Mount Hua (Hua Shan)
Hua Shan is a well-known Taoist mountain standing about 120 km away from the ancient city Xian in Shaanxi Province.
As the minibus ascends the winding road to Hua Shan, the jagged scenery unfolds like a captivating piece of Chinese calligraphic art.
Overhanging rock and distant precipices wink from above, and clumps of vegetation peek out from mysterious crevices. Hua Shan's awe-inspiring peaks will take your breath away. Hua Shan is the result of dramatic tectonic movements millions of years ago, and is one of China's most perilous mountains. Although covering an area of just 150km², Hua Shan is inundated with over 70 peaks and ridges.
Hua Shan, Xian
The main peaks are the North, South, East, West and Central ones which stand like petals of a lotus flower reaching for the heavens. These five imperious peaks gaze over the Wei and Yellow Rivers in the north and embrace the Qinling Mountains in the south.
At 2,160m, South Peak tops the lot. Her closest rivals are East Peak and West Peak. The Central Peak, also called Jade Maiden Peak and the North Peak are slightly less statuesque but equally beautiful. In the early mornings and late evenings, cushions of mist dramatically swirl around these granite peaks, lending a romantic and mythical air.
All five peaks are accessible by foot and for the more lethargic by cable car. The Austrian built cable car has its terminus at the "base" of Hua Shan and ferries visitors to the North Peak.
From the North Peak, you can step your way to the other four peaks and scenic spots. Hua Shan has inspired much lyrical poetry through the ages, some of which is carved onto the rock outcroppings. Poets and their paramours have strolled beneath its granite arches, lovers have stolen kisses beneath the dipping willows and under the privacy of the peak-top pavilions made from stone. Heroes have visited, hermits have sought serenity and legends have flourished at these rocky walls.
The mountain has electrified the imaginations of generations of visitors, testified by the interesting names given to the nooks and crevices atop Hua Shan like Lotus Flower Cave or Waterfall Cave. Ridges have names like Blue Dragon, Flying Fish, Lion and Black Tiger. Mountain terraces are given names like Peach Woods and Wild Ginger for the particular fruit and flora that grace the warmer seasons.
There are nine cliffs looking onto the Wei River and are given meaningful names such as the: Touching Ear, Thrusting into the Clouds, Sacrificing Oneself, Escaping the Imperial Edict, Bright Star, Sun and Moon and Immortal's Palm. There are also eight viewing platforms with colourful names like the Three Emperors, Immortals Gathering and Purple Vapor. They are built in traditional styles in harmony with the area's natural beauty. The view from any angle is one to be admired.
Mountain rivulets meander along the many twists and turns of metamorphic rock. The water is funneled into a dramatic Qingke Waterfall, about 10km from the mouth of the valley.
CLIMBING NORTH PEAK
Visiting Hua Shan can be a one day-trip, a two day or even a three-day affair. There are two ways up Hua Shan. The cable car reaches the top of North Peak in 10 to 15 minutes or you can follow the stairs that lead up North Peak.
To see as many peaks as you can in one day is important, but to save time and energy it's best to take the cable car up the North Peak and from there make your way to the other peaks. The five peaks are about an hour's walk from each other if you have a bit more time on your hands and are ready to get that heart pumping or alternately read on for the sights you'd have missed if you took the quick and easy route.
North Peak is also referred to as Clouds St and Peak because of the three cliffs surrounding it. Only one narrow road leads southwards to Touching Ear Precipice.
The climb up the 1,614m high North Peak starts off gradually enough, but you've just begun a 6km trek that spans over 3,000 steps. Most of the steps are in good condition and though some are horizontal incisions trying to act as steps, chained railings help the ascent. At a leisurely pace, it takes an average 2 to 3 hours. The route presents several opportunities to test your mettle, Heavenward Ladder, Sun and Moon Precipice and the sinewy dragon-shaped ridge in front of West Peak, called Dark-green Dragon Ridge.
After the first 500 steps, there’s fortunately one of several platforms, where you can rest and soak in the tranquility. On a sunlit day, the sun's rays cast dramatic light and shadows against the rocky surfaces. Endless steps snake through trees, boulders, lush greenery and over rippling brooks. You've been transported into the underbelly of a heaving canyon.
Even more captivating scenery unfolds with each step that you take. The skyscrapers of New York or Shanghai are chopsticks compared to the towering beauty of Hua Shan.
As you walk your thousandth step, your legs will begin to seriously protest the vigorous work you've inflicted on them, but ignore the mocking hum of cable cars overhead. Concentrate instead on the spellbinding view. Cavernous cliffs loll like waves into bushy valleys and depending on the season, you might run into a little waterfall where you can take a dip and chill out.
You know you have almost reached the halfway point when you arrive at a refreshment stand manned by an often plump villager. There are little stools and tables where you can sit and catch your breath without having to purchase anything. Keep in mind refreshment items get pricier the higher up the mountain you go. The villagers at these shops climb up and down North Peak daily. As you lament your exhausted physical state, they console you that you're much better off climbing up rather than down the mountain, because your knees would then hurt twice as much.
Rest well because what's around the corner is rather frightful. There are three different flights of steps ahead, each more harrowing than the next. All are inclined at an uncomfortably steep gradient, so it will be difficult for you to rest and take a sip of water or stretch your legs midway. Whichever your choice, put your faith in the rusty railings by the side of the steps and go up on all fours, if need be.
Although you're at the halfway point of North Peak, that last set of steep steps was only the aperitif. A longer 1,500-step stairway, Huangfu Col path, awaits you on a huge mound, called Turtle Carrying Stone by the locals. Tigers and black bears once prowled the southern slopes. The shy and elusive denizens of Hua Shan include mountain goats, snakes, squirrels and on the West Peak, monkeys.
Once over the Turtle Carrying Stone hurdle, the peak-end of the cable car terminus looms into view. It gleams like a champion's trophy. People hover at the foot and mountaintop of Hua Shan. Human prattle soon replaces the chirping of birds. The hum of the cable car gets louder and drowns out the trickling sound of running water.
At Hua Shan, nature makes the best companion. Between pinnacle and valley is a restful calm. No wonder many thinkers of Confucianism and Taoist religious masters came to Hua Shan to meditate and refine their teachings.
The sun sets just as splendidly from the North or the West Peaks. After such strenuous exertion, reward yourself with a sumptuous dinner at the North Peak Hotel.
The saying, "the early bird gets the worm," is definitely true on Hua Shan. If you sleep in, you'll lose out on a gorgeously sensual sunrise. At around 6am, the warm rays of the sun caress your skin, cool from the fresh morning breeze. You thaw slowly, as if just waking up from slumber. Your sore muscles may take a bit more persuasion to work the morning after your "Hua Shan-athon." East Peak, sometimes called Sun Facing Peak, even has a viewing platform for sun-lovers.
Get a move on early if you want to visit the rest of the four peaks, not to mention the many ridges, caves, pavilions, sculptures, engravings, Buddhist and Taoist temples, such as the Yuquan and Xiyue Temple.
Hua Shan's highest point is South Peak or Dropping Goose Peak. Along it is a planked route lined with iron chains, which guide the very adventurous, or foolish, up a nerve-wrecking path. Waves of clouds drift above a fantastic horizon of mountain ranges and distant river waters.
On West Peak in front of Cuiyun Temple, sits a massive lotus shaped rock called Lotus Peak. Beside the temple is another deeply scarred crack called Axe-Splitting Rock. Legend goes that a filial youth by the name of Chen Xiang used a giant axe to crack apart the mountain to rescue his mother. The northwest face of West Peak drops so steeply it appears to be cleaved by a sharp sword, hence its name, Fatal Cliff. The eastern face is lush with dense forest.
Hua Shan Tour Memorable Experiences
-watching the rosy sun rise and set.
-having a delicious, well-deserved dinner under the stars, away from city noises.
-reaching the top and getting looks of admiration from cop-outs, who took the cable car.
-chatting with refreshment sellers at rest stations along the path, and listening to their stories