Glacial remnants of the previous age gave way to warmer days. The liquescent sculpting of stone carved, with patience over time, a chasm of least resistance. Ceaselessly draining from the heights, water followed its tumultuous course through an array of ice-scoured peaks and eventually made its way into a mountain valley. Cascading curtains from the north rained as shattered drops into a pristine basin and collected before continuing their quest toward the distant sea. Pooling in preparation for the journey, water re-crystallized into a mirror of mountain sky.
Later, in the time of men, the only way into the vale was on foot, or by horseback along a discouraging trail worn by goats native to the craggy slopes. Winding through the heights, the trail often flirted with the ravine’s fractured and precipitous ledge and the high elevation rendered the pass snow-bound well into summer. However, for those determined to enter the high alpine vale, a window did exist in which they might do so before the onset of monsoon rains.
Those times when the two events did not overlap, frequent shrouding by lingering mists left the bare sloping stones perpetually slick. Thus, the daunting passage imposed the constraint that a host of any size seeking access would do well to await the drier days of autumn’s end.
It was in just such a season as this when a band of refugees fleeing crimson violence in the east, happened upon this forbidding path. In many ways the landscape resembled the rugged, seaside range of their own forsaken homeland. Being accustomed to the hardships levied against those who would settle in so challenging a place, in pressing onward they knowingly put at risk all that they possessed.
Relying on the temper of gods, who too-often proved fickle, in the company of their families this band of wandering warrior monks were overwhelmed by the chance discovery of the here-to-fore unsettled valley. Appearing untouched, fertile and graced with running water, the basin was an obvious choice to serve as the founding place for a new and tyranny free life.
Upon leaving the province of Fujian, they were led by a man of saintly resolve. In his most fervent dreams, Min Wu envisioned a remote and defensible monastery where his followers could find peace and pursue the attainment of spiritual excellence. The solitary hilltop rising before him from the valley floor, like an island amidst a sea of mountain shadows, seemed the answer to his prayers. As a reminder of the blessing in discovering this unexpected paradise, Min Wu named the valley Shang Xi Tian, or Stairway to the Western Heaven. Furthermore, he declared that the hill’s singular, pre-existing occupant should not in its lifetime be displaced or abused.