Huashan: A long climb up the Great Flower Mountain

Distance Travelled: 9562 miles
Date: 29th – 30th July

Huashan is one of the five sacred Taoist mountains of China and is found roughly 120km outside of Xi’an- a 2.5 hour bus ride away (in China, that’s a short bus ride. If I hadn’t made it clear earlier, China is big). I had been advised that getting to the top for sunset was the thing to do. Sunrise is traditionally a big deal, and so the mountain would be crowded, and besides, who wants to be awake on the top of a mountain at four in the morning?

With this in mind, I arrived at the base of the mountain at half three, armed with three litres of water and a coat. This is a terrible arsenal for climbing mountains; that much water is really heavy, especially carried in an unstable, shoulder-strap style bag. And from the fact that I needed a coat, you can easily surmise that the weather was not exactly at its best. It was drizzly and cloudy, which would change into raining and foggy as I ascended into the clouds.

This update will be largely in pictures, as there isn’t all that much I can tell you about the mountain.

The foothills of the mountain, from the village at its base

When you get off the bus you are herded into a room where this man talks at you over a megaphone. In Chinese. I think he was explaining the different parts of the mountain, as well as trying to sell rooms in his hotel. Either way, I left him and walked in the direction of the mountain. It was fairly hard to miss.

The scenery of the first part of the ascent

The first part of the ascent doesn't look too bad here, but it felt pretty steep. It gets worse. Much worse.

Probably the least steep steps on the whole mountain.

Getting a little higher

Most of the rest of the ascent was like this. But ... it gets worse.

These were pretty sheer. If you'd been climbing up and pushed yourself off backwards, it would have been a good hundred meters or so before you hit anything. I was very grateful for those chains.

The reward- The view from the North Peak. The red ribbons and padlocks are there for good luck. The padlocks often have prayers or the names of lovers carved into them.

That evening, I only ascended to the North Peak, the lowest of the five around the mountain, arriving sometime around half seven. Once there, I discovered I had a problem. I’d foolishly only brought enough money to pay for accommodation at the top or a cable car down, but not both, and there was an inconsiderate but unsurprising lack of ATMs at the summit. Considering how steep it had been coming up I was loathe to climb down again, but on the other hand I didn’t want to stay up all night. I also didn’t want to go back down before exploring and it was getting dark- plus by the time I’d got to the bottom again there wouldn’t be any way to get back to Xi’an.

Sleeping rough was not an option, although I attempted it for a while, as the only covered area I could find (an unused restaurant) had clouds blowing through it.

The view of the main peaks from the North Peak

Blurring the line between steps and a ladder

Carvings on the North Peak

The main peaks. The steps up, along Dark Dragon Ridge, can just be seen on the far left

I eventually capitulated and got a space in a dorm for the night. At RMB100 (about £10), this was the most expensive dorm I slept in while in China, and the worst by quite a margin. Despite being tired from the hike up, I didn’t get to sleep until 3:30. There were 20 people crammed into a small room, and no one else seemed to have any plans to sleep before the sunrise. The noise that 19 middle-aged Chinese people can make – chatting, eating, playing games on their gameboys – is quite impressive.

Given that I got to sleep only about half an hour before dawn, I decided that I couldn’t be bothered to join the masses watching the sunrise, especially based on what I remembered of the weather the previous night, and stayed in bed.

By the time I got up though, the clouds had lifted and it was a beautiful day. I had thought that the North Peak was basically at the top, but this turned out to be dead wrong. It’s only 1614.9m high, with the South Peak towering over it at 2154.9m. As context, Ben Nevis is a mere 1344m high. I visited the South, East and West peaks, although left out the lower Central Peak.

The steps up. It's hard to tell here, but they keep going and going

A temple on top of the mountain

Looking down on other mountains

That chain is the only thing between me and a massive vertical drop

The top!

The East peak, I think

These guys are utter heroes. They labour all day carrying water, building materials and other supplies up the mountain, and rubbish back down.

Those containers are full of water - they must weigh a ton. These guys must be exceptionally fit to be able to do this. And in the heat of the day too.

The Swallow's Path. I'm kinda scared of heights, so I didn't linger long here.

A steep ascent to nowhere in particular. Obviously I followed after taking this.

On the descent I befriended a local, and got him to lend me the money for the cable car back down.

Oh, and Josh, this counts as a mountain for Asia – only 5 continents to go!

The view from the North Peak. From Wikipedia

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5 Responses to Huashan: A long climb up the Great Flower Mountain

  1. golappan says:

    Breath-taking, mindblowing pics

  2. Sean says:

    There’s a sort of bilingual bonus thing you missed out on – Mt Hua is the locus of a shitload of them wuxia/kungfu/Crouching Tiger type novels about which I never seem to shut up. In one prominent trilogy it’s the backdrop for a sort of kung fu competition when the top five dudes get together to determine who the Strongest Dude is, and in another, its peaks and weird winding steps (don’t know how they’re weird, but that’s what the book says so there) and the hunch of the willow trees on one particular bit are inspirations for various kung fu styles.

    The closest experience I’ve ever had to it in English was getting on the London tube shortly after reading Gaiman’s Neverwhere. It was pretty great.

  3. Molly says:

    Great post! We just climbed Huashan ourselves and had the exact same experience with sleeping! We’re writing at http://www.havewifewilltravel.com.

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