This particular trip was a hike to mount Hua, one of the five sacred mountains in Taoism. And even though the trip didn't entirely suck per se, it was a hardass day that almost cost me my marriage. But let me start from the beginning.
Don't want to climb at all? Chinese tourism industry thought of that too! There are cable cars on the mountain to take tourists to two different peaks. Just as a comparison, it would take you 10 minutes on a cable car or two full hours by foot to get to the North peak, the lowest of the four. But hey, lifts are for senior citizens, children and wimps. What kind of adventure would it be if we took a ride, right? So we didn't.
So my plan (and I have to admit: it was solely my decision, and Jonny was up for a big surprise) was to:
1. Climb to the North peak. In my mind it was supposed to take us under two hours coz we are young and awesome, duh!
2. Make our way to the famous Plank walk, which was supposed to be about 1.5 hours away. The Plank walk was going to be the highlight of the hike. It is an optional side trip where you walk on wooden planks nailed to the rock and pretty much hanging in the air. I couldn't wait!
3. Retrace our steps and take cable car down to make sure we catch the last train to Xian.
Our trip coincided with the worst heat wave in China in 140 years, so all my plans were a bit affected by the unbearable temperature and 100% humidity. Let's leave it at that.
The way up to the North peak is called Soldiers' Path for a reason. It's a grueling two-hour walk up-up-up. Imagine walking up the stairs for two hours in a sauna... That's how it felt.
An hour later we came across the first food stand and sort of a resting area. Water there was five times what it cost in the city, but I get it - supply & demand...
I should say we weren't alone on that path. There were people going in both directions and there were even families with kids. I remember sweating like a pig passing by a family on their pit stop drinking steamy hot water from their thermos... What??
The North peak is measured at 1615 m, so in two hours we climbed three times the height of the CN Tower. That's if you count the antennae too! It was, no doubt, the toughest walk I had ever had in my life and by the time we got there, we both were wasted.
If you, like me, romanticize mountains, Hua will be a disappointing experience unless you find a hidden cliff to sit down and relax. But chances are you won't. People are everywhere and those hidden cliffs or open platforms are virtually nonexistent. Any relatively open space is occupied by sellers offering hot noodles, drinks, ice cream, and more noodles. Other open spaces - especially the ones with the best views - are taken over by makeshift photo studious; and they won't let you sit there unless you use their services. It's pretty commercialized up there.
Happy with the decision, Jonny on the fly offered to take the Soldiers' Path down. He predicted a brisk 45-minute walk... Yeah, right! The way down turned out to be not so much shorter - 1.5 hours with barely any stops. But this time we actually got to enjoy the scenery.
1. First off, if you ever thought that climbing a mountain in a 40+C weather was a great idea, think again and then don't do it.
2. Never go on a weekend. In fact, no sightseeing in China should be done on weekends or holidays. Period. Everything is just so unbearably crowded.
3. Get to the train station waaay in advance to get the train you want. Better yet, stay in Huashan city overnight and climb the mountain first thing in the morning before the day-trippers arrive.
4. It makes sense to take the cable car to the North peak and walk from there (there will still be plenty of stairs, I promise). And maybe on the way back you can choose to walk down the Soldiers' Path. Some say walking down is worse than going up, but I don't buy it.
Finally, if you follow all these suggestions, you may be better off physically, but would you remember this day as the stupidest adventure of the year? A decade down the road, would you laugh with your partner at how hot, pissed and exhausted you were and how you were fantasizing about strangling her for all the suffering? Probably not...
Overall, despite a torturous day, I enjoy having the memories of this trip. We were the only internationals at the top and Chinese people were really friendly to us, approaching for pictures and just saying "hi".
1. From Xian's North railway station a bullet train will get you to Huashan city in 30 minutes. We met people who took a two-hour bus from the main train station - that's another option. Though I don't see a reason why you would. Train schedules are available online. Just be careful - I noticed some slight discrepancies with exact times. One way ticket is Y35-54 depending on the type of the train.
2. From the train station at Huashan you can either take a cab or get on a bus parked outside of the entrance. It's only Y2 because it's a city bus and may make a few stops on the way. But it still takes no more than 10 minutes to get to the visitor center anyway.
3. When buying tickets, you have to tell them whether you are taking the cable car or walking - prices and transfers depend on that. If you have a student card - use it! It will cut the admission price in half. For what we had to go through, I would hate to pay the full price - Y180. But the ticket is actually good for two days and you have the option of staying at one of the monasteries on the mountain overnight. One way ride on a cable car is Y80 and a transfer from the visitor center to the foot of the mountain is Y20 each way.