I Conquered the Most Dangerous Hike in the World | Mount Huashan Plank Walk, China
A Google search for 'the most dangerous hike in the world' returns terrifying images of hikers walking precariously on planks of wood stapled to the side of a mountain with a 2,000m drop below. I saw this hike in a Facebook video and knew I wanted to visit during my upcoming trip to China. I conquered the Mt Huashan Plank Walk and lived to tell the tale - it's rumoured that over 100 people every year don't.
The famous Mt Huashan Plank Walk is located atop the south peak of Mt Huashan, China. The mountain is considered to be one of China's five sacred mountains and many tourists and pilgrims alike flock to the site every year.
News sites claim that up to 100 lives are lost every year to the plank walk, earning it the reputation of 'the most dangerous hike in the world', but no one can be sure as figures are never released by the Chinese government.
I visited Mt Huashan during my three-week backpacking trip to China with my friend Rhi. We travelled to Mt Huashan on a day trip from Xi'an (a large city 120km west). There is also a hostel at the top of the mountain you can stay at if you want to extend your visit over a couple of days.
I visited in summer, but people still attempt this terrifying hike when it's covered in frost and ice during winter.
The quickest (and most spectacular) way to get to the plank walk is to ride from the base of the mountain to the North Peak by cable car. We were so lucky to visit on a clear day - the views were incredible. You can also hike all the way up but this takes over six hours.
Once we got to the top of the North Peak we hiked over to the South Peak (2160m) to get to the beginning of the plank walk.
'Lover locks' and pieces of red fabric are placed on chains on the side of the sacred mountain by Chinese couples wanting to demonstrate their eternal love for each other.
This sign was the only evidence of any kind of safety message prior to beginning the climb, and unfortunately for us, it was all in Chinese!
We were super lucky that we arrived at Huashan early enough to reach the plank walk without a line up. I'd read stories online of people lining up for hours due to its popularity.
This was explained to us in a series of elaborate sign language and hand gestures.
There was no safety briefing as the operators that gave us our harnesses spoke no English. Also, it was interesting to notice you could choose to do the hike without a harness - if saving the $8 hire fee was more of a priority than your safety.
The first part of the hike was possibly the most hair-raising. We had to climb down a super steep cliff-face using the metal rod stairs while learning how to use the carabiner system.
This narrow staircase - and the entirety of the 'hike' - was a two-way path. At points, we would have to inch over to the right as far as possible and squeeze against the rock face to allow returning hikers to pass around us.
I was quite nervous before beginning the hike but honestly, the photos make it look much worse than it was - even though I do look like I'm clinging on for dear life in the picture below!
The majority of the hike is done along skinny planks of wood stapled into the side of the cliff. We could hold on to our carabiners for balance as we walked.
We were the only foreign tourists we saw that day. Many of the Chinese visitors seemed very casual about the fact they were precariously perched on the side of a mountain on a platform held together only by staples - some were smoking and taking phone-calls!
Some didn't even bother to attach their carabiners.
The further we went along, the more comfortable I got. The views over the mountains and valley below were absolutely epic.
The hike ends at a tea house at an altitude of 2,160m on the mountain’s southern peak.
An annoying (and also terrifying) element of the plank walk is that it is a one-way trail. You're required to return the same way you came - meaning you have to clamber around the people coming towards you and figure out how to move your carabiners safely over theirs. This is difficult and scary when you're perched on a skinny plank (and when the people you have to overtake aren't as slim as you'd hope they'd be).
Overall, the plank walk was a less terrifying experience than I'd imagined it'd be. I guess the most 'dangerous' element of the hike is the responsibility of ensuring you alternate the changing of your carabiners properly to stay attached at all times. I would certainly worry about the safety of young children.
The views were incredible. It was also cool being the only foreign tourists at a destination that was so popular with Chinese visitors. I felt like we were experiencing something that not many people back home would get the chance to.
How to Get to the Huashan Mountain Plank Walk
Honestly, the hardest part of doing the plank walk was actually getting there - it was an absolute mission!
My friend Rhi and I were lucky enough to make a friend at our hostel in Xi'an who spoke Chinese. I don't think we would've made it to Huashan without her - there was an option to take a tour from our hostel but it was expensive and left a lot later. Plus we wanted to beat the crowds.
We got up super early to go to the bus station to catch the direct bus to Huashan but found out once we got there that it wasn't running anymore.
So instead, we took a 40-minute bullet train from Xi'an, then rode in a locals car to the Mt Huashan ticket office/reception building. Once we bought our tickets, we rode on a bus for 30 minutes to the base of the mountain where we took a cable car to the North Peak. Then we had to hike for 30ish minutes over to the South Peak to reach the start of the Plank Walk.
We couldn't find any of this information online. To figure this all out required lots of questioning of locals and 'googling' on Chinese websites that we couldn't have managed without our new friend to translate.
However, I'm really glad it all worked out and we could go on our own. Mt Huashan and the Plank Walk started to get very crowded (and hot!) after lunchtime.
Read about my other adventures in China here on my blog!