I’m not sure how, being the adventure seekers that we are, but we hadn’t actually even heard of the Hua Shan mountain hike until we got to China.
Suffice to say, a glance at some fellow travellers’ photos in our hostel one night and that was it, we immediately began factoring it into our itinerary. Located 75km east of Xi’an, in the Shaanxi Province, Mount Hua has the reputation of being the world’s most dangerous hike.
Much of the climb is over narrow paths carved into steep mountain ridges and it's rumoured that as many as 100 people die per year climbing it.
But we weren't deterred, in photos taken from the top the views looked out of this world and we just had to see it for ourselves. The scariest part of the hike is aptly named the ‘Skyplank Walk’ and is perhaps what the hike is best known for, a walkway made of precarious looking, small wooden planks bolted to the side of a mountain.
Offering picturesque views and a sheer drop to an inevitable death should you fall, it both exhilarated and terrified us.
We had to do it!
is it Hua shan mountain or mount hua?
Right, before we get started I have to clear something up in a bid to avoid any confusion or upset.
The Hua Shan mountain hike has got lots of different names, many of them are unfortunately incorrect. Including calling it 'the Hua Shan Mountain hike'.
You see Shan is the literal translation of 'mountain' in Chinese and 'Hua' (which I believe means 'slippery' or something similar) is the actual name of the mountain in question.
So the Hua Shan mountain hike literally translates as the Hua mountain mountain hike...
We are aware of this, but most English speaking people inadvertently call it Hua Shan mountain, so in order to pander to ... you?... we'll refer to it as this throughout. Phew! Glad that's cleared up.
What An Ascent
Gratifyingly the scenery in real life was truly breath-taking, every part of our ascent up the Hua Shan mountain hike offered a view even more stunning than the last. And the sunset we watched was something else.
With every blink of our eyes the colours morphed the sky into something even more awe-inspiring than the last view.
With regards to the Skyplank Walk, I had been worried as to whether instructions would be given in English but I needed have because there were none. A guy just strapped on a harness that had seen better days and sent us on our way.
As we tried to figure out which of the two suspension ropes we should clip our carabiners to, the chap that had set off immediately before us came back white as a ghost, shaking his head and muttering to himself. He gesticulated wildly for his harness to be unclipped, then ran off!
Still, we mustered up all our courage and began to climb down onto the walkway.
The Infamous SkyPlank Walk
Having navigated the perilous climb down the vertical ladder onto the dubious looking planks, someone behind us whooped and shrilled into the echoing abyss.
I gripped the chains and flinched as I genuinely thought they had fallen off.
We made it to the end, only to find it wasn’t the end and that we had to come back! That’s why there were two rows of suspension ropes, the bottom for the way across and the top for the way back - by which you had to literally climb around people coming in the opposite direction.
With no apparent limit on how many were allowed to cross at any one time, it was so packed that in places you only had half a foothold to balance on!
Glad to be back on solid ground we were buzzing. It was a once in a lifetime experience in the respect that we won’t be doing it again now we know how terrifying it is, but the exhilaration was like nothing we had felt before.
And so if you are ever in that part of the world be sure to make the trip out to the Hua Shan mountain hike and test your limits!
***Tap the edge of the photos below to scroll across to see some of our most inspiring/terrifying shots***
To help I’ve put together a complete guide on everything you need to know to about completing the Hua Shan mountain hike. It includes how long it takes, what to pack, how to get there, where to sleep and what to eat.
So if you’re going to give it a crack read on.
Everything You Need To Know To Survive HUA SHAN: The World's Most Dangerous Hike...
How Long Does It Take?
There are a number of ways to visit:
1 Day Option:
- Cable car up and down the mountain and a walk around the peaks in between (4/5 hours).
2 Day Options:
- Hike up the mountain overnight, catch the sunrise at the East peak, visit the other peaks then hike back down (13-15 hours).
- Hike up the mountain overnight, catch the sunrise at East peak, visit the other peaks then get a cable car back down (8/9 hours).
- Hike up the mountain during the day, see sunset and stay overnight at the North/West peak, get up to see sunrise at the East peak, visit the other peaks and hike back down (4/5 hours then 9/10 hours).
- Hike up the mountain during the day, see sunset and stay overnight at the North/West peak, get up to see sunrise at the East peak, visit the other peaks and get the cable car back down (4/5 hours and 5/6 hours) – THIS IS THE ONE WE DID.
If you are doing the same option as us and hiking over 2 days aim to start hiking about 12pm to have time to find a hostel and watch the sunset (if you are travelling from Xi’an it’s about a 2 hour so aim to leave at 10am).
If you do chose to hike overnight, most people start their ascent at around 11pm as sunrise is between 5-6am depending on the time of year (Spring 4:30-5:20am; Summer 5:00-5:20am; Autumn and Winter 5:30-6:00am). This allows 6/7 hours which should be ample to get to the East Peak, get a good spot and include a couple of short breaks.
How To Get There?
***10 Yuan = £1***
You can either take the train or bus both from Xi'an train station, they are much of a muchness time and money wise. We got the bus (36 Yuan) there (No.1 from the east car park) and the train (19 Yuan) back and both journeys took around 2 hours.
The actual train ride is quicker but the station is also 2 bus rides away from the start of the hike trail so it’s bit of a faff.
You need to take a 608 bus (2 Yuan) from the train station and get off at the roundabout where the big lotus flower statue is, walk up towards the mountain then left and up and through a shopping/food hall to get another 'Huashan Scenic Route' bus (20 Yuan).
It can be a little confusing but there's plenty of helpful people to ask so don’t worry.
You just need to head to the 24 hour ticket office in Yuquan Yard. If you are getting the cable car up there's a ticket office for entrance and cable car fees up towards the mountain about 15 minutes away from the lotus flower statue. The direct bus from Xi'an also stops here.
***There are 2 cable cars - North and West - each have separate buses so make sure you get on the right one***
***Take photos of the maps at Yushan Yard before you start to climb as ones on the way are worn to the point of useless***
What To Take?
You need clothes for warm and cold weather even if just going for the day because the weather is very unpredictable. For the two days we took the following with us...
- Clothes: Shorts, tracksuit bottoms, t-shirt, vest, fleece, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs pants, sports bra, gloves, hat (this includes what we were wearing when we set off).
- Footwear: Sports trainers and flip flops. You really don't need hiking boots - there's concrete/stone paths all the way.
- Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush, wet wipes, insect repellent, suncream, painkillers, anti-histamines, plasters and hand sanitiser.
- Electronics: Phone, camera, kindle and battery charger.
- Others: Passports, cash, earplugs, eye mask, sleeping bag liners, waterproof valuables bag, ponchos and a rucksack each.
This is the route we took:
Day One: Yuquan Yard Ticket Office, via North Peak to Wu YuiFeng Hostel.
The first 1/3 of the hike up is a fairly steady uphill climb, the next 2/3 are up a relentless 3800 steps. Much of the path is shaded by trees though which helps on a hot day (the day we hiked it, it was 26 degrees). Don't stop for long, just enough to catch your breath and stop the burning in your leg muscles!
There's a spot at just under 2 hours called Quingke Plain that's a good spot to have a snack and take in the view.
At Quinghu Road intersection the route splits and you can go Qinghu Road way or Thousand Feet Canyon and Hundred Feet Gorge way - we went the latter. The High Lord Furrow has 300 steps so steep they require chains for you to haul yourself up.
If you've hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu it puts the monkey steps to same. It's a physically and mentally tough climb.
At North Peak you reach 1614 metres above sea level and the views just keep getting better. We stayed at a hostel called Wu Yuifeng Hostel in-between the North and East Peak on Wuyan Peak and arrived at 6:30pm just in time to watch the incredible sunset.
The view is about as perfect as it gets and it’s not far from East Peak for sunrise.
Day Two: East Peak for sunrise, South Peak and Sky Plank Walk, West Peak and North Peak cable car back down.
We left the hostel at 4:45am the next morning. It was approx. 45 mins to the sunrise viewing platform on the East peak. Bear in mind it's busy at this time as people have been climbing through the night.
Unfortunately, there was no sunrise for us as it was too foggy. You win some, you lose some. The summit of the East Peak is just 5 minutes further up. We walked past the chess pavilion but didn't hike into it (numbers are restricted and it requires an additional charge for a harness).
It was bitter cold at this point and the wind was very sharp.
The Sky Plank Walk opens early (6:30am in May) and gets very busy so don't mess about in getting there from East Peak. It's two-way traffic on the plank but being one of the first there we luckily got to do the first bit without having anyone overtaking us on their way back.
On our way back only 30 mins later people were having to cling onto the side of the mountain shivering their arses off whilst we overtook them. Next we headed over to West Peak - there's really good coffee at 'Huashan Coffee Shop' here.
Expensive at £4 a pop but worth it after the Sky Plank! Then we followed the path round to North Peak again to take the cable car down.
***The whole of the Hua Shan mountain hike is well signposted so it would be really difficult to get lost***
Where To Sleep?
There are quite a few hostels but we couldn't find anyway of booking online before we went. It's not an issue to just find one when you get there though, start looking after North Peak - we went in high season (May) and there was plenty of spaces.
Beds are however no means cheap - expect to pay anything between 100 - 150 Yuan for one in a large dorm room. (A private double was 780 Yuan!). Don't expect much either, our dorm was dirty and full of flies - definitely recommend taking sleeping bag liners.
But it's one night, you're knackered and just want to get your head down for a few hours. The cheaper (well free actually) option is to camp. There are loads of viewing/resting points to whack a small pop up tent on - of course a) you have to have one with you (we didn't) and b) you would have to carry it.
Just don't try and make camp outside a hostel as they are going to move you on.
***There are plenty of toilets but again very basic and pretty disgusting for the most part. Hostels typically don't have their own bathrooms either, they just use the public ones so no showers.***
What To Eat?
Food is very expensive and naff. We took charge of our own destiny food-wise and took noodles and snacks up with us. There was free hot water in the hostel we stayed at but we also took pre-cooked noodles so we could have them cold in case there hadn't have been.
We took 2 x 2 litre waters up with us and bought the equivalent of another 2 litres up there - just as a comparison it was 9 Yuan for a small bottle against 2 Yuan in the supermarkets.
All in all food and water is pretty expensive.
How Much Does It Cost?
- Entrance fee to the mountain is 180 Yuan (90 Yuan with student ID).
- North Cable Car is 80 Yuan (45 Yuan for students). It's more for the West Cable Car.
- Sky Plank is 30 Yuan each.
- Train including bus transfers would be 41 Yuan (one way).
- Direct bus is 36 Yuan one way (60 Yuan for a return ticket).
Our route: 487 Yuan per person (excluding food we took with us). Take 600 Yuan with you to be on the safe side.
There are no cash machines up there.
***You can try and pass off other ID cards, such as driving licences or PADI cards, as student ID’s)*** ***You can buy cotton gloves with grips for as little as 2 Yuan from street sellers at the train station***
***Beers are 10 Yuan each***
So if you fancy an exhilarating, terrifying, test of character hike whilst in China this guide has everything you need to know for completing the Hua Shan mountain hike. For us it was by far one of our highlights of this amazing country and we highly recommend it!
What are you waiting for?
***Of you like adventure trekking, also check out our experience of hiking to the Lost City in Colombia***