Includes Notes from
Readers across the Globe
accounts from people who
have actually climbed Huashan
Forward Note from Rick
July 07, 2008
Welcome to the
Huashan Letters page!
As you will see, I have received quite a bit of
correspondence regarding my Huashan story. Most of these letters are from people
who either wished to thank me for posting the article or to share further information about Mt Huashan.
However, not all the letters have been positive.
As you continue to read the Huashan Letters,
think it is important that you understand up front that the
authenticity of this page is under attack.
In July 2008, my original story received a fair amount of
criticism from two different sources. These were people who did not agree the Huashan climb is
dangerous at all. I assume they were worried that my
article was giving the entire world the wrong impression of Huashan.
It was their assertion that my
was unnecessarily discouraging the faint-hearted from visiting in the
One person wrote what I consider to be a vicious letter (this
criticism is listed in Letter Eight below).
second person went to the trouble of listing my name in
Wikipedia along with the claim that I have deliberately
misled people as to the danger of Mt Huashan. As you
might gather, I didn't appreciate either attack one bit.
However, I did at least sense an indirect compliment.
Both critics realized that the
SSQQ Huashan Article
contains the most information
regarding Huashan of any website on the Internet. Due
to its elevated position on Internet Search Engines, my
page comes up on Page One of Google et al to any person on Planet Earth who
is curious about Huashan.
criticism made me aware that I have a responsibility to get
the story right.
For now, let me briefly address the concerns of my critics
before continuing. This will allow all readers a better
perspective as they read the rest of the story. I think it is important to note I have
never personally climbed Huashan or had any direct
experience of the place. Therefore my critics have every right
to use this fact as proof that I don't know what I am
talking about. I fully acknowledge the
chance exists that perhaps my critics are correct.
Perhaps the Huashan climb is indeed a lot safer than I
Please note there
have also been three major developments since my original story in
First, several people who have
actually made the climb have written to report there are
many new safety features in effect on Mt Huashan. So perhaps it is true that some of the danger
has been removed since I originally published this story
(you will be able to read these letters further below).
Second, there is an amazing amount of Huashan pictures that
can now be found on the Internet as of July 2008. When I
first wrote my story in January 2007, there were only a
limited number of pictures and I published
practically every one I could find. I don't know
if this proliferation is related to lifting the ban on
cameras at Huashan or simply the growth of the Internet or
both, but it means you no longer have to depend on my
Huashan web page to find good Huashan pictures. Since
I based my assessment of danger largely on the basis of the
pictures, more pictures means more accuracy.
Third, when I wrote my original story in January 2007, I could discover only one single 30 second video
posted on the Internet. That's it - a SINGLE VIDEO. Since
then, that situation has changed greatly. In May 2008,
I discovered there are now quite a few
videos related to the Huashan climb. These videos give a first-hand
account of the experience that enhance the material that I have posted on my web site
(I will list the location of these
videos later on this page). I doubt
seriously these videos are 'fake'. These
videos will allow you to make your own judgment
about the danger of the Huashan climb. In
other words, the true picture of Huashan is being brought
more clearly into focus.
Now let's begin our review of the Letters.
Letter One: Andre
Hycenko's Climb at Mt Huashan
Rick Archer's Note:
In January 2008, I was searching the Internet for more
pictures of Mt. Huashan. Buried deep on the twentieth page of
a Google search, I discovered an excellent account of the Mt. Huashan
experience complete with pictures.
For people who are
contemplating this hike, I think Mr. Hycenko's story will be quite
The following account was written by Andre Hycenko
early start and a 3 hour overcrowded mini-bus ride is what started a
day that i will never forget. Mt. Huashan, nearly 2km's high with 5
main peaks is an image most common in traditional Chinese paintings.
Most paintings of mountains are most likely those of Mt. Huashan.
Starting at the bottom, i joined a group of 5 Chinese university
students. One spoke vary basic English and i can basically try and
speak basic Chinese. Later these students fizzled down to 2 as Mt.
Huashan is very physically demanding.
Up we went, up and up and up. So many steps, some really steep and
others were wet and slippery as we were climbing inside a cloud most
of the morning. There are many temples, massive boulders and
countless waterfalls along the 4 hour trek that eventually took us
to the lowest peak. This is where you can pay $15AUS and get here by
cable car in under 5 minutes. That's cheating and the hike ended up
being well worth it.
From having hardly
no-one during the first few hours to having hundreds of
people, fit and full of energy in-front of us felt a little
touristy, but we kept going. Legs fatigued but starting to
get into a rhythm, we scrambled past the bulk to try and
reach every peak this mountain has to offer in the 4 hours
of daylight we had left.
The cable-car peak, North, South, East and West peaks, all
having their own dramatic cliffs and flora where they were all
breathtaking and unique. Climbing "The Dragon Ridge", 1 metre wide
and about 300 metres long with steps, handrails and 2-way traffic
in-between two peaks is one of the best views i have ever seen.
Climbing to the
North Peak, the furthest and highest one out of the
5 was a momentous effort. Once again there were so many steps. I
have never been this high before and seeing clouds below you moving
around and the sun beating down on you made me feel on top of the
world, and hey, i was!
In-between the West and North Peak, is a path called 'Changkongzhandao'
(aka the cliff side plank path). This path is pretty much the whole
reason for me coming to Mt. Huashan. Originally seeing photos of
this awesome sight in an email when i was working, i decided i had
to come and take a look for myself. The path leads to a small
lookout where it is about 70 metres in length. Once you reach the
end, you just come back and continue on your way. It is a cliff
face. 90 degrees.
To get across, they have whacked large nails into
the side of the cliff and placed planks of wood over the top for you
to cross. The path is about 40cm wide (16 inches)! There is also a chain nailed
to the rock for you to hold onto as you make your way across.
$5AUS you can choose to hire a safety harness (you would be
absolutely stupid, i mean insane not to have one). Half of the path
are planks of wood and the other half are foot holes carved into the
As the people i was with were too scared to go,
i went alone
taking the photos myself trying not to drop the camera with my hands
shaking as if i had just drunk 20 cups of coffee.
I took my time and on the way back another brave bloke was coming
towards me to do the same walk. I asked him to take a photo of me
and he explained to me that the ultimate photo to take on this path
is a pose where you lean back facing the cliff wall (because of your
harness), your body 45 degrees, relying 100% on your harness with
both arms waving in the air! The ground by the way is 1km down.
The best i could do was lean 45 degrees over the edge but my hands
were stuck firmly to the strap connecting my body to the wall. I
couldn't let go, my brain was telling me "Go on, do it", but my
hands wouldn't budge. Now i see myself as an adventurous person
willing to try anything, but this was the first time in my short
years where my brain and body disagreed with one another and it felt
I hit my limit where i had no idea what my limit was up until now.
And I'm actually quite glad knowing it's hanging off a cliff relying
on a piece of metal and strap, 1km up on a plank of wood, now that
can't happen too often, can it? There is a saying 'Feel the fear and
do it anyway'. That was actually shuffling across those wooden
The adrenalin rush i got from that and hiking Mt. Huashan lasted all
the way back down to the cable car where it was 7:00pm and the
perfect time to leave for a 3 hour bus ride back to Xi'an.
Mt Huashan, 5 peaks and 5 blisters on my feet, coincidence, i think
Follow-up to Andre's initial story
Archer's Note: Six months after I published the Andre's
account of his climb, I received this follow-up email
From: Andre Hycenko
Sent: Wednesday, June 04, 2008 10:23 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Mt Huashan Story
I was just reading your replies to you Mt Huashan stories
and I'm surprised of the people who went there and are
saying a few points that i mentioned are untrue.
Everything i wrote is what i experienced and i have no
reason to lie. As well as they would have had different
experiences to what i had.
As a result i would like to make clearer about what the
plank path is to help further travelers make a decision to
go there. If you wish to publish this you have my
To add to my story on Mt Huashan (also known as Mt. Hua and
Mt. Huangshan - i don't know why there are so many similar
names) - the plank path is an
option where you don't have to walk it if you don't want to.
It doesn't connect to anything except a small lookout where
you see the same thing walking along the planks.
There are security cameras along the way to make sure you
haven't fallen off as well as to take your photo if you want
to pay for it. The harness goes all the way from the start
to the end where you have 2 clips.
When you reach a point
where they have secured the safety wire, you unclip one clip
then attach the second. Once you have done so, attach it to
the next then keep going. The whole length is about 70 metres one way (from memory), then you come back. Half of
the section is planks of wood and the other is foot holes
carved into the rock. I had to take the photos myself by
using a mini tripod and placing it on some steps then
scuttling back to position myself.
The friends i had made were too scared to attempt it.
found it a huge thrill and an experience i will never
The walls of the cliff aren't exactly 90
degrees but close enough. Simply
speaking, if you fell you would die.
With the rest of the walk, I went in Spring 2007 where the
weather was great. In the morning i walked through a cloud
on the way up where it is paved all the way, but there are
narrow steep steps that are slippery due to it being wet
because of the mist and can be dangerous for those not as
fit or not careful enough. I walked from the very bottom to
all the peaks in one day. A lot of people choose to take the
cable car up where once you are up there it is never as
impressive if you didn't complete the hard slog in getting
there in the first place. Like many other walks around the
world another example is Machu Picchu
in Peru, would not have been as impressive if you don't
complete the Inca Trail beforehand (Please
note that this is my opinion).
Mt. Huashan is one of the best walks i have ever done and i
strongly urge for people to go there (even you Rick) as the
walk and scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The plank walk
is just a bonus where i would have the same opinion about
these peaks even if i didn't complete the plank path.
My blog that i have written was initially meant for just
friends and family to let them know what i am up to.
Explaining exactly what i was up to would have been boring
and a waste of my time as I'm on holiday and didn't want to
spend all my time on the Internet. Since then i have learnt
many people are reading my blog stories and ask me a lot of
questions about them which i am happy to answer.
What i have written about is my experience where everyone
will experience something different. The best way to finding
out about Mt Huashan is to go there yourself.
NOTE: I find it very peculiar that Andre would have to defend his
story. It is incredible to hear him report that people have
questioned his eye-witness account of the Huashan climb. There
is not one suspicious bone in my being to question his account.
I personally accept everything he has said without hesitation.
From: Christoph Rehage
Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2008 8:34 PM
Subject: huashan article
I have climbed Huashan yesterday, and I found your article to be
- The dangerous plank walk is in fact a tourist attraction where you
have to get off the path that leads to the South Peak, then enter a
large temple door, pay 30rmb as an entry fee for the plank walk, and
then get safety equipment strapped around your waist.
I asked the
people in charge if you could take the plank walk to ascend South
Peak, but they told me the only place it actually leads to is a
viewing platform. So, if your sources make it sound like they
were forced to take the plank walk to get to where they wanted to
go, well that's obviously not true.
Instead, they had to get
off the path, enter a temple, purchase a ticket, and then with
safety equipment they were allowed to play around on the plank walk.
(Rick Archer Note:
Including Andre Hycenko's account in the previous letter, Mr.
Rehage's account means that two different people say the "Boardwalk"
is a one-way street, not a dangerous through way as was first
- the sky ladder didn't seem dangerous. It's said to be 90 degrees,
but in reality it's not. There are handrails everywhere in any
difficult part of the trail. Old people and children can climb up
Huashan, and they do.
- in spite of the heavy snow this country has been experiencing in
the past few weeks, about 90% of the path is in top-condition and
free of snow and ice.
That's about the main points that I found misleading.
It sounds like you've never been up on Huashan (RA
is correct - I
haven't been to Huashan), which is a pity, because it is
really amazingly beautiful. I started climbing at midnight and got
to the East Peak before sunrise, and boy that was totally awesome!
I don't know about the motivation of your two sources as to why
would they give misleading information. My only guess is that
they're trying to make themselves sound like they are the
brave ones for
getting through dangerous situations like that.
But really it's nothing at all.
From: Jarrod Wirth
Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2008 4:46 AM
Subject: Mt Huashan climber
I've just returned from China and climbed Mt Huashan while there. A
friend learnt I was heading to China & sent me pictures of Huashan.
After a google search I relied on the information provided at your
site. There's also some great Huashan videos on 'youtube'. I would
ask you to staple the following to your page as I'd like to add some
information for those who may follow. Mt Huashan is a great climb
and nowhere near as difficult as your site suggests.
advise you head there unless you can at least speak Mandarin. You
could go cold turkey with a phrase book or pay a translator. With a
translator you may find they want to rush, get you up there and back
ASAP so they can hook another paying customer to rush along before
moving on to the next. Don't trust your translator, if you don't use
one good for you but if you don't speak Mandarin you might as well
act like an idiot savant and expect to be ripped off. You can get a
bus from Xian, it costs next to nothing however you might end up
losing all your money. Pick pockets working in groups of 5 to 9
target buses, they get on and then get off after relieving everyone
on the bus of their valuables. For US$20 you can hire a government
approved 'foreigners' taxi at most hotels in Xian, the taxi takes
you there and brings you back the same day, this is a good option.
Getting to the top is simple, when you buy your entrance ticket, you
get a map, use it. You can walk from the base along a number of
starting points or catch the chair lift which takes you to the North
Peak. There are many people along the way trying to earn a buck,
they'll beckon you to follow them to small restaurants, stalls,
historical sites or just up the garden path then charge you for the
privilege and directions back. Use your map and go your own way. As
stated you can walk from the base but if doing so best prepare for
the possibility of an overnight stay on the mountain. There is a
guest house between the East and South Peaks, a rough hostel style
accommodation where you can purchase water, dried sundries and small
rooms supplied with warm bedding. The mountain views to the south
from these are incredibly good however during peak season I imagine
you must have to pre-book. To get up and back in a day take the
chairlift, it takes you to the North Peak, the North Peak is
definitely not deadly, but from there you can hike to East, Centre,
South and West Peak all within a 6 to 7 hour time frame.
This is a great walk and I highly recommend it, certainly it can be
challenging and without doubt death could easily call upon the unfit
or unwary. However you don't need to spend the night before 'making
peace with yourself' in case you don't come back. If you're going
keep in mind that you're going to have a really good climb on a
really beautiful mountain, because that's what it is.
Rick let me know if you'd like some of my pictures and I'd be happy
to forward some of them for you. Many thanks, and for those crazy
enough to embark on the adventure, good climbing!
ABOUT INCONSISTENCIES IN THE HUASHAN STORY
From: Roslyn B
Sent: Monday, April 21, 2008 11:09 AM
Subject: Huashan Hiking Trail
Wow. Thanks for sharing those pictures. That has to be the most
incredible scenery I've ever seen!
I did some looking around online
though and it seems that the peaks are switched. Even on your
diagrams, you have arrows pointing the gondola that you said goes to
the North peak, and on the diagram the arrow goes to the South peak.
Google Earth seemed to confirm this, that most of the photographs
were from the South Peak.
I've never been there, so I have no personal experience, but looking
at the maps and reading the stories, it does make much more sense if
the dangerous trail led to the South Peak. Thank you so very much
for researching this story and making it available on the internet.
It gave me a very entertaining afternoon.
RICK ARCHER'S REPLY:
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, April 21, 2008 12:08 PM
To: Roslyn B
Subject: RE: Huashan Hiking Trail
interesting that you point out that the peaks have been
switched. When I first wrote the article, I had them reversed in
the way you suggest, Roslyn. The South Peak
was the dangerous peak. But then I read a letter from Andre
Hycenko that seemed to contradict my previous understanding of
how the peaks are laid out so I went back and
switched them around. It took me an hour to rewrite my
I will tell you the truth:
I have never been to
Huashan. I have
written everything based on other people’s accounts.
If you clear up the
Peak mystery, by
all means let me know. I prefer to be right even if it means
changing my story.
In the meantime, I will assume that
Mr. Hycenko meant to say "South" and I will switch the names back.
Letter Five: Steve
From: Steve P
Sent: Saturday, February 23, 2008 2:38 PM
Subject: huashan article
Hi Rick, I found this page to be very interesting and shows that
there is still a lot of world out there that most people do not know
about. I am writing to just ask a question.
Of the stories and the pictures , the one picture that shows Mr.
Hycenko on the plank walk and the pictures of the plank walkers from
the Frank and Laura story, why are safety cables there for Mr.
Hycenko and not on the pictures that you used in the couples story?
Did something change between 2003 and 2008? Where the pictures you
found older than the stories and since then a safety precaution was
Still an exciting place to visit if one can.
RICK ARCHER'S REPLY:
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, April 21, 2008 7:17 PM
To: Steve P
Subject: RE: huashan article
I have never been
to Huashan. Back in late 2006, a friend sent me an email with
many of the exciting pictures published on my site.
Fascinated by the pictures, I then did some Google work and came
up with several stories written by people who
had been to Huashan. The most exciting story (Frank and
Laura) seemed the perfect accompaniment to the amazing pictures.
However, in regards to the “boardwalk area” that you have asked
about, I think parts of the original
account I published were misleading.
They did not make it clear this plank was a
dead end in their story. Since Mr. Hycenko’s letter, I received another one from Christoph Rehage that asserts that gangplank is merely a tourist
attraction and not a dangerous invitation to death.
In other words, you can bypass this
plank area if you wish.
So to answer your question, I am beginning to
wonder if parts of the Frank and
Laura story are inaccurate.
Another explanation is that something has changed since the 2003
story of Frank and Laura.
I would trust Andre Hycenko!
pictures are pretty convincing. I added
Andre's picture and personal account to
my story even
though I knew someone like you would eventually point out the
contradiction. Thank you for keeping me on my toes.
OPEN NOTE TO HUASHAN READERS
FROM RICK ARCHER
April 21, 2008
Now that you have read Steve and Roslyn's
letters above and my replies, let me take this opportunity to completely and totally admit my
article about Huashan is not up to the standards of National
Over Christmas vacation in December 2006, I
wrote stories about four different locations - the Russian Highway
from Hell, the Bolivian Highway of Death, the Chinese Guoliang
Tunnel, and of course the Mt Huashan Hiking Trail.
The problem is that I have never been anywhere near any of these four
locations in my life.
I wrote absolutely
everything based on accounts I found on the Internet (some of which
gave contradictory information).
I do not mind admitting some
of what I wrote might be inaccurate.
Frankly speaking, I wrote
the best story I could
based on the information that was available at the time.
I took one look at the pictures and concluded the climb appeared to
dangerous. I have a right to my opinion, by the way. Then an internet search turned up accounts that
confirmed my initial conclusion. In other words, this is a
"Research Paper", not an "Experience Paper."
I have not "misled" anyone. Everyone knows that
first-hand accounts are more reliable. I have gone to great lengths to
explain who I am, why I wrote the story, and to point out my own
limitations. I certainly don't think anyone who reads these
Huashan letters will think I am deliberately deceiving the public.
you can tell from the total absence of
advertisements on this web page, I am not trying to make a
single cent off of my web site.
What possible motive would I have to tell
lies about a place I have never been to and could care less about?
Like most people, I have plenty of axes to grind - serious stuff
like global warming,
overpopulation, famine and genocide - as well as less serious stuff like traffic
congestion, oil prices, spam, and unwanted sales calls on my cell phone.
But I assure all readers that spreading horrible Internet
lies about Mt Huashan is not on my agenda.
QUESTIONING THE ACCURACY OF RICK ARCHER'S
So why wasn't my original story totally accurate?
Considering at that time
I was writing for a very limited
audience (my own Newsletter readers in Houston, Texas, USA), I did
not think it was important to be perfect.
In the case of Huashan, a friend forwarded me pictures of the Huashan climbing trail
on November 27, 2006. I was so
amazed by how dangerous the pictures looked, I could not wait to
share them with my friends. So I published
my Huashan story
in January 2007 with the specific intention of
sharing the pictures with my Newsletter readers here at
my dance studio in Houston.
I admit my original standard for accuracy was not set very high.
Like the game of horseshoes, I figured 'close to
correct' was good enough.
At the time, I never expected this particular page
would become an Internet darling for thousands of Huashan fans
around the globe.
Now that people have begun to ask about
discrepancies in my story, I am more than willing to set the record straight.
Whenever somebody corrects me, I fix the problem. For example,
I erroneously listed an excellent Huashan video as "Chinese" in
origin. People pointed out it was actually "Japanese."
So I corrected my mistake.
Other people say I have the North-South direction of the Peaks mixed up.
Okay, I believe them. Unfortunately no one has come forward to
say what the correct direction is. But when someone does help
me get it right, I will make the correction immediately.
I am more than willing to set the record straight.
However the real headache is determining the exact level of 'DANGER'
First of all, this is a subjective issue. Young men like Andre
Hycenko who climb mountains on a regular basis are not going to be
intimidated by Huashan. But an elderly couple out for a hike
might end up scared out of their wits, especially if it starts to
rain or snow! Those steep steps are brutal if they are iced
Second, I am forced to deal with contradictory evidence. Let
me give you a clear example. Look at the
picture posted on the right
with the "be careful" caption.
Study it. This is one of the pictures enclosed in Milt's email.
If this picture was sent to you, would you see evidence of
DANGER just like I did? Does that look safe to you?
Would you let your kid or your elderly parent walk on that?
Furthermore, do you
see a harness on that man in the red shirt
Now please compare the
Red Shirt picture with the one of
Andre Hycenko below. It looks like Andre is traveling
on the same section as the man in red.
Yes, Andre has a
harness, but not Mr. Red. Mr. Red
has no harness!
passing someone going in the
Please study the picture of Andre some more. Andre's walkway appears to
possibly dead end about 20/30 feet
to his right. Now look at the other picture with
Mr. Red Shirt
above. Does it look like that set of planks hits a dead end?
I don't know the correct answer off hand, but it appears to me that it
continues to the right.
this passage from the Frank and Laura story:
"Yes, there were chains to hang onto, but there was ice and there was
wind and the margin for error was very small. Those planks
could not have been more than two feet wide. Exposed to the
elements, I wondered just how safe they were. (Note: This ramp
had a name: Floating-in-Air Road. But I called it Boardwalk)"
Not only do the pictures
make this area look dangerous, but so does this account. Since I am depending on Internet stories
like this, the pictures, and
the good will of people like Andre Hycenko to fill in the gaps,
I am only as good as this second-hand information permits me to
I have no reason to fib. Why should I care if I got it
wrong? I have already stated that if I find a mistake in my narrative,
I will correct it. I did the best I could with the
information that was available to me at the time. If anyone
reading this story can clear up any discrepancies, I invite them to
share the corrections with me.
So let me ask another
question: Do you see a harness on that person in the picture
on the right? No, of course not. Do you see a dead
end at the end of that ramp? There may be one, but I can't see it from this angle.
It looks like this set of planks goes
through to somewhere, but Andre says it is a dead end. Andre
had a harness, but there isn't any harness here.
This is known as a
"discrepancy." Is it a dead end or isn't it?
there harnesses in one picture, but not the other two?
But Andre is busy climbing the great mountains of the world.
Do you honestly think Andre has the time to explain these
Here is my final point: The main reason I do not know the complete truth about this hiking trail is because I have pictures
that contradict each other!
But rather than hide my
ignorance, I openly admit I am flying blind.
LET'S PLAY A GAME!
Pretend that someone just sent you this picture
in an email. What's the first thing that comes to your mind?
My first impression was that it looks dangerous!!!
What about you? Did you think the same thing?
I am willing to bet if you
saw the same pictures I did without the benefit of any modifying evidence,
you too would conclude that Huashan is unbelievably dangerous!
I said Huashan looked
dangerous because that is the impression I got. That said, if
I get new pictures that indicate Huashan is a picnic walk in the park, I
will add those as well. I am not trying to tell lies
about this mountain. Otherwise I
would not DELIBERATELY post contradictory information!
I have too much respect for the position I find myself in.
You see, by a series of cosmic convergences, my web page of Huashan
has magically become so widely visited that it is now the second
most read page on the Internet for "Huashan". When I
last looked in July 2008, Google listed my Huashan web page link in
second place right below
Consequently I feel a responsibility to get the story right.
People from all over the planet are coming to me for the best
stories and the best pictures of one of the most sacred places in
China. In a sense, they are depending on me to be their eyes
and ears to this exciting location. Except there is one
I have no direct experience of the place! How crazy is
"and a blind man shall lead them..."
So here is my request to all visitors to this web page -
you have information about Huashan to share, please step forward and do so. I am
very easy to contact
Furthermore I am not
sensitive about the discrepancy problem. My conscience is
clear because I have done the best I could given the hand that was
dealt to me. Correct me if you see an error with the
understanding that all
I care about is getting it right.
And while I am at it, let me take this moment to thank you for visiting my page. I
am flattered that your interest in Huashan has brought you to my
site. Now please help me get it right for the sake of all the
thousands of people who will follow in your footsteps.
April 21, 2008
Letter Six: Anthony regarding YouTube Videos
From: Anthony W
Sent: Thursday, April 24, 2008 8:46 PM
Subject: Chinese hike details
Thanks for a fascinating web page. A couple comments.
"Do you see a harness?" -- that is not the question to ask. Note
that in the Andre photo there is--in addition to the heavy
chain--a rope or cable.
It is obvious there is no such rope or cable in the man-in-red
photo. Assuming the photos are
of the same section of trail, which I accept, it
seems obvious that the Chinese added a cable.
Note that the harness is attached to the cable with a carabiner.
Such a carabiner would not slide over that large size chain,
hence the caption ("Be very careful when
passing") reflects a time when a hiker would have to
reach around an on-coming climber with no firm attachment to the
cliff. After the installation of the
cable, one hiker could stand away from the cliff, the other
scoot under him, and then one, with a firm grip on the chain in
a safe stance would briefly remove the
carabiner from the cable and then attach it on the other side of
the oncoming man's carabiner.
Since the chains seem to be very well anchored, I think the long
account by the scared American is
absurd. Provided one takes care to always have a
good grip on the chains, an occasional slip of a foot is
of no consequence. I have seen such over-dramatic accounts of
climbing the cable ladder up Half Dome
in Yosemite, equally silly. If you have acrophobia or no hand
strength, don't go, that's simple.
Like you, however, I have not been there.
way, while I was writing my message, I came
upon this video
on Youtube. It shows the method of moving the carabiner(RA
note: this link is listed below).
RICK ARCHER'S REPLY TO ANTHONY:
Back when I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was my Chinese
finger trap. This clever device allowed you to put your
finger in, but would tense up when you tried to pull your finger
back out. Only by pulling your finger out very slowly
could you succeed in getting your finger back. That was a
lot of fun!
As for Frank and Laura, the mountain played a very mean trick on
them. Like the Chinese finger trap, the weather was pretty
good all the way up to the top. Then it suddenly started
to rain and ice up.
Easy one way, impossible going back - The very definition of a
Chinese finger trap. Except this time it was far more
deadly. The steep, icy, slippery steps on Huashan became a veritable Chinese Mountain Trap!
Furthermore you have to remember the couple in
question was in their late 50s. Since it was raining/icing on the
way down, they were really frightened. Since I am 58, I can
report that as you age,
confidence in your legs and your balance diminishes. Frank
had every right to be afraid considering how bad the footing
I would like to thank you for the video link. Thanks to
your suggestion, I must have
watched at a least a half-dozen videos. Although I am still not
sure what the answers are to the discrepancies, I did get a much
better feel for the hike.
I still think the climb is dangerous! But if you pay
attention, I imagine it is safe enough for someone in good
However, don't ever lose sight of the fact that you are also
dependent on people around you. One serious accident at
Huashan was attributed to someone falling from above who hit
several people on the way down and made them fall too.
RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:
Thanks to Anthony's suggestion about the You Tube video, I discovered
there were quite a few other videos on
YouTube related to the Mount Huashan hiking trail.
Unfortunately, the absolute best video was narrated in Japanese (not
it had Japanese
sub-titles. I found myself trying to remember if I had
any friends who spoke Japanese who might translate it for me and
clear up some of the confusion. Oh well.
Even after watching all six videos for about half an hour, I
felt both enlightened and yet still mystified by the entire story.
Here were my impressions:
DISCREPANCIES REMAIN INTACT - In at least two videos, I could have
sworn I saw people inching their way across narrow boards without
any safety equipment.
BE CAREFUL - There is no doubt in my mind there are some very
steep, dangerous places on this climb. As you watch people
climb, you can see they are clearly paying very close attention to what they
are doing. Each step is deliberate with eyes open wide to make
sure the step has been successful before transferring weight.
CROWDED - There appeared to be hundreds and hundreds of
people making this climb. You will see snake-like, single-file
columns of people stretching all along the mountain in practically
DANGEROUS - There were some amazing shots of chimneys,
vertical climbs, and narrow pathways there were just inches from a
fall to ones death.
SAFETY - It occurred to me that the Chinese might have
instituted many safety features. The story of Frank and Laura
dates back to 2003. One obvious answer to the discrepancies
between Frank and Laura's story versus that of the recent climbers
(Hycenko, Rehage, Wirth) is that the Chinese decided to install many
more safety features in recent years.
Here is a list of my 5 favorite YouTube Huashan videos (once you
visit YouTube, you will find more)
Mount Huashan Video (Rick
Archer's Note: This is the video suggested by Anthony. It is a 30 second video of the controversial
gangplank with a carabiner clearly attached)
Dangerous Hike Video
(Rick Archer's Note: This is the best of the bunch. It
is a 6 minute video prepared for a TV audience. Although it is
in Japanese, you still get an excellent idea that this hike is
definitely no walk in the park.)
Video (Rick Archer's Note:
44 seconds of a climber clearly using safety devices to climb
a very dangerous section).
Video (Rick Archer's Note: 5 1/2
minutes, this was my second favorite.)
Walking the Boardwalk -
(Rick Archer's Note:
this is a 2 1/2 minute video clip featuring people walking
sideways across the Boardwalk in the days BEFORE they had the
THE MODERN GONZO PICTURES, STORY, AND VIDEO
Sent: Wednesday, May 07, 2008 5:25 PM
Subject: Modern Gonzo on Mount Huashan
I found your site most helpful finding info on Mount Huashan. I'm a
Canadian travel writer who also hosts a travel TV series, although
this was just for fun (and a column for an adventure magazine).
Thought you might be interested in what I found. I think you'll
particularly enjoy the Youtube video, shot at arms length.
See the pictures
3. Watch the
Bests, Robin Esrock
ARCHER'S NOTE: THE FOLLOWING ACCOUNT WAS WRITTEN BY
AFTER YOU FINISH THIS ACCOUNT, YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST GO SEE
HUASHAN VIDEO. IT IS AMAZING!
The Gonzo finds me on two narrow
wooden planks, resting on iron rivets, nailed into a
solid rock face on Mount Huashan. Below me, a
1000m plummet, and the snow and ice are making it
awfully slippery to hold on.
I am here because of
a picture that circulates on the Internet, claiming
to be, amongst other things, the world's most
dangerous hike. With harnesses in place, danger
might not be the right word. Scary comes to
mind. Mind numbingly frightening as all hell is
more accurate. Mount Huashan is a two-hour drive
from Xian, China's most ancient city and the
historical seat of its opulent dynasties.
As one of five sacred mountains in the country, the
rocky peaks attract hundreds, sometimes thousands,
of domestic tourists every day. They arrive in
buses, purchase tickets (with optional insurance),
and take the cable car towards the north peak.
From here rock-hewn trails lead to the four cardinal
peaks, punctuated with temples along the way where
one can make blessings, and secure engraved locks on
iron chains. For an atheist country, the Chinese
have always been a superstitious lot.
Dressed casually in sneakers, they hike up steep,
stone cut steps amongst weathered peasants carrying
heavy boxes of food to sell at stalls along the
way. It gets cold above 2000m, and I'm not dressed
for the snow that dusts the trees, the ice that
forms sharp teeth on the mouth of temple
There is just a smattering of westerners, amazed
that such a hazardous trail could exist, never mind
that it is popular with Chinese of all ages.
writes a column known as
Modern Gonzo. He is a travel writer
among other things. Robin now has a travel
show on Canadian TV known as
Word Travels. Mr. Esrock was kind
enough to contribute his personal experiences of
Huashan to our article.
Conforming to the unwritten rule that hiking
is a cordial hobby, I hear laughs and see smiles, in stark
contrast to grim people I encounter in the city. From the
boys who got a kick playing with my arm hair on the plane to
the couples and families on the mountain, in central China
I'm a rock star, someone to be admired and photographed.
As the trail gets steeper and slippery, I take the cement
fork that leads to the "Cliffside plank path" at 2160m,
located between the south and east peaks. The human traffic
peters out considerably. The wind blows with the warmth of
frostbite. Walking through a temple, I scale a rocky mound
to see a majestic view, holy almost, and a narrow trail to
the planks. A knee-high chain of iron is all that stands
between me and a parachute-free skydive off the edge. My
knees wobble, I say a thankful prayer my mother isn't seeing
this. A plaque in Chinese indicates that it will cost
30RMB's ($4) to continue, but a sign has boarded up the path
ahead, which seems to disappear anyway. All this way to
find "the world's most dangerous hike", and now it is
closed. I laugh. There's not much else to do. Then, a
young guy arrives with harnesses, and casually pulls away
the sign. The adventure is on. I pay him the cash, and
he attaches me with two carabiner hooks, briefly showing me
how to use the them to make my away forward. Canyoneering
in Costa Rica reminded me that one hook must always be
attached while unlocking and reattaching the other. Nice to
know I'm learning when it comes to these sorts of things.
My hands are freezing, and in a touch of kindness, the guy
takes off his thin white gloves and gives them to me. He
knows I'm going to need them. I don't know what I'm in
I'm alone when I set off. For all the crowds
in China, they have left me to discover this one on my own.
The narrow ledge gives way to a vertical crevice, with
erratic iron bars descending to the next section, steel
stitches across the cut of rock. The wind has picked up,
my hands are numb, but I unclip the latches and carefully
lower myself down. Beneath my feet is a 1000m drop. I'm
overwhelmed by one of those "what the hell are you doing you
bloody idiot" moments. I get them occasionally, perk of the
job. I reach the last rung, swing to the right against
the sheer rock face, and there it is - the photo. THE
photo. Thin, crackled wooden planks hug the rock, covered
in ice and snow, and although it is a moment of terror, it
is also a moment of triumph. I have found the source of a
rumour. It was at a tourism schmooze talking to another
travel writer that I discovered the picture might have a
source in a Chinese mountain. Cosmically, I received an
invitation from the Chinese Tourism Authority to visit the
country the very next day. After some online research and
helpful Google mapping, I figured I could get there on the
same ticket. Call it divine manifestation. These things
happen to me. I call it Modern Gonzo. AnywayŠ
From here I begin to walk along the plank,
clicking in one carabiner after another, until I stop in the
middle, look down, look ahead, look up. I have another
moment. A moment of sheer awe, lost in the bosom of the
nature. The surrounding mountains are enormous, sharp, and
desolate. I am just a speck surrounded on all sides by the
great outdoors, and I feel very small indeed. Ice dust
falls on my head from above. It's better not to think about
rocks doing the same. So I continue walking along the
planks, and it's not until 20m or so later that I hear the
laughs and giggles from a group of Chinese, clearly having a
whale of a time coming down the crevice. I stop and wait to
take pictures of them, to give the planks some scale, and
click out at the end to find a little clearing with a small
temple in a modest cave. The only way back is along the
same path, and that means walking around the others, but by
now I'm used to the planks, the view, the fear, and it's
easy getting past them, exchanging cameras to take some
pictures, as if this were just another normal place to find
yourself on a Tuesday afternoon. Up the crevice, back on
the narrow ledge, I thankfully return the gloves, and
continue along the path to the other peaks. With the
safety harnesses, I would be hard pressed to call Mount
Huashan the world's most dangerous hike. Scary as hell for
the novice like me, a fun day out for any climber, but
probably not your cup of green tea. True danger comes
without busloads of tourists.
Letter Eight: Antoine Attacks!
From: Antoine L
Sent: Friday, July 04, 2008 4:58 PM
I read you webpage in May 08 while I was studying in
China. The same weekend, I
got on a 14 hours train ride back to Xian, for the second
time, and begin the hike of Huashan.
Of course, this trip was unwelcome by many of my peer
students, however it was encouraged by my Chinese friends.
Here is the reason
- my peer students had seen pictures and based their
opinion of this climb only on what they had seen, exactly
like you did. In
fact, a few saw your website, but did not take the time to
entirely read it through.
Meanwhile, my Chinese friends were all very excited
of finding out the news.
I wonder just how many people in this world
canceled their plan to hike Huashan because of your website.
Your website truly makes
it look like Huashan is dangerous
and that those who climb it are hero.
The truth is, this is not a volcano, or
the Saharan desert. It is only a small mountain 2160 meters
high (7,000 feet). You don't need to be superman to climb it, nor do you
need to be very courageous. In fact, I saw little 8 years
old kid hiking it. Thus I realized that my military
experience was useless, really, in this expected "lethal"
I don't need to point out to you
that your article is not very academic. Even high school
students learn that they must not use websites as sources
for essays and such. However,
I have read your explanation in regards to the creation of
your website. I understand
your original purposes. Despite
this, I don't understand why you are actually keeping the
same story, which is extremely erroneous.
Huashan did make some modifications to its safety, but
it doesn't justify your article, especially when you write
at the top that it is updated as of May 08.
Huashan is safe, let's call it "Chinese safe" since American
standards would probably deny the access to hiker for law
reasons. I felt like you made it look like that
Chinese didn't care about their people.
This is so judgmental and naive.
Then you attempt to argue that the government hides
thing. So does the American government, and any
other government around the world.
Here is what I suggest your should do.
First, go out there
and live it out. If huashan is a passion for you, get a
flight ticket and go hike it, you won't regret it.
Second, you must edit your whole website, because it is very
false and misleading.
Third point, and this is
coming strictly from a military point of view, apologies are
no used in this world. You made a big mistake when
writing your article on huashan, well swallow up your pride
and do something about it.
If your website is as popular as you claim it is, it is
vital for the good of potential hiker that you edit the
pages immediately. You could leave a historical part
explaining the evolution of security on that tourist site.
You can choose to ignore my advice and take this personal.
Whatever your decision, remember that I am not the
first one to be upset with your website. So much that even
has an paragraph written on your false claims.
I am not attacking you, but your work. That's what
do, except that now I really have a good reason to do it. I
understand that my approach to pass my point may sound harsh
to you, but you must understand the military background I
come from. Anyhow, it should do you good, as I pointed the
solution to remedy the issue.
Think about how frustrating it
is for the Chinese, who reads something degrading one of
their most attracted tourist site, as well as a sacred
mountain, by a foreigner who has never been there. It's like
when civilians writes about a war that they have never seen,
never experienced, criticizing the soldiers on the ground. I
am sure you understand seeing that you come from America. If
you don't, here is a hint.
You wrote something based
on pictures, you exaggerated the paths, the pictures you
shows makes it look 3 times harder than it was, your words
make the Chinese look careless, not to say that it portray
their government to be corrupted.
Are you aware you might have
canceled the plans of many hikers planning to go to China,
convincing them it was truly unsafe (even before they
added the harness, it was still safe if you were smart about
it). You got the every
peaks confused, not to mention the directions.
Finally, you kept the
erroneous article standing as it was. In my
mind, this is a fail. And
you still haven't remedy to it, instead you sadly attempted
to explain yourself. I hope, on behalf of numerous potential
hikers, that you will take the job to hand like a man
edit that website.
RESPONDS TO ANTOINE'S LETTER EIGHT
July 7, 2008
I did not respond directly to Antoine's letter due to his
deeply insulting tone. There is a right way to
approach people and a wrong way. Antoine needs
to learn some manners.
However I do have some things
to say in reference to Antoine's letter.
The debate here
is a simple one:
Antoine says Huashan is
safe enough for an 8 year old. I say Huashan
with a short review of the letter. According
to Antoine, my story was not very academic,
my story was extremely erroneous, I
made a big mistake when writing the
article, I have made false claims,
I argued that the Chinese didn't care about their
people, and my whole website is false
and misleading. Antoine even
challenged my manhood - "take the job like a
And to top it
off, I got the every peaks
confused, not to mention the directions.
Now this I will admit. I probably did get 'the every
peaks' confused. Does that justify Antoine's level
I deeply resent any accusation
that suggests I deliberately listed false claims about the
'danger' of Mt Huashan. Anyone who has taken the time to
page up to this point realizes I have published several emails contradictory to my original story.
As to how safe or
dangerous Huashan is, I invite you to draw your own
1) I have listed
a report from a Chinese citizen who specifically
wrote about a serious climbing disaster at Huashan
back in the Eighties. You have my word I did not
make this up.
2) I have published literally dozens of
pictures. I based my claim of "danger" because the
pictures showed many places where the slightest
mistake could mean death (for example, the picture
on the right). I did not 'doctor'
3) I have listed six different videos for my
readers to watch. Not one of these videos
makes Huashan look like an easy climb as Antoine
suggests. In fact, the
Japanese video is
tougher on Huashan than anything I have written.
Does Antoine wish to argue with these videos?
4) I have listed letters from several people
who have actually climbed Huashan. Here are some
Robin Esrock, the Canadian reporter, said, "There is just a smattering of westerners, amazed
that such a hazardous trail could exist, never mind
that it is popular with Chinese of all ages."
Andre Hycenko said, "The
walls of the cliff aren't exactly 90 degrees but
close enough. Simply speaking,
if you fell you would die."
"certainly it can be
challenging and without doubt death could easily call upon the unfit
say this - Based on the reports sent to me, I think
when all is said and done, the Chinese have gone out
of their way to make the Huashan climb safer.
Good for them.
That said, I think it is also
pretty obvious that in the recent past, the Huashan
climb was without a doubt an incredibly dangerous
endeavour. For a serious mountain climber,
today Huashan is no big deal. But for an
average climber, it seems like Huashan still has
more than its share of danger.
I did not know about the
mention of my Huashan story in Wikipedia until
Antoine brought it to my attention.
To save you the time of going to the site, here is what it
Wikipedia article on Huashan: Rumours
the south peak being the most dangerous hiking
trail on earth seem to have risen from a story
put on the web page of a person called Rick
Archer with the title
"The Deadly Huashan Hiking
Trail". The author claims it was written by
an American couple who visited the trail in
The origin of
the story is not known and is assumed by many
Hua Shan visitors to be purely fictional. The
spread and popularity of the story was aided by
many videos showing the most dangerous parts of
In 2008 the
website author was faced with criticism on the
authenticity of the story, who in turn
wrote absolutely everything based on accounts I
found on the Internet (some of which gave
"At the time, I
never expected this particular page would be an
Internet darling for thousands of Huashan fans.".
story bears similarities to the KiddofSpeed
story which rose big attention on the net until
it was revealed to be fantasy, except for the
fact that Rick Archer hasn't tried to benefit
financially from the story on his site.
it should be noted, that even though Hua Shan
stairs are a popular tourist attraction and
safety equipment is provided and obligatory,
trail is still risky due to strong winds,
changing weather conditions and the physical
condition required to pass some parts of the
is the Wikipedia criticism of my Huashan article
fair? I don't know.
The Wikipedia article above was
So who is Chong-Dae Park? I have no idea.
And what is KiddofSpeed and what does it have to do with this? I have no idea.
And who does Chong-Dae Park represent?
I have no idea.
And how do we reach Chong-Dae Park to ask him what
makes him the expert? I have no idea.
His credentials are not listed.
I do know one thing - even my critic Chong-Dae Park
agrees the trail is risky. I will leave it at
What should be apparent to anyone who has read this
far is that I will print anything sent to me that
information presented, now you the Reader can make
up your own mind.
I think that is all that any visitor to this web
site could possibly ask.
July 8, 2008
FURTHER THOUGHTS IN RESPONSE TO ANTOINE'S
Archer, July 11, 2008
As I stated previously, I did
not respond directly to Antoine's first email to me
(See Letter Eight directly above).
Antoine was so vicious in his initial email I did not see
the point in wasting one single minute of my time
debating his angry words.
But I did carefully read what he had to say.
Although I deeply resented Antoine's style, I was
honest enough to look beyond his harsh words and try
to learn from his points.
Stung by Antoine's bitter words, I was determined to
examine my own story to make sure it was as accurate
as I could humanly make it. As Nietzsche would
say, "that which does not kill us makes us
three things that caught my eye.
I don't need to point out to you
that your article is not very academic.
Up to now, I wasn't
aware that anyone expected my article to be
academic. SSQQ is a dance studio, not
But Antoine did have a point - now that my
Huashan story had become the second
most-read article on the Internet, I
probably did have a responsibility to get my
story right. So although I did not
like his style, I agreed that if I was going
to claim that Huashan was dangerous, perhaps
even deadly, I should make it clear to the
readers how I arrived at these conclusions.
As a result, I spent the better part of two
days writing the section in
yellow above where I debated with
Antoine as to how safe or dangerous Huashan
really is. Then I spent a third day
writing this section as well.
Antoine expected me to take his criticisms
like a man. I hope it is
obvious to all independent readers that I have gone to considerable
trouble to defend my positions carefully.
2) I am not
attacking you, but your work.
do, except that now I really have a good
reason to do it.
understand that my approach to pass my point
may sound harsh to you, but you must
understand the military background I come
curious writing style, I was a bit taken
aback to see that he considered himself a
Well, Antoine was attacking me whether he
realized it or not.
As long as he stuck to comments about the
story, he had every right to question
certain points. But when he said that
I made false claims and that
my website was false and misleading,
then it became a personal attack. I
think I had every right to feel like Antoine
was accusing me of being a liar.
Those are strong words. I do not
appreciate being called a liar.
3) I wonder just how many people in this world
canceled their plan to hike Huashan because of your website.
people in this world have canceled
their plans to hike Huashan based on
Now that is a good question.
It never occurred to me before that
people around the world might be
making their decisions to visit
Huashan based on my words.
So I thought carefully about the
'right and wrong' of my Huashan
Ethically-speaking, what would
anyone expect of me?
The first thing any reader would expect
would be for me to tell the truth as I see
conscience is clear on that one. I
tell the truth as I see it.
publish un-doctored pictures to support
The second thing any
reader would expect would be for me to point
out the places where I am unsure of the
On April 21,
2008, I wrote a carefully-worded
message that clearly
stated everything I say is based on
second-hand information, some of which
On July 7, 2008, in response to
Antoine's first letter, I wrote a second
that I placed at the very top of this
page. In this message, I
acknowledged my own short-comings.
Here is a brief excerpt of what I said:
For now, let me briefly address the concerns of my critics
before continuing. I think it is important to note I have
never personally climbed Huashan or had any direct
experience of the place. My critics have every right
to use this fact as proof that I don't know what I am
talking about. I fully acknowledge the
chance exists that perhaps my critics are correct.
Maybe the Huashan climb is indeed a lot safer than I give it
The third thing any
reader would expect would be for me to
publish letters, pictures and links to
videos that are relevant to my Huashan story
whether they support my position or
anyone who has scanned the complete
Huashan page realizes I adhere to this
policy. Not only have I published
letters that point out my limitations
(e.g. Antoine's first letter), I publish
letters from people who have actually
climbed Huashan. In addition, I
provide links to places where people can
obtain further information.
Finally, the fourth thing
any reader would expect would be for me to
make changes in my original position should
I see fit.
I have made
several changes to my original story.
1 - The simple changes were to change my
North Peak mistake back to the South
Peak. I originally correctly
identified the 'South Peak' as the
location of the dangerous hike, but
changed it when Andre Hycenko's letter
said "North Peak". I think
I misunderstood what Andre wrote and made a small
Antoine challenged me on getting my
Peaks right, I switched it back.
2 - I changed the nationality of one of
the videos from Chinese (incorrect) to
3 - In order to help people who were
confused by Frank and Laura's story, I
published letters from Andre Hycenko,
Robin Esrock, and Christoph Rehage plus
links to videos that make it clear that
'Changkong Zhandao', aka the
Air plank walk
considered to be the most
dangerous part of the Huashan Climb, is
OPTIONAL and NOW HAS SAFETY FEATURES as
4 - Finally I took steps to soften my
original position on Huashan by
publishing statements such as these:
1- I fully
acknowledge the chance exists that
perhaps my critics are correct.
Maybe the Huashan climb is indeed a
lot safer than I give it credit for.
say this - Based on the reports sent to me, I think
when all is said and done, the Chinese have gone out
of their way to make the Huashan climb safer.
Good for them.
As far as I am
concerned, in response to Antoine's first
letter and the Wikipedia reference, I did as
much as I possibly could to be fair to the
Huashan situation. Three days is a lot
of time to spend on this topic, but if the
World is planning to visit, I suppose I owe
people the fairest story I am capable of
I do not know if my actions were
sufficiently scholarly or
academic to satisfy Antoine, but
I certainly hope my efforts were good enough
to satisfy all the other people who visit
this story on my web site.
July 10, 2008
From: Antoine L
Sent: Friday, July 11, 2008 10:14 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: Huashan
Good day Mr. Archer:
It is unfortunate that I noticed
today that you had posted my email
online onto your website.
The main reason I
had chosen to send you an email was
especially for the reason that I did not
wish my comments to be published online.
Whether or not you have judged my email
to be offensive, it is not ethical of
you to publish my words on to your
In my first email, I had no thought it
necessary to include the standard
warning. Please take note of it and
remedy to the situation.
who kills, or attempts to
kill, by surprise or secret
assault; one who
treacherously attempts to
murder anyone who is
unprepared for defense.
A skilled military
shooter detailed to spot and
pick off enemy soldiers from
a concealed place, then
retreats before a
counterattack can be
To attack a person or
a person's work with
petulant or snide criticism,
esp. anonymously or from a
RICK ARCHER RESPONDS
TO ANTOINE'S SECOND
July 11, 2008
was angry enough at
letter. Now I was
furious at his
For the record, I
keep up a daily
only for this page,
but several other
pages on my website.
In my ten years of
correspondence from people
in all countries,
letter had the
distinction of being
the single most
hostile message I
had ever received.
Yes, I have heard
from people who
disagree with me,
but no one writes to
a complete stranger
in the manner that
me. I answer
15,000 emails a
year, but I can only think of
even remotely as
was Antoine so upset
wasn't like I was
was arguing over a
hiking trail located on a
7,000 miles away.
Was it really worth
this kind of fuss?
That said, I have
never received a
letter as strange as
'you have no right
to publish my
letters' email was
Everyone should know
if you put something
out in cyberspace,
it may just come
back to haunt you.
It was Antoine's
complete U-Turn that
made his second
email so shocking.
In like a lion, out
like a lamb.
What is he so
I didn't even
publish his last
days after bravely calling
me out for my "false
and misleading claims",
Antoine wanted his powerful
pro-Huashan message removed
from my web site.
Furthermore, using his
scholarly, highly academic
approach, Antoine pointed
kept the erroneous article standing as it was.
mind, this is a fail. And you still haven't remedy to it"
Antoine even thought goading
me a little might make me
see the error of my ways.
"You made a big mistake when
writing your article on huashan, well swallow up your pride
and do something about it."
Now as I read his second
seemed to lack the
to continue to make his
point. Was this the
same guy who was
so sure of himself that he
challenged me to
"take the job to hand like a man"?
if Antoine really believed
in what he wrote, shouldn't
he be thrilled to
have his nemesis give him an
to present his
ideas? Wouldn't you
expect Antoine to show some
appreciation that I accepted
his challenge to debate the
Antoine called me out and
I answered. I updated
my entire article. It took some
serious time and effort on my part, but
I responded to every point
he raised. I even
softened some of my original
people usually happy to get
what they asked for?
Well, not Antoine.
Now that I had
invested 20 hours of
my time spread over three days
to respond to his
negative allegations, Antoine
suddenly got cold feet. He turned around and completely
abandoned the scholarly
debate he had dared me to
For the record, I have no
idea who this man is, where
he lives or what started him
on his "Free Huashan"
tangent to begin with.
But considering the passion
of his Crusade to defend the
honor of Huashan against my
uninformed prejudice, I
would have expected him to
at least continue the
argument a little longer,
yes? Most fights
aren't won in the first
Guess not. Antoine did
a Heckle And Hyde routine.
Once Antoine realized I was
willing to fight back, the Sniper
decided it was time to
Hit and Run.
It's like they
say in deer hunting... it isn't
much fun when the deer start
Antoine was pretty outspoken in his
first letter. For someone this
aggressive, you wouldn't expect him
to pack his bags and hit the Retreat
Button at the first sign of
resistance. Indeed, for
someone so proud of his vaunted
military background (mentioned
twice), he sure gave up easy.
If I didn't know any better, I would
guess that Antoine was disillusioned
to discover I was more than willing
to accept his offer to debate the
issue. That is when he
realized it is a lot easier to
dish it out than to take it back. So
Antoine didn't want to play anymore.
He wanted to take his emails
and go home.
Antoine's Second Email:
main reason I had chosen to send
you an email was especially for
the reason that I did not wish
my comments to be published
Funny, I read his first email pretty
carefully. I must have
missed that statement!
I think Antoine was so busy
insulting me and pointing out all my
mistakes, he forgot to tell me that
he wanted me to take his abuse
laying down. Hey, Rick,
let's keep my insults between the
two of us!
what exactly do you suppose
Antoine L is worried about?
I will tell
you what Antoine is worried
about - he is afraid the
entire planet is going to
see what an idiot he is.
in point. Antoine is
the only guy on Earth who
can read an entire page of
- Andre Hycenko, Jarrod
Wirth, Robin Esrock,
Christopher Rehage, etc, et
al, ad infinitum, ad nauseam
- and not comprehend
that I publish emails sent
to me. A
little slow on the uptake,
Then Antoine has the nerve to
come whining to me with a
statement as pathetic as
"In my first email, I had
no thought it necessary
to include the standard
warning. Please take
note of it and remedy to
Antoine, your emails will remain
posted right here along with any
other incoherent message you care to
Maybe in your next email you could
cite a legal case, Mothra v.
Godzilla or something like
that, which would help me understand
what entitles you to shoot your big
mouth off and not have to face the
In the meantime, I suppose you will
stay bitter towards me for not
kowtowing to your whims. Be
that as it may, I have some news for
should realize if I had published
your full name (as I had every legal
right to do), this story would put a
permanent Google stain on your
reputation so deep it would follow
you wherever you went for the rest
of your life.
So be grateful
I showed mercy on you and
kept you anonymous. Hopefully
you weren't dumb enough to tell all
your cyber friends about the tough
letter you sent to the guy who wrote
the story about Huashan. But
that's your problem.
Now tell your handler to take your
keyboard away before you go and
write something even more stupid
than you already have.
Commentary on Antoine's Accusations
From: J Mei
Sent: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 8:31 PM
Subject: More on Huashan
Just thought this might help with
the arguments your article has
attracted -- the trail, and
the plank road in particular, was
given a major refurbishing by local tourism
authorities in fall, 2005.
also when all the safety harnesses
were brought in. So you
right in guessing that
conditions have changed.
may be quite unaware of how
different things were before 2005.
was very dangerous.
ignorance, not your disinformation!
The Mount Huashan Climb is
difficult, but not deadly.
Archer's Note: This 4- page
letter from Michael Sanderson is the
best eyewitness account yet.
Sanderson sent it to me with the
express purpose of clearing up
inaccuracies and giving a more
accurate assessment of the risk
involved in the climb.
are all in his debt for taking the
time to write such a detailed
From: Michael Sanderson
Sent: Monday, August 04, 2008 10:35
Subject: my trip to Huashan
Dear Mr. Archer,
First, I want to say how much I
enjoy your site, and how much I
appreciate that it exists. Six
months ago, I read its stories and
saw the pictures while planning a
trip with my family. (I live in
Guangdong Province in the south of
China, and am teaching English, now
for a hotel.) If I hadn't seen your
site, I surely would not have been
inspired to climb the mountain.
Reminiscing about my trip and
visiting your site again, I'm sorry
to see that there has been
controversy surrounding it. I don't
claim to be a Huashan expert, but I
hope I can add some clarity to a few
points based on my recent
experience. I'm also including some
photos I took and explanations of
what's in them.
My pictures of the Huashan climb can
be seen on my
As for my
opinion about the controversy, that
I will save for the end.
I cannot speak to what the mountain
looked like before the refurbishment
in 2005. I should also note that due
to limited time, I took the cable
car halfway up. And while the
couple's account was gripping and
inspired me to climb the mountain,
for a few reasons I don't think the
account could have happened like
they said. But that's not why I'm
writing. I want to share my
experience climbing the amount,
provide some information and
pictures, and encourage other people
to do so if they have the
opportunity. My apologies if you
already are clear on a lot of this.
Because the mountain is approached
from the north, the north-south
orientation of the mountain is
continually confusing--it seems that
everyone has their peaks confused.
On all good guide maps, up=south. So
whether you start climbing from the
ground or take the cable car, you
first reach the North Peak area.
This is the lowest peak. The assents
to the North Peak go from ground
level. One goes under the cable car
route and is insanely steep. The
other is apparently plenty arduous
and dramatic itself, but I can't
speak to that from experience.
From the North Peak area, there is
only one steep, narrow route to the
rest of the mountain. This is
through the Heavenly Steps/Sun and
Moon Cliff area. The Heavenly Steps
area and the Sun and Moon Cliff area
do contain some areas where steps
are cut so vertically as to almost
be ladders; some other places are
like this as well. These areas,
however, are not over cliffs. so
while someone could easily slip,
they would be hurt, but not killed.
This continues to the Black Dragon
ridge, as you describe. The Black
Dragon Ridge is about one-meter
wide, with sharp cliffs on both
sides, and not a curve or break to
stop a fall backwards. There are
chain handrails along both sides,
and a steady stream of people goes
up and down both ways.
After that, you reach an
often-overlooked area around the
so-called Center or Middle Peak.
This area is in fact relatively
flat, and nicely forested. It lies
between the East, South, and West
peaks. There aren't as many people
around, and stone paths go off in
different directions. As you are
already very high, going to the
different areas requires as much
walking as climbing steps. For
reasons of time, I didn't go to to
the East or West peaks, but towards
the south edge of the mountain. Here
is the highest point, the South
I'm sorry to report that the final
assent to the South Peak is not
particularly treacherous. The stone
steps are not as steep or exposed as
the Black Dragon Ridge, and the
ground is level enough for the
forest to continue right up to the
top. There are a few steep places,
but it's nothing compared to
Also along the southern edge of
Huashan below the South Peak, is a
newer Daoist temple, and around the
corner from that, the legendary
Changkong Plank Path. I did it, with
the safety harness, and it was
exhilarating. What struck me was the
sound of the wind. Pressed up
against the cliff, all the other
sounds of the revelers disappears
and the sound of the wind is clear.
First you go down the ladder made
from poles stuck into the crevice.
Then there are a few purely-carved
foot holes, and after that, the
boardwalk. Another brief ladder
takes you to the small outcropping,
about 15 by 15 feet. There is a tree
people tie red cloth ribbons to, and
a small cave with a stature of a
deity. Then you must go back the way
Actually, I had to go out to the
boardwalk twice. Andre does have a
few minor inaccuracies. The mounted
cameras are only security cameras;
if you're by yourself and want a
survivor picture, you have to have
the guy come out with a Polaroid
camera. This runs another 30 yuan.
Although my Mandarian was not good
enough to ask, this (Boardwalk) was
clearly a dead end, and given the
configuration of the mountain, it
was extremely unlikely that it was
ever necessary to take the plank
road to get to the South Peak. Also,
there is no gondola from the West
Peak to the South Peak--as indicated
before, the cable car goes from the
bottom of the mountain to the North
Still, I found there American's
story to be exhilarating. They
clearly have a flair for the
dramatic, as the route becomes more
more treacherous as they approach
the summit, with a snowstorm
threatening to cut off their
escape--but actually, they layout of
the mountain isn't like that. Could
the story have some kind of
disclaimer at its beginning
suggesting that questions have been
As for the large issue of whether
Huashan is "dangerous." First, I
think the distinction between
Chinese people have a different
sense of danger than Americans. For
example, all over China, you see
parents riding motorcycles with
their children hanging on in front
or behind them, without any helmet
or safety features. Open manholes or
trenches on the road are left open
without barriers, of sometimes even
However, as far as this mountain
goes, while the first impression is
of course "people must die all the
time," actually, all it is is
climbing steps. How often do
we climb steps in our lives without
falling? Especially if
concentrating, and holding onto the
heavy chains, which don't slip away
easily. Also, in most close-ups of
the pictures you can see the carved
stone steps have been textured,
which makes them difficult to slip
off. This is not a new safety
feature, as it's standard to
mountains in China. (I am no
mountain climber and am not in top
shape, but I have hiked some other
mountains in China.)
So I would agree that while
dangerous, I completely agree with
Jarrod, "This is a great walk and I
highly recommend it, certainly it
can be challenging and without doubt
death could easily call upon the
unfit or unwary. However you don't
need to spend the night before
'making peace with yourself' in case
you don't come back."
Anyway, since I know you're
interested in accuracy, I did want
to clear up a few minor points about
your account and also Hycenko.
The South Peak is forested on its
approach, which makes for a pleasant
final assent, but it is just a
mountaintop. Rest areas are further
down its slope. I just thought this
was a little unclear.
The Black Dragon Pool is about a
meter wide--I have a picture--so I'm
not sure about calling it a
The Heavenly Stairs are the first
leg of the climb from the North Peak
area to the other peaks.
At the end of Jinsud Pass, there is
a choice of any of the remaining
peaks--East, South, Central or West,
as well as the Changkong Zhandao and
some other things to see. This
area is actually quite large, and
quite nice, suffused with the
feeling of accomplishment.
"The perilous climb is located at
the North Peak." I'm not sure. There
are some areas around the North Peak
that are no picnic, but the most
perilous climbs I saw are after the
Also, where it says "The West Peak
seen in the pictures above is said
to be the most graceful peak. I
think "Graceful Peak"..." The
picture is of the Heavenly Steps
area in the foreground, and the
North Peak behind it. The North Peak
looks small because 1) the Heavenly
Steps area is much closer, and 2) an
optical illusion resulting from the
fact the buildings in the foreground
are small in reality, but big in the
picture, while the North Peak
buildings are big in reality (it's a
sizable temple and hostel, and the
cable car terminal) but small in the
I'm not sure which peak is
considered the most graceful. As for
Andre Hycenko, he clearly climbed
the mountain but has a few
details off. I'm not sure where he
got his statement "Most paintings of
mountains are most likely those of
Mt. Huashan." That is nowhere close
to being the case. Also, the
"cable-car peak" as he calls it, is
the North Peak, and it's the South
Peak that is the highest.
The Changkong Plank Road is located
below the South Peak, not between
the West and South Peaks.
Huashan does not have an alternate
name Huangshan. Huangshan, or
Yellow Mountain, is a different
mountain in Anihui province.
I think you know most of this
already, it's just not clear
thoughout the article. I hope this
can help clear some things up.
It does, however, remind me, of what
some Chinese students of mine told
me when I said I was going to climb
Huashan--no, don't, as the
expression goes, it has places even
a monkey couldn't pass!
Anyway, congratulations on running
the top English-language site on
Letter Twelve: Ignore the Negativity
From: Janet L
Sent: Monday, August 18, 2008 1:31
Subject: Mt Huashan
Greetings from Malaysia.
I have just found your website (my
google search on Huashan saw your
website listed as no.1 on Page 1
Congratulations on your efforts
in bringing such a wonderful story
to interested people the world over.
I will surely spend countless hours
sitting at my pc reading all your
other travel articles. It's been
like hours since I started reading
the Huashan article today and I'm
only at Letter Six.
Please ignore all the discouraging
or untasteful remarks from certain
readers. They forget you have never
visited the place and are putting in
such great efforts into making your
articles helpful and informative for
other potential hikers.
Three cheers for Rick !!
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Letter Thirteen: The Huashan Trail
From: Diane B
Sent: Saturday, October 04, 2008
Subject: mount huashan
Hi, just returned from
reading your posting I have to agree
that there has to be more accident
up there than any place else.
I'm not a climber, just a tourist
who thought it would be terrific to
see this place after reading about
it in a guide book.
There was no information at the
cable car at the bottom as to what
to expect, unless it was all in
Mandarin and I couldn't read it...
It was the national holiday and the
mountain was so crowded that you
could not stop and pause anywhere
along the way for fear that the
folks in front of you would push you
no evidence of emergency personnel
along the way, only skinny boys
dressed in uniforms trying to
control the crowds...we were crushed
up there against a holding gate
controlling access to the cable
cars, rock face against your cheek
and precipitous staircases down the
cliff on the other side.
this COULD have been a nice journey,
I was terrified of the potential
unpredictable behavior of the crowds
and that no one up there had any
control...it was dark and cable cars
were still riding people up...trails
not hiking, it is extreme stair
climbing, with each step a different
rise and the step itself only
fitting a child sized foot. to look
back is to experience vertigo and to
look up is impossible since it is
This needs to be better managed by
the officials...I am sure there is a
huge amount of accidents there...
I saw old grannies being
shoved up these stone ladders,
parents with babies and toddlers,
children left unsupervised on the
trails...and no one up there speaks
anything but Mandarin...making it
impossible to communicate...signage
is vague and it is easy to get
conceive just how crowded it was on
that trail. You cannot turn
around since then it is like
what I thought would be a reflective
moment on the mountains turned into
a mosh pit in the clouds...
Letter Fourteen: The Huashan Trail
Sent: Friday, October 17,
2008 1:39 AM
Subject: Mountain trails in
I have been climbing mountains in
China for the past three years and I
found some of them appear to be very
dangerous especially if you fear
heights at all. After reading the
information on your web site I think
I would like to try and climb
Huashan. I think one should stay
away during the rain, Snow or
Chinese holidays and crowds. Every
famous mountain in China attracts
too many people which could cause a
hazard on the narrow steep trails. I
have recently climbed Huangshan
which has some spot that are steep
and leave your heart pounding.
I had the chance to climb on a trail
in Tiger Leaping Gorge and have
written a detailed account and
Letter Fifteen: Thanks for the Great
From: Katleen P
Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 9:29
Subject: Mt Huashan Hiking Trail
I am a Belgian teacher in geography
and preparing a group trip to China
in July next year. So my friends are
forwarding me everything they can
find about China. That's how I
received the link to your story. My
heart stood still reading it, I
moved closer and closer to my
PC-screen, terrified, breathtaking,
astonished, I felt the cold and the
wind as if I was there myself. The
adrenaline raged through my body,
can you believe it?
This is definitely something I would
never do myself. We are planning a
4-hours hike on a difficult part of
the Great Wall of China and that 'll
be the most dangerous part of the
journey. I hope.
Thanks for the wonderful, well
Letter Sixteen: Danger is
From: Ben B
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2008
planks in October 2008
I liked your website and had a good
look at it
before doing the walk across the
planks a few days ago. It was a
terrifying but great experience, and
if you are interested in posting my
story or a few of my pictures on
your page, please feel free: http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/China/Shaanxi/Hua-Shan/blog-336006.html.
There are also better resolution
pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/benbeiske/sets/72157608232314713/.
One other thing: I liked the 2003
report by the American on your Hua
Shan main page. However, I think it
exaggerates the general hike on the
mountain (not the planks) quite a
bit. I have walked all over Hua Shan
and all its peaks, and I think apart
from the plank walk the trails are
well marked, chained off and well
maintained. As long as you stick to
the tourists path, they are not more
dangerous than your average other
Chinese mountain (Emei Shan, Huang
Shan or Tai Shan come to mind).
All the best,
Letter Seventeen: Danger is
From: Jamie S
Sent: Monday, October 27, 2008 7:52
Dear Mr. Archer,
I just visited Hua Shan with my
mother on a sightseeing trip to
my experience was completely
different than what was described on
your website. We took the
cable cars, which bring you almost
to the top
of the North Peak (referred to as
"gondolas" in the account - and
they do not link the North
Peak with the West Peak, they take
from the base to near the top). From
there, you can continue to hike
to the other peaks or just
look around and go back down on the
cars. We made it to the center,
South, and West Peaks. It was
strenuous work, but not
particularly perilous -- neither of
us has any
Definitely no need to cling to
sides of the mountain using
footholds. I would not attempt this
any sort of inclement weather, but
that seems to be more a matter
of common sense than anything
else. At any rate, it seems quite
possible that major parts of
this trail were changed possibly in
response to accounts like the
ones on your sight, but many people
these days are likely missing
out on a great experience through
misperception that they will be
doing crazy things to reach the top.
To me, hiking Huashan was
very similar to hiking the trails at
Yosemite, except that you
could buy noodles, water, and
about every five minutes at
Letter Eighteen: First-Hand Account
of Huashan Climb
From: Moj P
Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008
Subject: Huashan, pictures and video
I have recently returned from
China and among other places I
visited Huashan. Before I write
something about my impressions and
opinions I must say that your site
is the reason that I found out about
that amazing place. I remember that
when I first saw Huashan photos a
thought crossed my mind: ''I must
see this place, sooner or later.''
A year after that I was climbing
Huashan. I must say that I am not a
climber nor anything like that and I
have never visited a place like the
trail below the South peak.
I climbed it by foot and it took
several hours of exhausting climbing
numerous steps. My main goal was to
climb the fascinating trail made of
wooden boards on the cliff. I didn't
want to stop until I reach it. It
certainly isn't for everybody,
especially not for people afraid of
heights or prone to panic.
At the beginning of the trail below
the South peak you get the safety
harness which cost 30Y
(approximately 3 Euro), a short
instruction how to use them and you
are on your way. It is not important
whether you are an adult or a 10
year old child - unbelievable but I
even met small children there.
It is of great importance to stay
calm and concentrated on the trail,
not only because of the trail itself
but also because you often must walk
by people who come from the opposite
direction. If people are afraid and
paralyzed it is hard to pass near
In normal weather conditions the
trail is not dangerous nor deadly
because of the safety measures that
I would say that the steps on
the rest of the mountain which lead
to the top are more dangerous than
the trail bellow South peak. There
are no safety clutches and in case
that someone looses balance or falls
down the steps, he has a long and
painful way to the beginning of the
I was lucky that I visited Huashan
during perfect weather conditions
but I'm sure that is not as safe to
climb it when it rains or snows. At
that time the chain which people
hold to climb the trail more safely
is not safe enough.
I really enjoyed staying in Huashan
and I think that spending time in
that fascinating place was the best
and strongest experience I had in
To all those who love nature and
challenges and come to Xi'an: Do not
miss Huashan but be careful during
the hike. A one day trip is simply
not enough. The best thing to do is
to sleep in one of the hostels on
the mountain and stay there at least
for two days.
I put some of my photos on my
website and I tried to describe the
hike to the trail made of wooden
planks. There is also a short video
on my website (45 sec). I was
filming with my right hand while I
was holding the chain with the left.
It was made with an ordinary camera
and is not of high quality but I
think that it is relatively good
considering the conditions.
Link on my webpage:
Thanks for an Exciting Read
Sent: Tuesday, January 06,
2009 5:07 PM
Subject: huashan letters etc
thought i'd put my two cents or so
to say in !!! ignore that antoine,
he obviously was
just looking for an argument,
in total military style as usual !!!
i read your articles on the huashan
trail & el camino del ray ( spelling
prob wrong but don't care !!) with
eager excitement , you have really
captured my mind , i'd love one day
to complete both of these hikes,
but it seems a long way off from
this sleepy farm in Scotland!!
your web site is truly amazing &
without it i may never have heard of
these wonderful places (el camino
del ray found first on you-tube ,
then linked to your site), they
truly are awe inspiring & i just
want you to know that i think your
site is excellent & well put
there are 2 sides to
every story & in the middle is the
truth, by publishing such open
minded & impartial articles i think
you give a nice all round "feel" as
to what these treacherous but breath
taking locations are truly like !!!
all the best,
From: Philip D
The Huashan Hiking
Trail is still risky, but not as
dangerous as it used to be
Sent: Friday, April 03, 2009 4:02 AM
I have just returned from China
after staying there for one month
and marrying my girlfriend. This is
my second trip to China and my wife
suggested that we climb mount
Huashan to see the sunrise. I had no
idea what to expect but having some
experience of fell walking in the
english lakes I agreed. We climbed
up to the north peak in darkness but
with the aid of the installed lights
that line the path up. I am told
that the chinese climb the mountain
because it dangerous and that after
climbing Hua mountain there will be
no other problems with other
mountains. Well I enjoyed the climb
and the views are spectacular and
there is still an element of danger
in climbing this mountain despite
the safety measures in place.
Over time my wife and I intend to
climb all the peaks and I know that
we will do it. Cant see why people
have to score points against each
other after climbing the mountain
tho? Surely it must be enough to
have climbed it. I am told that the
local government is intending to
install another cable car somewhere
and that the monks dont agree with
it but cant fight that decision.
Thats tourism I guess. Any way the
site is ok so dont worry about those
that feel the need to discredit.
From: Rick Archer
Sent: 4/3/2009 4:13:57 PM
To: 'Philip D
Subject: RE: Huashan
Thank you for writing, Philip. I
have a favor to ask.
I would like to ask your help. I
would like to reprint your letter,
but first I have a couple questions
if you don't mind. On the big
problems I have faced is that I am
blind to any first-hand knowledge of
the place. So I desire to trust your
judgment and see if I can clear some
One, you wrote: "Any way the site is
ok so dont worry about those that
feel the need to discredit."
Are you referring to my website
article on Huashan?
Is my overall story
accurate or is it offbase?
on my website needs to be changed or
Two, is the North Peak the most
difficult climb? There has been some
confusion on this.
Three, you commented on safety
features. Do you believe these
features have succeeded in reducing
the danger? Out of curiosity, if you
have the time, what are these
Four, pretend you and your wife are
50. How difficult in your opinion is
the climb for someone of that age?
Can you comment on the risk factor
in more detail?
Anything else you can think of?
Thank you! I really appreciate your
From: Philip D
Sent: Monday, April 06, 2009 3:30 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: Huashan
Your web is
My wife is 43 and a chinese national
who has climbed the mountain twice
before and i am 54 and carried my
camera pack up. The dangers are
there because of numbers of people
and the steepness. New routes have
from the north peak onwards. You can
get here by cable car though.
walked 7hrs and 6km
(3 1/2 miles)
to reach north peak and
stopped at that. We were tired. The
other peaks are shorter in distance
i will climb them later. Best way is
to go climb.
The north peak will be the longest
walk/climb and the safety measures
are steep steps and chains. Some
sections now have two sets of steps
to allow ascent
and descent at the same time. The
other peaks have shorter but steeper
steps. There is a new route from
north peak called "soldiers path"
mounted on the side of a cliff.
It leads to the west peak and
then to the south peak etc. The
mountain is very sheer everywhere
but is beautiful and must be the
goal of your life.
One: Thank you for the story
Sent: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 2:50
Subject: Mt Huashan!
Read your very well written account
about Mt Huashan. That was in every
sense a very treacherous hike,
probably the most dangerous in
China. I am also very glad both your
wife and yourself did not have any
Thank you very much also for
consolidating the rare photos too.
Just for your information, the
difficulty of ascending Mt Huashan
is relatively well known amongst the
Chinese. (I'm Chinese, but I live in
And Mt Huashan actually has
an ancient nickname, Tian-xian (??),
which translates into something like
Strange thing though, and exactly as
you pointed out, there's hardly any
information on the actual hike
itself. Even the official
publications in China feature only
faded, misty old images.
Your account, on the other hand, is
one in a million.
Letter Twenty Two:
A REMARKABLE LETTER ABOUT
HUASHAN - May 2009
from Mr. Allen accomplishes many wonderful things. The letter
confirms there were definitely tragedies in the past. It
confirms there have been recent improvements to the safety of the
trail as well.
Mr. Allen's letter also gives Westerners a bird's eye view of his
experience climbing Huashan accompanied by his two children.
After you finish reading
this letter, I think you will agree with me that we are all lucky to
have someone like Mr. Allen to shed so much light on this
From: p allen
Sent: Sunday, May 03, 2009 2:00 AM
I have enjoyed reading your site, and found the reaction of a few of
your correspondents to be remarkably thoughtless.
The dilemma appears to be that Huashan has a reputation of being
dangerous; yet a number of people have climbed recently and found it
Is this so hard to reconcile?
As Cedric mentioned, its reputation is widely recognised in China,
and he correctly translates 'tianxian'.
By way of background, Chinese have, over generations, celebrated
their more spectacular mountains through poetry, art and solitude.
The most famous are Huashan, Taishan, two Hengshans and Songshan;
but as the saying goes, if you visit Huangshan, you need not bother
with the others. Huangshan has 72 peaks and is relatively
accessible, as well as being stunningly beautiful, which is why it
has had most attention from artists, as one of your contributors
pointed out. Huashan gained artistic attention too, but has been too
inaccessible over the years to have inspired a large number of
The five mentioned above are related to Daoism, of which Taishan, as
the centre of Daoism, has the strongest link; Songshan is equally
renowned for Buddhism (Shaolin); the Hengshan mountains, I am not so
clear about, and Huashan was always better known for its precipitous
edges and steps anyway, hence the attendant danger. It has attracted
hermits, whether Buddhist, Daoist or neither, and never been
uniquely devoted to any.
The nature of its inhabitants first hacked the hair-raising pathways
and passages to surmount it, deliberately desiring it to maintain
its difficulty and danger to limit casual visitors.
The challenge has though always lingered.
In the 80s, when Chinese gained some freedom of movement, and a
degree of prosperity emerged, Mt. Hua faced tourism for the first
time. Student groups in particular arrived in large parties.
Standard practice was to set out in the evening for the East Peak to
arrive to see the sunrise; it was also specifically considered safer
to climb at night to avoid viewing the nerve-jangling traverses and
climbs that the mountain entailed. It was very dangerous, and too many visitors fell off.
As of the early 90s, the government urgently began to build out the
paths and steps; however in the mid-90s, they added the cable car to
the North Peak (1614m - the lowest). Tourism was already blossoming;
this new accessibility multiplied the numbers to levels that the
improved passages could not handle, and the reputation as a
potential death-trap continued. In around 2000, an urgent effort was
made to further improve safety on the mountain; build more routes,
some circumventing the more dangerous passages, and deny access,
such that the most dangerous are now no longer available.
I do not know exactly what was done when; but I see no reason to
discredit the author of the original tale cited. It should also be
noted that they were travelling in a cold, icy moment with strong
winds, both factors which make their journey absolutely perilous.
Nowadays, over 90% of the pathways are paved with heavy stone and
almost all have railings or basic chain fencing. This is all new -
over almost 20 years.
Originally there were only steps or footholds cut into the rock;
chains or hand grips were also curved into the rock too where it was
too narrow or perilous.
I had found and checked your site when I was deciding whether it
would be possible to take my children (aged 8-11). I knew its
reputation; but that safety improvements had been made.
I set out at about mid-day with the elder two. We walked the old
route, which has been widened, alongside the river. One enters the
Qinling mountains from the valley to the North. On the way, one
passes the sign that states, "Conquer Huashan, and find peace ever
After about 4kms, the path crosses the river and the steps become
steep. This is at Qingkeping, where it also reminds the traveler
that it is necessary to be mentally and physically prepared to
proceed: (perhaps more relevant to former times, too).
All the way through this vast gorge, the mighty West peak, with its
precipitous face, stands huge and enticing ahead. Then the path, all
steps, now turns South toward the North peak; one encounters the
first set of heavenly steps, which are cut into the rock and rise at
about 60 degrees or more; in two stages, these gain well over 150
metres as one holds a low chain. On the left side, sometimes
immediate is a precipitous edge down to the river deep below. More
hard work than dangerous.
Finally we reached the North peak and met my wife and eight year
old, who had ridden the cable car. (Incidentally the soldier's path
is an alternate route up from the base of the cable car; it is a new
and slightly shorter route, starting slightly higher up than the
We had climbed about 1200 metres (think I read somewhere that the
Huayin village is at 400m) at this stage in somewhat over 3 hours,
good going for the little guys.
To proceed to the higher peaks one must climb another sharp set of
steps carved into the rock, Heavenly Ladder. Only about 20m in
height and probably 80 degrees or so, again not too dangerous,
barring the cascade of people descending. There are tight chains on
both sides of two tracks for grip.
Not too much further is the Black (or Blue, or sometimes Green)
Dragon Ridge. The mountain used to have just one route, which we
have followed so far, and this Ridge was the 530m connection to the
bulk of the mountain. Now one enters through two parallel paths, one
of which heads onto the Ridge; the other to the Flying Fish ridge
which is a new track which takes a more circuitous lower course to
However one can note that at this entry, the paths are both new and
built up; to the right, is a small cliff leaning in with a chain and
some handholds initially; once this was just a very narrow path
tight to the angled rock which pushed one's stance outwards.
Then the Ridge itself: the steps are now more deeply cut and wider.
Basic metal railings have been placed on both sides. It remains very
exposed - amplified if it is windy- but the improved steps and
railing make it safe to-day, particularly since it is one way on
Thereafter one heads passed the Golden Lock Pass and around the
stunning WuYun Peak towards the East Peak. Nothing difficult, though
from time to time one can see where the old pathway was just some
tight small steps which would have had no protection.
Close to the East Peak is another ladder ( Cloudy?). Nowadays an
almost 80 degree metal ladder about 25m is another option; but the
original route remains up a stone cliff, which actually surpasses
the vertical to about 100 degrees in its mid-section. Steps are cut
into the rock, and a chain hangs down. One grasps the chain and
leans out holding the majority of one's weight in one's arms even as
you grasp the chain ever higher. I wish I could say that I took this
route; but with 5 kg on my back and a family watching below,
discretion won out when faced with the necessity to lean out.
Immediately a ranger strode up with practiced ease.
The route thereon to the East Peak is easy; though the original
sunrise watching place has a dangerous rock which is hard to
scramble up. Today's visitor might find it hard to imagine that many
places on the path up, and the peaks with their precipitous edges
used to have no protection at all.
I was exceedingly nervous as my children invariably went straight to
the heavy twin chain fences, which were placed where the rock had
already begun to slope away towards that peak's bottomless sheer
There are four pictures in the middle of your website, which refer to
the West peak. These pictures are from the main body of the mountain
looking back to the North peak in the distance and probably from the Zhenyue palace , and the Jinsud pass in the near ground.
Imagine that track with its steps more lightly cut, and no railings;
then add a blast of cold wind. I shudder at
the consequences of my darkest fanatasies.
The picture below of the chess-playing temple (gazebo) is a way
below the East peak hotel (a heavenly bargained Y760 for five in one
room, and mercifully only Y15 for a large beer - carried all the way
up by porter), which itself is immediately below the East peak.
A new path runs passed this temple en route for the South peak. One
drops about 200m before ascending again to a temple around which one
can head onto the perilous path on which the older lady (in your pic)
is standing by herself. It is sheer down almost 2,000m beyond that
fragile-feeling chain railing. It is now a photo-op dead end; one
can no longer pass on to the plank walk and somersault ladder in the
Other routes take one back up to the South peak, where again its is
quite safe, though one's hearty palpitates somewhat when one's
children lean on the chains to look over.
Our first day saw only a relatively few fellow travelers; but
overnight many students had climbed up, and more were arriving on
the day before a holiday. exuberant youths were testing their mettle
at many places. No doubt some still falter; or those
showing their ability to rush down steps may also cause others to
stumble, sometimes in dangerous spots. Certainly people still do die
on the mountain.
All over the mountain, parts of the exposed old pathways remain, as
one now proceeds on the well-made steps. The path up to the West
peak is the same and very exposed, if not too steep, as pictured as
the broad ridge in the latter part of your site. Again the new
railing gives comfort if the weather turns.
(The intermediate picture is of the West peak from the North peak,
and the more distant East peak).
There was no essential safety problem for the children provided they
paid attention, and did not dare themselves too recklessly to take
shortcuts and test the edges. The larger danger was always other
people. However the trip brought back memories for my wife who had
climbed it in 1984 in the dark. She had been in a party of 70
students selected from her province, and had been the only woman to
make it to the sunrise out of less than 20 of her group altogether,
though none of the others had fallen off. She was reminded of the
perilous parts and the outright determination which had been
In many parts, they had crawled across the rock steps, particularly
on the way down, when they had been witnessing the exposed dangers
I am 50 and consider myself fit; we saw some local woman of about 70
climbing it. It remains a spectacular mountain with stunning views
all around; but it is accessible and broadly-speaking safe, maybe
for too many on high days and holidays.
Hope this helps.
One more point.
wife told me there was a large accident reported a year or two after my wife
originally climbed Mt. Hua, when a group somehow had collectively
stumbled on the Black Dragon Ridge, causing a
chain reaction that caused many to fall to their
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Sunday, May 03, 2009 12:46 PM
To: 'p allen'
Subject: RE: Huashan
You have written the most comprehensive and valuable letter I
have ever received on the topic of Huashan.
I am deeply grateful to you. I am certain that the many people who
visit my site will be just as appreciative. You have given us all
not only a clear picture of the modern status of this mountain, you
have given us a peek into some of the history that the original
reputation of danger was well-deserved.
You have also made it clear that steps (literally and figuratively)
have indeed been taken to improve the safety of the climb. That is a
You have also cleared up once and for all the disconnect between the
original Frank and Laura story and the more recent claims that
Huashan is nowhere near as dangerous as it once was.
May I ask some questions?
1 - As a father myself, I noted with a smile your concern for your
children. From your commentary, I take it you felt they were at risk
on several occasions. In my opinion, part of being a parent is
exposing children to risks you believe they can handle, thereby
helping them gain confidence. Do you think that your two children
were up to the task? Would you take them again? Do you have any
particular suggestions to parents facing the same dilemma?
2 - How did you become so knowledgeable about the history of this
mountain? I am guessing that you have married a Chinese national who
was able to fill in some of the details. Personally, I believe you
have done the Western world an extraordinary service by explaining
the past and present in such wonderful detail. If it doesn't cause a
problem for you, I would like to know more how you arrived at such
Thank you so much, Mr. Allen. You have cleared up so many issues in
such a gentle and clear way. I think I speak for many people who
will read your letter and be thrilled to see so many misconceptions
explained and reconciled in a way that it is easy to understand.
Furthermore, the Chinese government should be grateful that you have
written your letter. Thanks to you, I think many people will be
encouraged to take this climb in the future.
From: p allen
Sent: Wednesday, May 06, 2009 5:53 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Huashan
Rick, Glad you enjoyed my note.
To answer your questions, I try to expose my children to as much
risk as I can, whether it is cultural,
social, sports or more abstract.
Though not danger per se, your website was useful in assessing the current danger of Huashan,
even if I did so through some of the more ill-considered correspondence.
If Huashan were still as dangerous as the 2003 description, we would not
As it is today, we would go back, or at least to somewhere that was
The risk on Huashan was always identifiable - we had good weather.
Children know what they can do, especially if they can see reliably.
all children are the same, as you know. My middle son is most likely
to show off and to take an extra risk.
With such knowledge, I think a parent must try to stand back, though
not ignore the child in various situations.
I was naturally nervous because a fall on Huashan would often be
fatal. However, I was interested to note that, while my children
walked comfortably to the railings on the East and South peaks, when
they got to the West peak - which required a short vertical step
climb with a central chain to hold - the area on top of the rock was
larger and flatter, as well as uncrowded. However, all the children
cautioned me about going close to the edge, and did not test it
themselves. Was this in part because we had been looking at the huge
cliff for so long as we had trudged up the valley the day before?
Yes, I think they all handled and gained from it.
As to your second question, my wife is Chinese and very well
educated. It happens she was brought up in Huangshan area; so I had
heard the ditty about the five stunning mountains around China, but
that a visit to Huangshan rendered a visit to the others
unnecessary, long ago.
She had also told me of her original trip to Huashan, and its
profound effect on her. So she filled me in on much of this. I also
encouraged my children to acquaint themselves and me with where we
were visiting (Xian itself has a huge history, and at less than 2
hours from Huashan makes for a good combination for a trip - though
easier when based in China!).
I have lived in China for over 7 years and my business has provided
a bridge between China and the west (in financial matters).
Naturally I am interested in the country and its history.
My wife meanwhile is developing a TV series about Western experience
involving a business venture in China, and we have several films
proposed which explore both aspects of to-day's China and its
Kind regards, P
To: p allen
Sent: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 11:42:49 PM
Subject: RE: Huashan
Your two letters were so valuable that I posted them immediately.
One last question. On my first page, I printed this
Letter Two from Tongyan to Jim
Jim, I was unable to find anything on
the Internet but I can tell you my story about Hua shan. It
happened next year I visited Tai Shan. I was in my the 3rd year
in University. There was a group of students as same age as me,
they were went to Hua Shan to play. Those students were from The
4th Army medical school.
When they are in the middle of the climb, something happened and
people from top of the mountain all drop down. ( I forget what
cause this happen), since the mountain shape so sharp, it is
hard for the people in the middle to prevent the drop people
from top, so there is a lot of injury. And very badly. Those
group of students who were in the 3rd year of their learning
began to rescue the injuries immediately. (yes, there is rescue
team for the traveler, but that takes time, some injured people
might not able to wait). It was these group of students that
offered a first time period diagnoses and huge skilful support
before the ambiances and other medical personnel's come, some
injured people got survived.
Whole country gave them great honor. Our university "Tianjin
University " actually invite them come for lectures, thousands
of students were in the auditorium to listen how do they
diagnose, how to help transfer the injures to the hospital, how
do they assistant the operation, how many life were saved, more
important how they use their text book knowledge to apply for
each individual's diagnose…... This page permanently exist in
The 4th Army medical school history. It is called "Hua shan
Is this the same incident you referred to in your first letter?
Here is what you said in your first letter:
"there was a large accident reported a year or two after my wife
originally climbed Mt. Hua, when a group somehow had
collectively stumbled on the Black Dragon Ridge, and many had
fallen to their deaths.”
People have hinted to me that there were indeed been fatalities
in the past, but other than that incident it is all rumor. Do these
things still happen or do you think by and large people falling to
their death is a thing of the past?
I understand this is a controversial question. Since you do not
know me personally, you might be reluctant to be candid. Whatever
you say, I will not attribute it to you. I will simply place
whatever you say as an anonymous letter somewhere in the pack. But
I would like to know what the truth is about the current and
previous danger since so many people make their decisions whether to
visit based on my site.
Thank you again.
From: p allen
Sent: Friday, May 08, 2009 10:18 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Huashan
I cannot confirm whether the two incidents happened to be the same.
Unlikely though. Amongst Chinese at
that time the mountain was well recognized
for its danger, and the occurrence of fatal falls was widely known -
more than one multiple fatality certainly occurred.
Have checked some current blogs: I could not find any reference to
anything historic, except one mention of the difficulty of two
people trying to pass in previous times.
However it is clear that the mountain's reputation for danger still
lingers. But current bloggers are relatively dismissive,
like some of your correspondents, of the danger to-day - fair
enough; the swarm of people on holidays are identified as the main
danger now, as well as ice in the colder months.
The government is promoting tourism, and indeed the effort to
make Huashan safe and accessible has been enormous, as well
as largely successful.
It is probably in few people's interest to dwell on the specifics,
if the details are known, particularly on the internet.
Letter Twenty Three: A Note
from a Daughter to her Mother after
a successful climb
Sent: Mon 7/20/2009 9:40 PM
Subject: Mt. Haushan - want to make
sure you are in 1 piece
Did I tell you we were going to
climb Huashan? I completely forgot,
it was such a spur of the moment
decision. Not to worry, I am fine.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, we
took the cable car up the first
part. Most people do this, it is a
rugged 2,000 meter stretch. However,
I wanted to climb this part because
it was the most untrammeled and
uninvaded by venders and pit stops.
It would've been very hard for my
siblings though. After we got off
the cable car, we climbed to the top
of what is called the East mountain.
There are three main peaks of
Huashan - the South, East, and West
peaks. You arrive at the North peak
when you get off the cable car. The
climb was strenuous at certain
parts, but it was all stairs.
I don't remember if I told you about
the mountain climb my family went on
a couple of weeks ago - it was much
more rugged. We drove out into the
countryside and my father simply
chose a mountain to climb. Before we
could ever get to the mountain, we
had to cross a river. We couldn't
find a stone path to cross, so we
just took our shoes off and walked.
When we got to the other side we put
our shoes back on. However, my
brother dropped his shoe in the
river and I had to dive for it to
save it from the rapid current. So
before we even began climbing I was
soaking wet and had a cut on my
knee. There was no path on this
mountain, and at points we were
climbing on all fours because we
either had to climb through the
brush or because the mountain was
almost vertical. There were
countless thorns and I had cuts all
up and down my arms and legs (I was
the only one who was wearing shorts,
aside for my father who was wearing
his boxer briefs because he had to
ditch his pants to cross the river).
I basically had to drag my siblings
up the mountain as we cut through
the ravine. At certain points I
actually lifted my brother and
sister onto things because they were
too small. At one point I had one of
those TV moments were someone slips
over the edge of a cliff and grabs
onto something at the last second.
My experience was not as dramatic,
but my legs were dangling over a
ridge and I had to pull myself up
using a root. Though my father may
seem like a small, bubbly, sheltered
business man who likes to talk a
lot, he was a fearless beast when it
came to climbing this mountain.
Anyways, there were some dangerous
parts of Huashan. As it is at most
tourist sights in China, the steps
were made in the Tang Dynasty, so
you constantly had to watch were you
were walking. Additionally, there
were parts where you basically had
to rope climb up the side of a cliff
because the steps were too narrow.
We climbed the most dangerous part
(you have to pay to do so) where we
had to wear a harness to climb the
side of a cliff where there were no
steps, only holes and inlets in the
rock for our feet and hands. I later
learned it was the part where people
have died in the past. It was very
cool though, we were the first ones
to climb it that day (it was
probably about 5:45) and so everyone
was watching us. Though the climb
was dangerous, it is a tourist site
after all, so the proper precautions
(for the Chinese at least) had been
taken; unlike at the mountain we
climbed a couple weeks ago.
Anyways, we climbed to the top of
the East peak and watched the
sunset. After that we stayed in a
guesthouse (obviously without
running water). The next day we woke
up at 430 to watch the sunrise,
which we actually didn't get to see
very clearly. Then we climbed that
dangerous section, and then my
brother, my "cousin" - a young man
who is very close to my family who
has climbed Huashan many times -,
and I climbed up to the South peak,
the tallest peak of Huashan (about
3,000 additional meters - almost as
high as Tibet - in total about 3,000
meters shorter than Mt. Everest). It
was very cool, but climbing up there
you could feel the air getting much
thinner, making the climb more
We were all very tired when we got
back yesterday, but overall we had a
fun time. I got to talk to many
foreigners, even an Australian from
Much love, Jenna
Letter Twenty Four:
A Rainy Day on Huashan
From: richard j
Sent: Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Subject: Huashan Mt
This past Saturday
I had the experience of climbing Mt.
I must say it was an experience, but
because of the weather the
experience was damped, pun intended.
It was a very overcast rainy day,
and little of the mountain could be
seen. But what could be seen was
still spectacular. The tram going up
the side of the mountain was enough
to make my heart do a couple of flip
flops. It was so crowded that I was
never sure how far we climbed or
what peak we were climbing if any.
We just sort of followed and
up the trails. We climbed for about
two hours, but
decided to turn back and head down.
We did this due to the rain,
the slippery steps and the amount of
people climbing. There were as many
people trying to get up as there
were going down. It is too bad they
didn't have one trail for ascending
and descending. I marvel at the
people who work there, and climb up
and down those stairs with yokes of
garbage and supplies.
When we bought our tickets for the
climb, there was also insurance
included in case of accident. I was
with a chinese only group, no
However since I was with my
asian wife they let me go
along. I am
not sure if the insurance was a part
of tour agency or the park.
Anyway I think given a good day the
mountain would be a good hike. Maybe
I will try again sometime. But then
maybe hiking on a bad day is also
way you can not see how far
you would fall.
On Aug 5, 2009, at 8:06 AM, Rick
Thanks for the story.
Did you feel the hike was
particularly dangerous or have
reports of the danger been
I have never been there personally,
I am always trying to gauge the
difficulty since many people base
their decisions on what I write.
From: richard j
Sent: Friday, August 07, 2009 5:11
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Huashan Mt
Truthfully I think that if you are
prudent and have good weather the
climb (hike) is rather safe.
But given the circumstances I was
in, I felt that the climb was a
potential hazard--large amount of
people trying to go up and down at
once, we were packed like sardines,
wet slippery steps, and rain
On a good day I think I would have
enjoyed the climb, but to tell you
the truth, I was a little scared.
Some of my uneasiness was due to the
brochure the tour guide
had. As you have seen in your
it looks very imposing. To tell you
the truth I am not sure if my
feelings would have been decreased
had I been able to see down the
sides of the Mountain.
I did not hear of any accidents, but
I did see a couple of people lose
their footing. Luckily they were
holding on to the chains.
Letter Twenty Five:
An Interesting Letter about
Huashan - October 2009
Sent: Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Subject: about huashan
Hello, I have seen your website on
Huashan, which impressed me with its
details and responses attracted.
Just to clarify things a little bit,
I went there in the 1990s. I
wouldn't say it's unbelievably
dangerous, and it's certainly not
realistic to expect people falling
off every minute, but every step I
took in some relatively dangerous
trail, I needed to give my full
concentration. I didn't even
dare to turn my head around, the
only thing I was looking at is my
feet and the stairs. I promise you,
if you concentrate, you will not
fall off or anything.
When I went there, there certainly
is no safety measures such as
harness. I heard in recent
years, in those steep 90 degree
climbs, the locals have built a
safer steel stair next to the
original stone stair, so all this
add to the safety of the trail.
And I certainly think it's unfair
for people to go there, expecting
'mountain climbing' type of danger,
with a touristy outfit.
Also, it's interesting to note the
major huashan accident that one of
the email have mentioned. My father
was one of the 4th military medical
school students that have
participated in the so-called 'huashan
rescue', he recalled that on that
day, he and his schoolmates stood at
the very edge of the long narrow
cliff (canglong ridge, apparently no
supporting chain installed at the
time), hand in hand, so that they
themselves have formed a human wall
protecting the other tourists. My
dad said he thought at the time
'this is it!'...lol.
and thank you again for the
informative website, I am very glad
it has attracted so much attentions,
because the sheer beauty of the
mountain itself is worthwhile.
October 28, 2009
As I piece together bits of
information from people like
yourself, I gather that my original
assessment that Huashan was once a
dangerous climb was legitimate.
You say that if people pay attention
and concentrate, they will be safe.
Yet at the same time, your very own
words - "I
didn't even dare to turn my head
around, the only thing I was looking
at is my feet and the stairs"
indicate that you were well aware
that any mistake could be fatal.
It is my guess that as China opens
its doors to ever-increasing
tourism, they are modernizing the
facilities of their major
attractions including safety
features. I have heard that recent
improvements have taken a great deal
of the danger out of the climb. From
my perspective, this is a good
I don't regret labeling the Huashan
climb as dangerous back in 2007.
Perhaps my criticism called
attention and helped officials
decide to make it safer. On a
positive note, my 'danger' story
served to bring attention to the
beauty of the area as well. With
increased attention came curiosity
and new Western visitors.
Thank you for your kind words, Wei.
Letter Twenty Six:
Is Zion National Park in Utah a
From: Carrie M
Sent: Sunday, January 03, 2010 8:24
Subject: Zion's Angel's Landing
Have you ever heard of Angel's
Landing - Zion National Park, Utah?
Another scary and very dangerous
climb. The park service has
warnings, but after climbing to the
top myself I realized that I had put
my life in danger, and I wondered if
anybody had died on this "hike." I
asked a local girl in town and she
told me that on average 1-2 people
per summer fall to their demise. My
husband and I were shocked! Sure,
you are warned that it is dangerous,
but few people seem to really get it
as they are making the climb. How
can the park service allow this to
go on? Check out the LA times
article below. Might want to add it
to your list of places. Zion is
beautiful, but Angel's landing needs
to be safer.
Rick Archer's Note:
If anyone would like to
share information on Zion, please do
Letter Twenty Six:
Angel's Landing in Zion and
El Camino del Rey
From: Sarah Brown
Sent: Friday, November 26,
2010 4:22 PM
Subject: Angels Landing in
Zion and El Camino Del Rey
Hi there. My name is Sarah,
and I am from Cambridge in
the UK and rock climbing is
a hobby of mine. I'm writing
this from a B&B in El Chorro,
Spain, however, where I have
just completed one of my
life's ambitions - both
yesterday and today I
traversed El Camino Del Rey,
which was amazing fun.
I guess I want to say a a
few things about it. The
first is that it's a type of
trail known as a via ferrata.
Via ferratas are "equipped
paths", originally invented
in Italy for alpine troops
to move around the mountains
in WW1. They still have a
lot of them and they are a
popular tourist attraction.
I did some in the Italian
dolomites in August this
year. A basic via ferrata
consists of a steel cable
which to follow. Wearing a
climbing harness, you use
something called a Via
Ferrata kit attached to your
harness which consists of
two lanyards with carabiners
at the ends as well as a
shock absorber, to break
your fall should you lose
your grip. The idea behind
having two lanyards is that
each time you pass an anchor
point, you unclip one, clip
it to the other side, and
then follow with the second.
That way you are always
attached to the cable.
In addition, a via ferrata
will often have ladders,
stemples, pegs etc. drilled
into the rock to help you
El Camino Del Rey is
equipped as a Via Ferrata -
most of it is protected by
stemples or a steel cable,
and by via ferrata standards
it's actually really easy.
Anyone with climbing skills
would consider it a walk in
the park. Without climbing
skills you would want a
guide, but you will need a
head for heights - it's
really exposed, and the bits
where the concrete has
fallen away are kinda spicy.
They make great spots for
photos to terrify your
friends with though!
The cable is also a lot
thinner than a typical Via
Ferrata cable. I wouldn't
like to rely on it to hold
me in a fall, but it
probably would. I honestly
think the Via Ferratas of
the Italian Dolomites are
scarier and tougher than El
Camino, although perhaps not
as famous nor as unique! The
thing is, I've seen people
take kids on some of those!
Anyway, I noticed on your
site that you asked about
Angels' Landing in Zion, and
that's why I have decided to
write to you. I go to Zion
most years, to descend the
canyons there. It's a lot of
fun. No trip to Zion is
complete without doing the
Angels' Landing hike though,
and I have been up there
The hike itself is quite
short - 2 1/2 miles in each
direction (it's an out and
back hike), and starts from
the valley floor on a mostly
paved trail, ascending over
a thousand feet up a series
of switchbacks to a junction
called Scouts Lookout. Left
is the west rim trail, which
eventually leads out of the
park. Right is the half mile
ridge hike to Angels'
Angels' Landing is a 1500
feet high promontory
sticking out into Zion
Canyon. In places the walls
on either side are sheer all
the way down and the path is
only a few feet wide. There
are chains to hold on to in
the more exposed bits. It's
a very popular hike and lots
of people attempt it, and
scare themselves silly! Most
I would say reach the top.
While a few people have died
falling from there, if you
take care and pay attention
to the weather, I really
don't think it's dangerous.
Certainly unlike El Camino
Del Rey, you don't need
climbing experience to hike
to Angels' Landing - its not
technical in any way, it's
just a hike with some very
long drop offs! Still, if
you search the web there are
plenty of dramatic photos of
it up there. It has to be
one of the coolest walks in
the world though, and
rightly deserves a mention
on your site. The view from
the top is incomparably
stunning, and if you find
yourself passing through
Southern Utah on I15 with a
day to spare, do take a
diversion and check it out -
I promise it's worth it!
In a nutshell, I think
Angels' Landing is probably
one of the more extreme
things you can do as a
hiker. El Camino Del Rey is
a not-especially extreme
thing to do as a climber,
but it is interesting and
fun! As a climber I felt
pretty safe up there, but
without proper equipment and
technique it would be very
easy to die.
Meanwhile I have to work out
what's next on my list after
crossing off El Camino Del
Rey. That's the problem with
life goals, isn't it? What
to do when you've
Let me know if you'd like
photographs of either - I'm
sure I could dig some out
Hiking China's Hua Shan
Written by Jeff
Hua Shan mountain gained
some amount of notoriety
years back when an article
appeared on the internet
sharing one hiker's
harrowing experience. The
article might seem
hyperbolic at times but it
is believable for
experienced China travelers.
Nevertheless, the original
author has updated the site,
saying that a number of
people have reported the
safety conditions vastly
improved. I visited the
mountain in 2009. Although
it is quite imposing for a
tourist hike that sees large
numbers of visitors, careful
hikers in good condition
Hua Shan is More than
Just a Death Trap
Hua Shan is a spike of
smooth grey-brown rock
forced from the earth at
impossible angles. The
ascending trail, a wonder in
itself, is a never ending
series of steps carved into
the side of the mountain.
Hua Shan is a Taoist holy
mountain and home to a
number of temples. The
temples are much smaller
than what can be found
elsewhere, for example Wu
Dang, as the mountain leaves
little space for building.
It does attract religious
Taoists on pilgrimage but
when I was there they were
outnumbered by Chinese
students on summer vacation.
Perhaps because of its
reputation, Hua Shan is
popular with this
I was advised by a few
people on separate occasions
that it is best to climb Hua
Shan at night. One reason is
that, presumably, you are
less likely to be frightened
by what you see. You may
well have other safety
concerns. Another reason is
that by climbing during the
night you can arrive on East
Peak just before sunrise. If
you choose this option
remember to bring headlamps.
Ascending the Stairway to
You can start your way up
the mountain by taking a
gondola up to the North Peak
or walking from the bottom.
The recommended route for
walking is a fair distance
from the bottom of the
gondola. The bus from Xi'an
will arrive at this trail
head before getting to the
gondola. You can also walk
all the way up along a less
scenic route from the bottom
of the gondola. This is the
route we took. Note that you
will have to buy a park pass
when you are entering the
area; I assume you would
also have to buy the pass if
you walk up from the scenic
It was still early in the
afternoon and we planned for
a night ascent so my
companion and I leisurely
ate some of Shaanxi's famous
biang biang noodles near the
gondola. We struck out
around 3 or 4 in the
afternoon which ended up
being too early. If you are
planning to walk from the
bottom and be at the summit
of East Peak for the sunrise
you can start much later or
plan to rest at the
guesthouse on Five Clouds
Peak until just before the
break of day.
The less scenic route from
the bottom of the gondola
was arduous and only
We encountered few people.
About 3 hours of hiking
takes you to the North Peak.
The North Peak is where the
gondola and the two hiking
trails from the bottom meet.
There is a small guesthouse
here. A thick fog clouded
our views but there were
already hints of the
If you do not wish to make a
full ascent you can wander
around the North Peak and
take photos. Those not
mentally prepared for what
lies ahead will find that
the trail quickly becomes
Continuing along the trail
you will soon arrive at the
Ascending to Heaven Ladder.
Hold the chains on either
side and take it easy. Keep
three limbs attached to the
mountain at all times. If
the ladder is no problem for
you then you needn't worry.
I found it to be the most
harrowing non-optional part
of the trail.
Jackie Chan and his
apprentice are seen climbing
up to Five Cloud Peak in the
movie "The Karate Kid".
Their climb somehow
continues in the Wu Dang
mountains. You will have to
continue on Hua Shan unless
you're ready to return to
Xi'an for an overnight train
We arrived at Five Cloud
Peak about 4-5 hours after
departing the North Peak.
Despite the name this is not
a high point on the mountain
but a plateau situated as a
mid-point between the 4
(North, East, South and
West) true peaks. The trail
is lit only until this
point. There is a large
guesthouse here with rooms
to accommodate different
sized groups. However, it
quickly become crowded with
people waiting out the
darkest part of the night.
If you are on a religious
pilgrimage pray that you
will not need to use the
high-traffic public toilets
If you arrive early enough
you can rent a room to rest
in before continuing your
ascent. There is also a
larger, much nicer, and more
expensive hotel further
along. We had too much
energy to stop so we pushed
toward the top in total
darkness. This resulted in
missing out on all the
scenery from Five Cloud Peak
onward as we had made it
back to the guesthouse
before sunrise. It was a
If You Make it to Taoist
Heaven, Stay for the Sunrise
From Five Cloud Peak the
trail splits off to the main
summits. Visiting one or two
of the peaks is a reasonable
goal for energetic hikers in
a long day. Aside from the
views afforded by further
ascent there are numerous
Particularly infamous is the
"planked path". Here you can
walk along a very narrow
wooden plank attached to the
side of a sheer cliff.
Visitors can only walk this
part of the trail under
supervision and it is closed
at night so we weren't able
to experience it. The
pictures I saw of it on a
poster reveal that the path
now features modern ropes
For us, what started as a
foggy and wet day gradually
become much worse as we
continued on from Five Cloud
Peak. We were forced back
from our chosen route just
shy of Facing Yang Summit,
the highest point on the
east peak. Nevertheless, it
was an unforgettable
Hua Shan mountain is 2-3
hours by bus from Xi'an.
Buses leave from the eastern
side of Xi'an's train
Still Pretty Dangerous
From: Daniel O
Sent: Sunday, January 03,
2010 11:26 PM
Subject: Hua Shan
Your webpage on Hua
Shan is great! I'm just
starting to read through the
letters, so I may write more
to you later. However, I
just wanted to clarify one
point about cameras and
photos. I was there in the
summer of 2005. I took a lot
of photos; there was
certainly no ban on them.
Also, the night before my
buddy and I went, we were in
an internet cafe in Xi'an
deciding whether we were
going to use one of our few
days in the area to go to
Hua Shan. I found lots of
pictures, although I may
have been using a Chinese
search engine and Chinese
characters (I don't recall).
As I am somewhat afraid of
heights, the pictures
terrified me (including some
of Changkong Zhandao).
Anyway, we spent most
of the next day day just
hiking up the mountain,
rather than taking the cable
car (and, prior to that,
taking a cab from Xi'an to
Hua Shan), so THANK GOD we
never went further than the
"Staircase of Suicide,"
which I refused to climb,
but the Chinese nonchalantly
pranced up and down (some
carrying boxes or other
things on their backs!).
Even though we didn't
hit the "dangerous" parts of
the mountain, there were
many parts that were pretty
damn scary on the way up. On
your webpage, next to "The
Story Begins" is a picture
of two verticle stone
stairways. I chose to take
the wooden stairs to the
left in that picture (even
these were scary, as the
jutted out from the
cliffside), but my more
courageous (or stupid!)
friend decided to take the
stairway on the right. I
watched him go up. Just near
the top, a bee landed on his
hand and he instinctively
let go of the chain and
jumped back a bit. He was
dangling half off the stairs
with one foot down and one
hand holding the chain. I
really thought he was going
to fall to his death!
He quickly realized the bee
wasn't a danger to his life,
grabbed the other chain and
climbed back down to where I
the points are even the less
dangerous parts of Hua Shan
are (or at least were)
pretty terrifying in places.
When I was there, the
Staircase was filled with
people; if one had slipped,
dozens would have fallen.
Second, pictures were
allowed. I never came across
any evidence that Chinese
were trying to hide the
danger; in fact, anyone I
spoke to about having gone
there would say, "It's so
Finally, the Chinese
definitely view danger
differently than we do. Not
only did many groups of
Chinese students pass me
without a care on the way up
Hua Shan, but I vividly
recall a time in Taiwan when
I was hiking in the
mountains. The pathway was
about three feet wide with a
cliff going straight down on
one side. I was getting kind
of nervous, so when I got to
a point that had a bit of a
crevice, I leaned back
against the cliff to take
some deep breaths. While I
was resting, I KID YOU NOT,
a Taiwanese woman in a dress
and heals carrying a dog
passed by me. I swear it is
the truth. What's more,
following behind her were
kids who then ran past her!
I'll never forget it as long
as I live.
It's a different mindset.
Thanks for the webpage!
Meet Darren Crawford
Rick Archer's Note:
Crawford is a man I met through the
Internet. As I poked around for more
Guoliangcun and Huashan, I
noticed his name kept popping up. Mr. Crawford
not only had first-hand knowledge to share about
Huashan, I noticed he also wrote about the infamous
"Road of Death"
in Bolivia, another interest of mine. I was
impressed.... and a little envious too. While
I sit at my computer here in Houston, Texas, and
visit these places through Google Earth, Mr.
Crawford actually visits these exotic places in
I quoted Mr. Crawford's
stories on several occasions. One day he was
nice enough to write me and introduce himself.
I immediately saw an opportunity to ask Mr. Crawford
nice enough to take time from his world travels to
share his thoughts.
Letter Twenty Eight:
writes about Huashan, Guoliang, and
El Camino del Muerte
Letter One: Darren Crawford to Rick
From: Darren Crawford
Sent: Monday, March 01, 2010 4:30 PM
Subject: Mt Huashan & Guoliang Tunnel
Hi Rick Archer
I did a Google on my name and stumbled across your
web page since you have a link to my blog.
It was interesting reading all the facts about
Huashan, Guoliang and Yungas and its nice to see my
material helped you publish a very helpful article
for others. You are right, when I purposely ventured
out to find these three places there was much
confusion on the internet, no one seemed to know
they were located. That included half a dozen taxi
drivers and bus terminal reps. It took me a long
time to track down the information and then a lot of
patients to actually find these places (Huashan,
Its nice to see all the info in one place.
Good job, mate!
Thanks for referencing my blog properly, it is much
appreciated. I have been finding copies of my
stories and photos all over the internet without reference.
Still its nice to see people find my blogs
interesting. Maybe I should try publishing some of this stuff
Letter Two: Rick
Archer to Darren Crawford
To: Darren Crawford
Subject: RE: Mt Huashan & Guoliang Tunnel
Date: Tue, 2 Mar 2010 06:51:20 -0600
story was wonderful, Darren!
I remember you well because you have been to three
of the places I write about. Here is a note I
put in one of my stories:
"(Rick Archer's Note:
Did you noticed Mr. Crawford hit a trifecta of
sorts? Apparently Darren Crawford has visited
all three of the locations I wrote about in my
original Danger story back in January 2007 (Bolivia,
Guoliang, Huashan). Not only am I impressed, I am
I know what you mean about finding your material
popping up everywhere. Same thing happens to me all
the time. It irritates me so it must irritate you as
On the other hand, unlike you, I have never
published anything original since I have never
visited any of those places. So if someone wants to
borrow my stuff, they are taking the chance I could
be completely wrong… as I have been on several
If you do decide to write, let me know and I will
add a link to it. I consider myself an "information"
conduit, so I don't mind redirecting people.
From: Darren Crawford
Sent: Tuesday, March 09, 2010 5:53 PM
Subject: RE: Mt Huashan & Guoliang Tunnel
Darren Crawford BSc, MBCS, CITP
RA: Do you mind if I ask a couple questions?
No problem, just needed to find a spare 20 mins
RA: How dangerous is Huashan? Seriously, if
you have a 50 year old American woman leading a
sedentary lifestyle, how hard would this climb be
To climb Huashan I would recommend that you are of
reasonable fitness and agile enough to do basic
climbing. To climb on the old plank road (the wooden
structure) is very easy and only requires you to
climb down/up some steal pins that resemble a
ladder. The steel pins are sturdy, while the old
plank road is a bit wobbly. You will be required to
connect/disconnect your harness as you go but Its
more of a psychological challenge than a physical
one. If you dare to let go to take some photo they
will amaze your friends. At the end of the old plank
road is a place of prayer
Another part of the climb that is not connected to
the old plank road (on a different face of the
mountain) requires you to climb down a vertical
cliff face. All that exists are small holes carved
into the rock. This is both your foot holes and hand
grips. Although you are harnessed, the carved holes
are very warn and slippery. On the was down you can
not see the foot holes below which requires you to
feel around for them! I recommend anyone attempting
this part of the climb has some basic wall climbing
experience. Only 3 out of 4 of us attempted this
part of the climb. We all had indoor wall climbing
experience. If you manage to complete this part, you
get to ring a bell inside a stunning structure
surrounded by a spectacular backdrop.
Photo of Huashan map
RA: Second question, did you hear any rumors
of loss of life at Huashan?
Yes, but not that many people speak English so I
couldn't find out the details.
On the other hand I took quite a risk climbing
Huashan, we did it 6 days after being caught up in
the 7.9 earthquake disaster
RA: Third question, there is a myth that
Guoliang was carved out of a mountain by a bunch of
peasants back in 1970s. that is starting to sound
fishy. Do you have anything to share about how that
tunnel was created?
Precipice Long Corridor took 12 people 6 years to
carve into the cliff face. Before that I was led to
believe there was a rope ladder which was used to
climb the cliff face which is still there. At the
top is a small town with various basic rooms for
rent in peoples homes. I believe it was hand made
with pound hammers and drill rods so supplies could
be provided for the villagers. I don't remember who
built it although I do remember wondering why
someone would decide to build a village somewhere so
inaccessible, but I saw lots of strange things in
Just a quick note: If an earthquake hits this area,
the place will come tumbling down!
This photo is useful for more details...
RA: Fourth question: the road in Bolivia
looks terrifying. Is it really as dangerous as it
That depends on you!. I did gravity assisted
mountain biking down Yungas Road. A couple of months
before, the mountain bike company had their first
gringo fatality. Hundreds of people have died on
the road. The roadside is littered with crosses
indicating where buses, cars, and bikes have gone
over the edge. Its a true adrenaline rush hitting
speeds up to 30mph. I believe that if you can cycle
on the pavement without losing control and being
squashed by oncoming traffic then you can mountain
bike the worlds most dangerous road. Still, this
really does come down to your own common sense and
self preservation. A good head for heights is a
Coming back up the most dangerous road on a old
clapped out bus is far more terrifying. The road can
be very narrow and the bus feels like it is hanging
over the edge on multiple occasions. Together with
the fact that you are often relying on an ego crazed
Bolivian driver, it certainly makes for a nerve
RA: One more thing - what made you decide to
visit all three of these places? I am very curious.
I am an independent traveler that likes to look for
things that are not necessarily mentioned in the
Lonely Planet/Rough Guide. For this particular case
I was at work when my colleague decided to Google
the most dangerous roads in the world - no idea
why!. At the time (2007) it looked like all three
roads were in one place with nobody agreeing on
their location. Some people said it was in Tibet,
others in South America. It took me some time to
realise they were indeed three separate roads and
then a long time to pinpoint their exact location. I
eventually went in search for them in 2008.
Precipice Long Corridor was the most difficult to
get to on local transport.
RA: It is good to meet you!
Where are you from?
I am from Nottingham, but now live and work in
My entire collection of photos for Huashan,
Precipice and Yungas can be found in the following
location. Some of my Huashan photos have already
been published by polish entertainment website ONET
who approached me from my blog.
Out of time now, gotta go
Letter Twenty Nine:
Huashan is No Longer Dangerous...
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 10:24
Subject: Huashan mountain
I'm a french people who has just
been to Huashan 2 weeks ago.
You'll find some picture in my
Sorry it is in french…
I write you to tell you that the
security of huashan mountain has
been highly improved since the first
pictures of your site.
In fact I've never felt myself
endangered during the 2 days I had
on the mountain.
It is still very impressive but for
me it's not anymore one of the most
dangerous hiking in the world.
The most dangerous part is now
secure with "via ferrata" type
equipment. Still impressive, but no
Another example is in one very steep
climbing with steps in a quasi
vertical rock : they have now
installed a metallic stair for those
that don't want to use the steep
Anyway, it's still a fantastic
mountain and now we can have the
same sensations but without danger,
so it's great.
The only problem is that it is
Huashan is No Longer Dangerous
From: Kwong Y
Sent: Monday, April 11, 2011 1:35 PM
Subject: Mt. Huashan story
By chance, I came across your
Mt. Huashan Hiking Trail, in which
you mentioned that Mt. Huashan
"might just be the most dangerous
Tourist Hiking Trail in the world."
I guess I felt quite a vindicated to
read your comments and the letters
on your website
I have been to Mt. Huashan twice. It
was years and years ago, when I was
in my late 20's. I'm now in my late
I was there with a friend of mine on
the hike to Mt. Huashan (the last
leg of our trip on a tour to the
Silk Road), and we took great pride
in that we managed to get up to the
top with little rest .... and those
were the days. But it wasn't until
we climbed down to the wooden plank
did we get our first taste of dose
of Mt. Huashan.
We had our feet firmly on the wooden
plank, our hands holding tight to
the chain. Needless to say, we dared
not look down. Taking deep breaths,
we were debating hard whether we
wanted to move on. We didn't even
want to say the word "chicken".
There was just the chain and the
wooden plank .... with the blue sky
up above and the deep deep bottom
down below. Speaking of safety
harness, sorry, we never heard of
them, and I doubted if they were
commonly used by any amateur
climbers, at the time. It was in the
early 1980's anyway.
Two young souls too proud to admit
"fear" or "defeat", but in our
hearts, we both knew we were more
than a bit scared ... an
understatement. We spent a few
minutes talking (probably a few
seconds ... ), looking into each
other's eyes, and in the end, we
went back up.
It's probably one of my most
greatest regrets in my life, but
considering the danger and the risk,
and seeing what you said about Mt.
Huashan given your experience in
mountain hiking (or climbing, if you
have it:) ), I guess I can now live
with the decision we made at the
I went back to visit Mt. Huashan
with my wife-to-be 3 years later,
and trying to impress her as I often
did then, I went down to the plank
again, and had a photo taken. I was
told in no uncertain terms, of
course, not to take the risk and I
gladly complied .... though knowing
well in my heart, I wouldn't want to
take another step further :)
Thanks for the wonderful photos of
Mt. Huashan - the landscape was just
stunning and breath taking, and they
surely brought back a lot of the
fond memories from the good old
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, April 11, 2011 6:07 PM
Subject: RE: Mt. Huashan story
I have mixed feelings about my
story. Based on reports from people
like you, Huashan was EXTREMELY
dangerous many years ago. Lately
people have written to say that many
safety improvements have reduced the
So, in a way, I suppose my original
story about the danger is inaccurate
by modern standards, but in the old
days it was a dangerous trip indeed.
Thank you for your letter!
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 2:49
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Mt. Huashan story
It was kind of you to reply, as I
didn't really expect to hear from
I wouldn't say that your story
about the danger is inaccurate,
whether by modern standards or not,
and I dare anybody to take on the
challenge to walk on the boardwalk
on the cliff of Mt. Huashan.
From the photos I saw on your web,
there appears to be some obvious
improvements, such as the "wider"
board than it was before, and the
safety harness being now available,
in addition to the rusty metal
"Danger" is much more than a
subjective perception and can be
gauged objectively only by having
regard to the totality of the
surroundings, and as far as I am
concerned, the boardwalk on Mt.
Huashan is definitely not for the
faint of heart.
Well, I guess I'm getting a bit
older than I thought :)
Cheers and have a good day!
WIKIPEDIA UPDATE ON HUASHAN
Rick Archer's Note:
It has now been three complete
years since I came under
criticism for my
original article on Huashan by a
man named Antoine. The
criticism leveled at the time
was that the climb at Huashan
was nowhere as dangerous as I
made it out to be. In
addition to pointing out that
Huashan was so easy that Antoine
saw an 8 year old child climbing
it, he added:
your decision, remember that I
am not the first one to be upset
with your website. So much that
even wikipedia has a paragraph
written on your false claims."
was horrified. My respect
for Wikipedia knows no bounds -
it is a blessing to all of us
and I contribute money every
year at Christmas. The
thought of being criticized to
the entire world on Wikipedia
upset me greatly.
I rushed to the Internet and
discovered Antoine was correct.
Some sniper named Chong-Dae Park
actually had the nerve to
suggest that I had made
everything up in an attempt to
become an Internet sensation.
I was stunned by this deeply
personal and quite public attack
on my honesty by someone I had
never met. I was further
incensed that the man had said
these things about me in a
public forum without having the
courtesy to contact me first to
discuss the issue.
When I first wrote my article on
Huashan in January 2007, I
made my conclusions of Huashan's
danger based on the pictures and
stories that appeared on the
Internet at the time.
There really wasn't much
material to go on. In
fact, Wikipedia didn't
even have a reference page on
Huashan. Furthermore, the
truly accurate information was
inaccessible to me because it
was written in Chinese and my
Google searches were in English.
I was operating with one arm
tied behind my back.
Nevertheless, I was the first
Western person to actually take
the time to write a story about
the place. My 2007 story
was instrumental in creating a
tremendous amount of interest in
a place most Westerners never
So was my original conclusion
that Huashan was dangerous a
fair one? Absolutely.
Given the reports that were
available to me at the time, the
climb at Huashan had resulted in
Furthermore, the pictures were
terrifying. That said,
given that I had never seen the
place personally, I was not only
well aware I was flying blind on
this story, I took the time to
point this out to my readers.
Over the past four years, I have
received many well-meaning
letters from people who said
they had written to suggest that
maybe Huashan wasn't nearly as
dangerous as I made it out to
be. As any reader can see,
I posted every one of these
Many of these writers pointed
out there seemed to be recent
safety updates. I came to
the conclusion that as China
opened it doors to the Western
world, the tourism boom made it
necessary to upgrade the safety
features of the climb.
As many people have pointed out,
the safety of the climb still
isn't quite up to "Western
standards", but today the climb
is nowhere near as dangerous as
my original article made it out
In other words, if you are in
good health and have good
balance, as long as you pay
attention, the climb at Huashan
is within most people's reach.
Out of curiosity, in July 2011 I
took another look at Wikipedia.
I flinched as the page opened,
fully expecting to become
irritated again at seeing the
suggestion I had written my
"false article" in a desperate
attempt to become an Internet
Instead, I was quite pleased to
see the insulting reference to
my story had been completely
removed. In its place was
a well-written paragraph that
basically said the same thing I
did... that Huashan was once
very dangerous and that
fatalities had indeed occurred,
but that recent safety
improvements had made the climb
much safer. Read for
yourself immediately below. RA
Wikipedia on Huashan (as
of July 2011)
has historically been a place of retreat for hardy
hermits, whether Daoist, Buddhist or other; access
to the mountain was only deliberately available to
the strong-willed, or those who had found "the way".
With greater mobility and
prosperity, Chinese, particularly students, began to
test their mettle and visit in the 1980s. The
inherent danger of many of the exposed, narrow
pathways with precipitous drops gave the mountain a
deserved reputation for danger.
As tourism has boomed and
the mountain's accessibility vastly improved with
the installation of the cable car in the 1990s,
visitor numbers surged.
Despite the safety measures
introduced by cutting deeper pathways and building
up stone steps and wider paths, as well as adding
railings, fatalities continued to occur.
The local government has
proceeded to open new tracks and created one-way
routes on some more hair-raising parts, such that
the mountain can be scaled without significant
danger now, barring crowds and icy conditions.
Some of the most
precipitous tracks have actually been closed off.
The former trail that leads to the South Peak from
the North Peak is on a cliff face, and it was known
as being extremely dangerous; there is now a new and
safer stone-built path to reach the South Peak
temple, and on to the Peak itself."
Letter Thirty One:
Huashan Not Dangerous, but very
Sent: Sunday, July 24, 2011 10:30 PM
Subject: Hua Shan - May 2011 Hiking
In May while on my honeymoon, I
spent a day hiking around on Hua
Shan, visiting the North and West
peaks after taking the cable car up.
I've made a complete write-up of the
day on Hua Shan on my journal of the
trip to China. Click on the "May 14,
2011" link to the pdf file. I have
pictures of our complete day of
hiking and not just the "scary"
pictures which so many people focus
Note: If you want to link to my
journal of my day on Hua Shan,
please link to the above html page
and not to the pdf file. The pdf
file is large and I'd prefer to not
have people using a lot of bandwidth
on my website without actually
visiting it. Thanks.
I read every word on your website on
Hua Shan before we went and really
didn't know what to expect because
so many people have given you so
many diverse opinions.
First, the "fear" of hiking Hua Shan
is overblown in many of your
pictures and descriptions. My wife
and I are not great hikers and are
in average shape. I'm very much
scared of heights. NEVER did we get
on a trail where we were confronted
with our fears or doing something
outside of our comfort level. We did
not see any of the scary places that
are in pictures on your website,
it's totally my understanding that
those are optional side trips. Any
time there was a trail that required
the use of a chain or any additional
effort besides normal walking, there
was an alternate, easy route around
it. When the trail had a long
dropoff on one side, there was a
very sturdy railing.
Second, I didn't see any limitations
of the type of people on the trail.
There were people young and old. We
saw kids as young as 5 or 6 hiking
on it and also many senior citizens.
We saw people who were hiking in
dress shoes and totally not dressed
appropriately for hiking. The most
dangerous part of the hike was the
high number of people crowded onto
Third, the line to take the cable
car down was absolutely brutal. It
was an hour and a half of pushing
and shoving. That was the only time
during the day I was scared of
anything. I thought it was dangerous
as everyone was pushing on everyone
else in the confined space of the
The weather on our day of hiking it
was warm and sunny, really ideal.
Anyway, you say you haven't been to
Hua Shan. You must go.
Note: Stephen Drake wrote an
of his climb complete with pictures.
In particular, look for the May 14th
link which guides you to Stephen's
Letter Thirty Two:
Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 1:04
Subject: Huashan carriers
Weinan, April the 3rd 2012.
Thanks for your wonderful web page
I climbed it the day before
yesterday. Huashan is one of the
best walks I have ever done.
It's amazing, awesome.
Today, I've found your website and
took a lot of pleasure to read your
article and the letters.
For me, HuaShan is
physically hard. If you walk from
the village and visit the 5 peaks,
this is about 2000 meters of
difference in level, mainly on
stairs sometime really steeply.
Nowadays it is not dangerous but you
must pay attention every step
especially in case of rain or of
snow. Everybody, in good shape,
should pay a visit if travelling in
the area. If they think it's too
hard, there is the gondola to save
some difficulty and sweet.
But for me something doesn't appear
on your web page or in the comment
and is missing, the carriers
Everything in HuaShan is
brought by carriers : the bottles of
water, the food, the sand and cement
and even fridges. These guys are
really incredible, they just climb
as if they where alone, carrying 30
to 50 Kg on their back.
Some Chinese told me that
it's very expensive to buy goods in
HuaShan, but when you see them, it's
Such an exiting place.
Letter Thirty Three:
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:21
Subject: Mt Huashan
All I would say is you should go
there yourself before writing about
it... how can you write articles
like this when can't verify the
truth of what you write? I did the
hike in 1988 and it wasn't dangerous
or scary. [Editor's
Note: read letter below]
It was awe inspiring
because the route was built for
spiritual reasons - so that pilgrims
could to reach the top of a holy
mountain. NOT for tourists or
mountaineers. There are several holy
mountains in China with this kind of
steep step climbing with chains to
hold on to.
Anyone who is scared of heights
shouldn't attempt anything like
this, it goes without saying, just
as you wouldn't climb a high
mountain in the Rockies or Scottish
Highlands or do any kind of rock
The Chinese are never scared of
anything - it's their attitude to
life. They are tough, they don't
fear death. Because for them, this
climb is a spiritual one, but also
because they have survived one a
hell of a lot over the centuries.
But good to see they Chinese have
made the climb safer.
Letter Thirty Four: Report of
Sent: Sunday, June 10, 2012 8:53 AM
Subject: Hua Shan
I am a 23 year old American
recent-graduate teaching in Xi'an,
China. I just came across your
website and decided to write to you.
climbed Hua Shan for the first time
and witnessed someone fall to their
I was on a
school-sponsored trip to Hua Shan
and made it to the top of the East
Peak with another foreign teacher.
There was a group of three Chinese
people at the same spot. One wanted
a picture with me and the second
friend took it. At the same time,
the third friend, a man probably
early-40s, was taking a picture of
the view. We were in a completely
allowed tourist section of the
mountain, he was on the correct side
of the rail, just standing. He
slipped on the edge of a worn-down
rock and I looked up just to see his
feet go over.
following is a morbid detail but I
feel like I have to include it when
I relate this story because it's the
last thing I know about what
happened. He didn't make any sound,
but we heard his body hit the
mountain three times a few seconds
apart (I suppose only one second
apart, it felt like a few), and then
that was all. From the east peak,
the mountain is straight down. There
is nothing to grab, no where to land
except the bottom. It must be a full
10 second fall to the bottom. My
friend and I left the peak almost
immediately after ensuring the other
two Chinese people had come with the
man and would make sure something
someone knew what happened. An hour
and a half later we had descended
back down to where the cable car
leaves from, where about seven of
the mountain police staff were
sitting around chatting and
snacking. I came across your website
as I was trying to find news about
the accident, but have found
nothing will be done, although to be
fair probably nothing can be as it
would be almost impossible to find
the body. I will certainly never
return to Hua Shan in my life or
allow anyone I care about to visit
either. Although all of the
letters about it being safe are
reasonable, it's only safe until
something happens--and things
really do happen there.
Trust me I
am not a crazy thrill seeker; I
couldn't even be bothered to do the
whole mountain but instead took the
cable car. I was there in the middle
of the day, doing what I was
supposed to, with my school. This
man was exactly the same. Tourists
should absolutely not be allowed on
Feel free to do or not do anything
you want with my letter, but please
don't use my name or email as I
perhaps should not be writing this
from China. I'm not interested in
influencing your page but just felt
like writing to a sympathetic
listener. Hope all is well in your
part of the world.
El Camino del Rey
Have you read
El Camino del Rey,
El Camino del Rey is
the name of a
very dangerous walkway that winds
its way along the steep walls of a narrow
gorge known as El Chorro.
The walkway is in serious disrepair, but intrepid climbers
like to give it a try anyway.
Incidentally, this walkway is much more dangerous
than the climbing trail at Mt Huashan.