After traveling traveling around western China for nearly a month, this was one of the last photos I took. I decided it was a good idea to strap myself in and go for a walk on some wooden planks attached to the side of a mountain 3,000 feet above nothing. How did I get to this point you ask? Well, let's go back...to the day before.
We left our little apartment in Xi'an and headed to the train station where we got on the first train to the town of Huashan. The town sits at the base of Mount Huashan one of the Five Great Mountains of China and one of the five holy Taoist Mountains of China and our destination for the next two days. Huashan is comprised of five peaks, one for each of the cardinal directions and a central peak. Each peak has various temples, shrines and even guest houses for travelers who want to spend the night atop the mountain.
Once in the town we went through our usual rigmarole of figuring out how to get a ticket (you need tickets for everything in China) then how to get up to the mountain. From where we were, there were two way to get up. You could hop in a cable car and ride up (about 20 minutes) to the top, or you could be crazy and decide that walking up the mountain, on stairs cut into the rock itself was the way you wanted to do it. We chose the latter. Living in Colorado I have done my share of tough hikes, but this was by far the most grueling hike I have ever done. Once at the top we sat around trying to catch our breath and estimated that we climbed somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 stairs, but I am getting ahead of myself.
We made our way to the base of the stairs and started walking. Along the way we saw more people that I actually expected. There were people of all ages and I feel a little bad now complaining about how tough it was when I think back the the 60 and 70 year old men and women who were trudging up just like us. There are a few highlights along the way, such as the nearly vertical, four to six inch deep stairs cut into the cliff at one point. I believe the story goes that there were two armies, one at the top of the mountain with the high ground and one trying to get up to them. The path up was blocked, so the second army carved this set of stairs so they could sneak up and attack while the enemy wasn't looking. There are also golden padlocks all over the place. These are supposed to be a symbol of health for your family.
Once at the top of the first and most daunting section you are at the North Peak. You would assume this is the top but no. The other four peaks are another two-ish hours of stairs up. Hooray!
The North Peak of Huashan.
Fortunately we weren't in too much of a rush. Our plan all along was to stay at one of the guest houses at the summit so that we could watch sunset and then sunrise from the top of the world. We took our time and took in some of the sights.
We continued climbing, made it to the East Peak where we got ourselves a room and then meandered over to the West Peak where we would settle in and watch the sunset.
Now that it was dark we made our way back to our guesthouse and fell asleep harder than you can imagine. Partly because we had just walked up a mountain with backpacks and 20+ pounds of camera gear and partly because we were waking up soon to catch the sun coming up. Sunrise definitely did not disappoint.
With the sun fully up, we only had one more destination before heading back down. If you google "most dangerous hikes in the world" you will undoubtedly come across something called the Plank Boardwalk in the Sky (remember that photo from up above?). It will be described wooden walkway 3,000 feet above the ground about three feet wide. You can imagine that vertigo might take hold and if you lose your balance bad things might happen. Nowadays though, they have installed a small cord that you carabiner into. While this probably does instill some confidence in the climbers I'm not 100% convinced that it will hold the weight of a full grown man. Nevertheless we wanted the experience so we clipped in and made the 100 or so yard long walk along the boardwalk to the small, unremarkable shrine before turning around and doing it all over again (oh yea, did I mention that people are going both ways on this thing and that in order to get past someone one of you has to suck up against the cliff while the other shimmies by then unclips and re-clips themselves in, all literally thousands of feet above the ground?).
Back on solid ground, it was time to head home. At this point, with our legs feeling the way they did, we weren't sure we could make the trip back down the stairs without falling flat on our faces. We made the lazy decision to take the cable car down. This turned out to be a fantastic idea! The car goes off the end of the cliff and the only thing between you and the ground is a clear sheet of plexiglass and 3,000 feet of air. Exhilarating is one way to describe the trip, terrifying is another equally valid way. One of my greatest regrets of the trip is not taking a video of this on my cell phone (guess I have to do it again).
Once back in town we caught a train back to Xi'an. We got in, had one more rou jia mo for good luck then hit the sack. The next day we were flying home to Shanghai after the greatest adventure of our lives.
Until the next time,
If you or anyone you know is planning a trip to western China, or anywhere in China for that matter I am more than happy to give some advice. You can shoot me an email at email@example.com and I would be glad to answer any questions you have.
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If you missed any of the parts of this series you can find them all HERE.
Also, now that this series has concluded I feel like it is a good time to fill you in on upcoming posts and series. In the coming weeks and months I am going to be posting about trips to Iceland, Cambodia and Tokyo as well as other destinations in China and a series on Shanghai street photography. My summer is also all booked up with trips to South Carolina, the Pacific Northwest, Northern California and multiple backcountry camping trips right here in Colorado. As always, if I go on a great hike somewhere I will fill you all in right here too. If any of that interests you feel free to sign up for the mailing list below. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by clicking on the little icons at the top or bottom of this page. Thanks for all the support, I hope you continue to enjoy!