I was pumped to go to Mount Huashan and do some exploring since it was a place on my bucket list. I needed something to take the sting away from not being able to participate in Zhengzhou. I had to do a lot of digging to find out information about the hike because most of it was written in Chinese. I spent about two hours piecing together fragments of information from a handful of blog posts and some of the more detailed reviews off of trip advisor. It seems that not many foreigners make it out to Mt. Huashan and I think part of it is due to people having a tough time finding info so I hope this post can help some other people get an idea of what to expect. I only saw 8 white people the whole day and I covered a lot of ground as you will soon find out. I first saw pictures of its infamous plank walk over a year ago and even though it was said to be the most dangerous hike in the world I was determined to do it. They have made improvements to the trails to make them safer, but the steep staircases and cliffs aren’t for the faint of heart. I had an amazing time and would say it is well worth going if you have a love of hiking and adventure.
Mt. Huashan is located in the Shaanxi province about 75 miles from Xi’an. It is one of the five sacred mountains in China and has many Taoist temples scattered throughout its peaks. Mt. Huashan is close to the start of the Himalayas of Tibet. There are five major peaks you can climb up to and my goal was to hike up and be able to hit all of them before taking the tram down. Every travel site said that it was impossible to do the hike up and see all five peaks… Challenge accepted!
My alarm went off at 6:15 am and I pretty much jumped out of bed in anticipation. I had my backpack packed and ready to go with 8 bottles of water, some cliff bars, a couple oranges and pears, nuts, dried kiwi, and a bag of cucumber chips as a treat. I was still pretty upset that I didn’t have a doubles match, but at least I wasn’t going to spend the day moping around the courts watching everyone else play their matches. By 6:30 I had grabbed half a loaf of bread from breakfast as I ran out to catch my Uber to the train station for the first train of the day. By this point I’ve been to this train station a few different times so at 6:45 I was off to pick up my ticket. I nearly had a panic attack when I got to the ticket office and there weren’t any workers. People were just buying their tickets from the automated machines which I couldn’t use anyway because they’re all in Chinese and you have to have a Chinese credit card to buy the tickets. I tried to figure out when they would be opening with no success, so with time running out before my 7:15 train I started wandering around trying to find someone who spoke english and could help me out (not an easy thing when you’re not in one of the major cities in China). I ended up finding another ticket area where I was able to get my ticket printed out and I made my train with 5 minutes to spare. My adventure was starting.
I napped a little on the train but for the most part I was looking through all the notes I wrote for myself to assist me in getting to the mountain. My bullet train got into Huashanbei and I was immediately greeted with a view of the mountain I was going to climb. Because I was paranoid about the ticket desk closing early I picked up my train ticket for the last train back at 8:30 pm before going in search of the green number 1 bus (there is also a number 2 bus, but that one takes a longer route). I had read that the taxis weren’t always reliable and would sometimes take you longer routes claiming that the roads were under construction and since I was by myself I decided the bus would be a safer option. The bus was located in front of the train station and would take you to the base of the mountain for free which was pretty cool. While looking for the bus a Thai girl who had gone to college in the states came up to me and struck up a conversation. As it turns out she was looking for the same bus and happened to speak some mandarin as well which was super helpful.
We talked during the bus ride and then she helped direct us to the entrance of the park. It wasn’t labeled well in english, but we ended up walking up a hill to an entrance where we bought our tickets into the park (180 CNY or 90 CNY for students). It was crazy how many people were there and since lines are non existent in China, we had to force our way up to the front. Eventually we got directed to someone who spoke english, but it still took a while describing what we each wanted. You could pay for a bus to go to the starting points of the trails up to the North peak (20 CNY) or to the West peak (40 CNY). From there you also have the option to to take a cable car up to either peak (North: 80 CNY; West: 140 CNY). Normally the cable cars have lines and I wanted to burn off some negative energy, so I opted to take the 20 minute bus ride to the base of the North peak and begin my hike from there. I had read that someone did the hike in 2 hours without taking breaks so I felt it would be perfect for me.
At 11 am I began my hike up to the North peak on Soldier’s Path. Most people opt to take the easy way up so I had the trail to myself most of the time. I quickly understood why since the trail was pretty much one giant staircase. In most countries they make switchbacks into the mountain so you gradually make your way up, but in China they apparently don’t bother with that and instead carve stairs right into the side of the mountain. I’ve never seen anything like it, but it was pretty cool. I flew up the stairs and since I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to see everything in time I didn’t even slow down to eat or drink. It was hot out so I always kept a bottle handy to avoid stopping except to take the occasional picture or to take in the view. My anger began to fall away as I climbed higher up the mountain. It was beautiful.
For a little while I climbed up next to a stream which eventually lead to what would be an amazing waterfall in the spring. In the May heat it was just a trickle though.
After hitting the waterfall, the stairs became steeper than I could’ve ever imagined. I hiked parts of the Great Wall a couple years ago and although there had been some steep sections of stairs, they paled into comparison with what I was up against. The stairs basically turned into a ladder with very small steps, but thankfully there were chains you could grab onto at least. I couldn’t put my whole foot on the step so I had to slow down a bit to make sure I didn’t fall to my death.
It was pretty therapeutic hiking in solitude, but at times I wished I had someone to share the view with. Instead I trekked on and passed the few people making their way up. The hike went underneath the tram for a majority of it so I was able to gauge my distance. After 30 minutes of hiking I was shocked to realize that I had already hiked up about halfway. My legs had turned numb to the steps by this point so I was able to keep up the pace to make it to the top by noon. I shaved off a full hour from the shortest time I had read about online… It must’ve been the anger…
Once I reached the top I rejoined with the hoards of people who took the cable car up to the North peak. My first order of business was to follow the signs to the South peak since that is where the Plank Road in the Sky is located. People were shocked as I weaved around them on the tight staircases, but I refused to slow down. Normally people try to take pictures of/with me a lot, but I think I was moving so fast that most didn’t even have time to ask. Every time I did stop to look at scenery or to take a few pictures, the selfies began. I will never understand the fascination the Chinese have with white people.. We were on an amazing mountain with gorgeous views and people were more interested in taking pictures of me. It seriously feels like I’m an animal at the zoo at times.
As I climbed even higher I began to see some of the temples and shrines that were overlooking the mountains. It never ceases to amaze me how people could build structures like the ones I saw on top of the peaks since there wasn’t a cable car to bring up the materials back then. They had to carry everything up the shear face of the mountain and although I had no problem getting myself up, there is no way I could make it up the stairs with more supplies. It is baffling. At the top of the mountain there were many vendors to provide the hikers with food and drinks. Since it was on top of the mountain there was no electricity to keep the food from spoiling, with the only exception being the vendors by the cable cars. Even though I generally don’t mind eating street food in China, I stuck to my snacks on the mountain because I didn’t want to risk getting sick and having to slow down my hiking pace. Too much to see and do!
On my way to the south peak I passed through the Gold Lock Pass where I saw thousands upon thousands of locks. I had been seeing locks throughout my hike, but the pass was the most popular place to lock them. People have the names of their loved ones engraved on locks and they lock them together to signify their bond. The ones at the pass also had red ribbons attached to them.
From the pass the trail forked for the different peaks. I started off walking through the Middle peak on the way to the South peak to do the Plank Road in the Sky. The stairs seemed to never end. Even if you took the tram to the top, stairs are unavoidable on this mountain. Around 1 pm I made it to another temple on the South peak where there was a huge bell and the entrance to the Plank Road in the Sky. This part of the trail is completely optional and costs 30 CNY.
There was a line so I got my first real break of the day. I had been hiking for 2 hours nonstop. I was able to eat a little snack since it took about 45 minutes to get to the front of the line. As I watched people from above, I couldn’t believe I was actually about to do the plank walk. I had been dreaming about doing it and was shaking with excitement as my harness was put on. It was only a chest harness so I was doubtful that it would help too much if I fell. There were two cables attaching me to the side of the cliff as well. Once again it is China so I’m not sure how much I actually trust their safety measures, but I was going to be careful so I wouldn’t need to rely on the harness. In order to even get down to the planks you have to go down a sketchy ladder. They put metal pipes as steps to go down and some of them were pretty far apart at the bottom. From there you had to glue yourself to the side of the cliff to use some footholds carved into the mountain to finally reach the planks. Of course the wind seemed to pick up as soon as I made it to the planks so I moved even closer to the cliff. Once on the planks I realized how high it was. I had my phone in my pocket for easy access for pictures, but my hand was shaking from the fear of dropping my phone. If you drop your phone off the side it is definitely gone and with that, all of the pictures as well. I wanted cool pictures though so I had to fish my phone out of my pocket and trust it to someone else to not drop it. It was almost hard to smile while on the ledge and here I was doing it for fun. I became more comfortable the longer I was out there, but I was still constantly on edge. I would say the scariest part was that the road was two ways so there were constantly people crossing past you on a very narrow plank. It actually wasn’t a super long section and it ended up leading to a staircase built into the mountain to reach an area of firm ground to relax at. It was such a cool experience and unlike anything I had ever done.
After about 30 minutes on the planks I was ready to move on and check out the rest of the peaks. I was already on the South peak but had yet to reach the top so I hiked up the endless staircase to reach the view showcasing all of the other peaks. The South peak is the highest of the five at 7,067 ft (2,154 m), so it was well worth the effort. The temple at the top was the nicest out of all five and even had a little pond full of money which I thought about cleaning out for them. From the South peak I had a nice view of the West peak, aka the Lotus Flower Summit, down below and the East peak which has another harnessed hike.
I first went down the stairs to the West peak since it was the furthest away from the North peak and my planned route to the bottom. The West peak also has a cable car that goes from the bottom, but it is more expensive, and I still had more of the mountain to explore. It was 4 pm by the time I reached the West peak and I was excited to find that they sold ice cream! Since I was close to the cable car there was electricity, so I rewarded myself with an ice cream cone. With ice cream cone in hand I hiked up to the top of the West peak to soak in the view, and to enjoy my quickly melting ice cream. By this point I was hot and a little tired so was the perfect pick me up!
From the west I headed to the east which led me through some nice flat woodsy areas before reaching more stairs to climb up to the East peak. As I climbed I saw an awesome pavilion in the distance with not a soul in site. I couldn’t even see a trail leading there so I felt some disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to trek out there, but once I climbed up higher I found out that it was the second harnessed hike I was looking for. It’s called the Chess Pavilion and once I payed my 30 CNY I put on my harness to start making my way down the cliff. It was pretty much rock climbing since I was hanging onto the edge of the cliff as I found footholds. Once off the cliff I had to unclip my harness to make my way along the narrow path to the pavilion. Of course there were more ladder like stairs, but these were a bit more stressful since if you fall off of these you’re probably going down the mountain… And there’s no harness so all you have to grab onto are the chains. I made it to the pavilion which had the strangest looking chess board I have ever seen. It felt like I was at the end of the world. It was worth the trek especially since it wasn’t crowded due to the fact they limit the number of people allowed at one time. As much as I wanted to stay and enjoy the view, I had to start making my way back since there were only 2 hours left before the final cable car down at 7.
I decided I still had time to make it to the top of the East peak so I trekked up a few more flights of stairs. From the East peak I was able to see all the peaks which was pretty cool. I didn’t linger long since I knew I still had a lot of stairs to go down to the the cable car on the North peak which is the lowest in elevation. I was shocked with myself by how fast I was able to go down. I passed everyone! It was 5:45 when I reached the North peak so I decided I had time to quickly hike up to the summit before catching the cable car. To make it to the top boulder there were some insanely steep ladders which were the perfect way to finish off my day. I took one last look at all the peaks to soak in all I had seen and accomplished. It was a good day.
I quickly went down the stairs to find a huge line to get onto the tram. I immediately started to panic since I had a ticket on the last train of the day which was at 8:30, but I still had to get down, take the bus to the main entrance and then take a bus or cab to the train station. I asked one of the workers if I would make it and he said the line would take an hour so I calmed down for a bit knowing I would be able to make it. A guy in line who spoke fluent mandarin and english started talking to me and said he thought I would make it as well. About 45 minutes later I was only 1/2 of the way to the front so I started to panic again because I really didn’t want to be stuck in a city I didn’t know by myself for the night. It’s one thing going on a day trip and traveling around China when you already know where you’re staying, but finding a hotel at the last minute is something else. I was in a small city and I know smaller hotels in China don’t always take american credit cards. In addition, I didn’t have a ton of cash left since I had issues changing money before leaving on my adventure. Fortunately the guy who had talked to me earlier understood my dilemma and helped me out. He talked to one of the workers and ended up getting them to take me to the front of the line. Sometimes it helps to play the dumb foreigner card in China.
Soon I was climbing into the cable car to take me to the bottom. It looked rather old, but the thought of taking the stairs wasn’t appealing. It was crazy that it took less than 10 minutes to get to the bottom when it had taken me an hour to hike up. I had a bird’s eye view of all the stairs I had climbed to get to the top, and I got to see the “waterfall” I had hiked by. Online I had seen reviews saying that there’s no point in hiking Soldier’s Path when the tram goes right over it, but I’m so happy I ignored it. You can’t fully take in the beauty of the the ascent when it takes mere minutes. It is well worth it to see the scenery from above and below.
Once I got to the bottom I hurried down to the buses and was pleased to see that there were tons lined up. Our bus driver was a speed demon and barely slowed down in the sharp curves. I honestly thought we were going to tip over and it seemed that some of the other Chinese felt the same since they fastened their seatbelts. It was a wild ride, but we all made it in one piece. By this point it was 7:30 so I made my way down to try to get the bus back to the train station. That bus apparently stops running at 7 so I ended up having to take a cab.
I was shocked by how quickly I made it back to the train station from the top of the mountain since it was only 40 minutes from the time I jumped the line. I still had 45 minutes before my train so I decided to pop into one of the restaurants close by to have a real dinner. I had just snacked the whole day so I was starving. I had a feast of some of my favorite dishes: veggie dumplings and stir fried eggplant and green beans. I devoured my food and made it onto the train where I promptly passed out for the next two hours. All in all I had walked nearly 16 miles and went up nearly 500 floors so I was exhausted. When my alarm went off to remind me to get off the train, I was in a daze. I finally made it back to the hotel room at 11:30 pm and collapsed into bed.
I was a bit sad that I didn’t have anyone to share the experience with, but I had a blast regardless. This was the first time I did a trip of this magnitude myself and it was invigorating since I was able to see everything at my own pace. To be honest I don’t think too many people could’ve kept up with me since I was on a mission. I didn’t think about the reason why I was able to do the hike and instead just lived in the moment and enjoyed every minute of it. At least I still got my workout in for the day!
Hope you enjoyed my blog post!