Huashan National Park
The 2,154-meter-tall mountain, true to its reputation as the "most precipitous mountain under heaven", is a cluster of five peaks with breathtaking cliff faces and a tough challenge to mountaineers. Hua is popularly known by tourists as the "Most Dangerous Hiking Trail in the World" because even though the climb did not require any technical climbing skills, the hike contains a few steep ascents with via ferrata and narrow passes. The biggest danger to safety is often due to overcrowding in the Summer months. Hua was historically the location of several influential Taoist monasteries, and was known as a centre for the practise of traditional Chinese martial arts. It is also one of the five holy Taoist mountains of China.
Huashan Huoche Bei Zhan (华山火车北站）- located in the town of Mengyuan Frequent minibuses between the train station and Hua Shan （华山）
Ticket Price (2nd - 1st class): Normal Trains (K and Non-Letter): ￥18/$3 - ￥104/$17 D Fast trains: ￥35/$6 - ￥60/$10 G Express trains: ￥55/$9 - ￥90/$15
From Xi'an: buses (coaches or minibuses) leave from the East side of the train station's southern parking lot. Buses leave regularly during daylight hours. During peak season there are buses starting at 6am. Look for a sign saying 华山 (Huashan). If you not sure then just ask the other buses and they will direct you. The bus will drop you off at the base of the mountain. The standard buses are mixed in with buses to the Terracotta Warriors, and other destinations. The Tourist line 1 bus (one with a big sign leaning against it right next to the 306(5) for terracotta warriors) is 22 yuan (May 2014) and takes just over 2 hours to the main ticket hall (East Gate). Other private buses range between ¥30 to ¥50 and may end up in the village (Near West Gate). Beware scam buses that try to charge 10x as much.
Buses also leave from the Xi'an East Bus Station (Zhong Tong) for ¥35. More importantly, the last buses in the evening arrive here (rather than the train station). This is the last station on the new subway line 1 and can be used to get back to the central city (¥3 to Bell Tower). Apparently bus 42 will take you back to the train station (needs confirmation).
Be aware if these are independent private companies or just two guys with a bus. They don't operate on a schedule, but will leave when full of passengers. So for the quickest departure, find a bus already mostly full of people, since if you choose an empty bus you could be sitting in the parking lot a while.
Fees and Permits
The entrance fee for the National Park is ¥180 yuan, ¥90 with a student card (during the off-season ¥100 and ¥50 with a student card)- it is worth trying any foreign ID card in lieu of a student card as the attendant likely won't check it too closely (or at all). You need a Chinese student permit or an International Student Identity Card.
There are 2 cable cars in operation. The one leading up to the North peak costs 80 yuan 1 way. The one leading to the West peak costs 140 yuan one way (and lasts 20mins!). With a student ID card it is 10% cheaper.
To reach the North cable car station, you need to take a shuttle bus from the ticket station (20 yuan). To reach the West cable car station, you need to take a shuttle bus from the ticket station (40 yuan). Only park buses and specific vehicles are allowed up the mountains, and if you are not intending to hike up from the base, this is your only option.
The Tourist line 1 bus will eventually drop you at the main Ticket Hall - East Gate (after 1 stop elsewhere). Go into the hall to buy your tickets. If you wish to walk the "Long Way" this starts at West Gate, take your ticket back to the Number 2 bus park (where you got off) and show the ticket to the gold shuttle buses, they will take you to the start of the trail. If you wish to walk the "Soldiers Way" or take the North Peak Gondola, these start at further up the road from East Gate, buy a ¥20 shuttle pass at the ticket hall find the same gold shuttles to get you there. For West Peak Gondola buy a ¥40 shuttle pass.
For buses that end in the village walk up the hill to the temple, walk through the temple to eventually find West Gate where you can buy an entrance ticket to walk up. (Shuttles stop at the parking lot on the right behind the "supermarket" just before the temple, it may be possible to use them to get to the main ticket hall). A Taxi to the main ticket hall from the village is typically ¥10.
The East Gate will be closed at night, thus if you are planning to climb overnight, proceed to the the West Gate. After the bus from the ticket office (¥20) deposits you at the mountain proper, you have 3 options for ascending the first bit. Note that all start, and finish, almost right next one another.
Watch out for scams, especially if you are planning to climb the mountain overnight to watch sunrise at the East Peak. The only transportation available then are cabs. There will also be unofficial "cabs" (basically normal cars operated by locals) called hei che (black cars) parked near the train station. Drivers will approach you offering to bring you to the entrance for a price of around ¥30. On the way, if it has rained recently, they will claim that there was been a slight erosion which has caused a blockage of the paths and thus closure of the entrances. To make the story sound more convincing, some may even pretend to call their "brother" or "friend" on the mountain who will then speak to you to confirm that the roads have been closed. If the weather is good, the driver will claim that the roads are under maintenance. Knowing that you would need a visual confirmation to be fully convinced, the driver will then take you to the East Gate, which is always closed at night. At that crucial moment where you are thinking to yourself that your plans have been spoilt, he will recommend that you stay in a hotel before attempting the climb the next morning, and very conveniently, there will be an "affordable" hotel right next to the entrance, which he will point out. If he succeeds in getting you to fork out money to stay the night, he will earn a commission.
1) Climb the North Peak--main route. Plan for 2-5 hours depending on fitness (Approximately 6km with 1100m vertical) to reach the North Peak. There will be plenty of shops by the side of the path selling food and drinks for you to replenish your energy. Eating hot noodles in the cold will be a very pleasant experience.
2) Take a cable car (¥80 one way, ¥150 return) to the North Peak, (¥140 one way, ¥280 return) to the West Peak. Be warned - the line to enter the North Peak cable car often lasts over two hours (weekends, public holidays) - so try to arrive early. Thankfully, line cutting is surprisingly rare, and most of the line is blocked from the sun and with water misting, so sans boredom, it's still fairly comfortable even in summer. The North Peak cable car starts at East Gate (shuttles available from Ticket hall ¥20).
3) Climb the North Peak--alternate route below the North Peak cable car (East Gate). Called "Solider's Way" - it's the more difficult, but faster of the two hiking routes. This takes an estimated 2 hours, and is nothing but steps. It also contains one section with optional ~80 degree steps, for those who have seen the famous photos online. The steepest steps on the mountain (approaching 90 degrees) are also here, though now chained off in favour of a far more forgiving route.
These three routes meet up again just below the North Peak summit. One can of course, take any of the 3 routes up, and then either of the other two remaining down.
From this meeting area (just below the North Peak summit), there is initially only one route to the other peaks. This passes through the area known as the "Heavenly Steps" (上天梯) literally "ascend heaven ladder", "Sun and Moon Cliff" and "Black Dragon Mountain," the latter so called because it looks like a dragon's wavy back. The route is no more than a meter wide at places. This should take about 2 hours.
At the top of this section is the "Gold Lock Pass." Here the route branches. Different paths lead towards the East, South, Center and West Peaks, as well as other points of interest. As most of the elevation gain is done, the final ascent to each of the peaks is not too severe. You likely only have time to climb one (probably the South, the highest) or walk a circuit. In this peak there are temples, lodges and other sites. This includes the infamous Changkong Boardwalk.
From April 2013, a new cable car route (¥140 one way) to the West Peak was opened. It is by far the easiest (and the most expensive, hence least crowded) way to enjoy Huashan. Since the West Peak is nearly at the top, you can hike four peaks (West, South, Center, East) as well as walk the "Plank Road in the Sky" without too much ascending. Then you can either take the same cable car down (if you are not interested in Chinese culture or you are not confident of your physical strength, you have got most of the beauty of Huashan already), or descend to the North Peak (one hour) to take one of the 3 routes mentioned earlier back to the foot of the mountain.
A golden lock at the golden lock temple and add it to the iron railings as a prayer for your family. Couples also often buy locks and inscribe their names on them as a symbol of everlasting love. While people symbolically place their locks at the golden lock pass, many choose to randomly place them on railings by the side.
A gold or bronze medal that you can inscribe with your name to commemorate your ascent of the mountain.
Biang Biang Mian (Noodles) Special Shaanxi noodles available on the mountain. The character for biang is a special character with 57 strokes only used in Shaanxi Province. Small shops also sell typical snacks and drinks.
It is also advisable to bring your own snacks or food. For example, a bowl of instant noodles at North Peak is ¥17 as of Dec 2012 and a Snickers in a caffee near to the peak is ¥18, about four times more expensive than back in town, and despite being located right by the cable cars.
In winter the restaurants close early due to low volume. If you arrive at dinnertime it is not uncommon for restaurants to be closed or to only have instant noodles. Cooking can also be difficult for the staff due to frozen water pipes.
Be sure to bring enough water for your hike. You may need to buy water on the mountain which will cost you about 5 Yuan (up to ¥10 when furthest up on the mountain). If you buy the water before coming the price should be about ¥1.5. Most people will drink Red Bull from small golden cans. This Red Bull is not carbonated and is a little more watery than those available in the United States.
Most of the peaks have guesthouses where you can sleep in communal rooms of about 4 to 10 people. The price should be around ¥60 to ¥120. Non-communal rooms start at around ¥200 a night.
Note that the guest houses are not heated, and they can be brutally cold during the winter. It is possible that the provided sheets and thin mattresses will not be enough, so dress warm and/or bring a sleeping bag and insulation for your head, where the most heat is lost. Restrooms are also located outside, so any breaks will require a short walk outside in the cold.
There are no shower facilities or running water in the guesthouses. Bring moist towelettes, sanitation gel, or simply a small towel to douse with drinking water if you want to wash your hands or face.
For a more authentic experience, sleep by the edge of the cliff at East Peak. The ground slopes upwards towards the edge, thus it is relatively safe to sleep near the edge even though there are no railings. Alternatively, huddle up closer to the metal posts away from the edge of the cliff if you would like a safer place to sleep. Prepare enough warm clothes as the temperature drops close to zero at East Peak, with the wind chill.
The guest houses do not have WiFi internet access in their rooms. China Unicom has full HSDPA signal at all the peaks so it is advisable to have a phone that can tether if you want to access the internet from your computer. As with everywhere in China, data speeds can vary tremendously regardless of signal strength.
In Huashan village, minibuses leave from the intersection of Yuquan Lu and Xitong Gonglu, as well as the East Gate that gives access to the cable car station, on a frequent basis. Although some guides say they stop at 7:00, unlicensed transportation continues. In a worst-case scenario a rickety village taxi could surely be persuaded to make the trip back to Xi'an for ¥300-500.
Bus 608 (¥3) runs between the train station (not the north station) and the big roundabout just outside the new big Huashan visitor center (big glass building). There is no sign that signals it is a bus stop but the pink buses seem to run quite frequently so if one failure to flag it down the next will be around soon.
The last train from Huashan Station to Xian leaves at 23:26. You will need to take a taxi from the mountain to the train station. It costs ¥20-40 depending on your bargining skills. You can get a full set of informations from the "China Trains" smartphone app or chinatrains.com
Huashan guide for the poor and fit
Huashan can unexpectedly become a very expensive trip, up to ¥500 for just a day trip. This short guide will help you limit your costs to under 200Yuan
From Xian take the first bus to Huashan. During peak season there are buses starting at 6am. Go to the east side of the train station and look for a sign saying 华山 (Huashan). If you not sure then just ask the other buses and they will direct you. Aim to catch the 6am bus and don’t be later than 7am. You want as much time as possible on the mountain.
The Bus takes 2 hours and you will arrive in Huashan town. From here walk straight ahead up the slope to the temple. After a 10min walk through the temple you will arrive at the ticket office.
The walk up Huashan is spectacular. The lack of crowds, combined with the beautiful nature, old temples and views makes one of the best parts of the walk. A fit 24year old male can quickly walk this section to the North Peak in 2 hours. The guide says 5 hours.
As you reach the North Peak you will be reunited with Chinese masses (who have taken a cable car) and corresponding noises. From the North Peak walk towards the South Peak, it is well signposted, but slow, as you're constantly waiting for people to crawl up the hill.
The path splits and you have a number of options - you can head straight for the "Plank Road in the Sky", rent your harness gear (¥30) and leave your bag with the attendants, before returning and then continuing to the South Peak, or you can take the other route and do the South Peak first. With the harness it is very safe, but be careful not to drop your phone/camera.
If you have time you should walk back to the North Peak via the East and Central Peaks. If you are low on time you can go directly back towards the North Peak and walk down, (last bus leaves at 7pm). If you are REALLY low on time you need to take one of the expensive cablecars down - the new west cablecar is closest to the South Peak and Plank Road in the Sky, but it also the most expensive (¥140 + ¥40 shuttle bus to a car park/restaurant area, + ¥30 taxi back to Huashan train station). The North cablecar is a cheaper option, (¥80 cablecar + ¥20 bus) to Huashan.
On your walk back down you should take a refreshing dip in one of the spring pools along the route.
If your swim takes too long, or you end up walking slowly due to knee problems causing you to miss your bus then it is no problem. There are trains until 11pm from Huashan to Xian. You will need to take a taxi (about ¥30) to the train station and then take the train (¥20 for the slow train ~1hr30mins).