While we were in Xian, China, we took a day trip, (well, actually a day and a half trip but more on that later) to Mt Hua. The mountain has been called, “the most precipitous mountain under heaven” due to its steep terrain. It is incredibly beautiful and has many Taoist temples, niches and carvings throughout the mountain. The first temples were built starting in 58 AD.
Mt Hua is about 120 km (75 miles) from Xian. When you take the bullet train that travels at up to 300 km/h (186 mph) like we did, it only takes about a half hour. We were quite proud of ourselves as we were able to purchase tickets on our own at the railway station. The trip only cost 54 RMB (about $8 USD) each – each way. We did get to the mountain later than planned due to the earlier trains we wanted being sold out.
The mountain has 5 peaks: North, South, East, West and Central. A common method of seeing the mountain is to take a cable car up to the North peak, hike to the other peaks as desired and take the cable car on the West peak down. The problem with that is that you miss many cool sites on the way up to the North peak. We decided to hike up to the North peak from the Jade Springs Temple at the base. This is an 1100 m elevation gain (3600 feet) and is about a 6 km trail (3.75 miles) and is mostly stairs. From there, the plan was to hike around and see the other peaks and then take the cable car down from the West peak. The West peak is only about 400 m elevation gain (1300 feet) from the North Peak, so that should be a piece of cake compared to the hike from the base to the North peak.
The hike was awesome, although exhausting. Some of the steepest parts of the climb were stairs at a 70 degree angle with chains on either side to hold onto. Along the way there were plenty of stands selling food, water, etc.
Things we had read said to plan 4-6 hours to hike from the base to the North peak, so when we arrived in 4 and a half hours, we felt pretty good about our progress. We spent some time looking around at the top and visiting some of the temples before heading toward the West peak. Our plan was to take the West cable car down and I thought the cable car ran until 9 PM (key word – “thought”). The sun set at around 6 PM and the trails and temples were lit up making things even more spectacular.
At about 7 PM we were checking out one of the signs telling us the direction and how much farther to the West cable car. “Hooray! Only 20 more minutes to reach the cable car!” we thought. However, just then someone told us that the cable car closed at 7 PM. Maybe I got mixed up between 19:00 (7:00PM not 9:00PM). We were not going to be able to take the cable car down. We could walk down – the mountain is open 24/7. However, we were pretty tired and did not look forward to walking down 70 degree slopes in the semi-darkness. Although it would be quicker going down than coming up, we would still have a 4-5 journey ahead of us.
There are a number of “hotels” or hostels where you can get a room. No showers, no running water, but a bed to sleep in. We opted for this and spent an unexpected night on the mountain. We did have to backtrack a little, but only about a half hour, to get to the nearest hotel.
The information said that the cable cars started operating at 7:00 AM, so we left the room at about 6:00AM to try and get one of the first cars down the mountain. We arrived at the cable car station to find about 100 people waiting there as well. I was beginning to get a little concerned since the signs said the cars operated from 7AM to 7PM, but there were no cars operating and no sign of any staff. Finally, at about 10 minutes to 8 the ticket booth opened and the cars started running.
A fantastic experience! We made it down the mountain, took the train back to Xian, and headed straight to our regular hotel in Xian for a nap.