Mount Hua (Huashan) in Huayin City, Shaanxi Province, is one of China’s Big Five mountains, the others being Mount Tai in Shandong Province, Mount Heng in Shanxi Province, Mount Song in Henan Province, and Mount Heng (another character in Chinese) in Hunan Province.
Although its highest peak stands just 2,100 meters tall, Mount Hua is nonetheless known as the “most precipitous mountain under heaven,” and one of the 50 most popular scenic spots among overseas visitors to China.
Site of 210 natural and cultural scenic spots, it is often referred to as the “root of Chinese civilization.” Mount Hua also has strong Taoist connotations – many prominent figures associated with this indigenous religional-philosophical tradition of China had presence in the area.
Although Mount Hua has two cable car lines, visitors are advised to climb the mountain on foot. Most of its scenic spots can be seen along the popular Huashanyu (Huashan Gorge) hiking trail, an expansion of the path that was for millennia the sole trail up the mountain.
Mount Hua is distinct in China, where most mountains are of limestone, in consisting of a huge body of granite, formed during the cretaceous period over 100 million years ago. It extends 15 kilometers from east to west and 10 kilometers from south to north. As a fault-block mountain, Mount Hua features precipitous cliffs that present a challenge even to experienced mountaineers.
Mount Hua is renowned for its steep trails, particularly the one-foot-wide Changkong plank path on the south peak comprising three narrow wooden boards affixed to the cliff by steel rods. Climbers make their way along it facing the cliff with the help of an iron chain similarly attached to the cliff face. Known as Mount Hua’s most dangerous trail, climbers are required to wear safety belts that enable them to enjoy the breathtaking view without fear of falling.
Yaozi Fanshen is another perilous trek. Yaozi means sparrow hawk and fanshen rolling over. The trek is so named because at some points climbers must turn their bodies when climbing down, in the manner of flying sparrow hawks. Visually, the Yaozi Fanshen trek is less daunting than the Changkong plank path. But it is more difficult due to the overhanging upper part of the cliff and indented lower part, which makes it impossible to see the footholds – grooves chiseled into the slippery rock face – below. A single iron chain is the sole safety measure. Climbers must consequently concentrate all their attention on finding handholds and footholds as they make their careful descent down the path.