Huashan Hiking Trail
Story written by Rick Archer
Originally published: January 2007
Most recent update: July 2011
by Rick Archer)
You are about to
view pictures of a mountain hiking trail on Mt Huashan which is
located in China. After you see the pictures,
I have little doubt you will agree that it appears
to be a very risky Hiking Trail.
There is a big difference between
and mountain hiking.
Mountain climbers have training, experience, and
equipment. They also know full well the risks
they are taking. Mountain Hiking is usually
done by amateurs. I am more the hiking type
myself. I remember walking to the top of Longs Peak
in Colorado. It was a long way up there.
took the better part of a day, but it was worth it.
The view was stunning, the weather was wonderful and
the workout was exhilarating. Of course I was
tired, but I didn't care! I still consider
that climb to be one of the most enjoyable days of
One memory I carry from the Longs Peak experience was that I
was never in fear. The trails were
well-groomed, there were ropes on either side of the
trail whenever necessary, and there was no area
steep enough to require stairs. It was simply
a long, very pleasant walk. In my opinion,
there was little risk involved. Even if I stumbled
and fell, there was no danger.
The trail at Mt Huashan is much different.
When I first posted the pictures of Huashan in
January 2007, I believed it was the most
dangerous trail I had ever seen. It is
important to note since I first wrote this story,
I have received several letters that suggest the
Chinese have made significant improvements to this
I certainly hope so because in its
original state the Huashan Hiking Trail was
definitely a Death Trap. In addition to the story of
Frank and Laura that you will read, I have two
different people - both Chinese Nationals - who have
written to me of past tragedies at Huashan. In
addition, I have a report of a
death as recent as June 2012.
the Climb at Mount Huashan?
The 'climbing' at Huashan
be considered 'mountain climbing'. Mountain climbing involves
using advanced equipment and skill honed through experience.
The climb at Huashan is more
accurately described as "Mountain Hiking".
Huashan has a well-known public trail used by anyone brave enough to give it a try
regardless of their physical ability or previous climbing experience.
As you will see for yourself, the pictures
show normal people in comfortable clothes with no
equipment and no special shoes. These
people are mostly what you would call
'pedestrians', i.e. average people who
probably have very little experience with
dangerous climbs. In other words,
people like you and me.
It is said there are frequent casualties
However I was unable to drum
up any Internet confirmation for this allegation.
Please refer to the Google
search on the right. It was made in
May 2008. I had the same
results for 'huashan
death' as well as 'huashan
the tight controls the Chinese keep on their press, I might never
find any confirmation. Or perhaps the information is
written in Chinese; a Google search
in English probably won't reference
the Chinese script.
That said, the pictures don't lie.
eyes tell me how dangerous this trail is.
In certain parts,
one mistake and you will fall to your death.
as I mentioned earlier, I have
received several notes from Chinese
nationals hinting at past tragedies.
One note was amazing. Please
read for yourself.
Danger at Mount Huashan
Note (May 2008):
following email series was sent to me by a
man named Jim who read my passage above.
He was kind enough to share the following
anecdotal information about problems at
From: James M
Sent: Friday, May 16, 2008
Subject: Mount Hua Shan
is some written evidence of serious
accidents on Mount Hua Shan from someone who
lived right there in China during the
1980's. See the email at the very bottom.
This is from
a co-worker of mine. Her
English is not the best, but I think you
will understand her story.
She gave me
permission to share it. It
is unedited (except for the removal of her
address & phone numbers) in her very own
Best regards, Jim
Letter from Jim to Tongyan
your story about the dangers on Hua
shan is very interesting to read. Would you
mind if I shared your
story with some others who enjoy
can remove your address & phone number
information, if you wish.
Also I am also very curious as to
what caused the people to fall.
Is there any
written account of this accident in English
anywhere to read of what happened?
Letter One from Tongyan to
I don't mind if you want
share the information to others.
Let me see I can find some information
from internet. That is well know events in
1980's. I will let you know.
Letter Two from Tongyan to
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
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
Thanks for the link, I will share
this with my family tonight.
Story of a
Mountain Climbing Accident in the Half Dome in Yosemite Park
Sent: Friday, May 09, 2008
Subject: huashan trail
I came across your website after googling
"most dangerous trails". This Huashan one takes the
cake! First of all, this clearly should be a
one-way trail. I've been hiking in Europe where
there are similar trails, chains, platforms (metal
ones), and ladders. Many of these sections are
one-way, clearly marked on maps and books. If you
get caught going the wrong way, it's a huge fine
right on the spot. There's just no excuse for such
irresponsibility in my book.
I bet most deaths occur on
that Huashan mountain because of passing or
inexperience folks who are not in shape. All it
takes is one misstep, one instant when you aren't
paying attention or someone distracts you, just one
Last June, I was in Yosemite. I've been up
the Half Dome a couple of times and decided to go up
for a third time. While I was on the cables, I saw
someone slip from above and slide to his death. It
was the most frantic and shocking thing I have ever
been a part of. People suddenly started screaming, I
looked up and saw a guy sliding off the mountain
with no way to stop his momentum. I can still see
the look on his face, petrified, he was kicking his
feet, he bounced on the rock a couple of times.
He slid by me, and when I looked back, his feet hit
a divot which unfortunately caused him to somersault
out of view. Someone below yelled that he was
"airborne", falling 4000 feet to the Valley floor.
Lot of good that warning did him.
The poor fellow didn't go
airborne for long. He landed on a ledge about
a hundred feet below the "saddle" section where the
cables begin. A couple of hikers had the courage to
go down there for a rescue attempt. His heart was
actually still beating for a few minutes but he
succumbed to his injuries.
All of this
happened so fast.
year before, another person lost his grip on the
cables and slid down the other side of the mountain.
He lucked out when his pants caught a piece of rock
that prevent him from sliding 4000 feet to his
death. The poor guy was stuck there for 6-8 hours before
someone rescued him. Unreal, huh?
After the accident I witnessed, some people still kept going up, but I
couldn't. I just had to turn around; it was no
longer fun. I was so stunned, no words can
describe how I felt at that time.
About Mount Huashan
Mt. Hua is located in the
It stands to the south of Huayin City, 75 miles due east of Xian.
From the map, this mountain is located close to Himalayas of Tibet.
'Shan' means 'mountain'
in Chinese, thus the name
Huashan means 'Mount Hua' or 'Hua
Travel China Guide,
definitely not some neglected little spot in the
middle of nowhere. Quite the contrary! Mt Huashan is one
of the five sacred mountains in China. The other four sacred mountains are
in Hunan, Mt. Hengshan
Shanxi, and Mt. Songshan
is home to several influential Taoist temples where emperors
of past dynasties made pilgrimages, making this mountain the holy
land of Taoism. Many
emperors came to pray and sacrifice to the God of Mt. Huashan.
It is said that Lao Zi (Lao Tze), the founder and patriarch of Taoism, once lived and
gave sermons here. Today many Taoism temples are located on Mr.
Huashan which helps explain why this area is visited by thousands of
note that you are looking at Mt Hua from the
other words, this picture is "upside down".
Hua consists of five
five peaks are all very close in height.
North Peak in front is the shortest while the South Peak
in back is the tallest. The East and West
Peaks are the same height.
is not your typical mountain with one
central dominating peak. Instead the
mountain is "spread out" into five
To see this same picture
for yourself, visit
Google Earth. The Google Earth
coordinates for Huashan can be entered two
Once you get
there, remember to rotate the picture 180°
to get the
same view as you see here.
baseball infield to help describe their
relative positions, South Peak, the tallest, is at
second base. The North Peak is at the
entrance and would be considered home plate.
The West Peak is first base and the East Peak
is third base. There is a Central Peak
as well where the pitcher's mound would be.
fairly sure the Chinese would not
appreciate being told their cherished religious icon
closely resembles a baseball diamond.
They are more fond of using a flower
analogy. Apparently when
viewed in a certain way, the five peaks of Huashan
are said to look like five
petals of a lotus flower.
Using the picture as a reference,
there appear to be two main roads.
I am fairly certain the one on the
left, the East Side, is the main
entrance. About 2 and a half
miles down the road is the Gondola
area. This must be where the
buses drop many of the people off.
The Gondola takes you from the base
of the mountain up to the North Peak
where two major hiking trails await.
As you can gather from the picture,
the gondola stretches a long way.
It saves everyone a lot of
time and energy. Many people
use the gondola to go back down the
mountain as well.
Once you are on the North Peak,
Huashan is like a mountainous
Disneyland. Each peak is a
different realm with its own
identity. You have your choice
different peaks to tackle.
You can spend all day here and still
barely scratch the surface of all
the things to see.
The mountain is so spread out that
literally thousands of people are
climbing the various peaks all day
long. You can spend your
on the North Peak or the West Peak
or move back and forth if you have
This vast mountain world is a
separate reality, your own little
world. Some people call
Huashan a 'Shangri La' of sorts.
Civilization is just a memory up
Originally Hua was called
Xiyue - meaning
'Western mountain' - because it was the westernmost of the five
sacred Taoist peaks. It is the dominant mountain in Quinling
Formerly the five mountains were dotted with temples but
today only a few
remain. These days the majority of visitors to Huashan are Chinese
youth on vacation. However the mountain routes are still trekked by
devoted pilgrims and wandering monks intent on visiting the sacred
The East Peak
is 2,090 meters (about 6,857
ft) high above sea level. It is also called
Facing Sun Peak
the top of the peak is the best place to watch the sunrise.
called Jade Maiden Peak.
Story goes that Nongyu, the daughter of
King Mugong (659B.C.-621B.C.) of the Qin Kingdom (770B.C.-476B.C.), was tired of the life in the
court. So she and her husband moved to Huashan and lived alone at Middle Peak.
The West Peak is 2,087 meters
(about 6,846 ft) high. It is always called
because of its unique shape.
This peak is formed by a huge rock. Hence it's very steep.
The North Peak
Stand by ancient people. Today it is called the
Cloud Terrace Peak
as it looks like a flat
terrace in the clouds.
The peak is 1,614 meters (about 5,295 ft) above sea level. An important site on
the North Peak is Zhenwu Hall (God of
Three sides are cliffs
that are nearly impossible to climb and the fourth side
is the 'ear rubbing cliff'.
route gets its name because there are places on this precipitous
path where tourists can climb up only by pressing an ear close to
The majestic South Peak
tallest. With an altitude of 2,160 meters (about 7,087 feet),
ancient people called this the 'Monarch of Mt. Huashan' because it
is the highest peak of Mt. Huashan.
It is also the highest peak
among the Five Sacred Mountains of China. The temple for the God of Mt. Huashan is situated
on the South Peak.
Tourists who summit South Peak are rewarded
with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The famous Yellow
River wanders far below and everything seems small.
Legend has it
that the wild geese returning from the south often landed at South
Peak, giving the area the name 'Landing Wild Geese Peak'
The South Peak is the dangerous peak at the
center of our story. The South Peak is very popular for
climbing despite its peril. In the middle of South Peak trees are
luxuriantly green, creating a good rest spot.
At the top of South Peak, the 'Black
Dragon Pool' at the summit and the
on the southwestern cliff are two attractive resorts.
Mt. Huashan is famous for its magnificent
cliffs. Nowhere are the cliffs more difficult to climb than
the South Peak. There are rugged cliffs on all four sides of South Peak.
A tortuous 15 kilometer stepped path leads to the
Black Dragon Ridge
(Bilong ji) where other trails lead to the major peaks.
The most dangerous place is called 'Changkong Zhandao' (a
path built along the surface of a vertical cliff) which is about 4
meters (about 13 feet) long and about 0.33 meters (about 1.1 feet)
In order to reach certain temples and the caves of the sages great
courage is needed. The climb to the top is
challenging hike that includes sheer cliffs and substantial
elevation gain (more than 5,000 feet, much of it on stone steps).
The climbers must scale
several steep cliffs with only a linked
chain for support.
However the rewards are spectacular…the
dramatic scenery is just as impressive today as it must have been a
thousand years ago.
From the top, the Yellow River can be
seen winding its way through the valley below about 15 miles to the
Below is the bottomless gulf which makes tourists shake with fear.
To fall is certain death.
The picture on the left illustrates an area
known as the "Heavenly Stairs".
Maybe that is because if you
fall off of them, you go to Heaven...
These steps are the Starting Point for the hiking trip up the
West Peak mountain.
As you can gather, the initial part of the climb seems steep, but
In addition, the view is awe-inspiring.
Who wouldn't be tempted to look for the incredible beauty said to
greet each traveler at the end of the climb?
More pictures of the Heavenly Stairs.
Heavenly Stairs, Canglong Ridge
Black Dragon Ridge), is
Part Two of the climb.
Now the grade becomes even steeper than the Heavenly Stairs.
You may be incredulous
discover people make
this climb in the winter snow!
After Canglong Ridge, you reach
Jinsud Pass is Part Three of the journey. Judging from the
pictures, this area seems narrow. Looks must be deceiving. Although the ridge seems barely
wide enough to allow people to walk on it, there is obviously enough room to support several structures.
At the end of Jinsud Pass, there is a choice:
Many people continue to the West Peak for a good reason: The West
Peak route is quite safe. Plus Zhenyue Palace is up ahead.
The perilous climb is located at the
A summer look
a winter look at
thousands tourists visit Huashan year-round regardless of
the conditions on the mountain.
As stated earlier,
Mt. Huashan has five peaks. The West
Peak seen in the pictures above is said to be the most graceful peak.
I think "Graceful
Peak" is Chinese-speak for 'you don't have to risk your life to visit
On the other hand, judging from the picture
below, even the West Peak Temple doesn't look that easy to reach.
That said, the view atop the West Peak Summit is breathtaking!
Now you see why people make the climb.
Here is a look
at the East Peak.
This temple is
known as the
Playing Chess Pavilion.
concentrate on chess with a view like that?
Although every peak has its challenges, the most aggressive climbers
usually migrate over to the trail that leads to the forbidding South Peak, the
highest of the 5 mountains.
They are in for one of the most dangerous
adventures of their entire life. To say the South Peak climb is
'formidable' would be an understatement.
Along the cliff of South
Peak is a planked path equipped with iron chains.
devices help, of course, but there are few safety features. One mistake and the climber meets eternity.
Further up it gets even more difficult. Here there are
chains and rock footholds which allow the adventurers to
continue on the frightful path past precipitous rock faces
and yawning chasms.
Always far below, the valley beckons. Only the foolish dare to
look down. Furthermore, no one dares to think of the trip
back. In some ways, that's even tougher because you are so
many people consider the huge throng of climbers to be the
trail's greatest threat. The trails are very narrow.
Don't forget the people
coming down have to get around the people coming up. People
are always scared to death the people passing them are going to
do something stupid and take them down with them. Another
fear is that the climber in front could slip and knock a nearby
climber off the mountain as well. As vast as the mountain
is, the trail just doesn't feel wide enough to accommodate all
Please keep in mind these climbers are not
professionals! Most of them are Chinese college kids here on
vacation. They are not equipped with any sort of modern
climbing equipment or even the proper shoes. Nor do they have climbing experience.
All they have going for them are their hands, their feet, and their courage.
Plus they are trapped. Once they discover the sheer precipices
and overhanging rocks, at this point it is very difficult to go
back. If it rains, they are in trouble. If the wind picks up, they
are in trouble. If the wood has a slippery spot or a chain comes loose...
But always there is the temptation of the magnificent beauty.
The scenery changes at every step along this path. The Beauty
of the Mountain seems to cast a magic spell over all who pass.
not write the following story. In fact, I have never
even visited China although I certainly hope to
someday. I live in Houston, Texas, USA.
This story was written
by an American who scaled the South Peak with his
wife in the winter of 2003. His story is quite
you will see were taken by many different people.
I visited about 100 Internet sites in my attempt to
compile a photographic tribute to this rigorous
hike along the perilous South Peak.
this story, I think you will agree that a hike this
difficult would never be permitted here in America.
Obviously the Chinese see things differently.
THE STORY BEGINS
Our gondola ride up from the base of
the mountain was a good idea. Not only was the ride a lot of fun,
we saved a great deal of time and energy.
But after the gondola ride, my wife Laura
and I soon found ourselves climbing hundreds of icy, steep
the flimsiest of guardrails.
Despite the fact that we had both slipped a couple times, we
stubbornly continued. Now our walk had brought us to
As I stared up at the near-vertical staircase before us, I
wondered how on earth did I ever get in this mess. Not
only did I feel in danger, I felt responsible for my wife as
Steep steps were carved into the rock with chains
Cleverly, there were
two ladders - one for ‘up’ and one
picture at left).
this, our hearts were racing
as we saw where the ladder’s steps
went vertical at the top of a 20
The stairs were so imposing we had little choice but to stop
and think about it. We could see the climb ahead was the
steepest, least-protected section yet. Making things worse, I thought I could see ice on the
steps. This wasn't going to be easy. I was
losing my patience.
I can't believe
they expect people to climb this thing!
We should have stopped
a long time ago!"
Laura stared at me with an odd look.
I couldn't figure
out if she agreed with me or not. We almost had
quit once before. I don't know why we didn't.
Actually, I know exactly
why we hadn't quit.
spent days fighting language barriers and a
transportation system that was not designed to be
foreigner-friendly. I can't begin to count how
many people we had to stop just to find one person
to explain in English how to find this obscure
place. Now that we were finally here, we
weren't going to get another shot at this climb.
Our plane tickets dictated we leave the day after
today or never at all.
I suppose another thing that
kept us going was the noisy throng of people
who passed us while making their descent. This
indicated to me that the peak must be close by.
If all these
Chinese people made it,
I figured so should we.
I had a war going on inside my brain. It was driving me crazy. The "Courage" side of my brain was engaged in a knockout fight with my "Reason". So far
Courage had the upper hand,
but Reason aided by Fear was
making a move.
Meanwhile my pessimism had rubbed off on my wife.
Laura was having
second thoughts. As we stared up at the vertical
staircase, Laura's quizzical look had changed to a frown.
"I don't know if this is such a good idea,
Frank. Maybe we
should throw in the towel.
Do you want to
I stared at her quietly. Laura was
right. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, especially not
with these winter conditions.
The spot where we stood
was actually quite beautiful.
We could see the vast wilderness of the
valley below and three of the other four peaks of Mt Huashan.
I was overwhelmed by the splendor. No wonder this
place was revered as a religious area.
snow-covered paradise was dangerous in the same way a
beautiful woman is dangerous - too risky, but too beautiful to
My inner conflict continued. Part of me could not bear to
give up this adventure of a lifetime. The splendor of
this mountain was
On the other hand, I wished we had stopped a long
time ago. The Staircase we had just completed had been no
picnic. For the entire climb the two of us had been clinging to the railing
for dear life!
However, despite the freezing
cold, the blustery wind, and steps that were iced over, like
fools we stubbornly kept walking.
I admit it. This was mostly on me. I had
not wanted to stop. We had
not paid 300 yuan
apiece ($80 total), spent 3
hours on a minibus, sat through a half-hour lecture
about the mountain, taken a 20-minute cable car
ride, and climbed snowy, icy steps for 45 minutes just to
get so close to the top!
The chances we would ever return to this place were slim to
none. This was my chance. It was
impossible to quit now that the top was in sight.
Yes, it was cold, icy, and threatening to
snow, but this would probably be the only chance we would ever have to
climb to the summit of Huashan. This was one of the most famous
mountains in China! I
uttered a lukewarm response to Laura's idea of quitting.
We talked a little more, but soon the
subject was dropped. Laura
said she had not really wanted to give up either.
'Yeah, sure,' I thought to myself.
I was very worried I had made the wrong choice here,
especially since I had no idea what was up ahead.
We continued to inch our way up the
steps until they suddenly became steeper still, and even
closer to the 400-foot drop on either edge.
I forced myself not to look down.
Finally we made it.
Now we could see what was up next.
both stopped breathing.
We stared up
at a steep vertical cliff.
It was the final major
obstacle before a hike to the temple. Fear gripped me
as never before.
The cliff ahead
frightened me out of my wits.
At this point, my fear escalated to a level I had
never previously felt before. My inner debate raged
on. This was the third time "Courage" was in great danger of losing.
I was the cat who had climbed the tree and
could not get down, only here nobody would or could come to
my rescue. It felt like a
bad dream; I wished I could just escape, and wake up in my
warm bed, but there were no warm beds here, only biting cold
winds, ever-accumulating snow, and icy steps.
I knew we
would have to get out of this on our own.
I was overwhelmed by fear-induced nausea. I
don't have a head for heights. I felt rather sick looking
at the rickety wooden walkways and the
rusty chains hanging
over the precipitous drops ahead
continued to gaze
up at the cliff above.
I was astonished to see an
absurd number of giddy Chinese scaling the treacherous steps
with almost reckless abandon, some wearing what can only be
described in English as "dress shoes," specifically the kind
with smooth outer soles.
"What is wrong with these people?!" I thought. "Are they
aren't they afraid?!"
Why indeed did the Chinese people seem so
unfazed by this treacherous
My mind drifted back to
that people regularly fell to their death attempting to
climb the mountain. After what I
have seen so far today, I had no doubt these legends are correct.
And I had a sixth sense that told me the worst was yet to come!
Why on earth would
I try? Picking
your way along a sheer cliff surely isn't an enjoyable way
to spend a holiday, no matter how good the views are at the
end. Had I discovered a previously
undetected 'Death Wish'?
There is, off course, a certain type of
traveler who enjoys the bravado and back-slapping of
dangerous travel. I'm
certainly not one of them, although I suppose I
am more adventurous than most. But today, I was not
here out of bravado. I was here because I really didn't know
any better! I was the accidental mountain climber who
got in way over his head.
Danger is a hazy concept.
starters, we never know the exact probability of an
unfortunate accident. Our minds try to estimate it based
upon past experiences, hearsay, and whatever knowledge we
have accumulated. Even once
we think we know the chances of tragedy in a certain
situation, there is still the question of whether or not to
I wished I had a
feeling for the frequency of accidents at this part of the
climb. But no one around us spoke a word of English.
What was the probability of an unfortunate accident?
Right now I was
more scared than at any other time in my adult life.
How much risk is too much?
Was I supposed to be afraid of this? Maybe it isn't as
difficult as it looks. Everyone else I can see is
motoring up the cliff. It can be quite difficult to
know when to say "no".
Laura and I talked some more. As we talked, one
Chinese person after another walked past us and started to
climb the ladder without even a moment's hesitation.
I decided to continue. I wish I hadn't. As long as I live, I will never
forget the next part of our climb.
I asked Laura if she wanted to go first or have me go first.
Laura nodded for me to lead.
thing we did was climb a metal ladder that had been bolted
into a natural chute (see picture at
right). In other words, there was a
chimney-like crevice in the side of the cliff.
consequence of a mistake was certain death. On the
other hand, how often do you fall off a ladder when you are
paying attention? Just
make sure the grips are secure and you have a firm footing
before taking each new step.
This climb was scary, but we made it.
The next part was
actually pretty cool. At the top of the chimney , a skimpy trail had been carved into the
side of the mountain. This trail wound through improbable
niches in the rock face.
Laura and I moved sideways across the face of the cliff.
Things got much easier. We soon discovered there was a
natural ledge that had been used to create a trail.
Where the ledge was not sufficient, a man-made trail had
been carved out of the rock. We were very relieved to
discover there was also a metal fence to help as we crossed
the cliff to the other side.
The uphill climb in the
chimney had been tough, but I started to relax when I found
how easy it was to walk on this path. The chain
fence added much-appreciated security. Yes, it was still possible to
slip, but if you held onto the chain, it was unlikely you
would plunge over the edge. Believe me, I held on
In addition I dared not look down. My balance
depended on my confidence. The more scared I got, the
worse my balance became. I kept my eyes glued to the
granite surface of my path. I missed the beauty of
valley because I kept my
Stupid me, I made a mistake - I looked ahead. That's when
I discovered my safe rock trail was about to end only to be
replaced by an absurd wood ramp of some sort. I
panicked and stopped in my tracks.
Seeing this ramp coming up, for the fourth time that day I
had myself convinced to go back down when out of nowhere 6 Chinese college kids caught up to us.
Although they were unfailingly polite, I could see they
wanted Laura and I to get it going. Since this place
was too narrow for them to pass us, we were holding up
the line! Embarrassed, Laura and I started our slow trudge forward.
As we neared the place where the trail changed from rock to
wood ramp, I
was grateful to find a small recess in the mountain.
Laura and I stepped in to allow the Chinese students to
pass us by. I could not help but notice their
smiles and laughter.
Their fearlessness had begun to aggravate me. Why
weren't they afraid?! They were laughing and joking.
No fear. Heck,
I was glad to let them go by. Now we could move at our own
The next part of our journey
was almost more than I could bear. As we turned the corner, I
was sickened to discover a perilous walk across the cliff.
There in front of me were nearly two hundred feet of wooden planks
jutting out from the side of the cliff.
We had arrived at
'Changkong Zhandao', a plank path
built along the surface of a vertical cliff.
(Note: This ramp had
an English name: Floating-in-Air Road. But I called it
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.
The only reason we continued was those crazy Chinese college kids.
Laura and I watched them cross. It looked like they were
dancing... step apart, step together, step apart, step together...
they walked sideways across the cliff! And they were laughing!
I swear to God if it wasn't for those kids, Laura and I would have
turned around a long time ago. Left to ourselves, we would
have given into our panic, but to see those crazy kids fearlessly move
across the cliff made us think we could do it too.
Laura and I gave each other the "what are we getting ourselves into
this time?" look. Laura decided to simply watch, but I
felt shamed into trying. I grabbed the chain, made sure not to look
down, and did my step-together-step across the face of the rock.
I kept telling myself if they can do it, I can do it.
Nevertheless, I nearly slipped one time. Normally I never
actually picked up my feet, but there were places where the new set
of boards didn't match the set I was standing on. Since I
didn't dare look, when I switched to a new board, each step was an adventure.
As I took a step to the new board, my foot didn't hit the board
right and my heel slipped on the edge of the board. I had only
my left leg for support. I gripped tightly to the chain and
regained my balance. Laura, bless her heart, didn't see it.
Back at the starting point, she was looking off into the valley.
Despite how careful I had been, I had still
stumbled. A panic attack immediately kicked in. I could feel my knees shaking.
I was scared to death to take another step. I just stood there
and breathed a while. Laura asked me if I was okay. That
broke the ice. I decided I hadn't come nearly as close to
dying as I first thought.
So I nodded I was OK and started moving again.
Soon I actually managed a laugh of my own. I found a spot on
the rock smeared with lipstick. I suppose one of the Chinese
girls had pressed her face so close to the wall, she kissed the
It wasn't easy walking sideways
on this vertical cliff. One mistake and I would fall
straight to that valley about a mile below. If it was on
flat ground, it wouldn't be that tough. But here the stakes
were certain death. That knowledge affected my poise considerably. I thought
about the Chinese kids some more. I wondered what would their
think if they knew one of those climbers was their kid?
This climb had become incredibly dangerous. What was it about about the Chinese culture that
permitted their citizens access to
such a dangerous route? I honestly believed that some people
died doing this!
The only reason we were here was because we didn't know any better.
I was incredulous that something this deadly was open to the public.
Sure there were warning signs down below, but nothing had been said
that could possibly let us know how much trouble we were getting
I thought back to a presentation that had been given on the bus
trip. An expert on this area had given a lengthy outline about
Mt. Huashan in Chinese. Our bus guide whispered a shorter
version in broken English to us. Our fate might have been
different if we understood Chinese. It might have kept us
from being here!
My hands were starting to hurt from gripping
this freezing cold chain. I wished I had the foresight to
bring some bicycle gloves for protection. Moving at a snail's pace, I neared the end of the plank. It had taken me
minutes to move a couple hundred feet. It had been the
longest ten minutes of my life. As I reached the end, it
should have been a triumphant moment for me to make it this far, but
I was too nervous to appreciate it. Now I slowly retraced my
back to the trail. I was totally drained.
Once I made it back to safety,
I looked ahead to see our next challenge.
There was more climbing ahead for us, but this time we would use
footholds instead of ramps. There was an enormous
round boulder. Someone had risked their lives to cut
footholds into sheer rock. Nice feature, but this still wasn't going to
Laura and I stopped to watch the Chinese kids. I gave a silent
thanks that they had not gotten too far ahead of us. Now I
them to give me some more inspiration.
I quickly realized how we had managed to catch them - two climbers
were trying to descend. The college students had to wait till
these people got down. The foothold path was definitely not a
One girl slipped coming down and screamed.
I swear my heart almost stopped beating as I watched her struggle to
regain control. But she recovered and
eventually so did I.
Now the kids who had
passed us began their climb.
There were six students in the group - four boys and two
girls. As I watched them go up, I got
a new sick feeling in my stomach when I realized how precarious this
new section was. Those footholds made me wish for the
wooden planks again.
When they were done, we had
to wait for yet another group to descend. In all, we spent
twenty minutes at this spot. The entire time my anxiety was
Like the wooden boards before, this particular section had
no safety features at all.
I shook my head in
disgust. One mistake would kill you instantly.
This area was so dangerous it required proper mountain gear:
climbing boots, carabineers, belay devices, bolts, and ropes.
But all we had was our bare hands.
Now it was our turn. However, before we could start, a bitter wind picked up. I dropped to my knees for
protection and Laura took my cue. For what seemed like
several minutes we huddled there on the trail waiting for
the wind to let up.
Finally the wind abated, so we stood up. Time to go.
I wasn't looking forward to seeing that wind hit us on the
Laura gave me a wan grin. "Boys
first!" I smiled, but disagreed. I told Laura I would
rather let her go first in case she slipped. This way I might
be able to catch her if something bad happened. Laura nodded.
Looking at it this way made sense.
I watched as Laura grabbed the chain with both hands and stuck her
right foot in one of the footholds. Putting one hand over the
other, she slowly shifted her weight to her right foot. That's
when she discovered the footholds were wide enough for both
feet. Now it was time for
her left foot to join her right foot in the first foothold. The next foothold
was about six inches apart.
Clinging to the chain with both hands, she
fished around with her foot till she found each new foothold.
Now it was my turn. The path was diagonal -
part sideways, part upwards. I estimated the climb at about 20 feet.
One mistake and I would die. I could feel the adrenaline
surging through my body. I felt shaky and scared. But I
wasn't going to stop now.
That said, I found this
20 feet climb to be incredibly scary. What if I slipped? The fear alone made my
hands and legs tremble. Every motion I took was careful and
deliberate. I didn't trust myself to make even the slightest
My caution paid off. Amazingly we both made it to the top without
problem. Now it was time for one last obstacle.
We needed to
climb across a sheer rock face to reach the temple above.
end was in sight. All we had to conquer now was the Staircase at the top of the world.
I called it "Stairway to Heaven". Led Zep would have
I noticed the Temple
at the top and idly began to wonder how the people who worked there got up and
down the mountain. Was there a secret elevator?
immediately suspicious there might be an easier route, but if there
was, I never found it.
The excitement of almost being at the end made us
both take the steps too
We forgot how exposed
we were out there on the ledge.
Almost immediately we were hit by a gust of wind that
knocked us both off balance.
Both of us grabbed the chain for
Any stronger and we could have easily been swept
The one thing that I
can say but probably never adequately explain is the vastness of the
world below. As we crossed this barren rock, I could see
The commanding view
from this spot was truly something to behold.
How stupid of me to relax to take in take in the scenery.
The moment I let down my guard, we both had to drop to our knees for
safety as another gust took us off guard. Just when we
thought we were in the clear! Slowly we got to our feet and
started climbing again, albeit more slowly this time. My heart
was thumping at the near call. This climb was definitely not
for the faint of heart. I clung to the rope for dear life.
Whatever scenery I was missing would have to wait for my
confidence to return.
From that point on, we were completely exposed to a strong wind that
never let up. However, the goal was in sight so we kept going.
Wind or no wind, we
were determined to finish. Unfortunately, despite our good winter coats,
Laura and I were both
shivering. It had to be close to freezing this high up. No wonder they call it "wind
One step at a time we climbed
the stairs. Gosh, my legs ached! Teeth chattering,
legs throbbing, we made steady progress. Soon enough
we were finally safe inside a beautiful Tao temple atop the
summit. Finally. As I stared out the windows safe from the wind and the cold, I don't
think I have ever felt happier in my life. I was so relieved
to be here. I could not believe
what Laura and I had overcome to make it this far.
I made a
quiet prayer of thanks for our safety to the Almighty.
There was an observation post
at the very top that allowed us a 360 degree look at the world around us. Everywhere we looked, huge mountains and deep valleys greeted our
eyes. The beauty of the view really escapes description. I
could have stayed there all day just to watch.
But our reverie was shattered when a Chinese park ranger came up and
warned us that it had begun to snow further down. For
our own safety, maybe we should go now. Judging from his
concerned expression, that seemed to mean 'right now'.
Laura's face turned white with fear. Me too. Sorry to say, any courage
I had in reserve left me immediately.
All that work to get here and all that risk for a lousy ten minutes
on the top of the mountain. But we didn't have any choice. It was time to go.
Sure enough, the winds were even tougher as we climbed down the
treacherous Staircase. But at least we enjoyed having gravity on
our side for a change. Snow mixed with ice fell on us.
I gathered the courage to descend South Peak.
I was astonished to realize I had not given a second thought to
getting back down. I was sick in my stomach
again. Knowing what we had to go through to get back down with
snow and ice making things worse had me worried.
The snow had just been flurries as we climbed down the steep
staircase. Now as we reached Foothold Lane (known as
Somersault Cliff to the locals) the snow began to fall in earnest.
As a result, we found the
were filled with slush. That
didn't help a bit. Moving at about the speed of molasses, we
took it one step at a time. I was so glad there weren't any
chirpy college kids around expecting us to move faster.
I had two thoughts. I smiled as I realized the experience of going up
did make getting down a lot easier. But I frowned at the
unbelievable amount of concentration I was forced to use to ensure
my safety. The pressure was enormous.
Next we climbed across the path carved out of the cliff. This
part wasn't so bad because there was actually a chain fence for safety.
The path took us back to the Chimney. Heck, the Chimney was
just a ladder. At this point, I was starting
to feel about as confident as I had all day. After Foothold
Lane and Boardwalk, the rest was just a hike. Nothing too scary. Laura
seemed to relax as well. Holding on tightly, we made it down in good
As far as we were concerned, the worst was over. Let it snow.
We were now on the original
Staircase of Suicide. The cable car station was just a couple
hundred yards away. The end was in
sight. Suddenly something happened
that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
About fifteen yards in front of me, a Chinese man was walking
carelessly along a relatively flat portion of the walkway.
I had noticed he wasn't even holding the metal chain. Without
any warning, he suddenly lost his footing, slipped and fell.
only a few thin pine trees on the snowy slope
from a 600-foot drop
off the edge of a sheer cliff, the man reached back with
one had to grab onto
the safety chain just as his feet slid under it.
If he had missed the chain or his grip broke, the pine trees
would be his last chance. But he held tight and broke his momentum.
he pulled himself back to his feet.
Laura and I were too stunned to even move. Only
a lucky last second grab of the chain had saved him. This guy had missed
death by a hair. Before
I could even muster a breath,
he turned straight around and looked at me.
In perfect English, he calmly said to me, "It's very dangerous
should be careful."
I just about fell off the mountain myself from shock.
before, only a rusty, icy chain had come between this man and almost
certain death. But the man's first thought after
almost dying was to
warn ME to be careful! What an amazing
Fear of heights
must not be part of the Chinese ethos. Not me.
This guy's brush with Death had me spooked.
Now I kept BOTH HANDS on the safety chain.
I had not taken a single carefree
step in over an hour, but now I concentrated even
Not two minutes later,
Laura screamed in terror as she slipped on
the ice just like the Chinese man had. Even
though she was on guard, her feet still went right out from under
her. Fortunately she had a firm grip. She saved
herself from careening down the slope by bear-hugging the safety
chain just as the Chinese man had.
I was there in seconds, almost slipping myself
as I hit an ice patch. These icy steps were deadly!
As I helped her up, I did not feel
as much shocked, scared, or relieved as I just felt angry at myself
for allowing us to be in this spot.
From the very start, my better judgment
had been put aside by a combination of wanting to
get "my money's
worth" and from observing all the Chinese
people giggling up and down the mountain without
regard for consequences.
Always way too competitive for my own good, I had allowed my
judgment to be clouded by my need to think I was just as brave and
athletic as these kids. As a result, we had spent nearly two and a half hours on this icy, treacherous
mountain path with scant guardrails and few
were just one mistake, one
away the entire time.
Now as exhaustion set in,
Laura had made a near-fatal mistake. I was beside
myself with anger at my stupidity for putting us in this
spot to begin with. If she had gotten hurt (or worse),
I would have never been able to forgive myself. I was
furious with myself for my ignorance. I had no idea how easy
it was to slip going down the steps.
But mostly I was angry for trying to compete with the
I had gotten so used to thinking
the Chinese knew what
they were doing that I did not realize
until the man
slipped in front of me that my judgment had been right all
along - this mountain path was a death trap.
Someone could have a heart attack from exertion and
fall to their death. Someone could faint for even a
moment and lose their footing. Or a trembling foot could miss a
foothold and make a fatal slip that would cost them their life.
Even a simple mistake like Laura's could end it. Laura
had been concentrating as hard as she could and still
slipped. We were lucky to be alive.
Ironically, two days
later, we stopped at a temple in nearby Xian. Laura
picked up a pamphlet and started to browse. I heard
her giggle. Curious, I asked her what was so funny.
She handed me the pamphlet and told me to look for myself.
The first thing I noticed was this particular pamphlet was
written in English. Laura grinned as she pointed to the
Third Wisdom of Tao:
"He who knows when to stop does not find himself in
Amen to that.
About Frank and Laura's
Rick Archer: Many people assume I
wrote this story. Please be assured that I did not. I
have never been to Mount Hua nor China. I received Frank and
Laura's story in an email that had been passed along so many times
that I had no way to retrace the origin of the story.
years, I have been asked questions about discrepancies in this
story. All I can do is shrug my shoulders. I did not
write the story nor do I know the person who did. However,
there is a misunderstanding that I can clear up based on letters
that have been sent to me since.
thing that Frank's story did not make clear was that the insane
wooden plank walk known as the
The plank is a dead end. It takes you out to a vantage point that gives you a
spectacular look at the valley below. You take your pictures, then you
slowly walk back to the main
No one has to take this plank walk unless they choose to.
Furthermore, recent safety upgrades have added harnesses to the
walk. Even if you slip, you will be safe.
However, at the time this story was written, yes, the plank walk was
just as terrifying as the story makes it seem, especially given the
winter conditions. It is quite likely that Frank and Laura had
to edge along this narrow plank while it was covered in ice.
No wonder they were scared!!
About the Pictures
In November 2006, I received an email containing a dozen sensational
South Peak pictures such as this "Plank" picture on the left.
no credit listed
for the pictures. Curious to know the story behind the pictures, I
used Google to poke around the Internet. Tracking down a link
suggested by Google, I ran across a site that led me to believe these pictures were taken by taken by a man named
Senteur de Boue, aka "vebiltdervan".
appears to have some sort of connection
to the name 'Vanderbilt'. If you ever read the man's profile,
you will understand why I am so unsure about his real identity.
Then I ran across another site that cast doubt on my conclusion that
'vebiltdervan' was the source. Now he seemed to be re-posting these
pictures. This means I have no idea about the identity of the
person who first posted the pictures or who took the pictures
took the pictures, I think we can all agree that they are wonderful.
Changing the subject a bit, when I first researched the Internet
for "Huashan pictures" on Google in early 2007, I could
only find one other picture of the Floating-in-Air Road.
I went from one site to another looking for additional Huashan
pictures, but all I could find were the same dozen pictures I had
received in my email.
I did my 2008 update, suddenly there were all sorts of new Huashan
pictures posted on the Internet. Now the Internet was flooded
with Huashan pictures. The difference was so amazing that for a
while I wondered if it had something to do with the Chinese allowing
or not allowing cameras. Then another thought occurred to me.
Once my January 2007 story went viral thanks to Google, many
English-speaking people heard about Huashan first time. At
that point, perhaps many Westerners decided to add Huashan to their
itinerary on their trips to China. Later they posted their
pictures. This is just a theory, but it seems plausible.
About Rick Archer
and the Huashan Story
As of 2010, I am now the retired owner of a well-known dance
studio in Houston, Texas, named 'SSQQ'
(slow slow quick quick).
ran my dance studio for 32 years. SSQQ Dance Studio
was a major part of the Houston dance scene throughout the
Eighties and Nineties, but a curious development known as
"The Internet" was responsible for the studio's rise to
become probably the busiest dance studio in Houston.
At its peak the studio was visited by 1,400 dance students
per month, double the pre-Internet average.
The SSQQ Web Site came online in late 1998.
Right from the start I realized the power of my web site to
help grow my own business. The more I could interest
my dance students to visit the SSQQ web site, the more they would
stay interested in my dance studio.
So I began to write a
monthly Newsletter to my dance students and send it out by
email. The initial results were okay, but no big deal.
I asked someone for an opinion.
Their answer? 'Boring'. Ouch.
realized that dance newsletters were tough to
make fascinating because dancers don't exactly cause much
trouble. So how to make these Newsletters interesting?
In addition to dance stories, I began to include
anything and everything that crossed my path.
Pretty soon jokes, unusual stories, haikus,
limericks, logic puzzles, and strange pictures began
to appear in each issue.
This worked like a charm. The results were phenomenal. As one person said, my Newsletter was better reading than most magazines!
My work on the
Newsletter and the SSQQ website led to a curious
development - people appreciated my Newsletter so much that
they began to help me write it. As a sort of reward
for doing a good job, my
dance students began to
forward me all sorts of interesting stories and pictures
whenever they ran across something. Soon I
had an entire network of friends sending me all sorts of
good stuff. This pipeline stuffed my In-Box with all kinds of
In 2002 I began
to receive email contributions from people I never
even heard of. It took me a while to figure it
out, but the source was this new thing called
Google. People outside of Houston were finding
my stories thanks to Google. Now people from
other parts of the USA and even the world began to
send me stuff because they appreciated the
SSQQ web site. So now you have a hint how this Huashan
2006, one of my dance students - Milt Oglesby - forwarded me the
pictures of Huashan. I was so amazed by the pictures
that over Christmas Break I decided to do a story on Huashan
as well as the infamous
Road of Death in Bolivia. As
they say, one thing leads to another. For a while
there, I lived on the Internet looking for details
of Huashan. My Internet Research
paid off. I uncovered the story of China's
Guoliang Tunnel as well as
the Russian Highway of Mud.
Later on I was alerted to
El Camino del rey as well.
It all started with one email containing
some great pictures and now I had five awesome stories!
that's how it happened.
Now you know how
a man who lives in Texas was able to write stories
about exciting locations thousands of miles away
without actually visiting any of them. To me,
the Internet is something out of science fiction
come true. The Internet is amazing.
Google's Role in the Huashan Story
The email from Patsy is
an example of the letters I get from total strangers who
wish to comment on the Huashan story. So how do people
from East Texas, San Francisco, and all over the world end
up on a dance studio website looking at pictures from China?
The answer, of course, is Google.
You already knew the answer because the Google Search Engine is
brought you here too (or perhaps a link from a friend).
When I first started publishing stories in 1998, my
Newsletter was directed at my dance students here in Houston.
Google changed all that. Starting in 2002, Google began to bring visitors to my
website from all over the world.
But why me? After all, I have never even been to
Huashan! I wondered why my story had become so
Anyone who has ever played chess or
studied military history knows that getting to a spot first
makes a big difference. I currently have about five
different stories that are listed on Google's first page simply
because I wrote a story before anyone else bothered to do
Email from Patsy
Sent: Thursday, May 08, 2008 11:17 PM
Subject: Mt. Huashan mountain story
Mr. Archer, the photography in your blog and the written descriptions
1 – beautiful
2 – spell binding
3 – terrifying
4 – much appreciated!
indeed! good work!
Thanks and many happy trails from a 75 yr old granny in East
P.S. and Thank you, William, way out west in San
Francisco, for sending the link to this adventure on to me!
This Huashan article is the perfect example.
When I first researched the story, there were places that
posted the same pictures, but had no story. Then I
found places that had travel-style information about Huashan, but no real
pictures. My webpage was the first to combine both a
background story as well as the pictures.
Together they were dynamite!
The next boost
my dance students. My email Newsletter
featured my articles complete with a link.
Their interest was the spark that initially pushed
each new story towards the front of the Google
In other words, by accident, I was the first person
to do more than simply post Huashan pictures.
By adding an actual STORY to those mysterious
pictures, people became fascinated with Huashan. Google
noticed all the hits on my story and promoted my web
page to the top.
I am amateur writer. I just write this
stuff for the fun of it. In fact, my friends tease me
about it. Let me give example. This email below is from Gareld McEathron, a
dance student and friend. Gareld has been a
big part of my studio since the Nineties. In
fact, Gareld met his wife Virginia here at my dance studio
back in 1996.
Over the years, Gareld has sent me many stories.
In May 2008,
Gareld sent me the same
"Huashan email" that Milt Oglesby had sent back in
November 2007. Gareld had no idea that I had
posted my Huashan story on the Internet a year
was Gareld surprised when I sent him a link to my Huashan story!
He was so tickled that he immediately began to send
my story to his friends... which of course helped my
article maintain its status as the most widely-read
story about Huashan.
Email from Gerald
Sent: Friday, May 09, 2008 12:33 PM
Subject: Mt Huashan China
WOW!! Great story, Rick. I
had not seen it before.
Makes one wonder when you have
time to teach dance.
I sent the
link to several of my friends with this introduction:
Kay, Knowing how much you like to travel to out of
the way places, I thought you would find this story
interesting. It was written by my friend, Rick
Archer, who is a frustrated writer that is forced to
make his living running a dance studio."
So now you know why
a guy in Texas who has never been near China in his life has
the Page One Huashan article according to Google.
Reason One: I got my article out first.
Reason Two: My dance students gave
an initial boost to each new article. By
'hitting' on my story, their interest attracted the
attention of Google.
Reason Three: Google listed my story towards the
front because there was no competition. My story
about Huashan was the first serious write-up.
Reason Four: Once you are Famous, you stay
Famous because you are famous.
Over the years people continue to be directed to my
site by Google. They in turn forward links to the page to their friends.
All these hits from around the world guarantee the SSQQ
Huashan story stays on top. My story is a perfect example of
a story that stays famous because Google says to look here
As I have written, in the years since this page
was first posted in January 2007, my story about Huashan has been widely
circulated around the world. Thanks to Google, it has become a favorite
place to visit for anyone interested in a good adventure and
During this period I have received a great deal of
fascinating correspondence from the readers. Previously I posted these
letters here on this "main page", but as the letters rolled
in, my original Huashan webpage
kept growing and growing. Finally the page grew too
big, so in 2008, I decided to list the most interesting
Huashan letters on a separate page instead.
These letters are
As always, people continue to
contribute so many wonderful pieces of information.
For example, people have written to comment on
locations such as America's Half Dome climb in
Yosemite Park (California) and Angel's Landing in
Zion Park (Utah). Thanks to these letters, I
was alerted to El Camino del rey in Spain. You
would be surprised at all the questions I receive
about El Camino.
greatest service these letters have provided is to
offer detailed information about the status of the
climb at Huashan.
Many of the letters were contributed by people who have actually climbed Huashan.
I think these
posts give a more thorough idea about Huashan than
my original article because many letters contain
first-hand accounts of what Huashan is like today.
am a certain you will enjoy reading this section.
If you are interested in learning more about Mount
are a 'must read'.
Is Huashan still as Dangerous
as it Once was?
Rick Archer Note:
is now July 2011. It has been four and a half years since I
wrote my original article about Huashan.
Thanks to all the
wonderful letters I have received in this time, I
think the time has come to make it clear that the
climb at Huashan has become a lot safer since I
first wrote my article.
Back when I
published my story in 2007, it was the first article written by a
"Westerner" about Mt Huashan. Although I was unaware of this
significance at the time, thanks to my story thousands of
English-speaking people read about Huashan for the first time.
So I will give myself a gentle pat on the shoulder for bringing
welcome attention to this unique place in China.
throughout 2008, I received a tremendous amount of criticism that the article you
have just read was misleading. I was baffled by the
criticism and hurt too. So why all
the criticism? People who had just finished climbing
Huashan were outraged that I had the nerve to label the place
we have a saying that the left hand doesn't always know what the
right hand is doing. Apparently my original story in
January 2007 coincided with many safety improvements being made at
In other words, about the same time that
I was scaring Internet readers to death with pictures and stories of
the dangers at Huashan, Chinese authorities were making a
concerted attempt to make the climb much safer.
However I was completely in the dark as to these
improvements. Living in Texas, I wasn't like I could look out
the window and notice construction crews up on
Huashan. Nor did the Chinese government bother
to drop me an email.
People who first
read my story were surprised to find the climb was
nowhere near as difficult as my story had suggested. Some of
these people reacted very harshly, criticizing me for deliberately
misleading the entire world as to the true level of difficulty. In fact,
in 2008 a paragraph in a Wikipedia listing about Huashan
openly suggested I had made false claims about Mt Huashan in a
desperate attempt to achieve some sort of Internet glory.
I have never felt
so insulted in my life. No good deed goes
unpunished, does it? But there wasn't much I
could do about it. Back here in Texas, I had
no idea what they were talking about. I was
flying blind on this problem.
In May 2009, I
finally got my answer. That is when
I received a remarkable letter
P. Allen, a man who
had recently climbed
Huashan with his children ages 8 and 11. Mr. Allen is an
American living in China. In addition, Mr.
Allen's wife is not only Chinese, she had actually
climbed Huashan back in the Eighties as a college
Now as the family climbed
Huashan, Mr. Allen's wife was able to point out all
the changes that had taken place at Huashan since
her first visit twenty years earlier.
reading my article, Mr. Allen realized why
the difficultly of the current Huashan climb didn't seem to fit my description.
So he clued me in. The safety features had removed much of the
The reason behind
all the improvements is tourism. In this
past decade, China decided to open its doors to international
visitors. While preparing to host the marvelous 2008 Summer
Olympics in Beijing, China scouted the countryside for
interesting places to send its tourists.
I have written about - the mountain tunnels of
Guoliang as well as the beautiful
mountain climb at Huashan - were selected as places of interest. With throngs of tourists
soon to visit both locations, serious amounts of money were invested
to make both places safer and easier to explore.
Consequently today Huashan is no longer the monster it once was.
I would like to give three gentlemen -
Kwong and Karl - credit for writing the
letters that prompted me to add this important update to my main
letters written to me over the past four years,
I think the time has come to
believe that the climb at Mt Huashan is no longer as difficult as it
let it be clear that Huashan was at one time just as dangerous
as this article has suggested. Just because the mountain has been
declawed doesn't diminish its wild reputation of yesteryear.
RA, July 2011
that Caused Me to Soften My "Danger" Label for Huashan
Sent: Saturday, July 09, 2011 12:15 AM
Subject: Mt. Huashan
Rick, You might be tired
of this by now, but I would like to add my comments.
I started by googling "most dangerous hikes in Europe"
and wound up with Mt. Huashan on a page that included
Angels Landing, which I have had a number of adventures
on, including a day after a major snow storm. Fun!
Then I found your website.
This is an honest opinion and I hope you take it to
I am extremely adventurous, having climbed the cables of
Half Dome nine times. I hope to do it a tenth time
before I get too much older. 52 right now...booya!
I feel it would be extremely misleading if the LEAD,
NUMBER 1 article on the Internet about
the Yosemite Half Dome
here in America was
PLASTERED with the headlines of DANGEROUS, DANGEROUS,
Like Mt. Huashan, I have seen eight-year-olds on this
climb. If those kids "let go" of the cables,
yes, it's dangerous.
If they hold on, it's safe. Amazing the human instinct
for survival works quite well most of the time.
Although I am mesmerized a bit by such adventures,
as I read your story I
concluded that Mt. Huashan would be TOO DANGEROUS, TOO
INSANE for me to participate in. This was my
"impression" after reading your main Mt. Huashan page.
Then I read your Huashan
Letters. Now I received a totally different
most people will not BOTHER to go and do the further
research I did on your ""Letters" section. This "could"
cause someone to decide not to participate in climbing
this mountain. What a shame!
My heart was totally palpitating reading about the 2002
climb. This was dangerous because it was pre-harness
days AND it was snowing with icy steps.
If one read nothing else
about Huashan, the "impression" is:
insane. Don't do it!
However, after reading more on your
Letters page (much more time
than most people will spend) my conclusion was
climb would be awesome. Put
Huashan on the bucket
I feel it would be best to
add a disclaimer on your
lead page that safety precautions are now in place,
instead of having to do so much research to get to the
real danger involved on your other
page. You must acknowledge the short
attention span of most Americans.
It would NOT take away from the fear and anxiety and the
excitement of the story.
After reading many of the letters on the letters
section, I went back to re-evaluate whether a "false
impression" was being left. I was shocked by all the
DANGER, DANGER, DANGER emphasis, in all honesty, without
a nice template explaining harnesses may/are now
available for the dangerous sections being reasonably
near the top of this article.
After all this controversy, why do you keep the word
"Dangerous" in the title of the article?
"Exhilarating"? "Extraordinary"? "Mind-Blowing"?
"Life-Altering Adventure of Mt. Huashan"?
You may be discouraging some people from participating
in a great life experience.
Best wishes, Karl
Archer's Note: Karl's note was not only
cordial, it was quite persuasive. So in 2011, I
added several hints on this main page to suggest Huashan
is no longer quite as terrifying as it once was.
Just one piece of advice - if you climb Huashan, hang
onto the ropes.
great deal more information about Huashan, please visit
Huashan Letters page.
If you have any comments you would
like to share, please email Rick Archer,
for reading my story!