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The dramatic, mountainous landscape of China lends itself perfectly to hikes, especially dangerous ones. In this article we’ll take a look at the top 5 most dangerous, thrilling hikes in China.
1. Mount Hua
Hiking Mount Hua is considered to be one of the most dangerous hikes not only in China, but in the world. It is also known as the “plank walk”, named for the terrifyingly narrow wooden plank bolted to the side of the mountain.
Mount Hua (or Huashan, as “shan” is Mandarin for mountain) is the western-most mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China. It is located near the city of Huayin in the province Shaanxi. It consists of 5 peaks, the tallest one being the south peak, which is 2 154 meters (7 070 feet). Together, the five peaks form a flower-like shape.
The mountain has a rich, religious past, and is considered sacred in Chinese culture. It makes many appearances in Chinese folklore because of its everlasting presence on the horizon. Ancient Taoist temples and tea houses can be found on various peaks of the mountain.
Due to its religious significance, the mountain and its surrounding area has been inhabited by monks and nuns for centuries, and paths up and down the mountains have been built in order for the inhabitants to reach the five summits, where temples have been built.
Since this time, the trails have been reinforced with handrails to accommodate the increased number of hikers who are undertaking this endeavour. Despite these modifications, however, the hike is still extremely dangerous.
There are in fact two cable cars, one that goes to the north peak of the mountain (the lowest), and a newer one which opened in 2013 that goes to the west peak.
The cable car that is offered is an exciting experience, and you can continue to hike upwards from where it drops you off. The problem, however, is that you will have to contend with long lines and wait times to get on the cable car.
For those looking for the full experience, you can of course hike from the very bottom. The most popular route is the path in Huan Shan Yu, first built during the 3rd and 4th century A.D. It starts at the west gate and is 6km to the north peak.
The second option is the Huangpu Gorge which begins at the east gate. This path, also known as the Soldier’s Path, is more difficult, but will get you to the north peak in quicker time.
From the north peak, there is just one path to continue on to the summit of the mountain. This is where the exhilarating danger begins.
Steep stone steps will take you up past famous locations such as the “Heavenly Steps”, “Sun and Moon Cliff”, “Black Dragon Mountain” and “Gold Lock Pass”, a fence from which hundreds of gold locks hang as a symbol of health.
The stone steps are steep, with a sheer drop off on the side, so each step must be taken with care. The views as you mount higher and higher are simply breath-taking. It is no wonder that this mountain has been considered sacred for many centuries.
Just past the Gold Lock Pass, the trail splits again, giving you the option to hike to the west, centre, east or, if you are feeling particularly adventurous, the south peak (the tallest).
The Hua Mountain is part of the Huashan National Park, so there is an entry fee. If you are planning to do the “Plank Walk” or descend to the east face to Chess Pavilion, you must also rent a harness, as these routes scale the planks attached to the cliff’s face.
Night hiking is also an option on this mountain. Night climbing passes can only be purchased from the west gate. Take a nighttime climb up to the east side of the mountain and you will have a beautiful view of sunrise in the morning. If you’re planning on doing a night hike, make sure to bring lights with you.
It’s also a good idea to bring snacks and water on these hikes, as the food sold on the mountain is a bit pricey.
Mount Hua is located about 75km from Xi’an. Trains depart from this city 16 times a day and arrive at the national park in about 35 minutes. Buses are also available from Xi’an and take 2 hours.
2. The Great Wall
The crumbling, unrestored wall that runs east to west across the once northern border of China makes for a challenging and picturesque hike.
There are different sections of the wall to hike, some more difficult than others. The route from Jinshanling to Simatai is a popular route for its beautiful scenery and challenging terrain. Although it is a popular hike, it is not overly crowded.
From Jinshanling, hike up to the wall and turn east. You can walk for 11km along the rugged wall, where you’ll pass by stunning architecture like obstacle walls and oval watchtowers which were used for keeping invaders out.
Jinshanling is a long day trip from Beijing, but you can stay overnight at Jinshanling to break up the long trip.
Another exciting option for hiking the Great Wall is the Jianku Great Wall Route. This is a newly accessible route and has since become a favourite among hikers.
The wall is white in this portion, made of dolomite. The wall winds along wooded, mountainous ridges.
The hike is up to 20km and is close to Beijing. Many parts of this hike are extremely steep – one area known as the “Stairway to Heaven” is 80-degrees and requires the use of all fours to ascend it. There are also loose rocks on this walk so watch your step.
Camping on the wall is also an option, if you have all the gear required. Waking up on the wall, in the middle of such a refreshing and peaceful landscape is truly an experience.
3. Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan
The Tiger Leaping Gorge is China’s deepest gorge. It has a maximum depth of 3790m.
The gorge is named for an ancient local legend, in which a tiger was said to have leapt across the gorge in order to escape a hunter (no small feat, considering how large the gorge is). The rock where the tiger is said to have leapt from is now an iconic sight to see.
But you won’t have to worry about tigers or hunters on this hike – it is in fact quite peaceful and not too busy.
The 15-km trail offers astonishing views in every direction. Snow-capped mountains decorate the sky above and the glistening, turquoise river dances through the gorge below. This is the Jinsha River.
The trail is very accessible. It begins in the small town of Qiaotao. There is a modest fee to enter the trail. From here, you can start at the Upper Trail. Taxis can take you to the starting point.
There is also a guest house known as Jane’s Guest House just past the ticket station, which is a great place to stay overnight before or after your trek. For a small fee, the house is also willing to store any luggage you may have that you don’t want to bring on the hike.
Past Jane’s Guest House you will soon see a sign pointing to the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trail. Continue along in this direction. After you’ve been headed this way for a while, you’ll see another sign up a steep hill, which is the beginning of the Upper Trail, a steep section of the trail.
Eventually you will reach Naxi Family Guest House, which is a nice place to stay overnight to help break up the hike and recharge before the next part of the hike, the famous 28 Bends.
The 28 Bends are steep switchbacks that are quite intense but offer stunning views. As you continue on your way, you will reach other guest houses that offer comfortable and pleasant accommodations if you choose to spend another night. The hike can be done in 1.5 days, but can be extended to more days if you want to take it at a slower pace.
When you reach Tina’s Guest House, you can purchase bus tickets to Shangri La or Lijiang.
This long, adventurous hike is exciting and beautiful. It is a great trek to make over a couple of days, as there are places to explore along the way, and so many beautiful views.
4. Yading Nature Reserve, Sichuan
Yading Nature Reserve is a place that looks too good to be true. It is heavenly and dream-like – you find yourself thinking it can’t possibly be real. But it is!
This nature reserve covers 1344 square kilometres and has an elevation of over 4000m. Inside the reserve lie the three holy mountains: the tallest, Mount Chenresig, rises to just over 6000m; Chana Dorje and Jampelyang, both climb to 5958m. The names of these mountains translate to “Compassion”, “Power”, and “Wisdom”, respectively.
Inside the triangle formed by these three mountains are valleys, evergreen forests alive with wildlife, glacier-fed rivers and sparkling blue lakes. You will also see Chong Gu Monastery, an 800-year old monastery that sits at the base of Mount Chenresig’s north face.
It is said that the area of the Yading Nature Reserve is what James Hilton referred to as “Shangri La” in his famous book “Lost Horizon”, published in 1933.
Yading is located just south of Daocheng. To get to Daocheng, there is one bus that departs every day from the station in Chengdu, but this is a long bus ride that takes 21 to 24 hours. To break up the ride and also to acclimatize to the high altitudes, it is better to take a bus from Chengdu to Kangding. From Kangding, there are several buses that depart to Daocheng daily taking about 11 to 13 hours.
Once in Daocheng, a taxi ride can be purchased for the rest of the trip to Yading.
There are no hotels in the reserve, so camping is required if you plan to go on a trek deeper into this region. If you don’t plan on camping, the farthest you can hike to is Milk Lake. There are hotels to stay overnight in Daocheng and Yading Village.
If you are planning to make the trek, the most popular pilgrimage circuit goes around the base of the towering, snow-capped Mount Chenresig. The trek takes about 12-14 hours to complete, so it is best to make the trip in two days in order to fully enjoy the experience.
Make sure to bring food, water, and camping gear. The trek follows one of the rivers, so you can also bring a water purifier to drink the river water.
The best time to make this trek is from April to June and then from September to late October. From late June to late August, there is lots of rain, but hiking is still possible.
5. Ganden to Samye, Tibet
This 80km-long trek between two prominent monasteries in Tibet is well-worth tackling.
The trailhead begins 50km east of Lhasa. Lush meadows, sacred lakes, and high-up, snowy passes are just a few of the sights you’ll see as you make this four- to five-day trip. You will also pass by beautiful Buddhist temples along the way.
The trail begins at Ganden Monastery at an elevation of 4180m and gets up to 5630m as you hike past the Shogu-la Pass. This is quite a large elevation gain, and it also means that the air gets thinner as you climb higher. It is therefore important to pace yourself, and to only attempt this trek if you are an experienced hiker.
Founded in the early 15th century, Ganden Monastery is one of the first Buddhist monasteries, and one of the largest. It is found on Wangbur Mountain, on the southern bank of the Lhasa River. When you arrive at the monastery, it is worth it to take some time to explore the attractions in and around the ancient and beautiful building.
Additionally, if you are arriving at Ganden straight from Lhasa, it is smart to spend one night at Ganden to acclimatize to the high altitudes that you will be facing on the trek.
From Ganden, your beautiful journey begins. It is one of the most well-loved hikes in Tibet. The scenery is picturesque. Alpine meadows and forest, snowy mountains and shining blue lakes present themselves as you make your trip. You may also see herds of sheep and yaks meandering through the grass.
There are lots of ups and downs as you traverse the landscape, because there are many high passes to climb and descend.
Along the way, you will also pass through traditional Tibetan villages, where the people live a very simple way of life, practising ancient traditions and customs.
At the end of the trail you will reach Samye Monastery, the first monastery in Tibet.
The best time to make this trip is from May to mid-October, when it is the warmest. Since you will be sleeping overnight, it is best to go in the warmer months – even during the summer, the temperatures at night can dip below freezing. July and August are the rainiest months, but this is also when the mountains are at their most lush and green.
Make sure to bring plenty of food, water, and camping gear for this trek. At the end of each day when you reach a suitable spot for camping, you can set up you tent, build a fire, and reminisce over the wonderful things you saw that day.
If you are a brave and experienced hiker, China offers some incredible hikes that will surely satisfy your desire for adventure. They are definitely challenging and can even be dangerous, so they shouldn’t be taken lightly. But if you do decide to embark on one of these treks, the reward will be well worthwhile.