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A guide to hiking Huashan Mountain, China (day trip)

Mount Hua, or, as locals refer to it as, Huashan (‘shan’ means mountain in Chinese), has been labelled as the ‘world’s most dangerous hike’. Huashan is located near the city of Huayin in the Shaanxi Province. For travellers who prefer to stay in major cities, your closest is Xi’an. Huashan is the western mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China, and holds religious significance throughout China’s long history. Now enough with the facts - how do you actually get there and hike up this great mountain?!

Getting to Huashan

Well, as it turns out, getting to Huashan itself is no easy feat.

Daniel and I were staying in Xi’an, so we had to work out how to get to Huashan from there. Many other travellers also take day trips from Xi’an, and it’s completely doable. However, expect to have an early start to the day! We left our hotel at around 7am.

Xi'an North Train Station
Catch a bullet train at Xi'an North Train Station

So how did we get there from Xi’an? Well…

  1. Take a didi or taxi to Xi’an North train station. A few points to note:
    • Pre-order tickets to Huashan North station online if you want to plan ahead at and secure a seat. However, you can also buy tickets on the day. If you choose to pre-order tickets, you need to collect these tickets beforehand. I’d recommend asking your hotel where the closest place to collect tickets is. If you fail to collect tickets in advance, just head to the station with 30 minutes buffer time to queue and collect your tickets. Bring your passport with you when you collect your tickets.
  2. Take a high speed train from Xi’an North to Huashan North. This train ride is quite short, around 1-1.5 hours only.
  3. From Huashan North, take a local free bus to get to Huashan East Gate visitor centre. Some tips:
    • When you walk out of the train station, ignore the big tourist information centre in the centre of the plaza/square. You can’t miss it - it’s the only building in the plaza. This place sells tours and other paid things for Huashan. There’s no need - walk beyond it to the car park where you will find some bus stops.
    • There are two buses. One that takes a long, convoluted route and stops at every stop (Number 2 shuttle bus), takes around 50 minutes. The number one shuttle bus has limited stops and goes to Huashan East Gate visitor centre (last stop) in 20 minutes. Pick shuttle bus number one! Both shuttle buses are free of charge.
  4. At the Huashan East Gate visitor centre, buy a bus shuttle ticket to get to the foot of the mountain/cable car station (for either North or West Peak).
    • A note, you can’t buy the cable car tickets here, only the bus shuttle tickets
    • The people at the ticket office might try to sell you “compulsory” insurance. We declined and didn’t get it, as we had our own travel insurance.
  5. From Huashan cable car station, take a cable car up to either North Peak or West Peak. A few points:
    • West peak is touted by some as the most beautiful. The cable car to get here is also longer and more expensive. We tried to buy this ticket but the West Peak cable car route was under maintenance at the time so...
    • North peak is a shorter cable car ride and cheaper. You can hike from North peak to West peak though - more about this later!
  6. Once you are at any peak, feel free to roam around and hike!
Outside Huashan Scenic Area
Outside Huashan Scenic Area

All up, it took us roughly 3 to 3.5 hours to get from our hotel in Xi’an to the North Peak, Huashan. However we had:

  • Already been working and living in China for 2 months so was very familiar with the transport
  • A basic working proficiency of Mandarin to communicate
  • Pre-booked whatever we could
  • Didn’t do any stops for food or drinks
  • A few of our friends also went to Huashan, and their trip to get to North Peak took anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. Buffer quite a bit of time for this trip!

What to wear, what to bring

We went to Huashan during November, close to winter in Shaanxi, China.

What we wore:

  • Thick, down jackets that can handle temperatures close to 0 deg celsius.
  • Waterproof jacket outside the down jacket
  • Normal cotton t-shirt inside
  • Sports leggings/pants
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Scarf
  • Beanie
  • Sneakers (hiking shoes would have been very useful though)
Sitting at Lotus Flower Peak
Taking a rest at Lotus Flower Peak! Here I am, in my down jacket + waterproof outer layer, sports leggings, beanie and gloves on.

This set of gear was mostly useful when you aren’t on the mountain, to be honest! It was getting to roughly 2-3 degrees celsius in Shaanxi. However, once you are hiking the mountain, you’ll get quite warm. I had to take off my down jacket a few times during the hike!

I’d imagine in summer, you can get away with much less - no down jackets, definitely. However, as the altitude is quite high at the peaks, I’d still recommend a jacket or a hoodie.

Now, what to bring? A day trip from Xi’an to Huashan is a long one, expect to be gone from early morning and come back around early to late evening. Highly recommend bringing along snacks for the journey, breakfast foods such as bread rolls and yoghurt, and lunch. We packed sandwiches for the trip.

Some other things we brought along:

  • Sunglasses
  • Bandaids and a few other must-have medical supplies, such as paracetamol and antiseptic (bathrooms may not have sinks for you to wash hands)
  • Thermos with hot water (it gets cold in winter!)
  • Packs of tissues

Hiking at Huashan: North Peak to West Peak, Huashan Highlights and, is it dangerous?

Because of the maintenance being done at West Peak, our plan to take the cable car up there was ruined. However, there is indeed a hiking trail from North Peak (where the shorter cable car goes to) to West Peak. In fact, the North Peak is kind of like an “entrance” to the other peaks.

The hike from North Peak to West Peak took us around 2.5 hours. We are quite fast hikers, with above average fitness. I wouldn’t recommend you to go the entire way from North Peak to West Peak unless you feel comfortable with steep inclines, heights and have above average fitness. During some parts of the hike, it is difficult (if not impossible) to turn back.

A few highlights during the hiker were:

North Peak (Cloud Terrace Peak)

North Peak
North Peak (Cloud Terrace Peak), close to the cable cars.

Black Dragon Ridge

Black Dragon Ridge
Black Dragon Ridge, a particularly dangerous part of the hike. On either side of the stairway upwards is a near vertical drop!

Golden Lock Pass

Golden Lock Pass
Golden Lock Pass, where many tourists buy golden locks and put them here, often to wish for health and prosperity.

West Peak (Lotus Flower Peak)

To get to the top of West Peak requires some dangerous climbing...
To get to the top of West Peak requires some dangerous climbing...
Some of the most beautiful scenery is seen though, at West Peak.
Some of the most beautiful scenery is seen though, at West Peak.

Plank walk?

Now I’m sure you’ve heard of the plank walk. For those of you who haven’t, it’s where there’s a plank path built along a cliff which goes 100% vertically. Everyday there are plenty of daredevil tourists who try to conquer the plank walk of Huashan, known to be the most dangerous part of the world’s most dangerous hike.

Did we do it? No, we did not. We barely had enough time to get to West Peak, and with rumours of 100 people dying at Huashan every year, we decided to give it a pass. For those adrenaline junkies out there, the plank path is at South Peak.

Go or no go?!

Definitely go! The views at Huashan were absolutely stunning. At one point during our hike (around after maybe 100-130 flights of narrow, uneven stairs), I considered turning back. However, perseverance paid off - the views at West Peak are incredible and well worth the calories.