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. These are mixed in with buses to the Terracotta Warriors, and other destinations. Ride time is about two hours and costs 33 yuan for one way or 55 for a return. Beware scam buses that try to charge 10x as much. You'll be dropped off in the village near Mt. Hua. From there take a taxi (see the get around section).
Be aware 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.
The entrance fee for the National Park is 180 yuan.
The buses from Xian will drop you off in the village. From here, the only option is to take a taxi (typically ¥10 per taxi, regardless of number of passengers) to the East Gate, which is the ticket office. Buy your entrance tickets here, then board buses that depart to the mountain itself. However 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 (20yuan) 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 yuan. 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.
2) Take the cable car (80 yuan one way, 150 yuan for a return) to the North Peak. Be warned - the line to enter the cable car often last over two hours - 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 cable car is only available from the East Gate.
3) Climb the North Peak--alternate route below the cable car. 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 favor 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 called that 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. 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 are there are temples, lodges and other sites. This includes the infamous Changkong Boardwalk.
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 17rmb as of Dec 2012, 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 Yuan when furthest up on the mountain). If you buy the water before coming the price should be about 1.5 Yuan. 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 Yuan. Non-communal rooms start at around 200 Yuan 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.