2000 meters in the air, I peer over the edge of the rickety wooden planking and wonder why I am on this insane cliff walk. Moments before, I had been carefully stepping in small footholds carved into the side of the mountain. I pause a moment to catch my breath. Hugging the cliff face, I slowly inch my way across the planking. Small careful steps take me the few hundred yards to solid ground. I have completed the first half of the Hua Shan cliff walk.
While in Xi’an, I made the journey to Hua Shan, one of China’s Five Sacred Taoist Mountains. Known as the “most precipitous mountain under heaven,” Hua Shan has also been named the “Most Dangerous Hiking Trail in the World” by tourists. Despite the dangers of almost vertical steps carved into the mountain, countless people make the climb to share in the beauty of the mountain’s peaks. There are five peaks to climb, the North, South, Middle, East and West peak, but the South peak is the highest at 2154.9 meters or 7069 feet. Spectacular views reward those who make the climb.
The South peak is also home to the Cliffside Plank Path, No. 1 Steep Road in Mount Hua.
Having previously seen videos and pics of this cliff path, the Hua Shan cliff walk was a bucket list item. I was obligated to complete the walk.
I pay the 30 yuan ($4.69) entrance fee and prepare for the walk. Thankfully, two straps attach you to the cliff wall. The straps hook on a wire set into the cliff. I hook up and set down the smallest set of stairs I’ve ever encountered. They are literally small steel rods hammered into the rock.
As I fight down my fear of heights and descend one slow step at a time, an older Chinese gentleman appears below and starts climbing up. I take the time to note that he has no safety straps. We meet and he gestures for me to move aside. I make myself as small as possible and he scampers up the metal stairs. Continuing down, I find myself at the actual path. It begins with the footholds carved into the mountain and then continues with a thin wooden plank path attached to the cliff.
The few hundred feet to the end take over ten minutes. As I find myself stepping on solid ground, I realize I was at a dead-end. I would have to cross the path again.
I’ve been skydiving and bungee jumping, but, for some reason, this cliff walk was more frightening than either of those activities. Yes, two cables secured me to the cliff. Yes, I watched several people cross the path quickly and safely. However, my brain wasn’t accepting those facts. I knew it was thousands of feet to the bottom if I somehow fell off. I knew I was going to make a misstep at any time. However, I also recognized this was an incredible experience. I knew the plank path was wide enough to safely walk across. I realize I must finish the walk.
I take a deep breath and step back on the planks.
Going back would be easier. I had done it before. I calm myself and force myself to enjoy the experience. I take it slow, not out of fear, but in order to soak in the views.
Ten minutes later, the experience was over. I had successfully completed the Hua Shan cliff walk, and, despite my fears, I had loved every minute of it. It was an accomplishment I will always remember.
If you find yourself in Xi’an, I highly recommend taking the 75 mile journey to Hua Shan to complete the cliff walk. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Hua Shan Information:
- Hua Shan entrance fee is 100 yuan ($15.63).
- There are several ways to Hua Shan including train, taxi, and bus. The bus is easy and how I arrived. Take Bus 1 from Xi’an Railway Station. It leaves at 8:00 am and is 22 yuan ($3.44). It will also return to Xi’an at 5pm.
- You can also get a bus from Hua Shan to Xi’an after 5pm. It will cost 30-35 yuan and will leave when the bus is full. This is what I did.
- If you don’t want to hike up or down, there is a cable car. It is 80 yuan ($12.50) one way or 150 yuan ($23.45) round trip.The cable car runs until 6pm or 7pm based on the season.
- As with any outdoor activity, drink lots of water. Be aware, there are vendors on all areas of the mountains so there will always be a chance to buy food or drink.