華山 Mt. Huashan
Here we are, 2,160 meters up on the tallest of five peaks of Mt. Huashan in the Shaanxi Province of China, South Peak. The layout of the upper mountain makes it easy to summit all five peaks within about an hours worth of time if you have some spring to your step. The mountain is basically surrounded entirely by sheer cliffs accessed by a couple of narrow, often sketchy trails that would excite any lawyer in the states within a 500-mile radius. Taoist temples are sprinkled about this massive, flower-shaped spire of rock, lined with iron links of chain to accentuate the thousands of steps carved into the skin of the mountain.
The main trail is actually lit in a lot of areas, full of handrails, and has steps carved or paved anywhere that it is steep. It is still breathtaking in many areas, but this is not the crazy part. For 元30 per person you can strap on an old chest harness and take a walk on wooden planks that cross a section of sheer cliff that is well over a 1,000 foot drop straight down. It is kind of short and delivers you to a little shrine that has been carved into the side of the mountain.
This is the entrance to the plank walk, and in person it seriously looks sketchy. In some countries, just because you are allowed to do it, that does not necessarily mean it is safe. That thought made this very interesting, but those springs along the cable you run your carabiners across looked like they would do a great job of padding your fall. I just hoped that the anchors would hold. I was actually fine walking down the ladder with my back to the wall and my face towards the cliff.
Once I reached the planks where you walk across the cliff, things started to change, my boys became light headed, and I started concentrating on the precipice directly under me and it was beginning to whig me out enough to have to consciously not look down for more than a few seconds at a time. The entire time we were doing this, we all had frozen hands from the strong winds and rain that was constantly falling. My wife and the lone Canadian badass from Canada we came across in our mountain top dorm room, Sam, were both completely devoid of any worries. I felt like a wuss, but it sure was fun, albeit a bit short with only about 50 meters of plank each way.
We felt extremely lucky to be able to do this. For Sam and both me and wifey, this plank walk is the reason we booked tickets for China. There is a gate that opens at 9am to let you into this area, and we were worried it would be closed due to the strong winds and rains. Not in China. I love that country! For those interested in the logistics, you can take a train or bus from the Xi’an train station to the base of the mountain. The buses (East side of train station) head up for the West Gate entrance of Huashan (120km) at regular intervals and will cost 元30 per person each way. It was about an hour and a half and you are dropped off at the very base of the mountain and it surely looks more intimidating than it is. Entrance fees are 元120 per person. The first 4km are easy going, then you start getting into spectacular scenery and some perilous sections of trail from there.
Lodging on mountain is plentiful with at least 6 Inns, and during the weekday they were all but vacant and ran us 元100 per person in a cold, and very stale 6-person dormitory. There are private rooms, but they cost a lot more. We stayed on the East Peak since that has the best view for a sunrise. Don’t miss the breezy chance to drop trou, literally off the side of a cliff as the wind caresses your ass cheeks. A bucket of ramen will set you back 元15 and water about 元10. In case you were wondering, 元100 is roughly $15 US dollars, so this is really dirt cheap in the grand scheme of things, but expensive by Chinese standards. There is a cable car that takes you near the top of North peak and we elected to take that down just for the hell of it. That was 元60 for a one-way trip, although, I wished we had hiked down the trail below the tram, it had amazing waterfalls that Maynard, my trusty and sometimes fogged over Nikon, missed out on.
Getting back to the bus stop at the base of the mountain will cost another 元10 for a quick bus, and another 元10 taxi ride to the West Gate to meet the 元30 bus that heads back for Xi’an. If you are ever in Xi’an, do not miss this climb! It can safely be done at night, in the rain, or even in the snow as long as you are dressed right and bring a head lamp while carefully holding the hand rails and methodically placing your steps on the really steep sections. Do not miss this!