I never did hikes when I was in China. Even though I was born in Guilin, the land of mountains and rivers in china, hiking was something I’d picked up when I lived in Banff. However, when I was travelling through China and saw that Huashan, a mountain range I’d literally never heard of, was only about 100 km outside of Xi’an, I figured why not make the detour!
Huashan is a mountain range with five peaks: North, South, East, West and Centre. Each of the peaks have distinct characteristics (such as one being the most scenic for sunrise/sunset, one for being the most challenging to summit, etc). Huashan also has Taoist temples dotted at the base and throughout the mountain. If you visit, you’ll quickly notice the little gold locks and red ribbons, which people can purchase to pray for the health of family and friends. I accidentally skipped all of that when I had my taxi driver queue for me.
Huashan is also known as one of the world’s deadliest hike. This is because on the South Peak, there is a plankwalk that hangs about 7,000 feet in the air. Those who dare can pay the extra fee to tie a harness around your body and dare the walk. I wasn’t a particular fan of lines, and was short of time, so opted not to go for it. For me, the workout of the hike was worth it or me. Morbidly enough, the day that we went to Huashan, someone tried to commit suicide by releasing his harness halfway through.. but I’m sure that’s not common.
How to get there
Huashan is reachable by bullet train or bus, which takes about [30 min] and [55 min], respectively. You can read more details about how to get there by public transport [here]. The hike can certainly be done in a day (and in my case, half a day because I woke up late), but I would recommend maybe spending an extra night at the base of the mountain so it’s easier to catch sunrise. As well, cable cars end quite early (around 6-7pm) so total time on the mountain is not too plentiful if you spend another hour and two getting there.
I myself took a Didi (uber-equivalent) for about RMB300 (oh yeah, Huashan is not cheap at all).
Tips for going
I went to Huashan during the summer. If I can give one piece of advice: it’s to avoid summer holidays. But if you must, bring one of those ridiculous looking portable fans – here are some tips to help you enjoy your trip as much as possible:
1. Go early
Depending on which viewpoints you want to see (or maybe you. Want to see all of them), I’d say that getting up early for Huashan is worth it. The lines are quite unbearable if it’s your first proper Asia crowd. I believe even after we’d gotten to the base of the mountain, we had to line up to take a bus, to take a line, to a gate, before we could hope on the cable cars.
2. Bring plenty of cash
Assuming you don’t have Wechat and Alipay readily installed, Huashan is not cheap by any means. Beside getting to Huashan itself, entrance tickets can range from RMB100-180 (depending on the season), cable cars can be up to RMB140 (both ways from West Peak), and doing the plank walk and other harness-induced walks will rack up rental fees of RMB30… Final conclusion – be prepped.
3. Take the cable cars
There is an option for those who are eager to hike up instead of cable car-ing it. I think Huashan is a good time to put that ego to rest and take the cable cars.
Even after a lift up, we still spent four gruelling hours hopping around to the different peaks, so don’t worry, there’s plenty of work to do up there.
4. Bring a portable fan
This isn’t just a Huashan tip- it’s a summer-in-Asia life tip. Carry a small handheld fan and use it to swat people when they invade into your personal space.
5. Note the peak rock statues with words… but find better ones
I’d come to the realization that many Chinese tourists travel and collect rock pictures. These rock statues usually have red calligraphy on it, usually scribing the location, height, when it was erected etc etc. At each of the peaks there are these texts. But if you don’t really understand what it says anyways, look for non-peak rocks to take pictures of. They exist, and you don’t have to fight someone’s sun-umbrella for a spot.
6. Have Patience
I know this is odd for me to preach to others to have patience. But my lack of patience was the reason I didn’t end up doing the plank-walk. Buffer plenty of time for queuing up for the plank walk if you do decide to do it, and maybe finish an audio or book or something if you feel like multi-tasking.
Despite the journey that is Huashan, I think the mountains are beautiful and the sceneries are some of the best I’ve seen. The trails are very well-established, and even the cable cars are quite fun to ride (they definitely exceed usual cable car speed limits). When visiting Huashan, it doesn’t feel quite feel like I am in China anymore; it feels like I’d been teleported back to an older simpler time.