Looming high into the heavens, Huashan Mountain can be found approximately 75 miles east of the city of Xi’an in the Shaanxi Province. Its five peaks, when viewed from a specific angle, resemble the petals of a beautiful flower. Despite its beauty, the mountain is considered one of the steepest on the planet, ranking it amongst the most dangerous when it comes to mountain hiking trails.
Mount Huashan and Chinese Culture
The mountain itself sits amongst four others, all of which are considered the sacred mountains of China. The other sacred mountains include Shandong’s Mount Taishan, Shanxi’s Mount Hengshan, Hunan’s Mount Hengshan, and Henan’s Mount Songshan. Mount Huashan, however, is perhaps the most popular due to its difficult hiking trails.
Mount Huashan is considered one of the holiest mountains, as the Taoist temples found on its embankments were once frequent destinations during the pilgrimages held by ancient emperors. A number of these temples still exist, making the mountain a well-traveled destination for tourists, Chinese youth, pilgrims, and monks alike.
The Many Peaks of Mount Huashan
As noted earlier, Mount Huashan consists of five very distinct peaks, or flower petals. The East Peak, otherwise known as Facing Sun Peak, stands approximately 6,857 feet tall and is a popular place for visitors to stop and watch the sun rise.
The Middle Peak is fondly referred to as Jade Maiden Peak. The legend of the peak claims that the daughter of King Mugong disliked the royal court and moved to Mount Huashan to live with her husband on the peak.
Standing approximately 6,846 feet above sea level is the West Peak, or Lotus Peak. This particular peak is one of the most uniquely shaped, and because of its shape it is one of the steepest areas on the mountain.
The ancients referred to the North Peak as Clouds Stand, but it is now referred to as Cloud Terrace Peak. The 5,295 foot peak resembles a flat embankment suspended in the clouds. The North Peak is the home of Zhenwu Hall. Three sides of this peak are too dangers for anyone to climb, while the fourth is so dangerous you can only climb some areas by pressing your body to the cliff walls.
Hiking on the South Peak of Mount Huashan
The South Peak of Mount Huashan is the tallest, standing at 7,087 feet. It is also considered the highest peak found amongst all of the sacred mountains. Despite the dangers associated with climbing the South Peak, the panoramic views, lush greenery, and incredible challenges draw visitors from all over the world on a regular basis.
In order to understand the dangers associated with Mount Huashan, it is incredibly important to note that there is a major difference between mountain climbing and mountain hiking. Mountain climbers are usually well-trained and incredibly experienced. They carry backpacks full of safety gear and wear clothing specially designed to help them scale mountain walls with ease. Mountain hiking is a completely different animal. Most of the hikers who visit Mount Huashan come with little more than the clothes on their backs and begin their explorations knowing little of the dangers ahead.
It would almost be better to climb the mountain than attempt a hike. On the Black Dragon Ridge, for example, hikers will find a 15 kilometer path of steps that leads almost straight up. While the steps are secure, there is only a small chain to hold as a railing and the flight of stairs is so long and steep that only physically conditioned hikers should attempt the ascent. There is nothing, anywhere on the climb, to break a fall.
In other areas, hikers must scale the side of the mountain peek by walking on ridges that are less than a foot wide while holding onto a linked chain that has been attached to the side of the mountain. Many of the ridges are poorly constructed with shoddy wooden planks resting on rocks. Pressing your body as close to the mountain as possible and clinging to the chains for dear life is highly recommended. There’s no way to save yourself if you were to fall from these paths.
Conditions are worse during the winter months, when hiking is still permitted. On the south peak you’ll find a set of stairs that looks more like a ladder, with vertical ascents reaching over 20 meters. During the coldest months of the year, these steps, and all of the treacherous paths, can be covered with invisible ice, making it even more difficult to determine whether or not continuing to the top of the peak is a wise choice.
Worse yet are the areas where there are no walkways. Instead you’ll find footholds carved into the sides of the mountain. You’ll muddle through this calamity by holding onto the chains above you while moving slowly, in a diagonal pattern, foot hold to foothold, until you reach the next, presumably safer part of the trail.
There are dozens of rumors circulating regarding the number of deaths on Mount Huashan. Despite the dangers associated with the climb, one must wonder why there isn’t more documentation regarding mountain rescues or the deaths themselves. Are they myth or simply not important enough to report in the news?
Why hasn’t the Chinese government done anything to improve the conditions of these paths to make them safer for the public? Even more intriguing is this question: why do tourists and pilgrims still insist on making these dangerous ascents? Perhaps we’ll never know why – but we’ll also never question the astounding beauty contained within Mount Huashan’s peaks.