The World’s Most Dangerous Hiking Trail Claims More Than 100 Lives Every Year

Published: Nov 19, 2023

Here’s a well-known fact—Chinese tea is amazing as any drink can be. But regardless of how thrilling, adrenaline and the fear of death are two things you’ll hardly associate with it. Well, that’s unless you’ve heard of or visited China’s Mt. Huashan—the mountain that houses death-defying hiking trails that end in a tea house.

Due to the risks involved, a walk up this mountain seems like the hardest level of your favorite video game. Except that this is reality, and it involves real people like you.

Introducing the Mount Hua Trail

In the Chinese Province of Shaanxi, and near the city of Huayin, lies the popular Mount Hua, reputed to have the world’s most deadly trails. There have been numerous fatalities on these trails over many years. Stories have it that as many as 100 people lose their lives every year on this trail.

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This number remains unverified to this day. But a close look at the mountain features makes this statistic look not very far from the truth.

The Five Great Mountains of China

The Sacred Mount Hua is only one of China’s five great mountains. Taishan (in Shandong), Hengshan (in Hunan), Hengshan (in Shanxi), and Songshan (in Henan) make up the other four. Sometimes, people refer to these mountains by their cardinal directions. For example, Huashan is also called Xiyue because it’s in the west.

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The Chinese consider all five mountains to be sacred. It’s no wonder why numerous pilgrims flock around them and aim to reach their peaks regardless of the odds.

More About Mount Huashan

Mount Huashan, named the “No. 1 perilous mountain in China,” is the Chinese original civilization place. It has its highest peak at more than 7,000 feet tall. This mountain has five peaks that allow successful climbers to witness breathtaking wide views surrounding them. 

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It’s interesting to note that even though there are only a few of them still standing, these five peaks originally housed many temples. There’s also a nickname for every one of them.

North Peak: Gateway to the Others

The North Peak is one of Mount Huashan’s main peaks and gets its name from its position at the mount’s north. Also called the Yuntai Peak, this peak has been nicknamed the “Cloud Terrace Peak.” It’s the first peak to pass through if you want to reach the others. Cloud Terrace Peak is pretty challenging to conquer because it’s a dangerously high/steep terrain. 

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Source: vida59/Instagram

Plus, it has only one mountain path leading to the South part. But successful climbers will be rewarded with amazing attractions like Jiaogong Stone Chamber, Place of Laojun Hanging the Plough, Yiyun Pavilion, Zhenwu Palace, Yunv Window, etc.

West Peak — Like the Lotus Petal

As the name implies, this peak is in the western part of the area. The West Peak is nicknamed, “Lotus Flower Peak” (Lianhua Peak) because it’s the home of a Taoist Temple (Cuiyun Palace) which has a lotus-shaped rock before it. It’s also called “Furong Peak” for similar reasons.

West Peak is the best place to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets ever. There are also interesting places and stories regarding this peak.

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The Story of Bravery and Love

One of the most interesting stories about Mount Hua happened on the Lotus Flower Peak. It’s the tale of a little boy, Chen Xiang, who blasted the cliff to save his mother who was trapped within. This Cliff is the Axe-splitting Rock on Mount Hua’s Western Peak which looks ripped apart in three.

This story is an essential part of The Magic Lotus Lantern, a popular Chinese folktale. Many adventurers go there to see the physical evidence of a little boy’s devotion to his mother.

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South Peak — Mt. Huashan's Highest Peak

The South Peak earned its title, “Monarch of Huashan,” for being the highest peak of the five great mountains. It’s also nicknamed, “the Landing Wild Geese Peak” because, according to legends, this peak was the landing point for wild geese who were taking a break while returning to Southern China.

Adventurers who are fortunate enough to reach the South Peak’s summit found that they could feel the sky very close. It almost felt like they could reach for the stars while viewing the beauty of the winding Yellow River, rolling mountains, etc.

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East Peak

The East Peak is also called the “Facing Sun Peak” or “Chaoyang Peak.” As its name suggests, this peak is where visitors can view a thrilling sunrise with an amazingly wide view. Adventurers will also find flourishing and vigorous trees on this peak that make for an enjoyable and peaceful hike.

If we were to describe the East peak in relation to other peaks in one sentence, it’ll be “the place where everyone will have the most relaxing moment.”

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Middle Peak

The middle or Central Peak is nicknamed “Jade Maiden Peak,” and lies between the East, South, and West Park. This peak is home to the Yunv Taoist temple and was once Nong Yu’s self-cultivation place. Nong Yu was the Duke Mu of the Kingdom Qin’s daughter during spring and autumn.

Later on, the name changed from Middle Peak to the Peak of Daughter Yu (Yunv Peak). This may be because she lived here with her husband when she became tired of court life.

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A Toast to Laozi

Mount Huashan is regarded as a holy or sacred mountain of Taoism. It is believed that the patriarch and founder of Taoism, Lao Zi (Lao Tzu), once lived and delivered his sermons here. 

Ancient pilgrims loved visiting Huashan due to the mountain’s sacred status. It was they, along with monks and nuns, who started building a network of stairs and routes leading to the mountain’s peaks.

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A Reward for Daredevils and Something For Adrenaline Junkies

While Mount Huashan remains the most dangerous in the world, it’s not all tales of woe with this incredible mountain. As you’re about to find out, there are many exciting attractions to look out for when on this mountain.

For example, the mind-blowing views when you look down at your surroundings are always worth the climb. This mountain has such amazing scenery that climbers can’t resist taking selfies now and again. There are also more than 210 exciting attractions to visit on this mountain.

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Changkong Plank Trail

Of all Mount Huashan’s dangerous ways, the Changkong Plank Trail, or Huashan Plank Walk is the deadliest. This plank trail is above 700 years old and was built by He Zhizhen at the South Peak. 

He (Zhizhen) had trained himself on Mount Huashan to become immortal and built this plank setting up wood alongside stone pins. These were driven into the vertical cliff to make a walking path.

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A Most Dangerous Path

The journey to the highest peak of Mount Huashan begins with a pleasant flight of stairs (the heavenly staircase) which doesn’t seem like much of a climb at first glance. As adventurers hike to a point, they’ll find a gondola ready to take them to the Southern Peak. It’s from there that things begin to get dangerous.

The plank walk also called the death trail, had only a tiny plank and chain to hold adventurers who are at high risk of falling to their deaths with even the slightest mistake. However, in recent times, handrails and other equipment have been added to make them safer.

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Black Dragon Ridge

The Black Dragon Ridge (Canglong) gets its name from the flying black dragon image it forms as it rises to the sky. Thrill seekers can find this long ridge after reaching the Cloud Terrace Peak and walking the Heavenly Ladders.

Here, one can view Mount Huashan in the distance with its surrounding clouds and green pines while listening to the howling wind. It’s also a perfect place to be in awe of the thrilling mountain.

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The Throat of Mount Huashan

Mountain Hua has a Thousand Feet Zhuang Path called “Qian Chi Zhuang”. This path is nicknamed “the throat of Mount Huashan” because of its high and key location. The path of the throat of Mount Huashan wanders on the cliff and is so narrow that only one person can pass through at a time.

Adventurers passing the throat of Mount Huashan must hang on to iron chains and climb the mountain with both hands and feet to do so successfully.

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Golden Locks Pass

The Golden Locks Pass is a stone archway that resembles a gate tower. Known as “the Gate to the Sky,” it begins on the North Peak’s way and extends to Mount Huashan’s other main peaks. The Black Dragon Ridge is usually more thrilling for the hikers from the Golden Locks Pass.

One can find old emerald pines and several stones of various shapes surrounding this pass. There are also other fascinating items like colorful strings and ropes, lock layers for peace and love on iron chains, etc.

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Chess Playing Pavilion

There’s an isolated peak named Botai on the East Peak’s southeast side. This peak has a flat summit with clouds and mist shining magically and looking like an island. There’s a stone pavilion on this summit with a stone table in it. This place is called Chess Playing Pavilion.

Chess Playing Pavilion is so called because ancient people noticed the uneven chess-like square stone, which they called the Chess stone. A pavilion was built on it later on.

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The Architectural Marvel Of The Chess Pavilion

One of the things that makes the Pavilion amazing is the uniqueness of its location and the journey to reach it. The Chess Pavilion is often uniquely described by many as a lonely pavilion standing on the edge of uncertainty.

Source: Getty Images

What makes it particularly thrilling is the need to brave a narrow path down a slippery rock face, with only carved footholds and metal bars for support, to reach it.

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Using Steel Cables and Harnesses to Ensure Safety

Even life on the edge needs a harness or two. While the trails are known for their narrowness and their steeped pathways, there are personnel dressed in what looks like military uniforms stationed at different locations on Mount Huashan to provide hikers with compulsory harnesses they would all need for a small fee. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

These harnesses help the hikers secure their upper body to the many steel cables surrounding the mountain.

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Yuquan Temple

Mount Huashan’s major area for holding Taoist ceremonies is the Yuquan Temple. Anyone visiting the Mount can access it only through the Huashan Valley. Hence, its nickname, “the entrance to Mount Huashan.”

Legends have it that Tang Dynasty’s Princess Jinxian mistakenly dropped her jade hairpin at the Jade Well as she cleaned her hair. She later found it in the spring when washing her hands and named it Yuquan, meaning “Jade Spring.”

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Other Attractions

There are many more attractions to explore at Mount Huashan. For example, many hikers love to visit and experience the charm of the Huayue Immortal Palm and Huixin Rock on a Huashan Tour. There’s also the old Taoist Temple converted into a teahouse where hikers who make it to the top can relax.

Many people have risked their lives on Mount Hua’s pathways to enjoy some tea. Times of India describes the tea as “all-natural” and “made of water from snowmelt, rain, and mountain springs.”

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The Huixin Rock: A Turning Point on the Mountain

The Huixin Rock lies at the mountain’s base, just before you ascend the towering thousand-foot structure. One special aspect of the rock that draws the attention of people is the three words carved into it: “return stone.” 

Source: Getty Images

These words signify a turning point for many hikers. It is the point where they have to make a decision to either retreat or summon the courage to brave the steep path ahead. 

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The Death Trail Myth

Many people think that one must pass through the death trail to get to the top of Mount Huashan. But that’s not true as there are easier ways to reach the mountain top. The death trail is just one of the attractions for adventurers who love the thrill it brings.

Two cable cars lead directly to two Mount Hua Peaks. Also, safety cables and other security systems have been introduced to make the path to the mountaintop less dangerous.

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A Place for Immortality Seekers

More than just an adventure site, Mount Huashan has also been called the “place for immortality seekers.” That’s because of the numerous potent drugs and herbal Chinese medicine that have been found there.

According to UNESCO, “there are 474 species of medical plants on HuaShan, and about 200 species of these can easily be collected on the mountain.” The tea from the mountaintop’s tea house also has a reputation for its medicinal benefits.

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Never Unprepared

Adventurers on Mount Hua are always advised not to go on this journey unprepared. One of the ways to prepare is to take note of the weather around the time of the planned visit. For example, during the rainy season/ winter, the pathways are slippery and a selfie can easily cause a fatal fall. 

So visitors planning on the Mount Huashan tour during winter should exercise extra caution. However, remember that one of the best ways to increase your chances of a successful hike on this dangerous mountain is to do so during conducive weather.

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A Pill for Fear

Even with this mountain’s reputation as the “world’s most dangerous hiking trail,” more and more visitors make it to the area every year. For many of them, this is a great opportunity to let go of their fear and test how brave they can be. For others, it’s all about the curiosity.

Regardless of the reason for hiking on this mountain, adventurers find it rewarding at the end of the day. From the glorious sunset to a wide view of mountains and other spectacular sightings, it’s such an experience!

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Look Out for the Cats

While Mount Hua may be an amazing adventure location for daredevils, people who feel anxious around cats should think twice before visiting this location. For some reason we can’t put our finger on, there are a lot of cats on this mountain. 

Surprisingly, these cats seem at home here and don’t look like they’re bothered about the dangerous heights as humans do. Mystical cats, maybe?

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Conquering the Mount Huashan Hike

Before attempting any hiking adventures to Mount Huashuan, it is always advisable to prepare ahead because it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Staying hydrated is vital, so remember to bring along enough water. 

Source: Getty Images

Most importantly, every hiking trip requires certain outfits. Remember to dress conveniently and appropriately, and don’t forget your shoes; wear appropriate footwear for safety. If you hope to do a day trip, start early from Xian. 

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Reaching Mount Huashan's Splendor

Anyone can get to the Mount from various Chinese cities. There are different convenient options from Xian, including Xian Xianyang International Airport, which offers numerous flights from major cities.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Also, there are 40 daily trains to Huashan North Railway Station from Xian North Railway Station. There is also the option to go by coach from Xian Bus Station, although it takes 2 hours. You could also just drive there yourself.

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A Daring Adventure!

Mount Huashan’s attraction lies in its rich history, its five peaks, the beautiful scenery, and the adrenaline-pumping experience of walking the deadly trails. But it also encapsulates a whole experience of spirituality, thrill, and adventure for those who dare to reach the summit of this deadly mountain. 

Like Luis Sepúlveda once said, “Only those who dare may fly.” So, cheers to those who looked Mount Huashan in the eye and conquered it.

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