Photograph by Vivian Lee
Huashan National Park, China
Best for: Pilgrims and daredevils
Distance: 7.5 miles from the gate to the top of South Peak
The path along rickety planks hanging out over the void on China’s Mount Huashan have become a viral video sensation, showing up on “Craziest Hikes” lists everywhere. But that moniker is a bit of a misconception. The perilous, die-if-you-fall hike that looks like it was built by Spanky and the Little Rascals is just one small path on the massive Huashan, which is the westernmost of China’s Five Great Mountains (each of which is named for the cardinal directions and a center peak), ancient imperial pilgrimage sites sacred to Taoists and still drawing spiritual travelers and tourists to the temples perched on them. Huashan is not a single summit but a complex of five major peaks, the highest of which is the 7,087-foot South Peak. The Chang Kong Zhan Dao (or Sky Plank Road) is the boldest way access to the South Peak (which itself consists of three subpeaks). It’s a loony, fun ride of ladders, foot-wide wooden boards, cables, and steps hacked into the cliff—all hanging in the sky. You can rent via ferrata-type gear to protect yourself as you navigate it.
Ascending Huashan is a walk into the spiritual history of the mountain and China itself. For millennia—before the cable cars and hordes of tourists who swarm here now along many different paths—the way up Huashan was supposed to be difficult, testing the pilgrim who wished to find the way (or the Tao). Each of the granitic peaks can be accessed by a different hike (and two of them by cable car) or by a new loop trail at the top. Now, just because the Chang Kong Zhan Dao is not necessary to get to the top of all the summits doesn’t mean that the other ways up are cozy. The hikes often require ridiculously steep stairs (some of which have been chained off) and holding on to chain railings, on which you may notice hundred of locks attached. These are charms left by couples and families as wishes for love and good luck.
Thrill Factor: The Chang Kong Zhan Dao is truly dangerous, even with safety gear. The rest of the mountain is accessed by thousands of tourists (a record 47,000 visited the site in one day in 2013) in varying states of fitness, so you should be able to reach the top even if you don’t want to scare yourself. As of 2014, the Chinese government has also opened a new trail on the top of the peak to make it easier to visit all the peaks and just implemented an $8.3 million-command center so it can monitor the trails through video cameras and keep them from becoming over-congested.
Take It Easy: Many visitors hike to the top of the East Peak in the dark to catch the sunrise. It’s not easy but nowhere near as crazy as the Chang Kong Zhan Dao. And of course, the easiest way to the top is to ride the cable car to the North Peak (Yuntai Feng or Cloud Terrace Peak) or, as of 2013, West Peak (Lian Hua Feng or Lotus Peak), from which you can access trails to explore the others, if you wish.
courtesy of: http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure