Postcard: Hua Mountain, China


Out of the five sacred mountains in China, according to Daoist tradition, Hua Shan in Shaanxi province is known as one of the most dangerous hiking trails in China. If not the world.

After reading this in my hostel room in Xian, I thought to myself that this should be fun. In my mind, I didn’t think it could be that dangerous since hundreds of tourists travel to Hua Shan everyday. My co-workers in Beijing showed me some of the pictures of the hiking trail where hikers were grasping on chains hung against the cliff-face and scooting along planks jutting only about a quarter of a meter out. Scary stuff.

Getting There

Getting to Hua Shan is an adventure in itself. There are about two dozen private buses at the bus station in Xian that want to take you there. We were recommended to take the Tour Line 1 bus. But it seemed like every bus said Tour Line 1. I was traveling with my friend Adam at the time and we just went to the first bus that said 1. The driver told us that we would leave when the bus was full. After waiting about 15 minutes and with the driver going off to eat breakfast, we said screw that and looked for a different bus. We targeted newer buses and found the actual Tour Line 1 bus. It filled up pretty quickly and we were on our way in about 10 minutes.

The Climb

As a safety precaution, you do want hiking gloves for this.  No need to slip and hurdle to your death if you can prevent it with some grips.  If you can’t bring your own gloves, you will be accosted by a lady trying to sell you climbing gear.  Pay the 5RMB and go on your way.  The bus will stop at the cable car entrance.  We wanted to do the climb from the original route which is at the start of the village.  Taxis taking you there will suck you dry if you don’t negotiate beforehand.  As of last year, the fee to start the climb was 100RMB.

How do I describe a torturous climb up of about 2km and 4 hours.  With a few simple words.  It was a humid day and the hike started out at a pretty flat angle.  It soon started to become steeper and steeper until we came to the 1000 steps.  I swear that thing must have been at a fifty degree angle.  I think stopped a few times during the steps and allowed other hikers to pass me.  Each step must have been a foot high.

At about the halfway point of 1km elevation, we stopped for some food at the many stalls the locals have setup.  They sell drinks and some simple food.  I had tomato-egg noodles for 15RM which was pretty cheap considering that they have to hike all the ingredients up.  The juice on the other hand was about twice what I would have to pay in a regular town.  We talked to some local Chinese about their climb.  They were climbing down the mountain after having climbed up the mountain the previous night.  Many people do this in order to see the sunrise at the summit of the east peak.

After what seemed like another set of 1000 steps, we reached the summit of the north peak.  If you didn’t meet many people on your trek up, you will see a mass of people.  The north peak is where the cable car station is and where tourists who don’t make the climb get off.  So far, the only danger we encountered was the steep stairs.  No planks.  Of course, Hua Shan has five separate peaks.  We wanted to get to the highest peak, but we were both fairly tired from the climb up and thought it best to spend the rest of the day in Xian.

We took the cable car down and waited for the bus back to Xian.  Looking outside the cable car, it looked like there was a separate steeper climb up the north peak from the side of the mountain where the cable car was.  A different option for the more strong-willed.

Parting Words

The other four sacred Daoist mountains are Tai Shan in Shandong province, Heng Shan in Hunan province, Heng Shan in Shanxi province, and Song Shan in Henan province. Together they compose the five great Daoist mountains and are representative of Pangu, the creator of the world. Hua Shan is supposedly where the god of the underworld lives and once a place where pilgrims sought immortality.

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About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.