High in the mountains of China’s Sichuan province lies Atule’er village, where 15 children climb a deadly 800 metre cliff on their way to and from school. The two-hour trip is so gruelling that the children only return home twice a month.
Atule’er village drew international attention after photographer Chen Jie published a series of eye-opening photos of 15 schoolchildren, between the ages of 6 and 15, ascending unsteady vine ladders.
Award winning photographer Chen Jie joined the children on their trek, with camera in tow, to capture the commute up 17 sky ladders along the rocky cliff. He said the terrifying journey was not for the timid. “If you have any kind of accident you will fall straight into the abyss.”
The small farming community which produces peppers and walnuts reportedly had insufficient land to build a school on the mountaintop. The perils of the journey have been highlighted by the deaths of several villagers. Many have also been injured on the commute.
Villager Chen Jigu told reporters that the makeshift wooden ladders were hundreds of years old. “We replace a ladder with a new one when we find one of them is rotten.”
Furor over the students’ plight brought vows of government action. The regional government said a steel staircase would be built to connect the isolated village with the outside world.
Jike Jinsong, another official, said government funds were insufficient to build a road to Atule’er and warned that it was also not practical to relocate the community since the locals would lose their land.
A third local politician has suggested turning the area into a tourist attraction.