The Huashan Trail is considered by some to be one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world. This trail is located on Huashan (or Mount Hua), a mountain situated near the city of Huayin in the Chinese province of Shaanxi. Fatalities on the Huashan Trail have indeed occurred over the years, and there are rumors that as many as 100 lives are lost on the trail each year. It should be pointed out, however, that such claims have not been substantiated.
A steep path on the Huashan trail. (blog.unboundly)
A Sacred Mountain
Huashan is one of the Five Great Mountains of China, the other four being Taishan (in Shandong), Hengshan (in Hunan), Hengshan (in Shanxi), and Songshan (in Henan). These mountains are sometimes referred to by the cardinal directions they occupy, and Huashan, being in the west, is known also as Xiyue. These mountains have been considered sacred by the Chinese for millennia, and, for that reason, they have attracted pilgrims who have visited the mountains with the intention of reaching their peaks.
Huashan has five peaks, which are named based on their direction, i.e. the North, South, East, West, and Central Peaks. These five peaks were once home to a great number of temples, though only a few of them remain today. The majority are Taoist temples, as Huashan is considered to be a sacred mountain by its followers. Another reason for this is the belief that Laozi, the founder of Taoism, once lived and gave sermons on this mountain.
A temple on Huashan. (Raffaele Nicolussi/CC BY 3.0)
Due to the sacred nature of the mountain, ancient pilgrims were drawn to Huashan, and it was them, as well as monks and nuns, who began carving a network of stairs and trails that led to the mountain’s peaks. As Huashan became a popular site for tourists to visit, these ancient trails were reinforced to ensure the safety of those who visit the sacred mountain. Further improvements to the trail have also been made by the Chinese authorities in the preceding decade. Nevertheless, several tragedies, in which people lose their footing and fall to their deaths, have been reported over the years.
Travel map of Huashan mountain in China. (CC BY SA 4.0)
Hiking for Thrills and Beautiful Views
For some, it is this thrill and danger, rather than the sacredness of the mountain, which draws them to hike Huashan. Yet for others, it is the scenery of the mountain that prompts them to take the risk of hiking the Huashan Trail. Huashan’s five peaks each offer different panoramic views to those who succeed in conquering them.
The South Peak, for example, is the highest peak of Huashan (and also of the Five Great Mountains), hence its title as the ‘Monarch of Huashan’. This peak is known also as the ‘Landing Wild Geese Peak’, as legend has it that wild geese returning from the south would land on this peak.
It is also on the trail of the South Peak that the most dangerous part of the hike is to be found. This is the so-called ‘Plank Road’, where hikers have to walk across a 0.3 meter (0.98 ft.) wide plank path built along the side of a vertical cliff. The magnificent view from the summit is the reward for crossing the ‘Plank Road’. From this height, one can see the four other peaks of Huashan, as well as the Yellow River far below.
The Perilous ‘Plank Road’ on Huashan. (Ondřej Žváček/CC BY SA 3.0)
The other peaks have their own nicknames as well. The East Peak is known also as the ‘Facing Sun Peak’, whilst the West, Central, and North Peaks are known as the ‘Lotus Flower Peak’, the ‘Jade Maiden Peak’, and the ‘Cloud Terrace Peak’ respectively. These peaks each have unique attractions worth visiting as well. On the West Peak, for example, there is a Taoist temple called Cuiyun Palace, which has a rock in the shape of a lotus before it, hence the peak’s nickname. There are also seven rocks beside the temple, which, according to folklore, were formed when the mountain was ripped apart by Chenxiang in his attempt to rescue his imprisoned mother.
View from the North Peak. (CC BY SA 4.0)
Top Image: Mount Huashan.