Our perfect day on Huashan
Huashan is a holy mountain not far from Xi’An. It is famous for being home to the ‘the most dangerous hike in the world’ skywalk. There are many different things to see apart from the skywalk on Huashan. I really loved this mountain. I liked seeing the colourful, red locks draped over the railings and climbing the different ‘stairways to heaven’. Seeing the picturesque Chess Pavillion from the East Peak was also a highlight. This is a fantastic day trip from Xi’An!
I have tried to add pictures from each peak so if you are short on time and cannot visit every peak you can use this as a peak guide. Have a look to see which peaks you want to visit.
We had only had about 4 hours sleep due to a flight delay before we had to get up for our day trip to Huashan. Not the best when you are planning to hike for 6 hours. We almost missed our train. We had cycled to the metro then we ran from the metro to the ticket machine, ran to security then ran to our platform. Wow, so much exercise and we hadn’t even left Xi’an.
The train ride took us through very rural countryside. I saw many farmers working in the fields and ponds full of lilly pads. We reached the bottom of Huashan around 9:30, see my blog post here for more information about how to get to the top of Huashan via public transport from Xi’an. We were on the North Peak cable car at 10ish. It was spectacular journey through a rocky valley to the North Peak. I love cable cars, surprising since I am not very good with heights but I feel perfectly fine in a cable car. This baffles Alex who was a little worried about the health and safety standards in this part of the world. The journey was over far too quickly but still covered a considerable vertical distance. I had debated whether we should try and hike up this mountain but seeing how steep it was and knowing how much walking we would do at the top I was very happy we had decided to get the cable car.
At the top we covered ourselves in sun cream and breathed. We had made it! All of the planning and running had paid off and we were now on this famous mountain. There were not many people on the North Peak. I think most people choose to walk West to North rather than North to West which is what we did.
We began exploring. We found some scary looking steps in the rocks so of course we wanted to climb them! These were the first of many steep steps to scramble up.
Not knowing how long it was going to take from North Peak to the other four peaks we did not spend too long on the North peak and started walking south. Along the way we went up more ‘stairways in heaven’, saw buddist caves and took many, many, photos. Oh and the views were not too bad.
We went up the Green Dragon Ridge, stairs along a very exposed arete, which wasn’t that scary. There still were not that many people, but it was hard work because it was a lot of stairs. Most of the trails on mountains in China are just stairs… From the North Peak to the East Peak it was all uphill. I realised that I had probably made the wrong choice of walking North to West but oh well. It was more of a challenge! Also I enjoyed going up the scary rocks…going down the narrow steps sounds much more terrifying.
We stopped to eat our jam sandwiches close to the East peak. It was nice to stop in a nice shady spot for a while. After that it was still uphill but the views just kept on getting better and better.
We did the scariest ‘ladder into heaven’ in the whole hike just before the East peak. I was really angry as a middle aged man kept tugging on the chains as I was climbing when we had waited patiently for those before us to finish. I was cursing my terrible Chinese for not knowing the word for ‘stop’ or ‘wait’. But I still enjoyed doing the verticle stairs even if in the middle of the ladder it seemed to go inwards and the steps were incredibly narrow as that was a little bit scary! By the way, if you don’t want to do any of the ladders, you don’t have tom as they all have alternative routes.
I really liked the East peak. I had seen pictures of the chess pavilion and thought it looked so beautiful nestled on a rocky outcrop surrounded by towering mountains. I was not disappointed. The little pavilion looked lost amongst the giangantic mountains that surrounded it.
We decided against walking to the Chess Pavilion. Originally I had really wanted to but upon seeing the queue and the steep drops around the trail I chickened out. If there hadn’t been a queue I think we would have chosen to do this incredible hike. If you want to walk to the chess pavilion you can pay 30 RMB which does include a harness. The good thing about this trail is that they only let a few people at a time walk on the trail.
There was a little bit of downhill from the East Peak towards the South Peak which was nice! Then it was uphill again to the highest peak of Huashan. On our way up we rang a giant buddist bell which was great fun. The sound resonated all through the valley. You get to ring it three times so we both had a go. Just before the top of the South peak is the infamous skywalk: the most dangerous hike in the world. I thought Alex might do it and we had the gopro fully charged but the queues, sadly, were huge. It was a Friday and a national holiday so we should have expected it. Furthermore the problem with this skywalk is that there is no one way system; you have to climb over people to get back! That sounded way too scary so again we chickened out.
The top of the South Peak was the busiest out of all of the peaks, understandably as it’s the highest point. You had to fight to try and get a photo with the rock at the top. As I finally reached the stone to have my photo taken loads of tourists walked in front of me. Enraged, I said “bu yao” (don’t want) loudly whilst gesturing my hands for them to move. This made them laugh and move away whilst smiling that the strange foreigner knew that phrase. This then awarded me lots of attention and then I had many photos taken of me. Learning phrases from Kindergarten kids does come in handy some times.
We headed back down from the South Peak and visited a beautiful temple with many pretty blossom trees.
Our stomachs were grumbling again so we stopped for a big bowl of yummy, if not a little too salty, noodles. It was interesting to see the noodles being made from scratch for us. We sat enjoying our noodles and debated whether to go up to the Middle Peak. It was around 3pm so we did have time to go up to the middle peak but there did not appear to be many things to see on that peak so we decided to go straight to the West Peak after our meal.
The West Peak was the least crowded peak, probably because most people were over on the North Peak by now. I really liked it because we pretty much had it to ourselves and the late afternoon lighting bathed everything in a soft glow. There was a large cave with many carvings of different ancient Chinese languages engraved on it. I also liked the bridges covered with the familiar red ribbons we had seen all over this mountain.
Our train was not until 8pm so we discussed whether to walk back to the North peak and get the cheaper cable car back down. However, we decided against that due to multiple reasons. One we were getting pretty tired now and as everyone seemed to be heading that way we assumed the queues to get the North Peak cable car down would be really long. I think this was a good decision as we still ended up queuing 20 mins for the West Peak cable car. We made friends on the cable car with tourists from Inner Mongolia. Then we got on the bus and we slept! This bus took a lot longer than the bus to the North peak so I am pleased we left when we did.
After a close call with a scam bus, who was very pushy about us getting on which made us very suspicious, we managed to find the right shuttle bus to get to Huashan train station. At the station we managed to change our train tickets to an earlier train which was nice. We made friends with some Australians and it was really nice to chat with other travellers. We brought a couple of beers and enjoyed watching the locals on the square outside the train station.
It was a great day and I would highly recommend visiting Huashan even if you don’t want to do the Sky walk. Of course if you here on a week day go for it if you want to and comment here how it was!