Everything you need to know about the Mount Huashan hike, 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…
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.
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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
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!
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