On one of China’s five great mountains, you’ll find one of the world’s most dangerous hikes. Mount Huashan and its five peaks have a long history of religious significance. Considered holy since the second century BCE, the slopes and peaks of this entire mountain are dotted with vistas and Taoist temples. It has been a popular retreat for the hardiest of hermits and strong-willed and steel-nerved visitors.
There are four ways to summit Mount Huashan and gain access to its five peaks — two by foot, and two by cable car. Three converge just below the North Peak summit, the lowest of the five peaks at 5,295 ft, and one deposits you at the West Peak.
The first and most traditional route, Huashan Gorge, originates from the West Gate. Established in the third or fourth century, it’s the most common hiking path and will take 4-5 hours to reach the North Peak. Your second option is to take Huangpu Gorge (also known as the Soldier’s Path) from the East Gate. It’s more difficult, but faster (it’ll only take about 2 hours), and it follows the North Cable Car. The third option to the North Peak is the North Cable Car which is fee-based, and when the season is high can have a line 2+ hours long. Lastly, you can take the West Cable Car to the West Peak.
From the North Peak, there is just one route to the other summits; this is where some of the harrowing pictures are taken. You’ll climb steep stairs that cross famous features like the “Heavenly Steps,” “Sun and Moon Cliff,” and “Black Dragon Mountain”. Eventually, after 1-2 hours, you’ll reach Gold Lock Pass — where gold locks hang on a fence as symbols of safety and health.
Just past Gold Lock Pass, the route splits again and you can choose which peak to visit — East, South, Center or West. By this time, you’ve climbed your little legs out so there’s not much more elevation to gain, but you’ll probably only have time to climb one peak. Another popular route is to climb the North Peak and take the West peak cable car down.
How to get there
Some 75km outside Xi’an (where the famed terracotta warriors can be found), Mount Huashan is located just south of Huashan Village. A high-speed train from Xi’an services Huashan National Park 16 times a day and takes 30-45 minutes. These trains leave from the Xi’an North Station.
Buses take about 2 hours and leave from a bus depot across from the Xi’an station. Find a bus that’s mostly full, as these leave based on capacity. Busses will drop you in the village where you’ll need to take a taxi to the East or West Gate.
What to consider
- Mount Huashan is part of the Huashan National Park. Entrance fees range from ¥100-¥180 for adults or ¥50-¥90 for students.
- If you want to walk the planks attached to the sheer cliff faces, there are two options: the Plank Walk or descend the East Face to the Chess Pavilion (which is a more rewarding route). Either way, you’ll be renting a harness for ¥30 (~$5).
- Night climbing is popular. The crowds are slimmer and you can ascend to the East Peak in time for the sunrise. Be sure to pack lights and clothes and nerves of steel.
- If you’re climbing at night you can only purchase tickets from the West Gate.
- Bring your own snacks. There is food on the mountain but it’s wildly inflated.
- Tickets are required to ride the cable cars: North Peak is ¥80 one way, and West Peak is ¥140 one way plus you must take a shuttle from the East Gate to the cable car (¥20 to North cable car and ¥40 to West, one way). Students get 10% off.
- If you run out of daylight, there is accommodation located near the major peaks.