This is a must-do if you're in Xian!
12.11.2006 28 °C
Due to the train to Chengdu being fully booked on my preferred date I had an extra couple of days in Xian. That turned out for the best because otherwise I would have missed one of the highlights of China. I'd been told that Huashan was a beautiful mountain and that climbing it at night was the best way to do it so that you get to see sunrise over the mountains. With a brand new headtorch I caught a bus to Huashan and was fortunate enough to find myself sitting in the middle (somewhat squashed!) of a group of Chinese students who spoke a little English. They asked me to climb the mountain with them and I was more than happy to join them. We arrived at the base around 10 p.m. and had a half hour safety talk (in Chinese!) in a restaurant before setting off to the entrance. The talk was extremely useful and without that I would not have made it back alive! So anyway, we paid the entrance fee and set off in the warm and dark night to tackle the 2160m summit before sunrise at 6.30 a.m. Different people told me different times that it would take to climb so I'd given myself plenty of time in case it took me the 8 hrs I'd been told by a young Chinese guy back at the hostel who had done it a couple of days before. The first 30 mins was pretty easy going but the steps got very steep, very quickly after that and we would be stopping to catch our breaths every 15 mins or so. The steps winded and snaked their way up the edge and into the mountain with no sight of the top or even where the next flight of steps would lead us. The steps themselves became unbelievably narrow in places, normally the most dangerous as luck would have it, and I had to place part of my foot sideways on the narrowest ones and hold on to the metal rails. What surprised me the most was the casual nature of some of the Chinese who were scurrying up the steps with no concern for anyone alongside them. Some parts where the steps were almost vertical became congested with bodies trying to scramble up them and we came to a standstill on a number of occasions.
This did at least allow us to catch our breaths from time to time and the girls in the group were especially grateful for this. We had no idea how much progress we were making in the dark so it was hard to judge what pace we should go at. It was also hard to judge how precarious the mountain was in places, although being unable to see the sheer drops either side of the steps was no bad thing! As the morning came it became easier to see a little more of our surroundings but it wasn't until dawn that the splendour of the landscape was revealed. We crossed over from the North peak onto the East peak by a steep, narrow causeway with sheer drops on either side at around 4.30 a.m and were at the summit an hour later in plenty of time to see the sunrise. The peak was full of people awaiting the sunrise but we found the best spot at the very front, and the edge, of the mountain. Once we stopped walking I began to feel the cold up there, being dressed in shorts and a light jacket, but when the sun came up I soon warmed up again. It was unbelievably beautiful as the sunlight unveiled the mountains all around us and people cheered when the sun was fully risen.
Despite feeling mentally tired and physically exhausted I decided to walk around the other peaks with 2 of my new Chinese friends who also wanted to check out the other peaks. We spent 5 hrs trekking across the South, West, and Middle peaks before heading back to the North peak to catch the cable-car down the mountain. I was really glad to make the effort of walking around the other peaks because they all offered amazing views and we had a lot of laughs taking photos. Huashan forms the shape of a lotus flower with the 4 larger peaks surrounding the lower middle peak and it is an awesome sight to behold. I will never forget the experience and sense of achievement from climbing that mountain in the dark and in just 6 hrs from the bottom to the top.