For more than a dozen children in a small, remote village in southwest China, the mountainous route home from school is long — and extremely steep.
Every two weeks, when the students, ages 6 to 15, return from boarding school, they climb a chain of 17 bamboo ladders, secured to a sheer cliff face and leading some 2,625 feet up, according to reports.
Locals say the ladders — which lead through treacherous terrain in the Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province — have been there nearly as long as the village.
"We replace a ladder with a new one when we find one of them is rotten," Chen Jigu, who lives in the Atuler village, told China Daily.
But government officials said villagers may soon have another way to get up and down: Stairs, which would be a windfall for the 72 families who travel the same dangerous way to a nearby marketplace to sell potatoes, walnuts and chili peppers, according to the Associated Press.
"The most important issue at hand is to solve the transport issue," county Communist Party Secretary General Jikejingsong said in a news release, according to the AP. "That will allow us to make larger-scale plans about opening up the economy and looking for opportunities in tourism."
The steel stairs would be a temporary fix until officials can come up with a long-term solution.
A team of 50 officials from the Zhaojue county government’s transport, education and environmental protection departments traveled to the area on Wednesday to assess safer alternatives, the Global Times reported Friday. It said the county is considering building a road to the village, although the cost would be exorbitant for such a poor region.
Families in the Atuler village are part of the Yi minority group, according to news reports.
The state-run China Daily reported that most live in meager homes made of mud, thatch and wood.
Indeed, many marginalized minority groups in China live much the same way, relying on rope bridges, canoes and ladders for travel, according to the AP.
The children in the Atuler village recently made headlines when Chinese newspapers posted pictures showing the children, led by adults, climbing through the mountainside — their brightly colored backpacks bobbing up the side of a cliff near their home.
Villagers told China Daily that the trek takes about two hours going up — and 90 minutes to get down.
"When a villager is too sick to climb down the mountain," China Daily reported, "a person must tie him or her onto their back to get down the cliff with the help of two other villagers."
Api Jiti, head of the small village, told Beijing News that over the years, “seven or eight” people had fallen to their deaths — and many more had been hurt during the dangerous journey, according to the Guardian.
Photographer Chen Jie spent three days with the villagers documenting their treacherous travels.
"It is very dangerous," he told the Guardian. "You have to be 100 percent careful.
"If you have any kind of accident, you will fall straight into the abyss."