“Mountain that has claimed the lives of many” and “death trail”, are one of the headlines you immediately see when you Google Hua Shan. During my internship abroad, I visited the terracotta army in Xi’an and climbed the nearby mountain Hua Shan with a group of exchange students. The trek to the top of this mountain is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world. But what a view, you won’t be disappointed.
train travel in China
I left Beijing West for a 12-hour long train ride to Xi’an. Train travel in China is normally a very comfortable and pleasant experience, if you’ve booked a soft or hard sleeper. Arriving at your destination after a 12 hour long nap, that’s even better than flying. But we’re not in luck. The sleepers are sold out and we’re forced to buy hard seat tickets. The only benefit being that we’re going to travel no less than 1,283 km for only 15 euros.
Shortly after departure, groups of mahjong and card game playing Chinese passengers form left and right, whilst enjoying typical Chinese snacks such as packaged chicken claws. No, not chicken feet but claws, including nails. A few hours later, most of them are snoring and fast asleep, and we attempt to do the same. The aisles are now impassable. The floor is covered with peanut skins and Chinese passengers are sleeping everywhere.
Tip: Always book sleeper tickets for a train trip in China that lasts longer than 6 hours.
We’re staying at Han Tang Inn in Xi’an, where I gratefully order my first western breakfast again since ages. The rooms are as cheap as 6 euros a night and it’s a great base for visiting the activities and highlights of Xi’an.
THE TERRACOTA ARMY
In 1974, some astonished Chinese farmers found clay Terracotta warriors instead of water while digging a well. The terracotta Army consists of 9099 life-size warriors from the Qin Dynasty, given as grave goods to the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi. The remains rightly belong to the UNESCO – World Heritage.
Once again, I’m an attraction for local Chinese tourists as the girl with the ‘golden’ hair and blue eyes, while we walk from one hall to another. Despite the huge complex which is built around the army, which does detract a tad from the authenticity, I still feel like this is one of the must-see cultural highlights of China.
Mount Hua Shan
Mount Hua Shan is located in the Qinling Mountains, about 100 kilometers east of the provincial city of Xi’an. By public bus it takes about one hour to get to the nearby village of Hua Shan, from where you can take a ten minute cab drive to the foot of the mountain.
We’re speechless, when we get the huge mountain in sight for the first time. The total climb takes at least 8 hours and is pretty heavy. Base point is located at the northern summit at 1.561 meters altitude and can also be reached by cable car. From there, it will take at least another 4 hours to pass a long narrow mountain ridge to one of the other three peaks. The highest of which being 2.155 meters above sea level, where we will be spending the night in a hostel.
Huashan is known as one of the five sacred mountains of China and is a pilgrimage destination. There are a few dozen temples and monasteries on the mountain. The five peaks resemble a flower with five leaves and this is where the mountain derives its name from. Hua is the Chinese word for flower.
GREEN DRAGON RIDGE
We start our trek from the northern peak along the meandering path of eighteen bends with steep stairs and only a chain on the side to hold on to. At some passages, the stairs almost go straight up. It’s not only very heavy to climb the mountain with backpack, some passages are also quite dangerous. The green dragon ridge is by far the most dangerous one. We make our way to the top via a network of stairs that never seems to end and a huge deep ravin on both sides.
GOLDEN LOCK PASS
Pilgrims tie red ribbons to the chains that run all along the paths. Newlyweds symbolize their love by attaching a lock and throwing the key in the deep depths. Some people buy the ribbons and locks because it’s supposed to bring luck or as evidence of overcoming the mountain. There’s thousands of them at the Golden Lock Pass. It’s there, where we decide to immortalize our visit to the mountain. Won’t be worrying about our luck anytime soon now.
By the time we reach the Golden Lock Pass, night begins to fall. And while we continue to climb up and enjoy the many panoramic views, fatigue starts to put a strain on all of us. Don’t underestimate the climb up. Although the views are stunning, it’s a heavy trek.
SPENDING THE NIGHT ON MT. HUA SHAN
The sun is starting to go down when we finally arrive at our Hostel on the East Peak. The dorms of Dongfeng Binguan are cheap and located at one of the best spots for sunrise. And that’s about all there is to say about that. Bring some instant noodle packs. The food available is horrible and also quite expensive. This doesn’t come as a surprise, since food has to be carried up the same road by locals with bamboo baskets attached to a bamboo yoke. Locals including very old Chinese men, who made climbing up the mountain seem effortless. Yikes, maybe I do need to do some more exercising.
We enjoy a Tsingtao beer dressed in traditional Chinese jackets that reach to our toes. It’s gotten pretty cold.
SUNRISE MT. Huashan
The next day, we get up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise from the east peak. It’s freezing cold. After the exhausting climb up the day before, the rising sun treats us with a breathtaking view. And while I board the train the next day and think back about that moment for the millionth time, I couldn’t care less that I have to spend another 12 hours hard seat back to Beijing. Our amazing weekend in Xi’an was something I’ll never forget.
Many people only visit the world famous Terracotta Army during their stop in Xi’an, and continue their journey to one of the many other highlights that China has to offer. My advice, prolong your stay wit two extra days for an adventure of a lifetime. While enjoying the sunset on Mt. Hua Shan with a Tsingtao beer after a grueling climb, you have little to desire.
WHEN TO GO: Avoid the extreme hot summer. Autumn and spring are perfect in terms of temperature. Although the winter landscape at Hua Shan is not bad at all either.
HOSTEL XI’AN: Han Tang Inn
HOSTEL HUA SHAN: Dong Feng Binguan
PACK LIST: Don’t pack too much. You have to drag it all up the stairs of the mountain. Be prepared for hot weather during the trek and cold nights on the mountain top.