There is a difference between mountain climbing and mountain hiking. Mountain climbing requires specialized equipment and experienced climbers who are aware of the risks involved. On the other hand, mountain hiking is a more casual affair and aimed at amateurs outdoorsmen. The trail at Huashan, a mountain in China’s Shaanxi Province, blurs the line between the two activities, subjecting hikers to a perilous ordeal with minimal gear and little support.
Huashan is one of the five sacred mountains of China, home to several Taoist temples that were once visited by emperors in pilgrimage. The mountain consists of five peaks, of which the South Peak is the tallest at 2,160 meters. Known as the “Monarch of Huashan”, the South Peak is a favorite among hikers despite the dangerous 15-kilometer trail, with only a linked chain for support.
The trail starts at Heavenly Stairs, a sharply-angled set of steps that is carved into the rock, with tight chains on both sides for grip. The steps only get steeper as the trail heads for the higher peaks. The path then leads to Black Dragon Ridge, a sheer mountain ridge that drops off steeply at both sides and is the only way to reach Jinsud Pass. At Jinsud Pass, hikers choose between the graceful West Peak or the perilous and longer trail to North Peak.Â From West Peak, only the most determined take the gondola to South Peak. The most dangerous part is Changkong Zhandao, where locals drove large nails on the side of a cliff and securedÂ 40-centimeter wide planks of wood on top. To continue on their way, visitors must pass through these planks, with only a chain nailed on the cliff for support.
What makes the trail all the more deadly is the two-way traffic: those climbing up will compete for space with those on the way down. Rain and high winds increase the difficulty, not to mention the bulk of visitors being college students who don’t possess climbing shoes, warm clothing, or any other gear.
Those who successfully ascend the peak are rewarded with a view of the surrounding mountains, as well as the Yellow River. If you hike 4 to 6 hours at night to East Peak, or the Peak of the Rising Sun, a glorious sunrise is sure to astound you at the top. The East Peak also contain several scenic spots like the statue of Chentuan in Sanmao Cave and a pavilion called Iron Tile Pavilion and a set of Iron Chess. Once you return from your vertical pilgrimage, you may celebrate with the local specialty of yang rou pao mo (a form of goat soup), bean-starch jelly served with vinegar, garlic paste and chili sauce and pared noodles.
If all this unfriendly hiking is intimidating you, the rest of Shaanxi Province has plenty of other attractions to grab your attention. Shaanxi is the home of Xian, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road and the location of the terracota army. 60 paleoanthropologic, Paleolithic and Neolithic sites, 72 tombs of emperors, 20 imperial palaces, 2,604 ancient buildings and 1,200 temples and monasteries also reside in the province, enough to sate any history-loverâ€™s appetite.
If you think you have what it takes to scale Huasan, ride the train to Huashan Huoche Zhan, located in Mengyuan. Minibuses take visitors between the train station and Huashan. You may also board a bus from Xian, where you will be dropped off at Yuquan Lu, near the western entrance. The best time to visit is between April to October; there are also grand celebrations held at the temple fair every March 15. In the event of heavy rains, the mountain management will inform tourists in time and withhold ticket sales. And if you wish to avoid the expensive meals and drinks sold up the mountain, make sure to bring your own food and beverage.