By: Jack M.
Hua Shan (Mandarin for Flower Mountain) is a mountain in Shaanxi province, central China, not too far from the celebrated city of Xi’an, of Terra Cotta Warrior fame. There are five peaks, and it is the South Peak (the one depicted here) that is the most formidable—although ‘formidable’ is perhaps a bit of an understatement. As far as mountains go, Hua Shan is not going to rank anywhere close to the highest peaks in the world—it’s a mere 7,000 or so feet above ground level. But what it is famous (indeed, unique) for is what is at the top—an ancient Taoist temple that has been converted into a tea house. And to those of you who right now might be mumbling something along the line of ‘that’s cute’, or ‘big deal’, you might want to sit down and hang onto something secure. For as much as you might look forward to a refreshing cup of green tea at the top, you’ll have earned it, because the journey from the base to this little tea house will probably be the most treacherous and mind-tingling trek you would ever take. But the danger is more than matched by the serenity and sheer beauty of the place.
The route up Hua Shan begins with a series of interconnected stone stairways—the so-called Heavenly Stairs. And they’re steep…very steep. There will be stretches of time when you’ll be climbing what seems to be an endless, almost vertical, staircase, with no pit stops to catch your breath, no bathroom breaks, and for much of the climb no safety railings. If you don’t have the stamina of a racehorse and the leg muscles of a ballerina, you may want to reconsider ever starting out.
The route up Hua Shan begins with a series of very steep, interconnected stone stairways—the so-called Heavenly Stairs. If you don’t have the stamina of a racehorse and the leg muscles of a ballerina, you may want to reconsider ever starting out.
There will be stretches when you’ll be climbing what seems to be an endless, almost vertical, staircase, with no pit stops to catch your breath, and no bathroom breaks.
And if that doesn’t deter you, the really bad news is that the Heavenly Stairs will be the easiest part of your jaunt to the top. Portions of the mountain are simply too steep for a stairway, and the only way of getting to the next stage will be to tiptoe across a makeshift platform of rickety wooden planks that seem to be held together with paper clips and rusty nails, and barely wide enough to accommodate a single average-sized adult. But not to worry…there’s a chain to hang onto, but the chain seems to be attached to the mountain wall with those same paper clips and rusty nails, along with a few Walmart locks for that added sense of security. And there is no going back. If you freeze in your tracks, there’s nowhere to go. And one misplaced step, one momentary lapse of focus, or one overly-rusted nail and you’ll probably die.
The only way of getting to the next stage will be to tiptoe across a makeshift platform of rickety wooden planks that seem to be held together with paper clips and rusty nails.
Not a journey for those with a fear of heights. One misplaced step or one momentary lapse of focus, and you’ll probably die. It’s as simple as that.
There are sections of the climb that will involve just that—climbing. And once again, you’ll have those same reassuring chains to help haul yourself up, occasionally resting a foot in one of the many improvised toeholds that have been carved into the rock.
Photo by Berta Tilmantaite