Hiking the 'Plank Road in the Sky' of Mount Hua, one of 'world’s most dangerous trails'
The greatest danger in life is not taking the adventure. So the saying goes.
All my years of traveling gave me my dose of thrilling experiences. Some left me feeling elated while others went beyond that and made me want to go through it again. One such experience in particular was the time when I went to Mt. Hua and walked the Plank Road in the Sky, which many call the world’s most dangerous trail.
Knife-blade ridges, precipitous crags, and steep and narrow paths may seem perilous at first glance, but altogether create a natural vista sure to please the eyes.
Mount Hua, located near the city of Huayin in Shaanxi province, is one of the Five Great Mountains of China.
Religious structures like Taoist temples and pavilions are placed in the many nooks and open areas of the mountain. Each of its five peaks, standing in full glory waiting to be discovered and admired, exudes a distinctive characteristic and charm.
There’s the East peak if you want to appreciate the sunrise; the West peak is the most elegant-looking; the South peak has the highest altitude at 2,160m (7,087 ft) while the North peak has the lowest, and the Middle peak possesses very charged, almost supernatural atmosphere.
Now, you might be wondering – if Mount Hua has such dreamy scenery, what makes hiking it dangerous?
I got chills the moment I stepped on the mountain’s grounds. Mist surrounded us as we began trekking from peak to peak. The trail involves steep stairs, vertical ascents and descents, and pathways of all sorts. Trekking Mount Hua is relatively easy at first but one might feel tired after an hour or two of walking and climbing. To fight exhaustion, we slowed down and took pleasure at the captivating view from time to time.
All throughout our hike, my mind wandered on the thought of walking on that narrow plank bolted onto the mountainside of the South Peak at 5,000 feet in the air. And though the Plank Road in the Sky might look terrifying, I figured I wouldn’t get scared being the type who’s not afraid of heights. Guess I was partly wrong.
Thick fog enveloped the place when we reached the South Peak. We tried to be positive and still went to the entrance of the plank road. It was clear in the monitors hanging by the entryway that hiking the plank road at that moment was impossible. There was little visibility and this meant higher risk of danger.
We were torn between moving forward and staying up to wait for the fog to clear. It looked like the weather wasn’t the type to cooperate and it was getting late in the afternoon already. But we couldn’t miss this one. We strolled within the area for an hour with high hopes. And it was the best decision after all.
Our feet took us to an almost deserted place where a lone tree inside an enclosed fence, adorned with Chinese-imprinted red ribbons, stood on the edge of the cliff. There was nothing to see at first, but after the fog cleared, we were treated to one of the best moments during our hike.
We came back to the entrance of the plank road feeling more excited than before. Indeed, good things come to those who wait. We were one of the last visitors to walk the plank, thus we sort of had it to ourselves. Tension and adrenaline fused together in a ball inside my stomach while I walked along the narrow jump off point. This is it, I thought.
I forgot about the trail being tagged dangerous after seeing the spectacular setting facing us. I was more elated than scared at that point. Everything was just too stunning and surreal. We started our way to the plank road by going down the vertiginous metal stairs. This was the only time I felt a tinge of fear.
We climbed down the improvised steps – metal sticks bolted in pairs vertically atop each other – while holding onto the rusty chains meant to be handrails and hooking the carabiner attached to our harness onto the cable. This, for me, was the only hard and terrifying part of the whole plank road experience. After 5 seconds of carefully treading down, the fear vanished. The striking view behind me must have taken it all away.
And just like that, we were walking on the plank – the so-called most dangerous trail in the world. I don’t know if I was just on a high or that I’m not scared of heights, but feeling terrified didn’t occur to me – except for those mere five seconds at the trail head – during the entire time I made my way to the other side and back. I was in a total state of euphoria for being in such a dreamlike experience.
Coming back to the trail being dangerous, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Just make sure you follow precautionary measures and keep yourself hooked onto the cables while moving – and then the selfie can follow.
The end of the plank road took us to a Buddhist and Taoist temple that, according to some sources, serves tea and refreshments to those who dared reach the end of the plank. It looked like it was already closed the moment we got there. Nonetheless, I didn’t feel like drinking a cup of tea. I was way too distracted with the spectacle happening before me while suspended at 2,000+ meters on the edge of a mountain. What a way to end the day.
This Mount Hua and Plank Road experience left me with one of the greatest and happiest feelings I’ve ever had.
To experience adventure is to feel euphoria and excitement along with the possibility of danger. But then again, risks are part of and ultimately make the adventure worth taking.
How to get to Mount Hua:
The main access point is Xi’an. From there, you have several options. One is to take a high-speed train (around 30-40 mins.) from Xian North Railway Station to Huashan North Station. Ride one of the green minibuses outside the station to the mountain. Regular trains also travel from Xian Railway Station to Huashan Station (around 1.5-2 hrs.). Take bus 608 to Baoliandeng Square near the entrance.
There are also regular buses at Xian Fangzhicheng Bus Station that can take you to Huayin for approximately CNY 37 per ticket. The bus departs every 30 minutes from 7:45am to 7pm and the ride takes about two hours.
Pauline, also known as Kim to family and friends, is a freelance writer, social media manager, part-time travel junkie, and secretary to her mom-cum-hands on aunt. She's been backpacking around the Philippines and Asia, and dreams of doing a road trip around Iceland soon. Kim enjoys good food, uncrowded beaches, small group hikes and being silly with her 4-year old niece. Follow her adventures at www.hellokimiviajera.com and www.kimbamadventures.com.