Rising out of the misty Yellow River Basin, Hua Shan is one of China’s Five Great Mountains and has become a growing attraction for outdoor enthusiasts and thrill seekers alike. Since the 2nd century BCE, this 7,000 foot mountain has been site of great religious important and a variety of temples and shrines dot its slopes and peaks. A destination for those seeking spiritual enlightenment, it was thought that only those who had found the “true path” would find their way to its summit. Since that time many paths have been blazed to the mountain’s five distinct peaks, including a lower section that can be reached by cable car.
However, one path that ascends to the southern most peak, remains notoriously rustic. In a few places it consists entirely of rotting wooden planks that have been haphazardly bolted to the side of the cliff face. There are even a few spots where climbers have to walk on individual metal pegs. Harnesses are available for rent (this is highly highly advised but not strictly mandatory) which allows climbers to strap into an overhead safety line. This takes a little bit of the edge off of the experience, that is, until climbers make a closer observation of the line, which has clearly suffered some neglect over the years.
Most people looking to reach the top go very early in the morning. Not only is it customary to reach the summit to great the new dawn, but it also cut down the likelihood of having to pass people going the opposite direction. The wood planks are only about a foot wide and attempting a over-under pass can be incredibly precarious.
After making the scramble to the top, climbers can catch their breath and re-steel their nerves while enjoying the spectacular views. The can also take a moment to count their blessing at the small shrine located at the top. There is only one way up and therefore only one way down, so visitors tend to wait a little before being their descent.
Chinese authorities place the overall death toll for this mountain path at an apocryphal zero, however independent experts suspect the number might be as high as 100 people a year. Especially with such lax safety measures and growing number of inexperienced climbers, one would suspect mishaps would be inevitable. However, for many the danger is part of its allure. This type of loosely organized state-approved adventure can be found in very few places nowadays, and for better or for worse, the backcountry of China is still one of them.
To really experience the cliffside plank walk check out a video here.