Article By Brian Bergey
Before moving abroad, I was a Colorado boy.This meant my weekends were filled with snowboarding or backpacking, depending on the season.With a car and garage full of gear,nothing was out of reach.In Xi’an, life is a bit different.Relying on public transportation and a language I don’t know can make adventures in the mountains more like an adventure to the mountain.But, when my Colorado friends come to visit, I want to show them what the area has to offer, and for that I always go to Hua Shan.
My first trip to Hua Shan fouryears ago was interesting.I was just a tourist then and I joined a Chinese-speaking tour bus to take me to the mountain.After winding around the maze of trails crisscrossing the mountain’s five peaks, I missed the last tour bus back to Xi’an.Luckily I met a girl on the mountain who helped me find a public bus back to the city and we’ve been dating ever since.
In an effort to not repeat that very long day, I’ve visited the mountain a handful of times, so I can take guests without incident.My most recent trip on a crisp September day was my best yet, and I realized that it’s a perfect day trip from the busy city, once you know what you’re doing.
The day started with an early morning fast train from Xi’an to Hua Shan Station.I once took a public bus to the mountain and quickly discovered the mistake while we stopped dozens of times to pick people up, refueled the gas tank, and were dropped off at a hotel to hear a lecture on safe hiking and gear purchasing.After the short train ride, we jumped on a mini-bus waiting to take passengers from the train and got to the park headquarters in no time.
Before we continue, I should mention that I like to hike.I like it so much that I prefer to climb two hours of stairs rather than take a ten-minute cable car.The benefit of Hua Shan is that you can do either.From the park headquarters, we tooka shuttle to the North Peak cable car station and climbed the stairs from there to North Peak.My favorite parts are a giant waterfall (which freezes in winter), and a section of trail that has steps chiseled into a rock face(with chains to hold onto, of course).
After taking a break on top of North Peak (while listening to my friends complain about making them climb what felt like a few million stairs), we were ready to carry on.A short descent brought us down to the bottom of a long, spine-like ridge protected by an old temple.This is another highlight for me, particularly the expansive vistas.On a previous trip, I joined the thousands of others along this section that had secured a red lock to the chain fence along the trail while making a wish (or symbolizing that you and your partner will be bound forever, at least until the park staff remove it).I guess they are removed fairly often because I couldn’t find it this last time.
After climbing for an hour or so, we met a few trail junctions and kept heading toward Central Peak, where we stopped for a few quick pictures.It’s not really a peak as much as it is a rocky plateau surrounded by much higher peaks, but we liked the flat resting spot.A very short backtrack kept us heading toward the cliff-faces of East Peak.As we passed an inverted climb up a small rock-face, we each took turns refusing the ascent and deciding to take the stairs instead.
In my opinion, East Peak is the most impressive.We turned off the main trail at the sign pointing to the Sunrise Viewing Area and then walked along the ridges of East Peak.These are my favorite views, because, in contrast with other areas at Hua Shan, you are looking at undeveloped wilderness.Once before, I stayed for the night in the bunkhouse here, which offers an incredible sunrise view the next morning.
After descending toward South Peak, we took the optional, yet obligatory, detour to the mountain’s famous plank walk that is often consideredto be one of the world’s most dangerous trails.We paid the gatekeeper a few RMB for the right to carabineer ourselves to a cable and walk across warped, broken boards attached to a cliff that drops a couple thousand feet straight down.
Earlier, I had chatted to one of the cable car operators and learned that it’s also a popular site to commit suicide. They also told us the area used to be covered in wolves and leopards, so I chose not to believe them and press on.I didn’t expect to be as terrified as I was, but the overwhelming sketchiness of the situation definitely bothered me a bit.The worst part wasn’t the actual boards, it was climbing straight down the rebar steps drilled directly into the cliffface while others tried to pass you going the other direction.I was happy to unhook and take a breather at the other end of the boards before turning around to complete the out-and-back journey.
After summiting South Peak, the tallest, yet least impressive of the peaks, we finally made our way along another rocky ridge to East Peak,which has a coffee shop, meteorological center and temple complex.By this time, it was already mid-afternoon, and we didn’t feel like making the full loop back to North Peak.So,we jumped on the East Peak cable car instead.This is by far the best cable car ride I’ve ever had! It starts inside a hole in a giant cliff,and then suddenly exits said cliff, leaving us dangling a few thousand feet in the air.After 20 minutes, we arrived at the East Peak station and took a shuttle back to the park headquarters.
To my surprise, the beautiful scenery and challenging 5-peak hike won over my friends and visitors every time. Take advantage of our beautiful fall weather and give it a go!
Brian is from the US and has lived all over the world finding good food and adventure everywhere he lives. In Xi’an he works for an American software company and co-owns Lost Plate Food Tours, a tour company aimed at introducing foreigners to the best local food in the city. To find out more about their tours, check out www.lostplate.com
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