Everything you need to know about hiking Mount Huashan, better known as the ‘world’s most dangerous hike’, or the ‘plank walk’, in China.
Check out our video of the World’s Most Dangerous Hike on Mount Huashan at the bottom of this article!
I still remember the first time I saw photos of someone traversing a narrow plank of wood bolted to the side of a cliff, 2000 feet in the air. I sat up straight in my chair, eyes open, and mouthed the words, “I have to do this”.
I was in Canada at the time, and a bit of research made me discover that the pictures I had seen were not just of any old via ferrata – These were images of Mount Huashan, and the world’s most dangerous hike.
I made a promise to myself. Come hell or high water, I would make my way to China and scale this exhilarating mountain.
The 2154m tall Mount Huashan is considered to be one of 5 sacred mountains in China, and locals know it as the “most precipitous mountain under heaven”.
Adorned with influential Taoist temples, this mountain has been part of folklore for thousands of years. Five peaks make up the jagged mountain, with each one holding teahouses and shrines.
Impossible pathways have been carved all over the crags, and it is this place that has caught the imagination of adventurers everywhere.
Years later, Alesha and I found ourselves in Xian in the Shaanxi province of China. Xian is famous for its Terracotta Warriors, but I was more interested in Mount Huashan, which stands tall only a few hours from the city.
Alesha needed little convincing. She had seen the photos and watched videos. She too was keen to tackle the world’s most dangerous hike. A few days of city exploration was enough; it was time to climb.
The bus ride seemed to last forever as our excitement levels grew with every passing kilometre. Eventually we drove into Huayin City, disembarked and made a beeline towards the West Gate.
In true Chinese fashion there was now two cable cars that ferried hundreds of people to the summit every day, but we avoided this cheating way to the summit. It was not our style.
An ancient Chinese legend states that there is only one true path up Mount Huashan – the 12km trek rising 1800m that took 3000 years to build. This is where we began.
The trail started off pleasantly, with few people along its leafy, meandering path – Most Chinese tourists now opt for the effortless cable car. With the lack of people on it, it reminded us of Tiger Leaping Gorge.
We followed the river past small temples and shrines, closing in on the mountain above us. Along the way we met a young English man named Jon who was trekking on his own, and we decided to join forces. Soon we started to climb, higher and higher, up steep staircases carved into the stone.
We were barely on the mountain but already the danger was rising. Hours passed and we pushed on into more beautiful scenery, before finally reaching the cable car station.
Scores of domestic tourists now slithered all over the mountain, snapping photos and screaming out to the vast sky above.
Desperate to get out of the shambles we set our sights on an abrupt stairway that followed a ridge like a knife’s edge.
Each step required both effort and vigilance, as sheer drops on either side tumbled into jagged rocks below. Only pausing to snap a photo, we charged up the famous stairway and moved closer to the peaks.
As we gained altitude the vistas improved. In all directions were equally impressive summits, covered in trees clinging to cliffs.
The pathways split across the mountain, heading off towards various temples and peaks. Vertical ladders dug into rocks allowed access to higher points, sometimes with only steel bars or chains for support, but often with nothing to arrest your fall.
We spotted a sign leading towards the “Plank Walk In The Sky” and ignored any other distractions.
The afternoon sun was now beaming down on us, but we had reached the site that had first attracted me to China. From a vantage point we could see the narrow plank bending around the edge of a mighty cliff, with nervous hikers clutching at chains along it.
We looked at each other, grinning from ear to ear, and joined the queue of adventurers.
A man in military uniform was issuing compulsory harnesses for $5 and we enthusiastically grabbed ours. They were of poor quality, only securing the upper body.
The lanyards and carabiners had seen better days, but we didn’t let this deter us. The shrills of Chinese students echoed all around and we clipped in to a steel cable that would be our only lifeline along the plank.
We descended down a set of reinforced steel bars that had been bolted into the stone, inching our way towards the cliff.
In a moment it was there, right in front of us, in all its glory. Just as I had seen in those first images all those years ago.
The planks, the chains, the relentless threat of death over the side of the mountain, all of it. Like an excited child the night before Christmas, I was getting jittery.
Clipping in our two points of contact on the lanyards, we stepped out onto the plank and away from the safety of solid ground.
With no one else on the plank it would have been fairly tame, as long as you weren’t afraid of heights. But the fear came from putting your trust in both ancient Chinese engineering, and in the terrified students that groped and grasped at anything they could to steady their trembling bodies – ourselves included.
No one was willing to move out from the edge of the cliff, so we were forced to step behind the scared locals. With one hand on the chain, we would swing out over the edge and continue on. It was exhilarating.
The path was only 50m or so, and once we reached the end there was a small platform to climb and enjoy the panoramic views. With a few pictures taken, we turned around and headed back across the plank walk.
The magnitude of the second crossing kicked in when we found ourselves as the only ones on there.
We had managed to capture a brief moment of solitude, and we just stood still, mouths open, looking at the scenery around us. Leaning right out over the edge, we stared down into the vacant space below.
Rumours of 100 people a year dying on this mountain may be unfounded, but I still wondered how many corpses lay at the bottom of that cliff.
We moved further on and finally completed the world’s most dangerous hike. We cheered in jubilation, hugged and threw high-5s all around.
A part of me wanted to climb back out on the plank to conquer it once more, but with the daylight hours dwindling and still a long bus journey to get back to Xian, it was time to move on.
That is until we saw the Chess Pavilion…
Jutting out from the East Peak the Chess Pavilion is a lonesome pagoda in a precarious position.
The only way to reach it is via a dangerous climb down a slipper rock face, with aged footholds carved into the side and metal bars providing the occasional leverage.
We saw another military-costumed man issuing harnesses and we quickly rented three from him.
Unlike the Plank Walk in the Sky, the hike to the Chess Pavilion can only have a limited number of people on it at once. It just isn’t wide or large enough for a whole barrage of adventurers trampling down the side of the cliff.
We set off on our own, descending carefully towards flatter ground. Requiring a lot more strength and climbing techniques than the Plank Walk was far more enjoyable, and while the heights weren’t anywhere near as overwhelming, the danger was still there. Luckily our pathetic harnesses gave the illusion of safety.
Arriving at the Chess Pavilion we were of course met with humbling views of the mountains and valleys around. After a few last snaps, a quick game of fake chess and a worrisome look at our watches, we knew it was time to leave this sacred mountain.
We turned and climbed as fast as possible, rushing to get back towards the bottom of Mount Huashan. At this point Jon said he was going to continue on and visit the other peaks that we had missed, as he had a private car waiting for him at the bottom.
He graciously offered to give us a ride, but we declined, having already prepaid for our bus tickets. We hugged, parting ways, stoked with how our new friendship had brought us to dizzying heights.
Alesha and I ran down the mountain, still pumped up on adrenalin. We made it to the top of the cable car in record time, but saw that with the sun already setting behind the mountains, that we were too late.
We wouldn’t have enough time to hike down to the bottom before 7pm, when our last bus would depart. In a heartbreaking sigh of defeat, we took the cable car to the bottom of the East Gate.
We ran and hitched to get back to the village, just in time to board the last bus to Xian. Sitting down on the bus, rumbling down a manicured Chinese highway we were absolutely buzzing. The hike was everything we had hoped it would be.
The thrill of surviving the world’s most dangerous hike was as immense as the mountain we had just scaled. But with such an important goal ticked off, it was time to turn our eyes onto a new challenge.
What out there will compare to the magnitude of climbing Mount Huashan and traversing its infamous Plank Walk? Only time will tell…
Table of Contents
How to Get to Mount Huashan From Xian
Mount Huashan is located in the town of Huayin, only 120km from the popular Chinese City, Xian.
Most people will visit the infamous mountain do so from Xian, and luckily it is relatively easy to get there!
The entire journey, including trekking on the world’s most dangerous hike, can be done in a day trip.
If you want to stay the night in Huayin, there are a number of accommodation options, including some on Mount Huashan itself.
High Speed Train From Xian To Huashan
- Head to the Xian North Railway Station and catch a high speed train to Huashan North Station (华山火车北站). This train is on the Zhengzhou-Luoyang-Xian line, and should cost between 34 and 55 RMB. The journey will be less than 45 minutes.
- When you get off at Huashan North jump on one of the green minibuses and it will take you directly to the mountain. This minibus is free (a first for China!).
Regular Train From Xian To Huashan
- Make your way to the Xian Railway Station and catch a regular train to Huashan Railway Station (华山火车站). This train should cost between 17 and 20 RMB. The journey will be about 2 hours.
- At Huashan Railway Station take a taxi or minivan to the mountain.
Buses From Xian To Huashan
- Head to the Xian North Railway Station and go to the southern parking lot. Look for buses on the east side.
- There will be signs for Huashan (华山) to help you locate a bus. First bus leaves at about 0700.
- The bus drops you off near the base of the mountain on the West Gate. From there you can just walk up the road. The one we took dropped us off at a hotel/tour agency where they then tried to book us into a group tour. We just ignored them and started walking, despite their protests. The cost was about 35 for one way, or 55 RMB for a return trip.
- Apparently there are other buses which will drop you directly at the East Gate, but we didn’t see these. We’re glad we took our bus though as we wanted to trek up from the more picturesque West Gate rather than the East Gate.
- The last bus back to Xian leaves at 1900, so be sure you’re back in the village if you want to return to Xian without taking an expensive taxi.
Need accomodation in Xian? Book here with Agoda.com
How Much Does it Cost to Climb Mount Huashan?
Mount Huashan is part of the Huashan National Park, and as such there is an entrance fee to get in. It’s not as expensive as places like Zhangjiajie National Park, but still pretty pricey.
Note: Just like most places in China, students get 50% off the regular price. But fear not if you don’t have a student card! As most Chinese working in these parks can’t read English, just show them any form of ID with your picture on it. We managed to travel all of China paying student prices by just showing our PADI dive cards!
- Standard Price: 180RMB
- Student Price: 90RMB
- Cable Car One Way: 80RMB
- Cable Car Return: 150RMB
- Plank Walk In The Sky: 30RMB for harness rental
- Chess Pavillon: 30RMB for harness rental
Prefer to Do a Tour?
Lately we’ve been receiving quite a lot of emails from people wondering if it’s at all possible to do a tour to Mount Hua Shan, including transport, a guide and of course access to the Plank Walk and the world’s most dangerous hike.
We’ve done a bit of research, and checked with our readers, and this option that is found on Get Your Guide seems to be the best one. It includes transport from Xian and a guide, but not entrance fees (although these can be added at checkout on the Viator site to make things easy).
Tips for the Mount Huashan Hike
While the term “the world’s most dangerous hike” may be a tad overdramatic, this is definitely not something for the faint-hearted.
If you are scared of hikes, or crawling over petrified Chinese students, then this will be a challenge like no other. But even for those who fear nothing, there are still some tips that you should listen to if you want to climb the sacred mountain.
- Take lots of water. You can buy bottled water on the mountain itself, but it is ridiculously expensive.
- Bring snacks!
- If you’re doing it in a day trip, leave Xian early!
- Wear proper footwear! Don’t attempt to do it in flip flops just to be a hero.
- If you plan to hike through the night to watch sunrise (which is possible), take a good quality head torch.
- Bring layers with you, and wet weather gear. The climate can change quickly up on the mountain.
- It is possible to do this in winter. Be aware that snow and ice will make things slippery and more dangerous.
- The Plank Walk and Chess Pavilion hike are actually some of the safest parts of the mountain because you are required to wear harnesses. Make sure you have extra vigiliance on other parts of the mountain where steep drop offs don’t have handrails or chains to hold on to, and you have to navigate around huge amounts of tourists.
- If you are trying to catch the last bus back to Xian then you might want to consider taking the cable car down around 6pm to ensure you get back in time.
- Don’t forget to take lots of photos!
58 thoughts on “Surviving The World’s Most Dangerous Hike – Mt Huashan”
I really love this blog information and ultimate blog articles.
Wow! Only by looking at the pictures I can understand the article’s title! We got similar thrills hiking on some remote parts of the Great Wall in China. This one is definitely on our list for our next trip in China.
It was an amazing hike. Highly recommend it. Hope you get there soon. 🙂
Oh My God I am pleased to see this you have hiked to most dangerous mountain. I also love hiking and I wish I could also reach to this scary mountain. Can you please share any advice for me?
Hi Paulette, it was a great hike. Definitely an all day hike and get there early in the morning if you decide to do it. Our advice would be just do it. No regrets. 🙂
Very informative post. Congrats! I will be in Xi’an in a month and plan to make a day trip to the mountain. I have read there’s a cable car, but couldn’t find that many details on it. As I do not plan to do the hike (it is too strenuous and extreme to me), I find the cable car experience as rewarded as the hike. Thank you!
Hi Daniel, I am glad you had a great trip. 🙂
We’re going to be there in 2 weeks. I was wondering how early you’d recommend showing up to Huashan? I was thinking of getting there by 10am, but now I worry about the crowd around the Plank Walk. How long did the entire hike take you?
Hi Elizabeth, you maybe there now so I hope this comment gets to you before you go. Get there early. Definitely give yourself enough time. I know we were on the 7am bus. The plank walk is busy and you will have to wait. It was a short hike. Maybe 30 mins or so. Have a great time
The pictures that you have put in this post is great, But it looks like more horrible than enjoyable. it’s really scary and risking your life kind of thing. This is the most dangerous hike mountain I have ever seen. I mean the stuff you did is just amazing bro.
Thank you so much. It was fine. Not too scary at all :). It did get the heart pumping at times.
I’m planning to go there in 2 weeks, but I see to walk ” the plank” you clearly can’t be carrying a backpack, so I’m presuming there’s somewhere safe you can leave it ?
Hi Garry, you can leave your bag at the beginning. They have an area near where a man puts on the harnesses. If you are worried about the security of your bag maybe leave it with a friend and take turns. Have a great time.
Thank you for you sharing and it’s totally give me an idea visiting Xi’an with my girl friend.
Which route you guys took? North Peak up & down or West up & North down?
After reading your blog we prefer the route you guys took.
Hi Yos, that is awesome you are going to visit this place. we climbed up the North side, think it was called “Stairway to the clouds (or heaven). We took the gondola on the west down and got a bus back to the north carpark to catch our bus. The reason we did this is because we ran out of time up the top to hike down and catch the last bus with the company we pre-booked with. Research the companies and find out which ones are going at which times back to Xian. If you do this same route as us, do not buy the return ticket on the bus. There is a lot to do up top. There are many companies that go to Mount Huashan. Have a great time.
lol I had no idea about any of this. I went to Mount Huashan and did the climb up and down because I figured that I was there anyway. I had no idea it was such a big deal.
Hey! Your blog has been an excellent guide. I, like you was drawn to these mountains and have ached for this hike over many years. I am back in China right now and will do this hike tomorrow! I wonder if you know the earliest time the park opens to visitors? I plan to take the bullet train but will have to snoop at the schedule. Thanks in advance. An email response would be rad!
Your blogs are great you two! My husband is really keen to do this – we are looking to travel in October to China with our (will be at the time) 7 month old baby…… Do you think it would be doable at all with a baby to go up there? Do you think one person could wait with baby while the other does the plank walk, then swap? Or are we being completely unrealistic? Trying to find a balance of doing adventurous things but I guess we need to be realistic!
Hi Anna, how exciting for your upcoming trip. Absolutely. You can swop out and you both can have a turn. There is a gondola that goes up and down the mountain so that is another option. Have a great time.
Wow, as a rock climber and ropes course facilitator…those harnesses won’t hold much if you actually go off the plank =). Okay, fine, I’ll go! I’ve wanted to go here since I got to Thailand. Thanks for the story.
We thought that too Anoah. It is very dodgy indeed. The plank you walk on is fairly sketchy too. Hope you get there one day. Being a rock climber, you will love it. Maybe bring your own harness and rope. 😉
This looks like a great hike and I am planning on undertaking this myself next year. How busy is the hike?
That’s amazing. You will love it. On the way up it was very quiet. I think a lot get the gondola up and down. The hike is worth it and beautiful. The plank area was not too busy. We went in the morning so it was a little quieter than the afternoon I am guessing. Have a great time
Oh man…. Hitchcock feeling!
Thanks for this blog post! Planning to climb this solo in September and will most probably do a day trip up the mountain… glad to know that it is possible to do it all in a day! 🙂
Glad we could help. Have a great time. It is a great hike
Thank you for your detailed info. I’m planning on doing these trails in October, but I may only have short time as I’m catching the 1pm train to Shanghai. For this, I’m staying in Huashan and gonna start the hike really early in the morning.
Glad we could help. Hope you had a great hike.
What time did you guys leave in the morning and how long did hiking up the actual mountain take?
From memory we were on one of the first buses, maybe around 0730, and on the actual mountain it took maybe 3 hours to get to the top.
I am so happy I stumbled across your blog as Chinese friends i have spoken to said you cannot do it in one day so I am pleased we can try and squeeze it in our 3 day trip to Xian 🙂
Glad we could help Anna. It was a full on day but you definitely can do it. Maybe take the gondola one way and hike the other. This is what we did and worked out great. Happy hiking and take lots of photos. 🙂
Nice one guys, I’m planning to do it alone and I find your post quite helpful. Keep up the good work
Hi Raghu, You will have no worries doing it on your own. There are buses are from downtown and signed. There is many people visiting daily so you won’t be alone. Have fun. It was an awesome day. 🙂
Wow. This trek looks amazing. Must be a great feeling to complete it.
I am in Xian for 2 days in late April. Was planning, on the 2nd day, to get an early train to here, do the full trek without cable car (am terrified of riding on them!!) and then late train back to Xian in the evening.
Is it possible to do this in 1 day?? Should i book the trains in advance?? It will be Sat 22nd april so not sure if the mountain is too busy at wknds??
I am terrified of heights so still not sure if this is even something i will be able to do. But i want to!!
For sure. Go as early as possible to give yourself lots of time. Maybe we spent too much time up the top and did too many activities and time got away from us. Just check the distance to the entry of the hike and add that time in too. Not too sure how late the trains go to but I remember the buses were finished at maybe 630 / 7. (don’t quote me though). There is a nice paved path for going down with stairs. All the best and have fun. 🙂
I’d love to do that hike. My next adventure holiday is Nepal. I trekked the Annapurna Circuit in 2012 but this time I want to do a trek that’s a little more demanding. You need a head for heights for Mount Huashan but I think it looks great. Good post!
It’s a pretty epic hike Raymond! You’ll love it. 😀
So exciting! Glad to hear your sharing! I always like the adventyrous trips.
This post is not for me because I scared of height, but you too brave to do these things.
we’ve been dreaming about hiking hua shan for years now, and though we still don’t have a date for backpacking through china, your article was one of the best i’ve found so far on this hike. i’m not sure if i’ll ever be brave enough for the plank walk, but i’m excited about the chess pavillon. do you know whether one can bring his own harness? i’ve been to china and the safety standards back in 2009 were less than thrilling…so we thought about bringing our own harnesses for hua shan.
Hey Cari! Glad to hear you enjoyed our article. Thanks so much for reading! I don’t see why you can’t bring your own harness. In fact we would personally recommend it 🙂
I’ve always wondered if the Mt. Huashan hike would be as treacherous as it sounds. Your photos look sufficiently terrifying 😉 We’re hoping to go next year, so thanks a lot for the resource!
hmm interesting.. I climbed this last October and had no clue it was considered this dangerous. Definitely one of, if not the most difficult hike I’ve ever done!
How about the Chinese Red Bull for sale the whole way up the mountain haha, incredible..
Good post though!
I’m going alone to huashan first time next week.only one day to spare n I’m still contemplating whether to ascend by north cable car – descend east gate cable car or finish back in north cable car. Fastest trail as I worry I can’t hike that fast n wouldn’t want to waste buying cable car both ways but wasting it. Confuse now
I could never do this, I would have had a major panic attack…
Good story, guys. I only pretended to walk the plank, in front of a green screen. Actually, I just took pictures of other people in front of the green screen, so I pretended to pretend to walk the plank. Congrats on doing the real thing!
Oh man watching your video made me want to go back there and do it again!! It is an amazing experience, when my husband and I went in 2013 they had only just got the harnesses! I fully understand your low point in China, we had the same we found it so hard to get around without speaking any Chinese!
You must have been lucky, we got on the bus back to Xian but it was a fake one and dropped us off in the middle of nowhere unless we paid extra money!! In the end we refused to get off the bus until an English speaking lady came and eventually helped us find a local bus back to town. Those kind of scams are ripe in China and it’s very frustrating for travellers who AREN’T made of money!
Enjoy your break and look forward to seeing your future adventures! X x x KristaRoo @adventurewithoutend
So sorry to hear that happened to you with the bus. We had some amazing times in China and some not so much. The hike was a highlight and we’d love to do it again. That’s great when you went there were harnesses. I don’t think we would have done this without them. Thank you for reading and sharing your experience.
Oh wow, this sounds absolutely mad- I would love to have a chance to see how much it freaked me out! Great photos guys!
Thanks Katie! You’d love it, we’re sure 🙂
Terrific post! I’ve wanted to do this for years and still hope I’ll find an adventuresome buddy to go with me one day. Loved the photos!
Hope you get to do it as well Kathryn! It was awesome 😀
Oy, I’m way too scared of heights to do something like that. Good on you!
Haha, yea it’s definitely pretty high up there!
This is incredible! I am not going to lie some of your photos gave me vertigo, and I would say that we;ve done some serious hiking. congrats on checking off this one off your list! Maybe one day we will follow in your footsteps (maybe).
Thanks Jenia! Hope you get up there one day (it’s well worth it).