The Plank Walk at Mount Huashan had a viral stint in which it was deemed The World’s Most Dangerous Hiking Trail by the internet jurists, which naturally compelled me to file it under ‘bucket list’.
After reading several of these articles online, I was under the impression that you had to face the infamous plank walk if you wanted to climb Mount Huashan at all and that at the end of a strenuous, life-threatening hike across boards and pegs, you would be able to say that it was all for a cup of tea.
So what’s the Plank Walk REALLY like?
First of all, Mount Huashan is comprised of 5 peaks and 2 cable cars. This means that you don’t have to take the Soldier’s Way up the mountain that consists of 4,000 stairs and nearly 90° angled stairs. The Plank Walk is also entirely optional. With 5 different peaks, there are numerous routes you can take to explore the mountain.
Once you get to South Peak, there is a vertigo-inducing path on the edge of the mountain that winds you around to the start of the plank walk. After you pay ¥30 ($5.00), you are handed a small harness to go over your shoulders and 2 carabiners.
In March, the weather is still very cold so you can choose to wear potentially slippery gloves or withstand the blistering cold metal with bare hands. After you strap in and secure your carabiners, you can begin your decent down the stairway of nothingness. Meaning that between two slabs of rock, thin metal rods were somehow placed and either wedged or welded to the rock. Below these “stairs” is…nothing, except maybe a drop to your death.
Next, you will come across some foot holes that have been carved into the mountain which will cause you to wonder:
who in the world put these here in the first place?
But you don’t ponder it for long because you are about to step on your first plank. Your hands are shaking and your legs feel like lead as you fumble over the first few chains between vice-like grips. After a few deep breaths and some pictures, you start to feel a little more comfortable living on the edge and advance further along.
The more you look down into the valley, the more comfortable you begin to feel. You attempt to maneuver cameras and selfie sticks because there is no way that you are leaving without proper documentation.
After about 15 minutes, you reach the end of the planks and ascend up similar stairs to the beginning. At the top of the stairs, you unhook your carabiners and step out onto a small dirt landing, taking a deep breath of accomplishment. You stretch out your legs and look into a hole in the mountain that holds a statue and a pillow to kneel on. There are still a few sticks of incense burning from whoever was there last. This isn’t exactly what you were anticipating but you snap a quick picture anyway.
You are ready to move on–relieved that you have made it to the end, except that…it’s not the end.
There is nowhere else to go, so you turn around to go back where you came from because the Plank Walk is a
TWO. WAY. PATH.
While the way there was relatively devoid of people, the way back is becoming more congested. You start to near some people who have just stepped foot on the Plank Walk and you know they are not yet comfortable enough to be the one to go around you. They hug the side of the mountain and you reach around them to move your carabiners before stepping on the outside of them–your body hanging over thin air. You repeat this process several more times as the amount of people continues to increase.
You reach the final “stairs” and realize that the faucet of people coming down is not going to let up. You take a breath and begin to bear crawl over top several people which ends up looking like a game of Twister on the edge of the world.