Over the Chinese New Year holidays, we headed to China for some mountain climbing/sight-seeing action! More specifically, we went to Mount Hua and Xi’an!
The first few days were spent in the Mount Hua area, also known as Huashan/ Flower Mountain/ Hua Mountain. To get here, most people take the direct bullet train from Xi’an, a half hour ride. It’s believed that climbing a mountain over the Chinese New Year period brings good luck, and everyone could use some luck in their lives, am I right? One of the main reasons we headed to China though, was because of my partner. Before he met me, he had climbed Mount Hua alone previously in Spring, and enjoyed it so much that he wanted to go back and do it all over again, this time in winter. So off we went! There aren’t many sites dedicated to climbing Mount Hua, even less in winter, so I hope I’ll be of some help here if you’ve chanced upon this in preparation for your trip there; enjoy reading!
Winter is regarded to be an off-peak season for the mountains. Admission prices are halved between Dec – Feb each year. We paid 100yuan each for an entrance ticket.
There are 3 ways to get up the mountain:
- Climb it yourself from the bottom up.
- Take the cable car up (45yuan one-way during winter) to the North Peak and climb upwards to the other peaks (Four peaks in total; North, South, East, West)
- Take the cable car up (120 yuan one-way during winter) to the West Peak. The ride is longer, and you get way higher up, so the climb’s not as arduous. This is also the best option to take if you’re looking to reach the famous “Plank Walk in the Sky” ASAP. It’s approximately 60-90mins away from the West Peak Cable Car Station.
We’ve pretty much done them all over the 3 days there, and I’m just going to go into a little bit more detail for each of them-
Number 1. Climbing from the bottom to the top takes around 8-9hours, non-stop. People interested usually do this to see the sunrise in the morning. The cable car operation hours are between 9am – 5pm/7pm daily, so if you want to see the sunrise, you’d have to climb overnight, or stay in a hostel up on the mountains. Rooms are limited though, and you’d have to go in-person to book; they cost around 150yuan a night.
The boys opted to do this. They started at 11pm, and reached the top between 7-8am for the sunrise. We met them on the mountains after, and I’ve never seen them look so tired. They looked like zombies when we greeted them – it was pretty funny. I asked if they’d do it again, and their response? “No, once was enough!”. It was freezing up there. They were geared up, bought coats for subzero temperatures and all, but had to rent extra coats that weighed around 5kg (no joke!) as they started shivering after 1-2 hours. Winter in China is harsh, even more so on the mountains. I would recommend that you only do this if you’re fit, in one of the best shapes of your life. The ascend is no joke, it’s thousands of stairs with pretty steep inclines all the way. If conquering this bottom up is on your bucket list, train yourself, and consider doing this in spring or summer, when the weather’s kinder. My partner’s done in this spring before, and he didn’t remember it being this difficult, so the weather definitely played a huge, huge role.
To do 2. and 3., you’ll have to buy bus tickets to ride the bus either the North or West stations and take the cable car up. The bus tickets cost around 20-30yuan, and takes 20 mins and 40mins respectively. The cable car ride is an adventure on its own. You’ll get lots of ups and downs, and expect short bursts of adrenaline each time it hits the cable points. I’m not a fan of roller coasters and it got a little freaky at times when the drops were huge! That said, the views are magnificent, the mountains are spectacular, and it’s a great way to see the it all! I can’t imagine how much work it took create this whole setup, it’s quite an engineering feat! If you get scared, here’s a tip – close your eyes!
We took the cable cars round-trip twice; each time going up the West Peak, and coming down from the North. The hike down’s comfortable, and can be done in 2-3 hours at a leisurely pace. They’ve done a great job constructing pathways on the mountain, and any ascent pretty much guarantees you’ll be climbing up and down stairs, so it’s not a traditional mountain climbing experience. It’s comparable to a crazy long Stairmaster session!
From the West Peak, reaching the other peaks take 1-2 hours on average each, and definitely manageable.
From the North Peak, it’s usually 3-4 hours, and because it’s a steeper climb, I’d say you should have at least some form of fitness level to avoid huffing and puffing all the way through.
Some shots taken through the days up;
Throughout your hiking, they’ll be stalls selling food and trinkets, and an especially popular thing to do is to buy locks, get them engraved and lock them somewhere on the mountain for good luck, and throw the keys away down the mountain (so much scrap metal!) Do note – The inscriptions are only in Mandarin!
And now, one of the highlights of the mountains; the world-famous “Plank Walk in the Sky”! To put it simply, you’re given just a harness (30 yuan), and the onus is on you to ensure you’re clipped onto the dangling chains throughout the walk. It’s definitely an experience. It’s rumoured to be one of the most dangerous hikes in the world, but I actually thought it wasn’t that bad! I felt safe with the harness on, the wind blowing in my face was refreshing, and it was thrilling! To all those in doubt – go for it!
It was, in a way, scarier on the way back, when they let on a new batch of people onto the already-skinny plank walk, and we had to walk over them on the outside while they squeezed their bodies in (as much as they could) to let us through; the plank walk’s a round-trip. So yes, it was fun and exciting and brought lots of smiles – just don’t look down too much, eh!
Oh, and if you’d like to catch the last cable cars down, make sure to look at the time! West station closes at 5pm, and the North station closes at 7pm. If you get to the plank walk late, it’s about 2-21/2 hours down at a normal pace. I think I broke a personal record that day, sprinting down from the plank walk to the north station in an hour (we finished the walk at 5.45pm and believe you me, I did not wish to walk the 6 hours journey down without the cable car) like my life depended on it. I maintain that I have never, ever descended so quickly in my life, ever.
A pretty intense start to the new year, and a fulfilling one! In the next post, I’ll be writing about Xi’an – more specifically, our visit to the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor aka the Terracotta Army, and our night visit to the Muslim quarters (where we feasted on snacks all night long!)
If you’ve got any questions or just want to chat, feel free to email me anytime at thelollychase [at] gmail [dot] com. I’m always happy to hear from you!