Mount Huashan – Is the Death Toll Real?

As scary as it seems, the first time I saw this hike at Mount Huashan featured in a YouTube video, I immediately added it to my bucket list.  Plankwalk in the Sky is the exact hike on the mountain that we are talking about here.  Mount Huashan has 5 peaks, but none offer the danger and thrill of the infamous Plankwalk.  It is rumored to be the most dangerous hike in the world and I was determined to conquer it for myself!

This may not be something everyone is interested in doing, but if you are up for a little adventure, this will not let you down. I like living life on the wild side from time to time and while the photos and videos looked terrifying, I was excited to finally experience the Plankwalk!

David and I arrived in Huayin (the town at the foot of the mountain) the night before our hike and got our plans in order.  We did not take the 6 hour stair route up the mountain, but rather opted for the new West Cable Car (140 RMB/pp each way, $22 or 100 RMB/pp with student car, $16).  Once you get on the mountain itself there are 4-6 hours of hiking, so unless you want to hike 12-18 hours, cable car is likely your best bet. If you are set on hiking up, around and then down, take a look at our listed tips for a few suggestions…

Now for the real deal on the PLANKWALK IN THE SKY.  Why do people call this the most dangerous hike in the world??  And is it?

While this can be debated – many rumor that there are 100 causalities per year, but no one confirms where the deaths occur or why. So is the death toll real? We don’t think so. They’ve done quite a lot in recent years to increase safety and at this point it seems pretty secure.

I will tell you the entire mountain does have areas that are dangerous. Across all five peaks there are very steep drops, narrow stairs, vertical passes up and down in addition to chain-lined walkways in the hopes of accident avoidance.

The plankwalk I guess is no real exception, except for the fact that you have to wear a harness in order to hike it.  Now what you chose to do with that harness is entirely up to you and yes, technically it would be possible for a fatal casualty to occur with one wrong step (only if you unhooked your harness entirely).

During the actual walk you are walking across a narrow plank walkway nearly 5,000 ft in the air after all during the least intense part of the hike.  The remainder of the trail is composed of iron rods protruding from the mountain, small cut outs in the actual rock for your feet and/or chains for gripping yourself close to the mountainside.

The path itself is TWO-WAY traffic for the entire day, which means you are sharing an already extremely treacherous path with limited space often.  You will be required to move your harness over other hikers heads and step on the outside of them, sometimes only having room for one foot to stabilize.  It gets especially tricky when sharing either of the ladder areas and/or cliff cut outs, as they have even less real estate to offer.

All that being said, I don’t actually feel that the Plankwalk is a dangerous hike at all.  When you are on the mountain, any fear you may have expected escapes you.  You are strapped in and control your own destiny entirely. I can honestly say it was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my life and I hope you too take the plunge to experience it!

We’ve compiled a series of tips, photos and videos to get you all the information needed to make the best of your trip to Mount Huashan – I promise you will not regret it!

The most valuable information to know before you go:

  1. This particular hike is officially called the “Plankroad in the Sky” – remember this when you look for signage on the mountain.
  2. You do not have to hike the 6 hours up the mountain to get to the Plankroad – there are actually two cable cars that can take you up in less than 30 minutes.  The easiest route is to take the NEWER – West cable car – and then hike the 30-40 minutes from the West Peak to the South Peak where the Plankroad is located. Then follow “Plankroad in the Sky” signage and you will arrive at the site in no time.
  3. The Plankroad itself only takes 30 minutes or so to complete. It consists of a staircase down which is metal rods in rock (with large gaps at times), becomes stone cut outs on the cliffside, then comes the actual plank and lastly more stone cut outs leading to the small temple.  When you are done you must turn around and go back exactly the way you came.
  4. Know that the Plankroad is a TWO WAY trail and you will be required to pass on the outside of others at times.  If you are truly afraid of heights you may want to be mentally prepare for this fact.
  5. You do not need to bring or purchase a harness.  You will rent a mandatory harness upon arrival at the Plankroad and it currently costs $5 USD.
  6. Gloves are not really necessary for the Plankroad itself and in certain seasons you may actually feel uncomfortable with the heat.

Prices and instructions on where to purchase as of Summer 2014 are as follows:

  1. Tickets for everything other than the actual harness itself can be purchased at the Mount Huashan visitors center.  To get onto the mountain you will need the following:
    1. Entrance to the mountain is $30 USD ($15 USD with a valid student ID)
    2. West Cable Car Fees – $6 USD each way for the bus and $22 USD each way for the cable car itself ($16 USD with a valid student ID)
    3. North Cable Car Fees – $3 USD each way for the bus and $13 USD each way for the cabe car itself ($12 USD with a valid student ID)
  2. If you choose to hike the mountain it will take anywhere from 4-6 hours and is extremely strenuous.  We only recommend this for those in very good shape.  It is also advisable to hike the mountain at night (really early in the morning) and catch the sunrise.  The trail up is illuminated, so no worries there.  You can also opt to spend the night on the mountain itself, as there are several lodging options available.
  3. The cable cars down stop operating at 7pm, so be sure to time accordingly if you plan to get down that way. You can chose to take one cable car up and the other down, just buy a one way at the bottom and then get a return on the mountain when you are ready to head down.
  4. The are food options all over the mountain – prices are high, but good to know that they are there.  Bathrooms also exist at every major peak and sometimes in between, so it is pretty convenient.
  5. Plankroad in the Sky can have a backup of adventurers waiting to get on the dangerous hike, so you may have a wait.  They only let a certain number of visitors on the path at a time (for safety reasons of course) and they also close it down at a certain time of day (around 5pm), so if you have your heart set on the trail, you may want to arrive on the earlier side.  We also heard that weekends and holidays can get even busier, so plan accordingly!
  6. If you want to make it to all the peaks on the mountain, plan for 4-6 hours depending on your speed.  David and I decided to run from the West peak all the way to the North peak, which we were told is a 3 hour hike.  We made it in 35 minutes, so it is possible that you could do all the peaks in less time, but I wouldn’t necessarily advise it considering the dangerous nature of many parts of the trails.
  7. Getting there and away – you can choose to visit the mountain as a day trip from Xi’an (by bus) or spend some time in the town of Huayin (accessible by train or bus several times daily – approximately 2 hrs).

If you are planning to visit Mount Huashan and have any questions – please feel free to drop us a line!

Thanks for reading! We have something very special planned for fans of travel. We’re not ready to talk about it quite yet, but you can find out a little bit more here.

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  • Reply Maybe not so deadly? September 26, 2014 at 5:33 am

    Quite truly said, I am from India and on a business visit to Beijing I made it a point to visit Hua Shan and do the trek up south peak and complete plankwalk. Well, I decided to trek the longer South peak path from the base (about 6 hours) to savour the beautiful scenery, specially of steep gorges and impressive and massive stone walls. I am a climber, though yet to do a serious climb, I see immense possibilities of big wall climbs in this region. I reached the south peak, quite tired but was rejuvenated immensely by the vista of wooded peaks and valleys below with a cool steady wind blowing that takes away all the pain you undergo to trek about 2000m in 8 km.The steps are dangerously steep in places, but there are ample handholds to safely pace oneself up the way. And it is the responsibility of the self to not lose footing, and fall over the people who might be ascending below. Overall, I see that adverse weather and tired climbers will be the problems on the hike path up to south peak, than the steepness of path itself.

    The plank walk is quite safe considering the protection of Harness. But the crowd (even 5 people on the walk at one time) makes the trip feel a bit unsafe, I felt it during the descend to the planks by the steep metal steps stuck in rocks down that steep gulley. I remember a lady, quite young, making a fool of herself and a danger to others in her attempt to get her photographed on the way. She was blocking all of us in quite exposed positions on the rails, whit us descending party and another party ascending had to wait for some time in the cold wind up there.

    I saw a man who sits on one of the ledges cut into the wall, and his job is to help taking photographs (you have to pay him) and oversee the crowd. But It is the control one feels over protection of self in such a dangerous looking walk, where hooking and unhooking of harness in sequence and the walk on the planks while leaning over to peek over to the valley below, that gives an elation of sort, I can compare it to the calculated risk taking that gives man wealth. I videographed my plank walk in its entirety. Unfortunately, the wind was quite strong and as I left the plank walk, I saw that we were among the last ones for the day to do the walk.

    I totally disagree with the fatality numbers of 100+ in a year, its not a sustained hours long trek in the sky. The exposure is very limited about 15 mintutes in its entirety from the descend and back, the protection is well laid and is reliable, and if one want to take the risk of doing the plank walk, I think he must be prepared to be facing the consequences and control his fear and think rationally during the whole time. Given the fact, and my experience of doing it quite recently, I conjecture that fatality rates would be close to zero here. More people might be injured or may die on the way to upto plank walk than completing plank walk.I cannot comment on 90s and early 2000s when the whole story would have been different.

  • Reply Robin August 24, 2015 at 2:05 am

    Thanks for the info! I’m hoping to hike HuaShan next weekend 😀

  • Reply Neil June 13, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for writing this post, it’s the best information on the hike I’ve found on the Internet.

    What time would you recommended starting it? Any tips on when it’d be quietest to do? Also do you have to use their harness or can you use your own? I don’t mind paying the $5, just prefer my own equipment is all.

    Sorry for all the questions and thanks again,

  • Reply caroline July 15, 2016 at 6:21 am

    I’ve done the Plank Walk too! I agree that it isn’t that dangerous once you’re clipped on. I suspect that most injuries on the mountain are slippages on the other paths, which can be very exposed. Especially as many Chinese people go up there in icy and windy conditions and without good footwear and clothing. We walked all the way up and down in one day. It’s a holy mountain so it felt right to do a pilgrimage properly. It was tough but it was just before my 50th birthday so I was pretty pleased to have done it. There was on hairy moment on the plank walk when I guy overtaking me on the outside seemed to get confused with his carabiners and ended up unclipped for a while. I decided not to say anything as I didn’t want to startle him and all was OK

  • Reply Uzair Aleem August 21, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    Kindly contact me at my email i need to ask alot of question 🙂

    • Reply admin October 22, 2016 at 11:15 pm

      Hi Uzair,

      My apologies that your question was caught in our spam filter at – please let me know your questions and we will do our best to provide all the answers you seek!

  • Reply Jeff Cockmann December 11, 2016 at 1:32 am

    well, of course the tourists have to use harnesses and all kinds of security measures are taken so that the sky walk is pretty secure, but there are people who live around these places, they are probably so used to crossing there that they don’t use harnesses and don’t care about the security, they just want to go home or get to the market or whatever, so its possible that this average of 100 people dying every year is totally real.

  • Reply Evan Grant January 29, 2017 at 3:39 am

    Don’t forget: Life is short, and you only live once. Travel is not something worth putting off for later 😉

  • Reply Arran February 27, 2017 at 3:16 am


    Really helpful information here. My girlfriend and I are planning to visit here in April. Do you think you could drop me an email and answer some questions??

    Would be really appreciated!

  • Reply Taniuske March 23, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Hi 🙂
    This plank walk sounds and looks amazing, I just found out about it on Facebook the other day 🙂 We will be traveling to china this June and actually staying in Xian for two days. One day we could sacrifice and go to Huashan Mountain. I wanted to ask due to the time limit can we get straight to the top just by using the cable cars and not having to hike at all? Or do we have to hike? 🙂 Im thinking more like “in and out” 🙂
    We will be going to Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon And The Worlds longest Glass Bridge and Tianmen Mountain Day Tour Knock on Heavens Door but was thinking if we could squeeze one more exciting bit to our trip 🙂
    Thank you very much in advance for you answer 🙂

    • Reply David Raygorodsky May 20, 2017 at 7:08 am

      Happy to help! email and someone will happily help in any way possible!

  • Reply VideoPortal April 4, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    The surrounding area is fascinating as well. Mt. Huashan is located in the city of Huayin, which is considered the 3000-year-old cradle of Chinese culture and the site of the famous Terracotta Warriors.

  • Reply Not for the Faint of Heart: 100 People Per Year Plummet to Their Deaths on The Ancient Huashan Trail | Chauvet unlocked April 7, 2017 at 3:05 am

    […] A steep path on the Huashan trail. (blog.unboundly) […]

  • Reply Not for the Faint of Heart: 100 People Per Year Plummet to Their Deaths on The Ancient Huashan Trail | To Inform You April 10, 2017 at 2:11 am

    […] A steep path on the Huashan trail. (blog.unboundly) […]

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