After months of planning, Jennifer and I were finally here in China at Huashan and on the notorious plank walk, “The world’s most dangerous hike.” I must admit that before we arrived I thought that title to be overly dramatic. I thought the title was derived only as a means of grabbing people’s attention and luring them to this remote location. In truth it probably is. However, as you step out onto those thin planks and lean out over the 2,000′ presuppose even without a fear of heights you start to think the title is well deserved.
The World’s Most Dangerous Hike
I didn’t name this adventure “The world’s most dangerous hike.” That is a dubious title that has been bestowed on Huashan’s Plank Walk for quite some time. Having now been there and done that, I believe it is certainly deserving of its’ terrifying title. It is said that as many as 100 people die on Huashan each year, but most of these aren’t actually on the Plank Walk. The entire hike on Huashan is dangerous and should be taken cautiously. The actual number of deaths seem to be impossible to come by given the secrecy of the Chinese state. Either way, this isn’t a jaunt for the faint of heart and especially anyone with any sense of vertigo.
The Huashan Plank Walk
The Huashan Plank Walk is little more than 2x4s bolted into the side of a vertical cliff face. That being said there are spots along this trail that are nothing more than stone footholds cut into the mountainside. Even getting down to the Plank Walk requires traversing a type of iron ladder where the thin pieces of metal have been driven into the rock face. You must descend the twists and turns of this iron ladder all while facing down the 2,000′ drop looming below. It is exhilarating!
Two-way traffic on Three Thin Boards
It is my opinion that the true danger on this adventure comes from the fact that the path accommodates two-way traffic. Once you have arrived safely on the other side the path taken out there is the same one taken back. So as you traverse the Huashan Plank Walk you have to maneuver around those going the opposite direction. I found myself traversing past others by consistently leaning out away from the cliff face and allowing strangers with more fear or perhaps more sense to pass by closer to the wall.
Chinese Safety Measures
If this all sounds like too much then do keep in mind that the Huashan Plank Walk has cables for mandatory harnesses. Although I tend to think these are used for little more than piece-of-mind. I believe these apparatuses shouldn’t be relied on to save your life. The harnesses are well used and the clasps on the carabiners are very worn. In my wife’s case the carabiner itself wasn’t one rated for climbing and would have done little to arrest her fall should she have lost her footing. On top of the ill-state of the harnesses, the cables themselves were tied into the wall with anchors that would have done well to hold my weight alone, much less the weight of the hordes of people the Chinese authorities allow to climb out onto the planks at one time.
The Experience is Worth the Risk
Still, with all these dangers taken into consideration, I would do it again. The views from the Huashan Plank Walk are hard to over exaggerate. The stunning landscape that sprawls out in every direction is simply breathtaking even in the overly thick pollution that much of China has become known for. The hike to access the Plank Walk also lends itself to amazement. Thousands of stone steps have been cut into the various mountain peeks to create a breathtaking path along the rugged mountainous terrain. Amongst the Chinese people Huashan is considered one of China’s five Holy mountains and with a visit to this amazing terrain, you will easily be convinced why.
Getting to the Huashan Plank Walk
Getting to Huashan and its famous Plank Walk (The World’s Most Dangerous Hike) is a bit of an adventure in itself, especially when you have little grasp on the Chinese language. For most, it will begin by making your way to the city of Xi’an. Some will arrive there by plane, others by train. Jennifer and I took an overnight sleeper train down to Xi’an from Beijing and then hopped on the bullet train to North Huashan Station. It takes about 35 minutes to traverse the 75 miles from Xi’an via the speedy bullet train. Once arriving at North Huashan station you can catch the free green min-bus to Huashan’s entrance. We chose to instead take a taxi to our hotel in Huayin City so we could drop the majority of our gear before taking on the mountain.
Once arriving at the park’s gates we had to navigate to an English-speaking line where we were able to buy our tickets for the park, buses, and the cableway up to the North Peak. Huashan has five peaks and all five are able to be visited through various mountain paths painstakingly carved into the stone. Because of limitations on our time, we chose to take the cableway up to the North Peak rather than hiking up. I wish we had more time and could have taken on the challenge of summiting the peak on foot, but that would have required arriving before dawn to complete everything in a single day or staying overnight on the mountain. Neither were good options for our time and budget.
A Challenging Hike
The North Peak is the lowest of the five peaks so don’t be fooled there is still a lot of climbing to be done from the cable car landing. The South Peak is the highest point and nearly 1800′ higher than the North Peak. There is a lot of varied terrain between all the peaks so this hike is a challenge all the way through. In contrast, the Plank Walk itself while requiring a lot of nerve is actually rather easy.
Hiking North to West
From the North Peak, we first made our way to the Middle Peak, followed by the East Peak. We then headed to the South Peak where the Huashan Plank Walk is located and finished the day off on the West Peak where we caught the second cableway back down. I chose this direction so we could enjoy the sunset from the West Peak, but the clouds rolled in and we didn’t have much of a sunset.
Holy… Not Secret
This is the direction most people move so if you wanted to go against the flow you might want to come up on the West Peak’s cableway. The views and landscape of all four peaks we visited are stunning and well worth the challenge. The mountain is considered to be holy in Chinese culture so, while not many westerners make it here, this is a popular Chinese pilgrimage. The crowds are thick so don’t anticipate having this place to yourself.
Recommend Hiking up North Peak and Taking West Peak Cableway Down
The views from the cable cars are stunning and very enjoyable. I highly recommend the West Peak’s cableway. The terminal for which is located inside the mountain. It is an amazing thing to emerge from the mountainside flying through the air and over the rugged mountainous terrain. If you have time I would recommend hiking up the North Peak, make the traverse around the peaks the way we did and then return back to town via the West Peak cable car.
Staying on the Mountain
Along with the cable car stations, Huashan has many hostels/hotels and temples located on most of the peaks. There is a lot to explore here so leave yourself as much time as possible. Jennifer and I were on the mountain for about 5.5 hours and I feel like we were pushing just to get around to the various peaks. I could have easily spent three times as long exploring all that the mountain had to offer. I recommend staying overnight on the mountain peak if you have the time and budget to do so.
Cost of Huashan & the Plank Walk
As tourist spots in China go this may be the most expensive. I will attempt to list potential costs here but know that the cost varies for much of this based on the time of year you choose to visit and the amenities that you choose to partake in. Everything on the mountain makes its way up the mountain on the cableways so food, drink, and accommodations are very pricey for this area of the world. My least favorite thing about this adventure was the seemingly endless charges. I am used to paying an entrance fee and the transit pieces being included. The entrance fee here is just an entrance fee. If you want to ride a bus or a cable car or anything else expect to pay for it. (Per person pricing.)
- Bullet Train from Xi’an: CNY 50
- Buses are also available from Xi’an but, come on, it is a bullet train… so cool. The cost difference between the train and buses is marginal.
- Green Mini-bus to Huashan from Train station: Free (for now)
- Huashan Entrance Fee: CNY 160
- North Cable Way: CNY 80 (CNY 150 for a round trip)
- Bus to or from North Cableway from the Entrance: CNY 20 (CNY 40 roundtrip)
- West Cable Way: CNY 140 (CNY 280 for a round trip)
- Bus to or from West Cableway from the Entrance: CNY 40 (CNY 80 roundtrip)
- Harness rental: CNY 30
- Required for access to the Huashan Plank Walk or the Chess Pavilion. You can not use the same harness for both.
Huashan is often referred to on the internet as Mount Huashan, which is incorrect as “shan” means mountain.
- Make it a priority to stay overnight somewhere on Huashan. This is a special place and it takes more than a few hours to thoroughly explore it.
- Embrace the Chinese culture. China can be a bit abrasive to westerners who like their space, but when in Rome do as the Romans. In China, this means that you invade people’s space. The faster you grow accustomed to this fact, the better your trip will be.
- Go! Unless you are prone to panic attacks by vertigo then you should go. You only live once and this is an amazing place.