I am not sure when I actually decided to do the Huashan Plank Walk. I had read about “The Most Dangerous Hike In The World” some time ago and the pictures in those articles always made it look scary. (There are even videos of people committing suicide by unlatching their safety harnesses and jumping to their deaths and I can tell you, it is a long way down… I mean, you are falling from the peak of a mountain!)
But once I learned that Huashan (or “Mount Hua”, located in Huayin city) isn’t too far from Xi’an (where the Chinese Terracotta Warrior exhibits are), I just had to attempt it. I even managed to drag my friend Peter, who was traveling part of China with me, along for the hike. (Initially reluctant to be doing physical activity on his holiday, at the end, he was glad he did and even said it was one of his best experiences in his life.)
Many people who travel to Huashan are Chinese. The mountain and its five peaks (North, South, East, West, and Middle) is actually a popular destination to hike on due to its religious significance in Chinese culture. Of course, in typical Chinese fashion, the peaks are also alternately named “Cloud Terrace Peak”, “Facing Sun Peak”, “Landing Wild Geese Peak”, “Lotus Flower Peak”, and “Jade Maiden Peak” respectively. It sounds a lot mystical. To read more about Huashan, go here.
Normally, I am prepared for my day trips with regard to logistics and activity planning. I don’t mean researching every last detail because I have been working on making room for more spontaneity during my travels. I just meant researching my options and knowing roughly what to expect. However, this activity was a bit of a last minute decision so I didn’t do much research other than how to get us from Xi’an to Huashan, of which there are several options: a fast train, slow train, or a bus. Each option differs by price, ease of availability, and travel time based on connections. Peter and I took the train although I don’t recall if it was fast or slow.
Upon arriving, I found out there were two possible entrances to choose to start our hike from; we could start at the North Peak and work our way to the other end, the West Peak, or vice versa. Peter and I weren’t too sure of which route to take so I suggested we start with the North Peak and navigate our way through as many other peaks until we came across the Plank Walk before descending from the West Peak.
Let’s pause for a moment to review the following diagram:
Option A involves a 20 min bus ride and a 8 min cable car ride ascending before doing the reverse, descending. Option B involves a 40 min bus ride and a 20 min cable ride up ascending before again doing the reverse, descending. Now, would you rather take a longer cable car ride ascending or descending? I could go on about the pros and cons of both and why someone might choose one or the other. But when it comes down to it, logically, with the intent of minimizing strenuous physical activity (uphill climbing) and maximizing energy conservation (there is going to be a lot of step-climbing), one would choose to take the longer, almost-double-in-time, cable car ride ascending to the higher peak first and spend more time hiking downhill instead.
I don’t know why but I didn’t think about this until after we got on the bus to the cable car station for the North Peak. Maybe I was excited about the day and failed to math. Anyway, by the time logic hit me, we were committed, especially time-wise. No point in taking the bus back another 20 mins only to have to wait for the next bus to take us 40 mins another direction. Live and learn.
So after reaching the cable car station and taking the cable car up, we walked up and down (mostly up) many steps. I am not going to lie, it was tiring. But the views around Huashan were fantastic. It was also a lot more crowded than I expected.
After a few hours, we arrived at the Plank Walk. Initially, it was hard to see how long the line was. It was a lot more popular than I anticipated especially with the younger generation. I was told that there have been 5-6 hour wait times in the past; Peter and I most definitely did not want to wait that long. In any case, we decided to get in line, wait for two hours and see how that went before deciding. Of course, the wait was brutal. Once the two-hour mark came up, we began asking people in front of us if we were getting closer. As many were also wondering, word got passed around and eventually someone relayed the message that we were maybe 30 minutes away. What a relief! (I think 2-3 hours is the minimum wait time on average and the only way to achieve those times is not coming on a public holiday or weekend which might result in those 5-6 hour tests of patience.)
Before we came to Huashan, I did not know what to expect when it came to safety. I had this impression that we might not have safety gear at all and one’s life depended entirely on holding onto some flimsy rails but luckily, common sense prevailed; we had safety harnesses and even a cute little helmet which would prevent us from dying if we fell 2000 meters. (Obviously kidding on the latter.)
If you are afraid of heights, this isn’t the activity for you. There were several steep descending points to navigate, almost like vertical drops, before we got to the actual planks. We had to unlatch and re-latch the safety harness on safety cables as we went along. But once we arrived at the planks, it was quite a straight-forward 15-20 min “walk” along the edge to the end where there is a small area (and even a small cave with a Buddhist altar) to rest for about 10 mins before going back the same way. It would be a lot faster if everyone wasn’t preoccupied with taking pictures and causing bottlenecks, which is what results in those long initial wait-times. But who can blame them. Peter and I did the same. Most are only there once.
I don’t know if at any point I thought to myself this lived up to its nickname of being “The World’s Most Dangerous Hike” because of the use of safety harnesses. Without them however, yes, you WILL die if you made a mistake and fell. There is nothing below you but air and those 30 or so seconds to think “Why the f*** did I come here?”.
For more pictures of China, click here.