We went to Hua Shan last week and took lots of pictures and videos to make you jealous.
Hua Shan is about 2 hours from Xi’an on the bus. It is one of China’s five great mountains, meaning that it has been important throughout the history of China and is a place of pilgrimage for Taoists and Buddhists. There were numerous temples at the bottom, on the way and on top of all five peaks of the mountain. I could not tell whether or not people were on a pilgrimage or if they were just climbing for fun.
We started our climb at 8pm with the aim of reaching the East Peak by the time of the sunrise. Equipped with bottles of water and some muffins, we were excited at the sight of the mountain and did not yet realise how tough getting to the top was going to be.
We were approached by five 16 year old Chinese kids about 20 minutes into our hike. They asked us if we could climb the mountain together. We could not refuse, of course. It was a great chance to practice our Chinese and make the climb go quicker.
The kids turned out to be very paternal/maternal as they started giving us food and water and one of the girls even started to hold my hand whenever we walked down steps. It was so nice to see them to behave just like typical teenagers from any other place. They were listening to cool music on their cool phones, singing songs together and getting regular calls from their parents. The boys carried the girls’ bags, which was really nice to see. They loved speaking Chinese to us and took at least 20 photos with us, which they instantly uploaded onto the Chinese equivalent of Facebook to show their friends what beautiful foreigners they had found.
The first three or four hours of the hike were quite easy. There were shops every 10 minutes selling mega overpriced instant noodles, watermelons, tomatoes and cucumbers. Cucumbers make for a surprisingly refreshing and energising mountain climbing food.
We broke off from our group of friends after about 4 hours of climbing. They needed to rest and we wanted to keep going. We walked through some crazy walkways in the darkness with very little light. However, we did have moonlight to show us the way. It was also slightly cooler at night, which did not keep us from sweating buckets.
You may imagine us trudging in mud and defying various creatures on our way up the mountain, but I have to disappoint you here – we had steps all the way to the top. But they were no ordinary steps. Most of the steps were carved into the cliff and were sometimes at a 90 degree angle with only rusty chains to hold on to. Hua Shan is known as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world and I am not surprised.
We arrived at the East Peak around 2am. To our surprise, we found hundreds of other people there. My hope of spending some time alone with the nature were quickly demolished. It didn’t matter, though. I was so happy to get to the top of the mountain that I could think of nothing but sleep.
We rented two military jackets to keep us warm and found a spot on the cliff edge, ready to welcome the sun in three hours.
We didn’t get a lot of sleep. It got quite cold up there (2100 metres) despite those warm jackets.As soon as I stuck my head out of my jacket I was met with a camera flash. I guess a foreigner is quite a sight, but a foreigner that has just woken up after sleeping on a 2000 metre high cliff edge wearing a Chinese military jacket is something close to a miracle.
The sun came up about 5 o’clock and it was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. Seeing the sun rise behind the mountains with glorious views where ever you look and the moon shining on the other side was truly wonderful.
A queue of people who wanted to take photos with us soon formed and we felt like celebrities again.
The next destination after the East Peak was the South Peak, which at 2,150 metres is the highest. It took us about one painful hour to get there (my legs are still recovering a week later). Most of the way went through a thin forest, but the final part took us down steps carved into the cliff overlooking the magnificent mountains. The South Peak is where the famous plank walk is at. This is exactly what it sounds like, only a hundred times scarier.
It is narrow walkway about 30 cm wide on the side of the cliff, half of it made of three wooden planks and the other half of the walk is footholds carved into the cliff, about 15cm wide.
To get to it, one must first climb down a vertical ladder, which is simply thin metal rods inset into the cliff. A flimsy harness is provided, but it is still extremely scary. Once you get to the end of the walkway, there is a small temple and a platform to overlook the mountains.
I found the experience very scary, but I did not feel unsafe. I looked down several times and was fine with it. The only disheartening thing was the two way traffic on the walkway, which meant one person had to step around the other. There were about ten other people on the plank at the same time as me.
I am not entirely sure why the walkway is there, but Hua Shan is known to be and have been a place for many Taoist and Buddhist hermits, so they may have carved those footholds into the mountain to get into a place of solitude.
I was very shaky after the walk, but feeling very brave.
After this brave walk, we went onto the West Peak. Getting there took another hour and took us over the Dragon Back Ridge, which is another narrow walkway carved into the ridge of the cliff.
After the West Peak, we descended back to the North Peak, where we took the cable car down. There are many ways up and down all the peaks, which became very visible from the cable car. We could see some extremely steep and narrow steps leading up to the mountain that are away from the main tourist areas.
The views we saw were stunning and the whole trip was my best experience so far in China. It was very special to see this side of China. This huge country has some truly breathtaking places.
Once my legs have discovered and I have forgotten how tough the climb was, we will definitely go back.
IN OTHER NEWS
It’s extremely hot. It’s been over 35 every day for the past few weeks. Officially it never gets to 40 here, because that means people don’t have to work. So air conditioning is currently our best friend.
Today is our day off and we’re planning to visit a Chinese doctor/masseuse to try out some traditional Chinese medical procedures. More about that next time.
Time to find some breakfast.