Chinese kids descend terrifying cliff face to school

Story highlights

  • Children from Chinese village descend an 800-meter cliff on unsteady ladders
  • "I can't imagine what it would be like climbing down," photographer says

Beijing (CNN)Some kids will do anything to get out of school. Others risk their lives to get there.

In the mountains of southwest China's Sichuan province, children descend an 800-meter (half-mile) cliff on unsteady vine ladders to reach school. The two-hour trip is so demanding, they only return home twice a month.
Atule'er, a village of no more than 400 people, drew wide attention after the state-run Beijing News published a series of striking photos this week of 15 schoolchildren as young as 6 climbing the vine ladders --or "sky ladders," as locals call them.
Photographer Chen Jie first heard about the village from friends, and when he learned the children would be coming home on May 14, he joined the climb, camera in hand, to capture the journey up 17 sky ladders along the rocky cliff face.
"It was dangerous enough climbing up. I can't imagine what it would be like climbing down," Chen told CNN.
Some parents volunteer on each trip to supervise the children.
Chen said he's amused when he considers the contrast with wealthier children in Beijing.
"Think about it. City parents get worried when their spoiled kids aren't happy, but what the kids here face is a formidable abyss -- they could fall any second," he said.
He said the children didn't seem scared. Only one said he became afraid once when he saw a friend close to slipping from the ladder.
In the past decade, China has built up its infrastructure to support its growing economy.
Yet millions still live below the poverty line, and Beijing has said it will tackle poverty in the most desperate areas, including Liangshan prefecture, home to the village of sky ladders.