Climbing Up Hua Shan Mountain at Night

If you are planning to visit to Xi'an and the surrounding areas and love the big outdoors, then hiking up Hua Shan Mountain should 100% be on your itinery. 
Hua Shan is a major mountain and part of the Qinling mountain range, which provides a natural boundary between north and south China. Hua Shan Mountain is about 75 miles to the east of Xi'an and has been a site of religious importance in Daoism, and there has been Daoist temples on the mountain since at least 200BCE.
Before this year, I was lucky enough to have climbed Hua Shan twice, getting to the very top of the South Peak (the highest of Hua Shan's five peaks) both times in bright sunshine and under a blue sky. However, this year, I had a mate travelling up to Xi'an from Hong Kong and we were talking about climbing up Hua Shan at night in total darkness. Not only had neither of us climbed Hua Shan Mountain at night, but we also didn't really have much information to go on about how to do it. We knew that it was possible to hike up Hua Shan Mountain at night, but we really didn't know how, so we set out to find information about hiking up Hua Shan at night online.

We Didn't Find Good Info 
The first thing we found was that there was scant information about how to climb Hua Shan at night. There was an abundance of websites about Hua Shan Mountain, how much a ticket was to get in, where the ticket office for Hua Shan was located, and how much a taxi fare would be from the drivers waiting outside the train station close to the mountain. What these websites failed to tell us was what we really needed to know; could we climb Hua Shan Mountain at night? Is the ticket office open at Hua Shan Mountain at night? Would anyone be around to let us onto the mountain at night? I had a feeling that this information was available on Chinese websites but not in English. I have Claudio in Xi'an to thank for great info to make this journey hapen.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, yes you can get onto Hua Shan Mountain at night, the ticket office for Hua Shan Mountain IS open 24 hours a day and getting to the top at night time isn't a problem at all. I've decided to write this to give you guys out there the information that we found hard to get. Climbing Hua Shan Mountain at night was amazing and one of the best things I've ever done, if very challenging on the legs.
Getting to Hua Shan Mountain from Xi'an 
Getting to Hua Shan Mountain from Xi'an is very easy by both public bus and train. We were in a bit of a rush, so we elected to take the new fast train from Xi'an North Station direct to Hua Shan North High Speed Railway Station. For other travel options from Xi'an, you can go this page.

The journey from Xi'an took us about 40 minutes and, unusually, instead of having one seat per person as in standard on Chinese fast trains, we were allocated a room with beds to sit on. So five of us sat alongside each other and chatted. Chinese trains are comfortable, cheap and on time.
Arriving at HuaShan Train Station
Upon arriving at Huashan North Train Station, you'll be greeted by a load of Chinese men shouting 'taxi' to you in the hope that you will go with them to the foot of the mountain. The place you need to go to is Yuquan Yuan…this is where the ticket office for people looking to climb Hua Shan Mountain at night is. There are buses that go there in the day, but at night, taxis are your only option. The cable car is also shut at night, so if you plan to hike the mountain in the dark, then forget the cable car to help you along the way. The taxi from the station to the mountain took about 20 minutes.
Forget using a meter with the taxi drivers waiting to take you to Yuquan Yuan, you'll have to bargain your price to get to the entrance of the mountain. We paid 20RMB for the journey, that's not each, but for the car. Watch this trick and make sure they understand that you aren't going to be paying whatever they want per person, but for the entire trip. It's worth saying here that these taxi drivers aren't bad people, but they will usually try to get a few extra bucks out of you if you don't look clued up and half-know what you are doing.

The usual price for a taxi is about 30RMB there; we got 20RMB because we speak good Chinese and know how to bargain.
Arriving at the Ticket Office
We got dropped off from the taxi at Yuquan Yuan at like a square with a few shops and hostels, these are very basic places selling snacks, toilet paper and water, etc. There is then a five minute walk to the ticket office and everywhere is well marked in both Chinese and English. You will feel 100% safe, so don’t worry at all, and there should be quite a few other night hikers going in the same direction.
Make sure you have your passport with you otherwise you won’t be able to get onto the mountain. You should have this anyway, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to get on the train to get there in the first place.

The 24 Hour Ticket Booth at Yuquan Yuan, Hua Shan, China
The ticket costs 180RMB per person and you have the choice of paying any extra 10RMB insurance in case you fall anywhere, the maximum payout here is 20,000RMB, and we went for it anyway. After showing your ticket at the barrier, you’ll quickly need to press your thumb print onto a scanner and you are in! An overnight hike up Hua Shan Mountain now awaits you! Honestly, getting a ticket and starting to hike up Hua Shan at night could not have been easier and everything is made clear for you. We began our night climb of Hua Shan at 11pm at night, giving us six hours of climbing before sunrise from the East Peak.
Climbing Hua Shan Mountain at Night
The start of the climb was a slope was about 90 minutes, which gradually got steeper. Just when you were thinking a slope is going to take you all the way to the top of Hua Shan Mountain, the steps begin; gentle at first, but then progressing in difficulty and sheer number. My advice is to definitely prepare for hiking up Hua Shan Mountain at night; the number of steps certainly gets well into the thousands and you will tire eventually.

Starting the climb up Hua Shan at 11pm at night
One major benefit of climbing Hua Shan at night is the relative lack of people getting in your way. Climbing the mountain in the day meant having to frequently stop as pathways are often single file, so you’ll stop as people negotiate past each other up ahead of you. The heat can also be too much during the day too, so climbing Hua Shan at night for me was fantastic.
The vast majority of steps are well-lit, but we did take a headlamp each with us, which we found came in handy nearer the top when lighting wasn’t as frequent. 
Dealing with the Cold
I did most of my night climbing up Hua Shan wearing just a T-shirt (we climbed in May), and I was covered in sweat for most of the time. Certainly take a spare set of clothes you can keep dry. Although quite hot at the bottom, as we neared the East Peak (this is the best peak to see the sunrise on Hua Shan mountain), as we got near to the top the wind really picked up and the temperature dropped. If you get too cold, then you can rent thick green army coats from sporadic booths along the way. It costs 30RMB to rent the costs and a few hundred RMB for deposit. We didn’t rent the coats, which was a bit of a mistake in hindsight.

Tired and cold on Hua Shan

Tired and cold after the climb
Watching the Sunrise from Hua Shan Mountain
We got to the top East Peak on Hua Shan mountain at about 4.50am, a good 30 minutes before sunrise and we did find that there was already quite a number of people waiting there for the sunrise already. If you want a good spot, then either get there a little earlier or walk up past everyone. The sunrise from Hua Shan was absolutely stunning and something I’ll never forget. It was pretty cloudy that morning, but even with cloud cover, the different morning light on the the Qinling mountain was an unforgettable sight and moment. Well worth the night climb up Hua Shan to see.
I should also point out here that after sunrise, my legs went totally numb with exhaustion and the cold. I had bought a few sachets of coffee to get myself warmed up and going again in the morning, but finding anyone with boiling water up there was impossible (apparently there is only boiling water from lunch time onwards).
Conquering the Five Peaks of Hua Shan
After watching the stunning sunrise from the East Peak of Hua Shan, we decided to go and find the other peaks on Hua Shan, the Central Peak, West Peak, North Peak and South Peak (this is the highest). The top of the mountain is covered in ancient pine trees and there are quite a number of Daoist temples nestled in secret corners on the mountain. Also found up here is the Sky Walk (which we actually didn’t do because our legs felt like jelly as it was!)
Getting the Cable Car Down
After climbing Hua Shan all night, with no rest, and having polished off quite a lot of whisky on the way up, we decided that we’d get the cable car back down and make our way back to Xi’an. By this stage, it would be a massive understatement to say we were tired and the cable car couldn’t come soon enough for us and we eventually found it halfway down the west peak. 
The ticket for the cable car was another 120RMB each, but the thought of walking more steps to the bottom didn’t appeal to us one bit. If we had known how terrifying the cable car was, then we may have opted to walk however. You can see our cable car experience below!
The big problem I had with the cable car was the wind! The wind was seriously gusting at about 60-70 miles an hour and the cable cars we swaying from side the side 1000ft in the air….terrified is not the word!
Anyway, we survived the cable car on Hua Shan and after about a 20-minute white-knuckle ride on the cable car came to a place which was a bit of a tourist trap to be fair; the old jade stalls and tourist items for sale. This place was in the middle of nowhere, very far from the station, and we had to buy another bus ticket down the mountain to a strange and spooky place which was full of shops and restaurants with not one customer there, just me and Sam…very surreal indeed, and very ‘China’.
After a bite to eat, we were shown the way outside by a friendly guard who seemed happy to see customers and got on a free (finally!) bus back to Hua Shan North Fast Train Station.
The Night Climb of Hua Shan Impressions
I absolutely loved every moment of the Hua Shan experience at night. From the challenge of the climb, the camaraderie of doing it with one of my best friends, to the amazing sights to be found at the top of Hua Shan. Would I climb Hua Shan Mountain again? Absolutely! Would I climb Hua Shan Mountain again at night? I would never do it any other way! 

by Stuart Allen

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