华山 – Mount Hua, Part 1

Posted: August 10, 2011 in Climbing, Travel
Tags: , , ,

华山 (Mount Hua) stands as one of the Five Sacred Taoist Mountains. With five main peaks rising over 3000 feet above the plains of inland China, the granite monolith stands as a striking symbol of the beauty that this country’s natural landscapes has to offer. As a peak of Taoist significance, temples stood at the base of the mountain as early as 200 BC, with immortality seekers and Imperial pilgrims making the arduous trek to the summit.

东峰 - East Summit

With the installation of a cable car to the minor summit in the mid 90‘s, 华山 now sees hundreds of visitors every day. The ancient wisdom holds that those who summit 华山 will find internal peace for the rest of their lives, and being that Chinese are obsessed with proving their mettle, there is a constant stream of tourists aspiring to reach the top. Regardless of whether or not you’re looking for personal enlightenment, the beauty of the mountain demands a visit.

Cable Car on the 北峰 (North Peak)

Only 120 kilometers from 西安, a 45 minute train ride for 35 RMB (5.50 USD) gets you out to the tourist town surrounding 华山. With a family of visiting Americans, I headed out there around 1:30 on Monday afternoon. The plan was to take the cable car up to the minor (北峰 – Northern) summit, tag the Western, Southern, and Eastern (西, 南, 和东峰) summits in the late afternoon, then spend a night at the summit-top hostel. That would provide the maximum amount of sightseeing for minimal effort. I was okay with this plan, though in my gut I’m a little opposed to taking a cable car up a mountain. And I’m definitely opposed to staying in a mountaintop hotel, the very existence of which I find immoral.

I then found out that it’s pretty common to climb the mountain through the night. Starting at around 10 pm, many people take around 4 hours to get to the 北峰, then another 3 hours to go to the 西峰 (Western summit) to view the sunrise the next morning. A little apprehensive about solo night-hiking, I was assured that the path was very clear, and that there would be plenty of people on the route to prevent any major mishaps from happening. Being a Boy Scout, I was already prepared with some warmer clothing and a headlamp to hike through the night. I had plenty of water too, and was told that I could buy food at the base of the mountain. 7 hours up, a cable-car ride down; sounds like a fun adventure!

I found a hostel at the base of the mountain for an afternoon nap, resting up for the hike ahead. Originally asking 250 RMB (45 USD) for the 6 hour stay, I talked the guy down to 180 RMB (30 USD) and a free shower when I came off the mountain. Always bargain in China. The bed was a sorry excuse for a bed in terms of hardness and comfort, but the air conditioning and TV were a welcome distraction. Why the room had 18 foot ceilings, I may never know. At 9:30, I woke up, packed up, and checked out. Another 10 minutes of bargaining with the hotel manager (no I don’t want a tour guide, no I don’t want to buy a headlamp, no I don’t need a porter), I finally headed off to the trail head.

Hotel for an afternoon

Throngs of people waiting to get in

This is where things got a little iffy. I knew that there would be a crowd of people joining me on the hike, after being told how popular it was. What I didn’t expect was over a hundred people clamoring at the trail head, all looking to race up the mountain. A massive crowd of people were pushing and shoving, vendors hawking their drinks and food, with a huge video screen in the back telling of the glorious Communist take-over of the mountain from Kuo Min Tang military forces in 1947. Lining up to buy my ticket, I prepared 100 RMB (17 USD).

Video screen lighting up the hillside

Park Gates

This is where things got worse. The lady behind the counter wouldn’t sell me a student ticket, and instead, insisted on charging me the full price of 180 RMB (30 USD). I explained to her that I was an American, then provided my student ID, my passport, and my drivers license as evidence. But in a more than bitchy tone, she repeatedly yelled back through the glass that all Chinese students have state-issued ID, and that I had to have that in order to get in. I spent a full 5 minutes trying to explain that I am a citizen of the USA to no avail. Now, faced with having to give up my hike to seek greater enlightenment, I gave up and paid the 180 RMB. Which left me with 20 RMB for the cab fare back to the train station, and 0 RMB for food. The four small buns and two pears I packed were suddenly all the food I had until my train home at 12:47 the next afternoon.

Finally making it past the gates of the park, I began a steady pace uphill. A gentle incline led to slightly steeper hiking, though it was all pretty manageable for the first 5 kilometers. It was pretty steep in some places, I estimate that we gained about 600 feet of elevation in that first section. The crowd began to thin out as many stopped to take breaks at the many rest stops along the way. Red Bull was available for 10 RMB (1.5 USD), along with instant noodles. The path was actually constructed of flagstones, with street lamps all the way, I didn’t have to turn on my headlamp for the first half of the hike.

Plenty of souvenirs, too

Promptly at the 5 kilometer hike, the smooth pathway stopped, and the stairs began. I could see the faint glow of street lamps lighting up the ridges high above me, but I could possibly imagine that the stairs would take the most direct path up towards them. In just 4 kilometers of stairs, I gained 2600 feet of elevation. At a 60 degree incline. On stairs. Every hundred feet or so, there would be a small flat platform to rest, and people dropped like flies onto them, nursing their tired legs. I kept trucking upwards, the promise of smaller crowds awaiting me.

Single file stairs

Staircases during the day

Note: Most photos were taken during the day on the way down. Once again, all photos (and more) can be seen on my Flickr account.

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Comments
  1. Layying says:

    Hurry up with the rest of the story!
    The last picture above, is that what the 60 degree incline stairs look like? For 4 kilometers?

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