly advanced pilotry here, am I?
posted by sneebler at 5:19 PM on November 4, 2009

Unpredictable winds mostly, sneebler. The first pass-through was hair-raising: you could see it in their faces. Subsequent passes were obviously a lot more relaxed.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:02 PM on November 4, 2009

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