China is as mad as a bag of cats, which coincidentally is a delicacy in some parts of the country, and I loved it. China, not the feline food offerings. One of the crazier adventures during our three week trip there involved walking along the so called “Plankroad in the Sky.”
Described by Huffington Post, The Telegraph and Daily Mail, as well as numerous other outlets, as one of “the most dangerous” treks in the world, the plank walk at Mount Huashan immediately shot up my bucket list when I learned of its existence. Obviously.
Located in Huayin City, around 120 kilometres from Xi’an, it’s one of the five most sacred mountains in China, and has been since around the 2nd century BCE, and is known as “most precipitous mountain under heaven.”
Measuring 2,155 metres (7,070 ft) at its highest, the mountain has five peaks with various pathways crisscrossing the jagged landscape, allowing for different routes to be taken, as well as two cable cars for those not so keen on tackling the steep steps and near vertical climbs.With a bowl of cheap corn flakes for sustenance, we got the bullet train from Xi’an to the Huashan North Railway Station in Huayin. A quick 40 minute journey, once there we had to make our way through the sea of taxi drivers. Rather cleverly some were using the Chinese-English translate feature on their mobile phones to speak into and then push them into our faces to read the phone’s translation attempt.
While looking for the bus to the mountain, we spotted an equally lost looking lad, a German chap named Leff. Together, we eventually pinpointed the bus we needed to get.
The trek up the mountain can take from four to six hours, so we decided to get the cable car up the North Peak, which took around 7 minutes. We then trekked across the mountain towards the South Peak and, ultimately, towards the cliff walk, which took a few hours.
It’s rumoured the mountain claims the lives of around 100 people per year, although this hasn’t been verified. Either way, it’s a statistic I decided against telling some family and friends before travelling. It was for the best, really.
While the day had started off with the sun shining bright, the clouds darkened as we made our way to the plank walk. Ominous, I know. The rain did indeed fall, with drizzly showers coming and going during the walk.
Sure what else do you want when you’re around 5,000ft in the air but wet planks?
We had to queue for around 30 minutes once we reached the plank walk, where you’re presented with an obligatory “harness,” which costs 30RMB (around €4). Introduced in only 2005, there’s actually nothing stopping you from unclipping it once along the planks. Other than common sense, obviously.To reach the walkway itself, you have to descend what I guess is technically called a ladder. It’s made of large metal rods jammed into the rocks, some of which were rather interestingly spaced.
To make things a little more exciting, you have to climb down the ladder facing out towards the several thousand foot drop. Just what you want while standing on slippy steel rods.The walkway itself consists of a series of planks, some of which are said to be centuries old, sitting atop steel pins hammered into the side of the mountain, measuring only a foot wide in parts.
Some of the walk doesn’t even have planks, instead the path has been carved out of the stone. The word “narrow” springs to mind.As though the height factor and the dodgy harness weren’t enough, the walk is, amazingly, a two-way system. One person sticks to the wall while the second person must step around them, unclipping the harness as you go. If you meet a more portly gent, things get tight.
When you get to the end of the plank walk, a small temple awaits. After you’ve taken your obligatory pictures, you’re then faced with the return journey back along the planks. All in, it takes around 30 minutes to complete the walk.
As well as the rather impressive vistas in front of us, and below, we were also entertained by a Chinese student, who had semi-decent English, making his way across the planks with who I assume was his mother.
We chatted with him as we walked along the planks. He repeatedly informed us that Kathy and Leff were “handsome.” He told this to other Chinese people traversing the walkway too. I received no such compliment, by the way.
He was a great boost to the confidence though as we made our way across, frequently shouting back to us to “believe in yourself,” as well as my personal favourite: “Be care!”Impressively, the few rangers working along the walkway have carved out (pun intended) a few business opportunities for themselves. There, thousands of feet in the air, they’ll take a photo of you, print it and laminate it. All there on the side of the cliff. That’s the ultimate in efficiency. Once we completed the walkway, having fulfilled our main purpose for being there, we began the descent back down the mountain. This time, we took a cable car from the West Peak back down to the ground.
It was hard not to notice the safety sign while queuing for the cable car, which even slipped in some subtle boasting, describing the cable car as “one of the most advanced and full.” How very Donald Trump of them.
Along with the expected “no smoking” and “no standing,” it also had some rather stark rules, particularly when it came to who could and couldn’t travel on it.
Thankfully, we made it back to terra firma without any hassle, unlike hundreds who were stranded last October after the cable car had to close due to strong winds and they were unable to hike back down the mountain.