Surviving the HuaShan Plank Walk
The HuaShan Plank Walk is one of China’s most infamous sights, known to inspire fear into the hearts of acrophobic travelers. Here’s how to get there and experience the fun yourself!
Xian makes a great base for the HuaShan Plank Walk as it is the largest major city near the mountain. As a bonus, it’s a great city to visit on its own with China’s famous Terracotta Warriors, huge city walls and great street food to keep you occupied for several days. The mountain tends to get a bit crowded during high season and especially during national holidays, so plan accordingly and get there early.
To get to the HuaShan Plank Walk (Shan actually means “Mountain” in Mandarin, so saying Mount HuaShan is technically incorrect), take the first Zhengzhou-Luoyang-Xian High Speed Train out of Xian North Station (Xian Bei) towards HuaShan on the earliest train leaving at 7:53 am. If you take a taxi to the train station, make sure you specify the NORTH (Bei) station since there are two train stations in Xian.
When you arrive at the HuaShan, Ignore all of the touts directly outside of the train station and head directly towards the street where there are green mini buses parked. At the time I went it cost 10 RMB (approximately $1.50 USD) per passenger, and from my understanding the buses are now free to visitors. These mini buses will take you directly to the HuaShan visitor center, where you can buy your passes.
It is possible to climb up to the top of the mountain from the bottom using the “soldier’s path,” but this isn’t something I would recommend unless you have left several days for the mountain, start the hike overnight and stay in one of the hotels on top of the mountain, as it is a LONG hike filled with stairs (much like with the rest of the mountain!).
When you reach the visitor center, head directly for the ticket counter as quickly as you can to beat the crowds. Buy your lift ticket, which will take you to the North Peak.
A Funhouse Built Into A Mountain
There is much more to HuaShan than just the plank walk. The entire mountain is mind-boggling to behold, with extremely steep stairs leading the path everywhere you go. It’s incredible to experience and, while tiring, provides an adventure that you can’t get anywhere else on Earth.
From the North Peak, you can choose your path. There are 5 peaks total: North, South, East, West and Middle. Since I only had one day allotted for the hike (and I highly recommend longer if you can, the mountain is spectacular!), I elected to cover the North, East and South Peaks. Here’s how to follow my path.
HuaShan’s North Peak
The North Peak is pretty much an automatic gimme if you take the cable car, as it drops you off right there. Stick around for a bit and admire the beautiful scenery before heading out on a leg-melting day! From the landing area, follow the path uphill towards the Heavenly Stairs and East Peak. It will seem busy at the landing area and North Peak, but the crowds thin out the further down the path you go.
What Did I Get Myself Into?!?
It soon becomes apparent that the hike is going to be a pretty daunting ordeal, with steps so steep in places that they are actually at an acute angle (yes, you are climbing backwards and up at the same time!). If you’re afraid of heights, this isn’t the place for you!
You’ll start climbing many very, very steep stairs right out of the gate on your way to the East Peak, but the first big attraction/obstacle you will encounter is the Heavenly Stairs, or Tian Ti. This is one of those steeper-than-90-degrees ladders that I mentioned and certainly looks intimidating on approach. It requires some guts and a firm grasp on the chain provided, but this ladder is a thrill in its own right to climb!
Soon you’ll make your way down the path to Gold Lock Pass, or Jin Suo Guan. This is the official entrance to the rest of the peaks and a great spot for both a breather and photo op. If you want to contribute to the pass, you can buy a lock from one of many vendors along the trail and get the name of yourself and your loved one engraved on it for a memory of your time on the mountain.
Once you arrive at the East Peak of the mountain, you’ll be greeted with a beautiful view of the sheer cliffs there and an obelisk letting you know you’ve made it this far. Stop for a moment, enjoy the view, grab some refreshments and head on down the road, because you’ve still got a ways to go!
Continue heading down the trail, which is mercifully less stair-intensive than the section you just completed. Soon you’ll reach the Chess Playing Pavilion, another one of HuaShan’s most iconic sights. You can take a detour down there to play chess or have a scenic lunch if you have the time, as you’ll probably never get a better view over a board game!
Soon after you pass the Chess Pavilion, the path will begin to give way to a sheer cliffside trail protected by hand rails. Keep going, take a deep breath, and prepare for what appears over the horizon, because you’ve made it!
The Infamous HuaShan Plank Walk
Here you are, time to put your money where your mouth is! A short trail veers off the main path leading to the HuaShan Plank Walk. There will be someone stationed who will collect your 30 RMB, and in return take your backpack for safe keeping and lend you a harness to help keep you on the happy side of the mountain. The plank walk is one way so you won’t have any trouble getting back to collect your personal items and return your harness.
Once you’re ready, clip in to the safety wire and descend the steep iron ladder that leads to the plank walk. This is your first test of how you’ll do on the plank walk itself, as there is a very small landing area at the bottom of the ladder and a big drop below it!
Next you’ll reach the small ledge carved into the cliffside before the plank walk starts. Be sure to stay clipped in and have fun! About halfway through the plank walk is a man with a camera offering to take your photo and print it out, but I recommend you bring your own camera or a GoPro and record your own experience. You can always hand your camera to someone else to snap a photo of you in action!
Once you reach the end of the plank walk, you won’t find some mystical tea house that some of the more dubious websites may lead you to believe. Instead you’ll climb a few steps (what else did you expect?) and enter a small clearing where there is a tiny temple you may enter and pay your respects to the mountain. From there, turn around and walk the plank again, you’re one of the brave few who have made it across!
Going back across the plank walk I encountered some cross traffic, which wasn’t much of a problem. I’m a short guy and I had zero issues with going around the outside of other hikers who were on their way towards the temple. It certainly helps that I was more used to it by the time I was heading back to the start!
Once you finish the plank walk, head back down the trail and admire the scenic (and highest of the five) South Peak of HuaShan, which is just down the trail. By the time I had reached the South Peak I noticed that I needed to think about catching the last bus out of HuaShan back to Xian (the last one leaves at 6 pm and it doesn’t run all year) so I doubled back past the plank walk where there is a trail that goes straight back to the cable car station (be prepared for the line!).
If you have any questions about the HuaShan Plank walk I’m happy to answer them if you leave a comment below!
Some helpful resources: