The World’s Most Terrifying Hike

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Who would want to willingly creep along a narrow, wooden ledge on a steep cliff with nothing more than a couple of carabiners to keep them from plummeting hundreds of feet to their death? Many people, as it turns out. You may be surprised to learn that many brave and adventurous people flock to China’s Shaanzi province to tackle this bucket-list hike, risking their lives for a cup of tea and some fabulous Instagram pics.

The Huashan Plank Trail

The Huashan Plank Trail, which is also called the Huashan Cliffside Plank Path, is a sketchy, death-defying hiking trail located on Mount Huashan in China.

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The Plank Trail, which consists of a series of wooden planks and treacherous footholds snaking around the cliffs of Mount Huashan, is widely considered to be the “most dangerous hike in the world.” Why is it, then, that this perilous path is seeing more and more visitors every year?

A Rugged and Risky Location

Mount Huashan, where the Huashan Plank Trail is located, can be found in one of the most rugged and risky parts of China. This mountain is one of China’s Five Sacred Mountains, which were traditional pilgrimage sites favored by emperors throughout Chinese history. The peaks are associated with Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.

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This group of mountains have been considered sacred by Chinese culture and tradition for centuries. Each mountain – Mount Tai Shan, Mount Heng Shan, Mount Heng Shan Shanxi, Mount Song, and Mount Huashan – represents one of the five cardinal directions and has unique spiritual significance and mythology.

The Mountains Have Personalities

According to Chinese legends, culture, philosophy, history, and religion, each one of the Five Sacred Mountains have their own personalities, and each provides visitors with a unique experience. For example, the most famous of the Five Sacred Mountains, Mount Tai, has a long history of imperial sacrifices, rituals, and ceremonies.

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Mount Heng, the lush and green South mountain, is worshiped by Buddhists. The North mountain, Mount Heng Shan Shanxi is home to ancient temples. Mount Song, the central mountain, is where the famous Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism, is found.

Don’t Be Fooled by the Pleasant-Sounding “Flower Mountain”

Mount Huashan’s name translated to mean “the flower mountain.” The peaks of the rugged, jagged mountain are reminiscent of a lotus flower. The West mountain of the Five Sacred Mountains, it is located about 75 miles east of the city of Xi’an. This mountain is important for Daoist practitioners.

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The mountain has interesting caves, stunning sunrises, a blanket of clouds, and treacherous peaks. Atop Mount Huashan is an ancient temple that sits more than 7,000 feet above sea level. Since ancient times, this temple has served as the Huashan Teahouse. The teahouse welcomes guests with a cup of hot and calming tea. The tea is delicious … but is it worth risking your life for?

A Taoist Priest and His Desire for Social Distancing

According to popular legend, the Huashan Plank Trail was built by He Zhizhen, a Taoist priest, who sought to construct a temple in a place of solitude. The mountain’s challenging and imposing terrain meant that the temple he founded would be so inaccessible that it would be a perfect place for quiet meditation.

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The exact date of the Plank Trail’s construction is unknown, but the unique and precarious pathway dates back at least 700 years. The original path was created when He Zhizhen chiseled holes in the face of the sheer cliff and embedded hand-carved stone pegs or nails into the rock to hold a series of wooden planks against the cliff. It was rickety when it was first built … and even more so centuries later.

A Perilous Trek for the Brave and Daring

There are actually several hiking trails on Mount Huashan. The Plank Trail can be found on the South Peak hike. At 7070 feet, the South Peak is the tallest of the peaks. Before you even reach the Plank Walk, you have to maneuver your way through narrow passageways and up shaky stairs. This portion of the hike can be daunting … but it is just the start.

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The actual Plank Walk is only about 330 feet long, roughly the length of three football fields. But it is 985 feet above the ground with no guardrails or fencing to prevent people from falling. There are a few safety features in place, however these are questionable. They consist of a small harness – one size fits all – and two carabiners. Will these keep you from dropping off the face of the cliff? Doubtful.

Grasp the Chain and Hold on for Dear Life

In lieu of a guardrail, there is a metal chain bolted into the cliff face along the Plank Trail that people can hold onto as they traverse the vertigo-inducing planks. If it is cold out, the freezing metal chills and stiffens your hands until your fingers are numb, and your grasp becomes tenuous.

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You could wear gloves to protect your digits, but you might not be able to securely hold the metal chain while wearing gloves. They can be slippery and limit your movement. If it is rainy or foggy and the chain becomes damp, it presents a whole new set of challenges.

The First Step Is a Doozy 

Before you step foot on the wooden planks, you must reach them via a few footholds … holes that were carved into the mountainside long ago. These footholds are enough to make your knees shake and your heart pound, but the worst is yet to come.

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You have to put your faith in the wooden planks and the iron pegs that have long since replaced the hand-carved stone nails. Between each plank, you will see nothing but the valley below … a fitting reminder of your precarious perch. Clinging tightly to the chain, you can make your way, inch by inch, along the planks to reach the other side. It takes about 15 minutes, but it seems like a lifetime. There is one thing we forget to mention…

But Wait…It Is a Two-Way Path???

The Plank Trail is the only way in and out of the mountain peak and the coveted Huashan Teahouse. The brave souls who made it there ahead of you now must use the path you are on for their return trek. There is no stop light or traffic controller to assist with this.

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If you encounter oncoming traffic on the Plank Trail – and it is likely that you will – there is only one thing to do. You have to go around each other. If you are lucky, you can stay on the inside, hugging the cliff as closely as possible while the other hiker steps around you. You may be the unlucky one, however. You have to trust your carabiners as you dangle on the outside edge of the planks.

The Most Epic Selfies to Make Your Followers Jealous

Despite the dangers – or perhaps, because of them – you will see plenty of hikers pause for selfies on the Huashan Plank Trail. Most of them rely on selfie sticks to get the most epic shots showing the daring heights and jaw-dropping dangers. That is, after all, what gets the most likes.

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At the end of the Plank Trail, you will find another set of ancient stairs. Once you reach the top of them, you can safely unlatch your carabiners. You can make your way to the Teahouse for a well-earned cup of herbal tea. Since no one wants to trek to the top carrying jugs of water, the only water available to brew tea comes from the mountain springs, snowmelts, or rainfall. It makes for tasty tea.

Now Imagine Making This Trek in the Dark

Believe it or not, many people make this perilous climb in the dark because they want to reach the peak in time to witness the sunrise. The spectacular sunrises are part of the spiritual experience of Mount Huashan, but there are two more reasons why hikers opt to travel in total darkness.

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Throughout the history of the Huashan Plank Trail, monks and worshipers were advised to make the journey to the top at night. Many people believed it was safer to cross the wooden planks if hikers couldn’t see just how precarious the route was. In more recent times, hikers prefer to travel at night to avoid other hikers on the planks. That’s because the Huashan Plank Trail is becoming increasingly popular.

A Boom in Tourism

As dangerous as it is, the Huashan Plank Trail has been attracting more and more visitors, adrenaline junkies, and social media influencers seeking the ultimate selfie. In fact, nearly one million people per year risk their lives to cross the rickety planks. It has prompted the Chinese government to make the area more accessible.

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Today, several of the paths and trails in the Five Sacred Mountains area have been widened. Many now have railings, stairs, and rest stops. In the 1990s, cable cars were installed to allow the less fit, less brave visitors to reach some of the peaks.

Death and Phobia

The Huashan Plank Trail truly is the sketchiest hike in the world. And dangerous too. It is estimated that about 100 people per year fall to their deaths while attempting to cross the narrow planks. For the courageous, daring, and foolhardy, this statistic doesn’t scare them. It only makes the adventure that much more of an adrenaline rush.

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The Huashan Plank Trail is open round the clock and all year long. It is only closed occasionally for maintenance or when weather conditions are extreme. There are, however, some restrictions on who is permitted to make the trek. Hikers must be younger than 50 years old, five feet tall or taller, and free of heart disease. Of course, they must not suffer from acrophobia … the fear of heights.

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Isabella Thornton

Written by Isabella Thornton

Isabella Thornton - Unearther of Forgotten Stories

Isabella is an accomplished writer and dedicated researcher with an insatiable curiosity for unearthing hidden historical gems. Her writings shed light on overlooked individuals and events, adding depth to the tapestry of history. Isabella's commitment to authenticity and her storytelling prowess make her a true historian through words.

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