China – Xi’an – Mount Huashan

– OCTOBER 19, 2015

The original plan was to see the Terra-Cotta Army on the 18th, then get up in the morning of the 19th and go to Mount Huashan for a day trip.  As we spoke to locals, it became clear that many people go after the challenge of hiking the Mount Huashan trail throughout the night, arriving at the summit by dawn.  This intrigued us, so we booked train tickets for 11pm on the 18th (aka no sleeping after seeing the Terra-Cotta Army) and we rode the 90 minute train to the town of Huashan.  Here we got off the train at 12:30am, met some local Chinese young couples from our train who also wanted to hike overnight, then took a couple of taxis to the Mount Huashan Eastern Gate entrance (the Western Gate entrance is closed at night).

The touts at the Huashan train station were annoying, but that’s their job in life.  We know enough now about travelling that we can sift through their BS and get to what we need.  At the entrance was a grand statue.

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Mount Huashan – entrance statue

Mount Huashan, the most steep and precipitous mountain under the China sun, is elevated at 2154.9m above sea level.  It is the fourth holy land where legendary immortals live.  The five peaks, namely the Eastern Peak (the Sunrise Peak), the Western Peak (the Lotus-Flower Peak), the Southern Peak (the Wild Goose Perching Peak), the Northern Peak (the Cloud Terrace Peak) and the Central Week (the Lady Jade Peak) overlap and tower above each other.  Its grandeur is best described in a stanza of a poem “its posture overwhelms the white clouds and reflected in the Yellow River are its shadows“.  The overlapping mountain ridges, the strategic strongholds, the secluded valleys, the precipices, the gurgling springs and toppling cascades are all worth the adventure.

There are many tourist attractions up and down the mountain such as the Immortal’s Palm Print, the Thousand Foot Precipice, the Hundred-Foot Crevice, the Furrow, the Heavenward Ladder, the Grey Dragon Ridge, the Cliffside Path and the Sparrow-Hawks Cliff.  When you put all of this together you end up with one of the most charming and miraculous tourist attractions of its kind.  Its a challenge to hike this mountain during the day, but at night is can be dangerous.

The night stair climb was over 8,000 stairs.  The total day was just under 12,000 stairs.  A serious workout…especially when you haven’t slept in over 30 hours.

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Mount Huashan – The view up the mountain at the trail ahead.

There were lights along portions of the path, but this was okay since we had headlamps (or torches as they call them here) to ensure our steps were firm.

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan – The food vendors live on the mountain in their shops along the hiking path. They have hoses connected to the gravity-fed natural spring so a constant stream of water flushes over the cucumbers to keep insects and animals away. The plastic bottle with holes punched in it offers a charming and intellectual solution.

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan – Our crew taking a break at around 3:30am.

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan – This section was necessary to use the chains. The slope was almost 70 degrees.

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan – very small steps.

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Mount Huashan – very small steps…maybe 40% of my foot is covered at stairwells on slopes of greater than 45 degrees. Nasty…take each step slowly and carefully.

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan – We arrived in time for the dawn.

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan – The message is great, but what does the picture actually show? A game of horseshoes?

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan – The Chinese love to place heart-shaped locks on the handrails where you need the grip instead of a swinging piece of metal.

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan – This section was almost a 80 degree slope (almost straight upwards).

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Mount Huashan – This section was almost a 80 degree slope (almost straight upwards).

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Mount Huashan – This section was almost a 80 degree slope (almost straight upwards).

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Mount Huashan – This section was almost a 80 degree slope (almost straight upwards).

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Mount Huashan – This section was almost a 80 degree slope (almost straight upwards).

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan – I hummed the theme to Rocky as I touched the summit. Five hours of straight stepping and climbing and here we were at the top!

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

Here we came across the area called “Hawk Flipping Over“.  This is the only way to reach the “Chess Pavilion” and it is one of the famous and especially dangerous paths of Mount Huashan.  The path was chiseled along the cliff and looking down from the path you can see nothing but the ropeway hanging in the air.  Along the way, one has to move like a hawk somersaulting to pass, hence the name.

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Mount Huashan – Chess Pavilion

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Mount Huashan – Chess Pavilion

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Chess Pavilion

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Mount Huashan – Chess Pavilion

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan – Hawk Flipping Over

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Mount Huashan

Now we came across the amazing and crazy “Plank Road in the Sky“.  This is the most precipitous natural barrier of Huashan Mountain.  It is hundreds of meters high and only a few feet wide.  Passers-by dug holes on the precipice, inserted in stone piles, then placed wooden plates on the stone piles to make paths.  I am saying there is a 12” or less wood platform that cantilevers off the side of a rock cliff with no guardrail and you walk it!  This is one of the coolest things we have done on this adventure.

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

You get to the end of the walk to realize that it is only a secluded spot to stop, then you have to go back.  Yes…this is TWO-WAY TRAFFIC on the same board!

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky – Jill let some people by going the opposite direction, but in true Chinese fashion the rest of them just rush to also go by…leaving the poor Canadian girl sitting in a small crevice on the side of a steep cliff.

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky – Two Way Traffic and of course the Canadian is the one to take the outside in the exchange.

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky – Two Way Traffic and of course the Canadian is the one to take the outside in the exchange.

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky – Looks completely safe…doesn’t it?

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

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Mount Huashan – Plank Road in the Sky

What was insane is that the guy at the top takes your money, straps you into a harness, then tells you to move only one clip at a time…and that’s it!  No visual cues or instructions…just a few words muttered and then he looks away.  People were placing their clips the same way, so we had to step in and inform the people to have the two clips facing opposite ways.  That way if they slipped and grabbed their clips, they both wouldn’t open up and potentially fall off.  A small, but important tip we learned while canyoning in New Zealand.

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

After going for 33+ hours without sleep and taking over 12,000 stairs, we took it easy on ourselves and rode the cable car to the bottom.  The Chinese usually take the cable car to the top and then either walk down or ride the cable car back to the bottom.  We don’t roll that way.

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

From here we took a bus to the visitor centre, then got dropped off at the train station to ride back to our Xi’an hostel for a long sleep.  Tomorrow we are taking a long train ride to Beijing!

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For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.