Thanks to a new set of steel ladders, the trip to and from school has become a little less dangerous for a group of children living in a remote cliffside village in Sichuan province.
Back in May, a national uproar occurred after Chinese netizens discovered the dangerous route down an 800-meter-tall cliff, utilizing 17 wicker ladders, that these kids were forced to take just to make it to class. The public outcry caused the local government to visit the tiny village and announce that they would be building a set of steel steps leading up the cliffside.
In late October, workers were putting the final bars in place for these so-called “Ladders to Heaven.” On Saturday, 20 children used the new ladders for the first time to climb from their school back to their village to celebrate the Yi Ethnic New Year holiday. News photographers tagged along to document the journey.
Before climbing, the kids must first be accompanied by an adult. Here, the school principal waits with the children while their parents and guardians climb down to escort them back up.
The previous wicker ladders were all nearly vertical. These new steel ones are set at a slightly more reasonable 60 degree angle, making it a bit easier on the kids.
Still, it’s not an easy climb and the children need to stop and take a break.
There are also places where the ladder stops and the kids are forced to climb up the steep cliffs themselves.
And stop to take another break.
To keep them from falling off, the smaller children are attached by a rope to their guardians.
Then, it’s back to more steel ladders.
According to Long Deshun, the man in charge of the project, the new steel ladders will help to shorten the climb to the village by an hour. This inaugural journey took the kids two hours to complete.
Well, it’s not an sightseeing elevator, but it’s better than it was? Here’s how that journey looked back in May:
72 households call the cliffside village of Atule’er their home, where the cell phone coverage is crap and marriageable women are scarce. But the village’s biggest concern is the safety of its children. The kids’ school lies at the bottom of the cliff and twice a month the children have to climb down the dangerous path to go to classes, staying at school for 10 days, before going back home for 5 days.
While eight people have died in the past making the climb, there hasn’t been an accident since 2009. The villagers are proud that they keep their kids safe by having a male adult accompany each of them during the dangerous journey with a rope tied around their waists.
According to People’s Daily, the new ladders used over 40 tons of steel.They’ve been sprayed with anti-rust paint so they can last for 10 to 20 years, Long Deshun claims.
Despite all that effort, Chinese netizens aren’t exactly impressed with the improved path:
“When you look at these pictures, does anybody think it looks safe? Not just for children, it’s terrifying enough for adults!” one web user commented.
“What if rains? What if it snows? What if it freezes? Can you still use it?” another user asked rhetorically.
“It’s not safe in winter, you guys had better just come down for good,” suggested another netizen.
[Images via Sina]