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My heart was pounding as they hastily tightened a flimsy harness around my chest. My DSLR weighed heavy on my neck as I clipped myself onto the wire and slowly descended down what can only be described as the world’s sketchiest ladder.
My whole body was shaking as I unclipped my harness around the first bolt in the rock. Is this sane? What am I doing here? WHY did I forget to pack my tennis shoes?!
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We came to an abrupt halt as they stopped the line ahead of me. Perched precariously on a metal bar, I watched as exhilarated adventurers clamored up the rock, squeezing past me. I tried to become one with the rock wall beside me to allow my fellow climbers enough room, but it was a tight fit.
For about thirty minutes I crouched, trying to distract myself so I wouldn’t panic from the vertigo-inducing view of the cliffs waiting hundreds of feet below. I wished more than anything I had a harness around my hips.
After the longest wait of my life, I began to lower myself down, facing away from the mountain as if the “ladder” were stairs rather than thin metal bars nailed to a cliff crevice. More than anything I wished I had real shoes.
Legs shaking, I stepped onto the plank. I’d been dreaming about this experience for YEARS and I was finally here. Granted, I always pictured a better harness that I didn’t have to unclip around every bolt in the wall.
I took a big look down. My heart thundered in my chest as I thought about how long it would take for me to die if I slipped off the plank… No, don’t think about that.
I looked up and saw an eagle soar through the cliffs and into the sun. I smiled at how beautiful it all was. But I only had a moment to appreciate the splendor before I had to slip under another climber’s harness. After all, the traffic on the tiny plank goes two ways!
Eventually, I gathered my composure and the nerve to take a few silly photos. When I finally made it to the end, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Who would have thought this girl would complete the world’s most dangerous hike?!
Want to see it in person? Check out Sarah from Coffee With a Slice of Life’s video of our trip hiking in China!
Huashan and the Plank Walk
Huashan, or Mt. Hua, is located not too far from Xi’an, the ancient capital of China. Most people come to Xi’an for the famous Terracotta Warriors, and then promptly leave. But in my opinion, any trip to Xi’an is incomplete without hiking Huashan.
Huashan is one of five sacred mountains in China, and it’s so much more than just the infamous plank walk. There are five peaks which you can reach via stairs carved into the stone, the most famous being the South Peak where you can catch a glimpse of the Yellow River and embark on the dangerous plank walk.
The World’s Most Dangerous Hike?
Many sources claim that 100 people die per year hiking Huashan, but these deaths occur from slipping off the side of the mountain, rather than hiking the plank walk. While the plank feels extremely dangerous, you do have a harness. Just be sure to only undo one clip at a time, so you’re securely attached by at least one clip!
From a bit of research online, I’ve found the biggest dangers are overcrowding on the narrow staircases in summer months, and people focusing too much on their cameras and phones rather than the stairs ahead of them. In some spots, one small slip can be the end of you.
What if I don’t want to do the plank?
Huashan is well worth visiting even without the plank walk. The view is absolutely stunning, especially the cable cars you can take to get up the mountain. There are tiny Daoist temples lining the hike, and incredible views at every turn. Also, just watching people embark on the plank walk is an adventure in itself!
How to Hike Huashan
There are three ways to hike Huashan, which are all varying in difficulty.
Easy: Huashan’s West Peak
The easiest way is to take the main cable car to the West Peak, which is the highest of all the peaks. From there you can hike 30-40 minutes to reach the South Peak and the plank walk. The West, East, and South peaks are all pretty close to one another, so it’s not too difficult of a hike if you want to explore. However, to get to the North Peak and the second cable car, you’ll need at least an hour to hike down the thousands of stairs it takes to reach this lower area. My friends and I did it in a little less than an hour, but we were in a hurry and took no breaks.
Medium: Huashan’s North Peak
For the more adventurous, try taking the cable car to the North Peak and hike your way up. It’s a pretty strenuous hike, so be sure to allow yourself about four hours to get to the East Peak if you want to take rests. My friends and I tried to do it in about 2.5 hours and we almost died. Seriously, we took no rest stops, and it was not enjoyable.
Since the North Peak cable car is shorter, this trip will be a bit cheaper than heading all the way to the West Peak, which is great if you need to save some money. Just leave early in the morning from Xi’an to make sure you have enough time to explore.
Hard: Hike From the Bottom!
Do you want to really challenge yourself? Are you on a strict budget? You can forgo the pricey cable car and hike the entire mountain instead. From what I’ve read, it takes 6 hours to hike from the base to the first cable car. If you do this you’ll probably want to stay in one of the guest houses on the mountain overnight. Either that or start climbing at night so you can reach the top by sunrise.
If you stay overnight there are six hotels, and a few hostels on the mountain which charge about 50 yuan ($8) for a bed… prices are negotiable. There are also plenty of hostels and hotels right outside the park.
Getting to Huashan
You can get to Huashan from Xi’an via car, bus, or train! Renting a car is pretty easy (just ask your hotel), but also the most expensive. If you’re looking to save some cash, here’s how to get there on your own.
Frequent high-speed trains leave Xi’an North station and arrive at Huashan North station in 30-45 minutes depending on which train you take (CNY 34-54). If you want to take a cable car up the mountain, take the free green #1 minibus, which comes every 20 minutes and can be found right outside of the train station. If you want to hike to the top of the mountain, take a taxi (CNY 25 ) to Yuquan Yuan where there’s another ticket office for walkers.
You can also take a regular train from Xi’an, which departs every 20-30 minutes and arrives at Huashan station in about 1.5-2 hours (19 yuan). From there you can take bus 608 to Baoliandeng Square (Huashan Shengtai Square), which is near the entrance. Again, walkers can take a taxi.
Take subway line 1 to Xian Fangzhicheng Bus Station and take the regular bus to Huayin. The bus runs every 30 minutes between 07:45 and 19:00 and takes about 2 hours (CNY 37).
If you want to make sure you can get back to Xi’an on time, be sure to take the 6pm cable car home to avoid being stranded in Huashan town!
Huashan Ticket Prices*
Entrance Fee (valid 2 days)
- March 1- Nov 30: CNY 180
- Dec 1- Feb 30: CNY 100
- Student Price: CNY 90
Fun Fact: Many Chinese ticket tellers can’t read English so you can hand them your drivers license instead of your Student ID. It worked for me at Zhangjiajie! Some will deny you if you’re over 25 years old, but you can always give it a go and see what they say.
*Ticket prices accurate as of November 2016
West Peak Cable Car
- Wengyu Tourism Bus (CNY40 one way, CNY80 for a round trip) leads to the cable car
- March 1 to Nov 30: CNY 280 (round trip); CNY 140 (one way)
- Dec 1 – Feb 30: CNY 240 (round trip); CNY 120 (one way)
North Peak Cable Car
- Huangfuyu Tourism Bus (CNY 20 one way, CNY 40 round trip) leads to cable car
- March 1- Nov 30: CNY 150 (round trip); CNY 80 (one way)
- Dec 1- Feb 30: CNY 80 (round trip); CNY 40 (one way)
Be sure to purchase all of your tickets in the ticket office at the base of the mountain before you depart. Feel free to mix and match if you want to take the West Peak Cable Car up and the North Peak car down.
- 30 CNY for a harness at both the plank walk and chess pavilion
So…. Is it Worth It?
Absolutely. Honestly, I did not give myself enough time to hike Huashan, and I’m dying to go back. Thankfully trains to Xi’an from Beijing only take about four hours….
What do you think? Would yo try the world’s most dangerous hike??