Hiking Mount Hua isn’t just a walk in the park. Standing on the edge of the cliff, on a one-foot-wide plank, and looking more than 6000 feet down into the valley isn’t something that everyone would do. There are stories that an average of 100 people die each year from falling off the cliff. We don’t want to be one of them. We’re doing this step-by-step, and every step we take is made carefully. The views are breathtaking! But at a certain point, the plank path stops and the only way to get back is by taking the same route again. But now we need to overtake numerous of scared locals on this narrow path. Is this really the most dangerous hike in the world?
DOING THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS HIKE
If you’re in Xi’an -or coming from Beijing and want to take a brief stop when going to Xi’an-, take some time to head over to Huayin (120km from Xi’an) for one or two days. Here lies Mount Hua, also known as “The Most Dangerous Trail In The World”, and one of the five sacred mountains of China. The mountain has five peaks, with its highest being 2,154m above sea-level. All of these peaks have their own Buddhist & Daoist temple which resembles its great religious significance.
I’m always in for some adventure so when I saw some pictures and videos of the mountain before our trip, I added it immediately on my bucket list. This hike was definitely one of the things I had to do in China! Convincing Myrthe to come along with me was quite a challenge. She’s a bit scared of extreme heights, and this was maybe a step too far for her. So we agreed that she would hike along towards the top and see over there how scared it looked.
Just to get to the top of this sacred mountain is an adventure itself. The first kilometers are a pleasant climb on a paved path. But it doesn’t take long until you reach the numerous, never-ending steep steps that are carved into the mountain cliff. Most of them have chains that are bolted into the mountain to hold onto when it gets too tricky, but some of them have nothing to hold onto, which makes it a lot more dangerously. The worst case scenario would be if one person slips on these stairs and tumbles down, everyone underneath this person will fall too. But let’s not think too catastrophic. The views along the trail are fantastic and the fulfillment of hiking it is awesome.
Once you’ve tackled all these steps, you’ve arrived at the North Peak, the lowest peak of all five. It’s here where you’ll be welcomed by hundreds of Chinese tourists in their best clothing. Of course, they cheated a little bit and took the cable car all the way up. From here you have to walk to the other peaks which are towering in front of you. Take the Blue Lagoon Ridge, also known as Mount Hua’s knife-edge. Here, you’ll need to conquer “The Heavenly Stairs”, more steps and vertical ladders that help you reach the top.
Once at the top of the five peaks, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store. Where to go first? It’s all up to you! But take the time to go and see each peak because every peak is worth the views. At the East Peak, you can take a via ferrata towards the Chess Pavilion. Rent a harness and get down with the help of the steel bars and its carved footholds in the mountain’s cliff. From this point, you already have amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. But it’s nothing compared to the plank walk that you’ll see later.
Head towards the South Peak and follow the signs of the plank walk, the mountain’s most famous part. There’s a platform to look over all the daredevils that are doing the plank walk. I was still sure that I absolutely wanted to do it, but Myrthe was still doubting. We went to stand in line and while we came closer, our adrenaline level raised. Myrthe doubted until the very last moment, but eventually decided to do it and face her fears (I’m so proud of her). After all, we are safely attached with a harness, so what could go wrong? We clipped our harness onto the small wire that should be our safety line and descended 15 meters towards the planks. This part is actually a bit the same as at the Chess Pavilion. But what were going to do after this part, was from a whole different level. Knowing that some areas are not wider than 20cm and that it’s a 2-way path makes it more dangerously. The plank walk just leads to a platform in the mountain where there’s a small temple. Walking here is no problem if you’re alone, but with other people pushing behind you and coming from the other way makes it a lot more stressful. Especially when you need to go back and throw your gear over the heads of all the other scared tourists. You find yourself hanging over the edge multiple times with just one hand that keeps you away from falling. It’s really thrilling!
But don’t let this scare you, it’s actually not dangerous at all because you’re safely attached to the reinforced safety lines. Just make sure you take enough time to take photos and enjoy the breathtaking views. After all this, you’ll be rewarded with some great tea at a teahouse/temple on the most southern peak.
Myrthe was so happy that she faced her fears and did the plank walk. She’s still telling me that that hike was one of the coolest things she already did.
GOOD TO KNOW
The entrance fee to the park is ¥180 in high-season and ¥100 in low-season. You can get half of the price when showing a student card or other card with your picture on (except your ID). There is a possibility to take a cable car to the peak if you’re not keen on walking the first part. Two cable cars will provide access to the mountain. The North Peak cable car costs ¥80 one way, the West Peak cable car costs ¥140. Don’t forget that a shuttle bus from East Gate’s visitor center to the cable car stations also costs money. This will range from ¥20 for the North Peak cable car toward ¥40 for the West Peak cable car. Be aware that the cable cars stops working around 5 pm.
Mount Hua Shan is open for 24 hours. So it’s perfectly possible to camp on the mountain or in one of the guesthouses on the mountain. Although, these are very basic and don’t have warm water or heated bedrooms. Most of the people that want to see the beautiful sunrise or sunset on the top will stay and sleep on the mountain. But we rather recommend staying at the foot of the mountain close to the entrance of the park where the guesthouses are much cheaper and offer better rooms. A quick search on booking.com will show you where the best guesthouses are.
EATING AND DRINKING
There are several food stalls along the trail where you can eat or drink something. But it’s much more expensive than average Chinese prices. So it’s best to take some water with you in advance rather than buying it over there. But it’s good to know that you have the possibility to buy something on the mountain.
IS IT REALLY DANGEROUS?
To be fair, we don’t think so. Apparently, they did some major changes to make everything much safer. You need to rent a safety harness (¥30) on the plank walk and to go to the Chess Pavilion. Most of the steep steps and vertical ladders have chains to hold onto but be careful where you place your feet.
HOW TO GET THERE
Take the bullet train at Beijing West Station to Huashan North Station. This train ride will take approx. 5 hours.
Take the high-speed train to Huashan which will take 30-45 minutes or take a regular train that can take up to 2 hours. There is a big price difference between the two of course.
Tourist bus 1 also goes to Huashan starting from Xi’an station. First bus leaves at 7 am. We recommend going as early as possible because you’ll need your time knowing that the last bus leaves in Huashan at 5 pm. Especially when you’re going to hike the mountain from the beginning, we recommend staying at the park’s entrance for one night, so you have enough time. A bus back to Xi’an leaves at the bus station in the street in front of Yuquan Yuan (Jade Spring Temple).
Don’t let the title scare you off because it’s not that dangerous as it seems. It’s also not only for experienced hikers because there’s the possibility of taking the cable car. Even doing the whole hike, up and down, is possible. Just keep an eye on the time. This hike will give you a full day of adrenaline kicks and magnificent views. Enjoy!