Huashan Letters
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Includes Notes from Readers across the Globe
plus first-hand accounts from people who have actually climbed Huashan

Forward Note from Rick Archer
July 07, 2008

Welcome to the Huashan Letters page! 

As you will see, I have received quite a bit of correspondence regarding my Huashan story.  Most of these letters are from people who either wished to thank me for posting the article or to share further information about Mt Huashan. 

However, not all the letters have been positive. As you continue to read the Huashan Letters, I think it is important that you understand up front that the authenticity of this page is under attack.

In July 2008, my original story received a fair amount of criticism from two different sources.  These were people who did not agree the Huashan climb is dangerous at all.  I assume they were worried that my article was giving the entire world the wrong impression of Huashan.  It was their assertion that my
Huashan Article was unnecessarily discouraging the faint-hearted from visiting in the process. 

One person wrote what I consider to be a vicious letter (this criticism is listed in Letter Eight below). The second person went to the trouble of listing my name in Wikipedia along with the claim that I have deliberately misled people as to the danger of Mt Huashan.  As you might gather, I didn't appreciate either attack one bit.

However, I did at least sense an indirect compliment.  Both critics realized that the SSQQ Huashan Article contains the most information regarding Huashan of any website on the Internet.  Due to its elevated position on Internet Search Engines, my Huashan page comes up on Page One of Google et al to any person on Planet Earth who is curious about Huashan. 

Consequently the criticism made me aware that I have a responsibility to get the story right.

For now, let me briefly address the concerns of my critics before continuing. This will allow all readers a better perspective as they read the rest of the story.  I think it is important to note I have never personally climbed Huashan or had any direct experience of the place.  Therefore my critics have every right to use this fact as proof that I don't know what I am talking about.  I fully acknowledge the chance exists that perhaps my critics are correctPerhaps the Huashan climb is indeed a lot safer than I originally thought. 

Please note there have also been three major developments since my original story in January 2007. 

First, several people who have actually made the climb have written to report there are many new safety features in effect on Mt Huashan. So perhaps it is true that some of the danger has been removed since I originally published this story (you will be able to read these letters further below).

Second, there is an amazing amount of Huashan pictures that can now be found on the Internet as of July 2008.  When I first wrote my story in January 2007, there were only a limited number of pictures and I published practically every one I could find.  I don't know if this proliferation is related to lifting the ban on cameras at Huashan or simply the growth of the Internet or both, but it means you no longer have to depend on my Huashan web page to find good Huashan pictures.  Since I based my assessment of danger largely on the basis of the pictures, more pictures means more accuracy. 

Third, when I wrote my original story in January 2007, I could discover only one single 30 second video posted on the Internet.  That's it - a SINGLE VIDEO.  Since then, that situation has changed greatly.  In May 2008, I discovered there are now quite a few videos related to the Huashan climb.  These videos give a first-hand account of the experience that enhance the material that I have posted on my web site (I will list the location of these videos later on this page).  I doubt seriously these videos are 'fake'.  These videos will allow you to make your own judgment about the danger of the Huashan climb.  In other words, the true picture of Huashan is being brought more clearly into focus.

Now let's begin our review of the Letters.

Letter One:  Andre Hycenko's Climb at Mt Huashan
January 2008

Rick Archer's Note:  In January 2008, I was searching the Internet for more recent pictures of Mt. Huashan.  Buried deep on the twentieth page of a Google search, I discovered an excellent account of the Mt. Huashan experience complete with pictures. 

For people who are contemplating this hike, I think Mr. Hycenko's story will be quite illuminating.

The following account was written by Andre Hycenko

Drizzle, an early start and a 3 hour overcrowded mini-bus ride is what started a day that i will never forget. Mt. Huashan, nearly 2km's high with 5 main peaks is an image most common in traditional Chinese paintings. Most paintings of mountains are most likely those of Mt. Huashan.

Starting at the bottom, i joined a group of 5 Chinese university students. One spoke vary basic English and i can basically try and speak basic Chinese. Later these students fizzled down to 2 as Mt. Huashan is very physically demanding.

Up we went, up and up and up. So many steps, some really steep and others were wet and slippery as we were climbing inside a cloud most of the morning. There are many temples, massive boulders and countless waterfalls along the 4 hour trek that eventually took us to the lowest peak. This is where you can pay $15AUS and get here by cable car in under 5 minutes. That's cheating and the hike ended up being well worth it.

From having hardly no-one during the first few hours to having hundreds of people, fit and full of energy in-front of us felt a little touristy, but we kept going. Legs fatigued but starting to get into a rhythm, we scrambled past the bulk to try and reach every peak this mountain has to offer in the 4 hours of daylight we had left.

The cable-car peak, North, South, East and West peaks, all having their own dramatic cliffs and flora where they were all breathtaking and unique. Climbing "The Dragon Ridge", 1 metre wide and about 300 metres long with steps, handrails and 2-way traffic in-between two peaks is one of the best views i have ever seen.

Climbing to the North Peak, the furthest and highest one out of the 5 was a momentous effort. Once again there were so many steps. I have never been this high before and seeing clouds below you moving around and the sun beating down on you made me feel on top of the world, and hey, i was!

In-between the West and North Peak, is a path called 'Changkongzhandao' (aka the cliff side plank path). This path is pretty much the whole reason for me coming to Mt. Huashan. Originally seeing photos of this awesome sight in an email when i was working, i decided i had to come and take a look for myself. The path leads to a small lookout where it is about 70 metres in length. Once you reach the end, you just come back and continue on your way. It is a cliff face. 90 degrees. 

To get across, they have whacked large nails into the side of the cliff and placed planks of wood over the top for you to cross. The path is about 40cm wide (16 inches)! There is also a chain nailed to the rock for you to hold onto as you make your way across.

For $5AUS you can choose to hire a safety harness (you would be absolutely stupid, i mean insane not to have one). Half of the path are planks of wood and the other half are foot holes carved into the rock.

As the people i was with were too scared to go, i went alone taking the photos myself trying not to drop the camera with my hands shaking as if i had just drunk 20 cups of coffee.

I took my time and on the way back another brave bloke was coming towards me to do the same walk. I asked him to take a photo of me and he explained to me that the ultimate photo to take on this path is a pose where you lean back facing the cliff wall (because of your harness), your body 45 degrees, relying 100% on your harness with both arms waving in the air! The ground by the way is 1km down.

The best i could do was lean 45 degrees over the edge but my hands were stuck firmly to the strap connecting my body to the wall. I couldn't let go, my brain was telling me "Go on, do it", but my hands wouldn't budge. Now i see myself as an adventurous person willing to try anything, but this was the first time in my short years where my brain and body disagreed with one another and it felt really strange.

I hit my limit where i had no idea what my limit was up until now. And I'm actually quite glad knowing it's hanging off a cliff relying on a piece of metal and strap, 1km up on a plank of wood, now that can't happen too often, can it?  There is a saying 'Feel the fear and do it anyway'. That was actually shuffling across those wooden planks.

The adrenalin rush i got from that and hiking Mt. Huashan lasted all the way back down to the cable car where it was 7:00pm and the perfect time to leave for a 3 hour bus ride back to Xi'an.

Mt Huashan, 5 peaks and 5 blisters on my feet, coincidence, i think not.

Rick Archer's Note:  Mr. Hycenko has many more Huashan pictures on his own web page

Andre Hycenko's Climb at Mt Huashan

June 4, 2008
Follow-up to Andre's initial story

Rick Archer's Note: Six months after I published the Andre's account of his climb, I received this follow-up email from him.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andre Hycenko
Sent: Wednesday, June 04, 2008 10:23 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Mt Huashan Story

Hi Rick,
I was just reading your replies to you Mt Huashan stories and I'm surprised of the people who went there and are saying a few points that i mentioned are untrue.

Everything i wrote is what i experienced and i have no reason to lie. As well as they would have had different experiences to what i had.
As a result i would like to make clearer about what the plank path is to help further travelers make a decision to go there. If you wish to publish this you have my permission.
To add to my story on Mt Huashan (also known as Mt. Hua and Mt. Huangshan - i don't know why there are so many similar names) - the plank path is an option where you don't have to walk it if you don't want to. It doesn't connect to anything except a small lookout where you see the same thing walking along the planks.

There are security cameras along the way to make sure you haven't fallen off as well as to take your photo if you want to pay for it. The harness goes all the way from the start to the end where you have 2 clips.

When you reach a point where they have secured the safety wire, you unclip one clip then attach the second. Once you have done so, attach it to the next then keep going. The whole length is about 70 metres one way (from memory), then you come back. Half of the section is planks of wood and the other is foot holes carved into the rock. I had to take the photos myself by using a mini tripod and placing it on some steps then scuttling back to position myself.

The friends i had made were too scared to attempt it.

I found it a huge thrill and an experience i will never forget.

The walls of the cliff aren't exactly 90 degrees but close enough. Simply speaking, if you fell you would die.

With the rest of the walk, I went in Spring 2007 where the weather was great. In the morning i walked through a cloud on the way up where it is paved all the way, but there are narrow steep steps that are slippery due to it being wet because of the mist and can be dangerous for those not as fit or not careful enough. I walked from the very bottom to all the peaks in one day. A lot of people choose to take the cable car up where once you are up there it is never as impressive if you didn't complete the hard slog in getting there in the first place. Like many other walks around the world another example is Machu Picchu in Peru, would not have been as impressive if you don't complete the Inca Trail beforehand (Please note that this is my opinion).

Mt. Huashan is one of the best walks i have ever done and i strongly urge for people to go there (even you Rick) as the walk and scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The plank walk is just a bonus where i would have the same opinion about these peaks even if i didn't complete the plank path.

My blog that i have written was initially meant for just friends and family to let them know what i am up to. Explaining exactly what i was up to would have been boring and a waste of my time as I'm on holiday and didn't want to spend all my time on the Internet. Since then i have learnt many people are reading my blog stories and ask me a lot of questions about them which i am happy to answer.

What i have written about is my experience where everyone will experience something different. The best way to finding out about Mt Huashan is to go there yourself.

RICK ARCHER'S NOTE: I find it very peculiar that Andre would have to defend his story.  It is incredible to hear him report that people have questioned his eye-witness account of the Huashan climb.  There is not one suspicious bone in my being to question his account.  I personally accept everything he has said without hesitation. 

Letter Two:  Christoph Rehage
February 2008

-----Original Message-----
From: Christoph Rehage
Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2008 8:34 PM
Subject: huashan article

Dear Rick,

I have climbed Huashan yesterday, and I found your article to be misleading.

- The dangerous plank walk is in fact a tourist attraction where you have to get off the path that leads to the South Peak, then enter a large temple door, pay 30rmb as an entry fee for the plank walk, and then get safety equipment strapped around your waist.

I asked the people in charge if you could take the plank walk to ascend South Peak, but they told me the only place it actually leads to is a viewing platform. So, if your sources make it sound like they were forced to take the plank walk to get to where they wanted to go, well that's obviously not true.

Instead, they had to get off the path, enter a temple, purchase a ticket, and then with safety equipment they were allowed to play around on the plank walk.

(Rick Archer Note:  Including Andre Hycenko's account in the previous letter, Mr. Rehage's account means that two different people say the "Boardwalk" is a one-way street, not a dangerous through way as was first thought). 

- the sky ladder didn't seem dangerous. It's said to be 90 degrees, but in reality it's not. There are handrails everywhere in any difficult part of the trail. Old people and children can climb up Huashan, and they do.

- in spite of the heavy snow this country has been experiencing in the past few weeks, about 90% of the path is in top-condition and free of snow and ice.

That's about the main points that I found misleading.

It sounds like you've never been up on Huashan
(RA note:  Chris is correct - I haven't been to Huashan), which is a pity, because it is really amazingly beautiful. I started climbing at midnight and got to the East Peak before sunrise, and boy that was totally awesome!

I don't know about the motivation of your two sources as to why would they give misleading information. My only guess is that they're trying to make themselves sound like they are the brave ones for getting through dangerous situations like that.

But really it's nothing at all.

Cheers dude,


Letter Three:  Jarrod Wirth
April 2008

-----Original Message-----
From: Jarrod Wirth
Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2008 4:46 AM
Subject: Mt Huashan climber

Hi Rick,
I've just returned from China and climbed Mt Huashan while there. A friend learnt I was heading to China & sent me pictures of Huashan. After a google search I relied on the information provided at your site. There's also some great Huashan videos on 'youtube'. I would ask you to staple the following to your page as I'd like to add some information for those who may follow. Mt Huashan is a great climb and nowhere near as difficult as your site suggests.

I wouldn't advise you head there unless you can at least speak Mandarin. You could go cold turkey with a phrase book or pay a translator. With a translator you may find they want to rush, get you up there and back ASAP so they can hook another paying customer to rush along before moving on to the next. Don't trust your translator, if you don't use one good for you but if you don't speak Mandarin you might as well act like an idiot savant and expect to be ripped off. You can get a bus from Xian, it costs next to nothing however you might end up losing all your money. Pick pockets working in groups of 5 to 9 target buses, they get on and then get off after relieving everyone on the bus of their valuables. For US$20 you can hire a government approved 'foreigners' taxi at most hotels in Xian, the taxi takes you there and brings you back the same day, this is a good option.

Getting to the top is simple, when you buy your entrance ticket, you get a map, use it. You can walk from the base along a number of starting points or catch the chair lift which takes you to the North Peak. There are many people along the way trying to earn a buck, they'll beckon you to follow them to small restaurants, stalls, historical sites or just up the garden path then charge you for the privilege and directions back. Use your map and go your own way. As stated you can walk from the base but if doing so best prepare for the possibility of an overnight stay on the mountain. There is a guest house between the East and South Peaks, a rough hostel style accommodation where you can purchase water, dried sundries and small rooms supplied with warm bedding. The mountain views to the south from these are incredibly good however during peak season I imagine you must have to pre-book. To get up and back in a day take the chairlift, it takes you to the North Peak, the North Peak is definitely not deadly, but from there you can hike to East, Centre, South and West Peak all within a 6 to 7 hour time frame.

This is a great walk and I highly recommend it, certainly it can be challenging and without doubt death could easily call upon the unfit or unwary. However you don't need to spend the night before 'making peace with yourself' in case you don't come back. If you're going keep in mind that you're going to have a really good climb on a really beautiful mountain, because that's what it is.

Rick let me know if you'd like some of my pictures and I'd be happy to forward some of them for you. Many thanks, and for those crazy enough to embark on the adventure, good climbing!


Letter Four:  Roslyn
April 2008

-----Original Message-----
From: Roslyn B
Sent: Monday, April 21, 2008 11:09 AM
Subject: Huashan Hiking Trail

Wow. Thanks for sharing those pictures. That has to be the most incredible scenery I've ever seen!

I did some looking around online though and it seems that the peaks are switched. Even on your diagrams, you have arrows pointing the gondola that you said goes to the North peak, and on the diagram the arrow goes to the South peak. Google Earth seemed to confirm this, that most of the photographs were from the South Peak.

I've never been there, so I have no personal experience, but looking at the maps and reading the stories, it does make much more sense if the dangerous trail led to the South Peak. Thank you so very much for researching this story and making it available on the internet. It gave me a very entertaining afternoon.      Roslyn

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, April 21, 2008 12:08 PM
To: Roslyn B
Subject: RE: Huashan Hiking Trail

That’s interesting that you point out that the peaks have been switched. When I first wrote the article, I had them reversed in the way you suggest, Roslyn. The South Peak was the dangerous peak.  But then I read a letter from Andre Hycenko that seemed to contradict my previous understanding of how the peaks are laid out so I went back and switched them around.  It took me an hour to rewrite my description!

I will tell you the truth:  I have never been to Huashan.  I have written everything based on other people’s accounts.  If you clear up the Peak mystery, by all means let me know. I prefer to be right even if it means changing my story.

In the meantime, I will assume that Mr. Hycenko meant to say "South" and I will switch the names back.

Letter Five:  Steve
February 2008

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve P
Sent: Saturday, February 23, 2008 2:38 PM
Subject: huashan article

Hi Rick, I found this page to be very interesting and shows that there is still a lot of world out there that most people do not know about. I am writing to just ask a question.

Of the stories and the pictures , the one picture that shows Mr. Hycenko on the plank walk and the pictures of the plank walkers from the Frank and Laura story, why are safety cables there for Mr. Hycenko and not on the pictures that you used in the couples story?

Did something change between 2003 and 2008?  Where the pictures you found older than the stories and since then a safety precaution was implemented?

Still an exciting place to visit if one can.



-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, April 21, 2008 7:17 PM
To: Steve P
Subject: RE: huashan article

I have never been to Huashan. Back in late 2006, a friend sent me an email with many of the exciting pictures published on my site.

Fascinated by the pictures, I then did some Google work and came up with several stories written by people who had been to Huashan. The most exciting story (Frank and Laura) seemed the perfect accompaniment to the amazing pictures.

However, in regards to the “boardwalk area” that you have asked about, I think parts of the original account I published were misleading. They did not make it clear this plank was a dead end in their story. Since Mr. Hycenko’s letter, I received another one from Christoph Rehage that asserts that gangplank is merely a tourist attraction and not a dangerous invitation to death.  In other words, you can bypass this plank area if you wish.

So to answer your question, I am beginning to wonder if parts of the Frank and Laura story are inaccurate.  Another explanation is that something has changed since the 2003 story of Frank and Laura.

I would trust Andre Hycenko!  His pictures are pretty convincing.  I added Andre's picture and personal account to my story even though I knew someone like you would eventually point out the contradiction. Thank you for keeping me on my toes.

April 21, 2008

Now that you have read Steve and Roslyn's letters above and my replies, let me take this opportunity to completely and totally admit my article about Huashan is not up to the standards of National Geographic.

Over Christmas vacation in December 2006, I wrote stories about four different locations - the Russian Highway from Hell, the Bolivian Highway of Death, the Chinese Guoliang Tunnel, and of course the Mt Huashan Hiking Trail.

The problem is that I have never been anywhere near any of these four locations in my life

I wrote absolutely everything based on accounts I found on the Internet (some of which gave contradictory information)

I do not mind admitting some of what I wrote might be inaccurate.  Frankly speaking, I wrote the best story I could based on the information that was available at the time. 

I took one look at the pictures and concluded the climb appeared to be dangerous.  I have a right to my opinion, by the way.  Then an internet search turned up accounts that confirmed my initial conclusion.  In other words, this is a "Research Paper", not an "Experience Paper." 

I have not "misled" anyone.  Everyone knows that first-hand accounts are more reliable.  I have gone to great lengths to explain who I am, why I wrote the story, and to point out my own limitations.  I certainly don't think anyone who reads these Huashan letters will think I am deliberately deceiving the public. 

Furthermore, a
s you can tell from the total absence of advertisements on this web page, I am not trying to make a single cent off of my web site.  What possible motive would I have to tell lies about a place I have never been to and could care less about?

Like most people, I have plenty of axes to grind - serious stuff like global warming, overpopulation, famine and genocide - as well as less serious stuff like traffic congestion, oil prices, spam, and unwanted sales calls on my cell phone. 

But I assure all readers that spreading horrible Internet lies about Mt Huashan is not on my agenda.


So why wasn't my original story totally accurate? 

Considering at that time I was writing for a very limited audience (my own Newsletter readers in Houston, Texas, USA), I did not think it was important to be perfect. 

n the case of Huashan, a friend forwarded me pictures of the Huashan climbing trail on November 27, 2006.  I was so amazed by how dangerous the pictures looked, I could not wait to share them with my friends.  So I published my Huashan story in January 2007 with the specific intention of sharing the pictures with my Newsletter readers here at my dance studio in Houston.

I admit my original standard for accuracy was not set very high.  

Like the game of horseshoes, I figured 'close to correct' was good enough.

At the time, I never expected this particular page would become an Internet darling for thousands of Huashan fans around the globe.

Now that people have begun to ask about discrepancies in my story, I am more than willing to set the record straight.  Whenever somebody corrects me, I fix the problem.  For example, I erroneously listed an excellent Huashan video as "Chinese" in origin.  People pointed out it was actually "Japanese."   So I corrected my mistake.

Other people say I have the North-South direction of the Peaks mixed up.  Okay, I believe them.  Unfortunately no one has come forward to say what the correct direction is.  But when someone does help me get it right, I will make the correction immediately.  I am more than willing to set the record straight. 

However the real headache is determining the exact level of 'DANGER' on Huashan.
First of all, this is a subjective issue.  Young men like Andre Hycenko who climb mountains on a regular basis are not going to be intimidated by Huashan.  But an elderly couple out for a hike might end up scared out of their wits, especially if it starts to rain or snow!  Those steep steps are brutal if they are iced over!

Second, I am forced to deal with contradictory evidence.  Let me give you a clear example.  Look at the
Red Shirt
picture posted on the right with the "be careful" caption.  Study it.  This is one of the pictures enclosed in Milt's email.  If this picture was sent to you, would you see evidence of DANGER just like I did?  Does that look safe to you?  Would you let your kid or your elderly parent walk on that?  No way!

Furthermore, do you see a harness on that
man in the red shirt above?  No!

Now please compare the Red Shirt picture with the one of Andre Hycenko below.  It looks like Andre is traveling on the same section as the man in red

Yes, Andre has a harness, but not Mr. Red.   Mr. Red Shirt has no harness!

"Be very careful when
passing someone going in the
opposite direction."

Please study the picture of Andre some more.  Andre's walkway appears to possibly dead end about 20/30 feet to his right.  Now look at the other picture with Mr. Red Shirt above.  Does it look like that set of planks hits a dead end?  I don't know the correct answer off hand, but it appears to me that it continues to the right. 

Now read this passage from the Frank and Laura story:

"Yes, there were chains to hang onto, but there was ice and there was wind and the margin for error was very small.  Those planks could not have been more than two feet wide.  Exposed to the elements, I wondered just how safe they were.  (Note: This ramp had a name: Floating-in-Air Road. But I called it Boardwalk)"

Not only do the pictures make this area look dangerous, but so does this account.  Since I am depending on Internet stories like this, the pictures, and the good will of people like Andre Hycenko to fill in the gaps, I am only as good as this second-hand information permits me to be. 

I have no reason to fib.  Why should I care if I got it wrong?  I have already stated that if I find a mistake in my narrative, I will correct it.  I did the best I could with the information that was available to me at the time.  If anyone reading this story can clear up any discrepancies, I invite them to share the corrections with me. 

So let me ask another question:  Do you see a harness on that person in the picture on the right?  No, of course not.   Do you see a dead end at the end of that ramp?  There may be one, but I can't see it from this angle. 

It looks like this set of planks goes through to somewhere, but Andre says it is a dead end.  Andre had a harness, but there isn't any harness here. 
This is known as a "discrepancy."  Is it a dead end or isn't it?  Why are there harnesses in one picture, but not the other two?  But Andre is busy climbing the great mountains of the world.  Do you honestly think Andre has the time to explain these discrepancies?

Here is my final point:  The main reason I do not know the complete truth about this hiking trail is because I have pictures that contradict each other!

But rather than hide my ignorance, I openly admit I am flying blind. 


Pretend that someone just sent you this picture in an email.  What's the first thing that comes to your mind?

My first impression was that it looks dangerous!!!

What about you?  Did you think the same thing?

I am willing to bet if you saw the same pictures I did without the benefit of any modifying evidence, you too would conclude that Huashan is unbelievably dangerous!

I said Huashan looked dangerous because that is the impression I got.  That said, if I get new pictures that indicate Huashan is a picnic walk in the park, I will add those as well.  I am not trying to tell lies about this mountain.  Otherwise I would not DELIBERATELY post contradictory information!

I have too much respect for the position I find myself in.  You see, by a series of cosmic convergences, my web page of Huashan has magically become so widely visited that it is now the second most read page on the Internet for "
Huashan".   When I last looked in July 2008, Google listed my Huashan web page link in second place right below Wikipedia.  

Consequently I feel a responsibility to get the story right.  People from all over the planet are coming to me for the best stories and the best pictures of one of the most sacred places in China.  In a sense, they are depending on me to be their eyes and ears to this exciting location.  Except there is one problem....

I have no direct experience of the place!  How crazy is that?  "and a blind man shall lead them..."  

So here is my request to all visitors to this web page -

If you have information about Huashan to share, please step forward and do so.  I am very easy to contact 

Rick Archer

Furthermore I am not sensitive about the discrepancy problem.  My conscience is clear because I have done the best I could given the hand that was dealt to me.  Correct me if you see an error with the understanding that all I care about is getting it right.

And while I am at it, let me take this moment to thank you for visiting my page.  I am flattered that your interest in Huashan has brought you to my site.  Now please help me get it right for the sake of all the thousands of people who will follow in your footsteps.

Rick Archer  

April 21, 2008

Letter Six:  Anthony regarding YouTube Videos
April 2008

-----Original Message-----
From: Anthony W
Sent: Thursday, April 24, 2008 8:46 PM
Subject: Chinese hike details

Thanks for a fascinating web page. A couple comments.

"Do you see a harness?" -- that is not the question to ask. Note that in the Andre photo there is--in addition to the heavy chain--a rope or cable.

It is obvious there is no such rope or cable in the man-in-red photo.  Assuming the photos are of the same section of trail, which I accept, it seems obvious that the Chinese added a cable.

Note that the harness is attached to the cable with a carabiner. Such a carabiner would not slide over that large size chain, hence the caption ("Be very careful when passing") reflects a time when a hiker would have to reach around an on-coming climber with no firm attachment to the cliff. After the installation of the cable, one hiker could stand away from the cliff, the other scoot under him, and then one, with a firm grip on the chain in a safe stance would briefly remove the carabiner from the cable and then attach it on the other side of the oncoming man's carabiner.

Since the chains seem to be very well anchored, I think the long account by the scared American is absurd. Provided one takes care to always have a good grip on the chains, an occasional slip of a foot is of no consequence. I have seen such over-dramatic accounts of climbing the cable ladder up Half Dome in Yosemite, equally silly. If you have acrophobia or no hand strength, don't go, that's simple.

Like you, however, I have not been there.

By the way, while I was writing my message, I came upon this video on Youtube.  It shows the method of moving the carabiner(RA note: this link is listed below).


Back when I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was my Chinese finger trap.  This clever device allowed you to put your finger in, but would tense up when you tried to pull your finger back out.  Only by pulling your finger out very slowly could you succeed in getting your finger back.  That was a lot of fun!

As for Frank and Laura, the mountain played a very mean trick on them.  Like the Chinese finger trap, the weather was pretty good all the way up to the top.  Then it suddenly started to rain and ice up. 

Easy one way, impossible going back - The very definition of a Chinese finger trap.  Except this time it was far more deadly. The steep, icy, slippery steps on Huashan became a veritable Chinese Mountain Trap!

Furthermore you have to remember the couple in question was in their late 50s.  Since it was raining/icing on the way down, they were really frightened.  Since I am 58, I can report that as you age, confidence in your legs and your balance diminishes.  Frank and Laura had every right to be afraid considering how bad the footing was.

I would like to thank you for the video link.  Thanks to your suggestion, I must have watched at a least a half-dozen videos. Although I am still not sure what the answers are to the discrepancies, I did get a much better feel for the hike.

I still think the climb is dangerous!  But if you pay attention, I imagine it is safe enough for someone in good health.

However, don't ever lose sight of the fact that you are also dependent on people around you.  One serious accident at Huashan was attributed to someone falling from above who hit several people on the way down and made them fall too.

Thanks to Anthony's suggestion about the You Tube video, I discovered there were quite a few other videos on YouTube related to the Mount Huashan hiking trail.  Unfortunately, the absolute best video was narrated in Japanese (not Chinese!) plus it had Japanese sub-titles.   I found myself trying to remember if I had any friends who spoke Japanese who might translate it for me and clear up some of the confusion.  Oh well.

Even after watching all six videos for about half an hour,  I felt both enlightened and yet still mystified by the entire story. 

Here were my impressions:

DISCREPANCIES REMAIN INTACT - In at least two videos, I could have sworn I saw people inching their way across narrow boards without any safety equipment. 

BE CAREFUL - There is no doubt in my mind there are some very steep, dangerous places on this climb.  As you watch people climb, you can see they are clearly paying very close attention to what they are doing.  Each step is deliberate with eyes open wide to make sure the step has been successful before transferring weight. 

CROWDED - There appeared to be hundreds and hundreds of people making this climb.  You will see snake-like, single-file columns of people stretching all along the mountain in practically every video.

DANGEROUS - There were some amazing shots of chimneys, vertical climbs, and narrow pathways there were just inches from a fall to ones death.

SAFETY - It occurred to me that the Chinese might have instituted many safety features.  The story of Frank and Laura dates back to 2003.  One obvious answer to the discrepancies between Frank and Laura's story versus that of the recent climbers (Hycenko, Rehage, Wirth) is that the Chinese decided to install many more safety features in recent years. 

Here is a list of my 5 favorite YouTube Huashan videos (once you visit YouTube, you will find more)

Mount Huashan Video  (Rick Archer's Note: This is the video suggested by Anthony. It is a 30 second video of the controversial gangplank with a carabiner clearly attached)

Dangerous Hike Video  (Rick Archer's Note: This is the best of the bunch.  It is a 6 minute video prepared for a TV audience.  Although it is in Japanese, you still get an excellent idea that this hike is definitely no walk in the park.)

Mount Huashan
Video  (Rick Archer's Note:  44 seconds  of a climber clearly using safety devices to climb a very dangerous section).

Huashan High
Video  (Rick Archer's Note: 5 1/2 minutes, this was my second favorite.)

Walking the Boardwalk -
(Rick Archer's Note:
this is a 2 1/2 minute video clip featuring people walking sideways across the Boardwalk in the days BEFORE they had the harness.)

Letter Seven:  Robin Esrock
May 2008

-----Original Message-----
Robin Esrock
Sent: Wednesday, May 07, 2008 5:25 PM
Subject: Modern Gonzo on Mount Huashan

Hi Rick

I found your site most helpful finding info on Mount Huashan.  I'm a Canadian travel writer who also hosts a travel TV series, although this was just for fun (and a column for an adventure magazine). 

Thought you might be interested in what I found. I think you'll particularly enjoy the Youtube video, shot at arms length.  

1. Read the adventure
2. See the pictures
3. Watch the Youtube Video

Bests, Robin Esrock


The Gonzo finds me on two narrow wooden planks, resting on iron rivets, nailed into a solid rock face on Mount Huashan.   Below me, a 1000m plummet, and the snow and ice are making it awfully slippery to hold on.    I am here because of a picture that circulates on the Internet, claiming to be, amongst other things, the world's most dangerous hike.   With harnesses in place, danger might not be the right word.   Scary comes to mind.   Mind numbingly frightening as all hell is more accurate.   Mount Huashan is a two-hour drive from Xian, China's most ancient city and the historical seat of its opulent dynasties.  

As one of five sacred mountains in the country, the rocky peaks attract hundreds, sometimes thousands, of domestic tourists every day.    They arrive in buses, purchase tickets (with optional insurance), and take the cable car towards the north peak.   From here rock-hewn trails lead to the four cardinal peaks, punctuated with temples along the way where one can make blessings, and secure engraved locks on iron chains.     For an atheist country, the Chinese have always been a superstitious lot.  

Dressed casually in sneakers, they hike up steep, stone cut steps amongst weathered peasants carrying heavy boxes of food to sell at stalls along the way.   It gets cold above 2000m, and I'm not dressed for the snow that dusts the trees, the ice that forms sharp teeth on the mouth of temple ceilings.   

There is just a smattering of westerners, amazed that such a hazardous trail could exist, never mind that it is popular with Chinese of all ages.   

Robin Esrock writes a column known as Modern Gonzo.  He is a travel writer among other things.  Robin now has a travel show on Canadian TV known as Word Travels.   Mr. Esrock was kind enough to contribute his personal experiences of Huashan to our article.

Conforming to the unwritten rule that hiking is a cordial hobby, I hear laughs and see smiles, in stark contrast to grim people I encounter in the city.  From the boys who got a kick playing with my arm hair on the plane to the couples and families on the mountain, in central China I'm a rock star, someone to be admired and photographed.    As the trail gets steeper and slippery, I take the cement fork that leads to the "Cliffside plank path" at 2160m, located between the south and east peaks.  The human traffic peters out considerably.  The wind blows with the warmth of frostbite.   Walking through a temple, I scale a rocky mound to see a majestic view, holy almost, and a narrow trail to the planks.   A knee-high chain of iron is all that stands between me and a parachute-free skydive off the edge.   My knees wobble, I say a thankful prayer my mother isn't seeing this.    A plaque in Chinese indicates that it will cost 30RMB's ($4) to continue, but a sign has boarded up the path ahead, which seems to disappear anyway.  All this way to find "the world's most dangerous hike", and now it is closed.  I laugh.  There's not much else to do.   Then,  a young guy arrives with harnesses, and casually pulls away the sign.   The adventure is on.    I pay him the cash, and he attaches me with two carabiner hooks, briefly showing me how to use the them to make my away forward.   Canyoneering in Costa Rica reminded me that one hook must always be attached while unlocking and reattaching the other.  Nice to know I'm learning when it comes to these sorts of things.  My hands are freezing, and in a touch of kindness, the guy takes off his thin white gloves and gives them to me.   He knows I'm going to need them.  I don't know what I'm in for. 

I'm alone when I set off.  For all the crowds in China, they have left me to discover this one on my own.  The narrow ledge gives way to a vertical crevice, with erratic iron bars descending to the next section, steel stitches across the cut of rock.   The wind has picked up, my hands are numb, but I unclip the latches and carefully lower myself down.   Beneath my feet is a 1000m drop.  I'm overwhelmed by one of those "what the hell are you doing you bloody idiot" moments. I get them occasionally, perk of the job.    I reach the last rung, swing to the right against the sheer rock face, and there it is - the photo. THE photo.   Thin, crackled wooden planks hug the rock, covered in ice and snow, and although it is a moment of terror, it is also a moment of triumph.  I have found the source of a rumour.  It was at a tourism schmooze talking to another travel writer that I discovered the picture might have a source in a Chinese mountain.  Cosmically, I received an invitation from the Chinese Tourism Authority to visit the country the very next day.  After some online research and helpful Google mapping, I figured I could get there on the same ticket.  Call it divine manifestation.    These things happen to me.  I call it Modern Gonzo.  AnywayŠ

From here I begin to walk along the plank, clicking in one carabiner after another, until I stop in the middle, look down, look ahead, look up.   I have another moment.  A moment of sheer awe, lost in the bosom of the nature. The surrounding mountains are enormous, sharp, and desolate.   I am just a speck surrounded on all sides by the great outdoors, and I feel very small indeed.   Ice dust falls on my head from above. It's better not to think about rocks doing the same.  So I continue walking along the planks, and it's not until 20m or so later that I hear the laughs and giggles from a group of Chinese, clearly having a whale of a time coming down the crevice.  I stop and wait to take pictures of them, to give the planks some scale, and click out at the end to find a little clearing with a small temple in a modest cave.   The only way back is along the same path, and that means walking around the others, but by now I'm used to the planks, the view, the fear, and it's easy getting past them, exchanging cameras to take some pictures, as if this were just another normal place to find yourself on a Tuesday afternoon.   Up the crevice, back on the narrow ledge, I thankfully return the gloves, and continue along the path to the other peaks.    With the safety harnesses, I would be hard pressed to call Mount Huashan the world's most dangerous hike.  Scary as hell for the novice like me, a fun day out for any climber, but probably not your cup of green tea.  True danger comes without busloads of tourists. 

Letter Eight:  Antoine Attacks!

-----Original Message-----
From: Antoine L
Sent: Friday, July 04, 2008 4:58 PM
Subject: Huashan

Mr. Archer,

I read you webpage in May 08 while I was studying in China.  The same weekend, I got on a 14 hours train ride back to Xian, for the second time, and begin the hike of Huashan.

Of course, this trip was unwelcome by many of my peer students, however it was encouraged by my Chinese friends.  Here is the reason - my peer students had seen pictures and based their opinion of this climb only on what they had seen, exactly like you did.  In fact, a few saw your website, but did not take the time to entirely read it through.

Meanwhile, my Chinese friends were all very excited of finding out the news.

I wonder just how many people in this world canceled their plan to hike Huashan because of your website.

Your website truly makes it look like Huashan is dangerous and that those who climb it are hero.  

The truth is, this is not a volcano, or the Saharan desert. It is only a small mountain 2160 meters high (7,000 feet). You don't need to be superman to climb it, nor do you need to be very courageous. In fact, I saw little 8 years old kid hiking it. Thus I realized that my military experience was useless, really, in this expected "lethal" challenge.

I don't need to point out to you that your article is not very academic.  Even high school students learn that they must not use websites as sources for essays and such.  However, I have read your explanation in regards to the creation of your website.  I understand your original purposes. Despite this, I don't understand why you are actually keeping the same story, which is extremely erroneous.

Huashan did make some modifications to its safety, but it doesn't justify your article, especially when you write at the top that it is updated as of May 08.

Huashan is safe, let's call it "Chinese safe" since American standards would probably deny the access to hiker for law reasons. I felt like you made it look like that Chinese didn't care about their people.  This is so judgmental and naive.

Then you attempt to argue that the government hides thing. So does the American government, and any other government around the world.

Here is what I suggest your should do.

First, go out there and live it out.  If huashan is a passion for you, get a flight ticket and go hike it, you won't regret it.

Second, you must edit your whole website, because it is very false and misleading.

Third point, and this is coming strictly from a military point of view, apologies are no used in this world. You made a big mistake when writing your article on huashan, well swallow up your pride and do something about it.

If your website is as popular as you claim it is, it is vital for the good of potential hiker that you edit the pages immediately. You could leave a historical part explaining the evolution of security on that tourist site. You can choose to ignore my advice and take this personal.
Whatever your decision, remember that I am not the first one to be upset with your website. So much that even wikipedia has an paragraph written on your false claims.

I am not attacking you, but your work. That's what scholars do, except that now I really have a good reason to do it. I understand that my approach to pass my point may sound harsh to you, but you must understand the military background I come from. Anyhow, it should do you good, as I pointed the solution to remedy the issue.

Think about how frustrating it is for the Chinese, who reads something degrading one of their most attracted tourist site, as well as a sacred mountain, by a foreigner who has never been there. It's like when civilians writes about a war that they have never seen, never experienced, criticizing the soldiers on the ground. I am sure you understand seeing that you come from America. If you don't, here is a hint.

You wrote something based on pictures, you exaggerated the paths, the pictures you shows makes it look 3 times harder than it was, your words make the Chinese look careless, not to say that it portray their government to be corrupted.

Are you aware you might have canceled the plans of many hikers planning to go to China, convincing them it was truly unsafe (even before they added the harness, it was still safe if you were smart about it).
You got the every peaks confused, not to mention the directions.  

Finally, you kept the erroneous article
standing as it was. In my mind, this is a fail.  And you still haven't remedy to it, instead you sadly attempted to explain yourself. I hope, on behalf of numerous potential hikers, that you will take the job to hand like a man and edit that website.

July 7, 2008

I did not respond directly to Antoine's letter due to his deeply insulting tone.  There is a right way to approach people and a wrong way.  Antoine needs to learn some manners.

However I do have some things to say in reference to Antoine's letter.

The debate here is a simple one:  Antoine says Huashan is safe enough for an 8 year old.  I say Huashan looks dangerous. 

Let's start with a short review of the letter.  According to Antoine, my story was not very academic, my story was extremely erroneous, I made a big mistake when writing the article, I have made false claims, I argued that the Chinese didn't care about their people, and my whole website is false and misleading.  Antoine even challenged my manhood - "take the job like a man..."

And to top it off, I got
the every peaks confused, not to mention the directions.  Now this I will admit. I probably did get 'the every peaks' confused.  Does that justify Antoine's level of rudeness? 

I deeply resent any accusation that suggests I deliberately listed false claims about the 'danger' of Mt Huashan.  Anyone who has taken the time to read this Huashan Letter page up to this point realizes I have published several emails contradictory to my original story. 

As to how safe or dangerous Huashan is, I invite you to draw your own conclusion. 

1)  I have listed a report from a Chinese citizen who specifically wrote about a serious climbing disaster at Huashan back in the Eighties. You have my word I did not make this up.
2)  I have published literally dozens of pictures. I based my claim of "danger" because the pictures showed many places where the slightest mistake could mean death (for example, the picture on the right). I did not 'doctor' this pictures.
3)  I have listed six different videos for my readers to watch.  Not one of these videos makes Huashan look like an easy climb as Antoine suggests.  In fact, the Japanese video is tougher on Huashan than anything I have written. Does Antoine wish to argue with these videos?
4)  I have listed letters from several people who have actually climbed Huashan. Here are some quotes:

    Robin Esrock, the Canadian reporter, said, "
There is just a smattering of westerners, amazed that such a hazardous trail could exist, never mind that it is popular with Chinese of all ages."

  Andre Hycenko said, "
The walls of the cliff aren't exactly 90 degrees but close enough. Simply speaking, if you fell you would die."

  Jerrod Wirth said, "certainly it can be challenging and without doubt death could easily call upon the unfit or unwary.

I will say this - Based on the reports sent to me, I think when all is said and done, the Chinese have gone out of their way to make the Huashan climb safer.  Good for them.

That said, I think it is also pretty obvious that in the recent past, the Huashan climb was without a doubt an incredibly dangerous endeavour.  For a serious mountain climber, today Huashan is no big deal.  But for an average climber, it seems like Huashan still has more than its share of danger. 

I did not know about the mention of my Huashan story in Wikipedia until Antoine brought it to my attention.  To save you the time of going to the site, here is what it says:

Wikipedia article on Huashan:  Rumours of deadliness

Rumours of the south peak being the most dangerous hiking trail on earth seem to have risen from a story put on the web page of a person called Rick Archer with the title
"The Deadly Huashan Hiking Trail"[1]. The author claims it was written by an American couple who visited the trail in 2003.

The origin of the story is not known and is assumed by many Hua Shan visitors to be purely fictional. The spread and popularity of the story was aided by many videos showing the most dangerous parts of the trail[2][3].

In 2008 the website author was faced with criticism on the authenticity of the story[4], who in turn answered:
I wrote absolutely everything based on accounts I found on the Internet (some of which gave contradictory information)."

At the time, I never expected this particular page would be an Internet darling for thousands of Huashan fans.".

Thus, the story bears similarities to the KiddofSpeed story which rose big attention on the net until it was revealed to be fantasy, except for the fact that Rick Archer hasn't tried to benefit financially from the story on his site.

Nevertheless, it should be noted, that even though Hua Shan stairs are a popular tourist attraction and safety equipment is provided and obligatory,
the trail is still risky due to strong winds, changing weather conditions and the physical condition required to pass some parts of the trail.

So is the Wikipedia criticism of my Huashan article fair?  I don't know. 

The Wikipedia article above was written by
Chong-Dae Park
.  So who is Chong-Dae Park?  I have no idea.  And what is KiddofSpeed and what does it have to do with this?  I have no idea.  And who does Chong-Dae Park represent?  I have no idea.  And how do we reach Chong-Dae Park to ask him what makes him the expert?  I have no idea.  His credentials are not listed.

I do know one thing - even my critic Chong-Dae Park agrees the trail is risky.  I will leave it at that.

What should be apparent to anyone who has read this far is that I will print anything sent to me that seems credible.

Given the information presented, now you the Reader can make up your own mind. 

I think that is all that any visitor to this web site could possibly ask.

Rick Archer
July 8, 2008

Rick Archer, July 11, 2008

As I stated previously, I did not respond directly to Antoine's first email to me (See Letter Eight directly above).  Antoine was so vicious in his initial email I did not see the point in wasting one single minute of my time debating his angry words.   

But I did carefully read what he had to say.  Although I deeply resented Antoine's style, I was honest enough to look beyond his harsh words and try to learn from his points.  

Stung by Antoine's bitter words, I was determined to examine my own story to make sure it was as accurate as I could humanly make it.  As Nietzsche would say, "that which does not kill us makes us stronger."

 Antoine said three things that caught my eye.

1) I don't need to point out to you that your article is not very academic.

Up to now, I wasn't aware that anyone expected my article to be academic.  SSQQ is a dance studio, not a University.

But Antoine did have a point - now that my Huashan story had become the second most-read article on the Internet, I probably did have a responsibility to get my story right.  So although I did not like his style, I agreed that if I was going to claim that Huashan was dangerous, perhaps even deadly, I should make it clear to the readers how I arrived at these conclusions.

As a result, I spent the better part of two days writing the
section in yellow above where I debated with Antoine as to how safe or dangerous Huashan really is.  Then I spent a third day writing this section as well.

Antoine expected me to take his criticisms like a man.  I hope it is obvious to all independent readers that I have gone to considerable trouble to defend my positions carefully.

2) I am not attacking you, but your work.

That's what scholars do, except that now I really have a good reason to do it.

I understand that my approach to pass my point may sound harsh to you, but you must understand the military background I come from.

Considering Antoine's curious writing style, I was a bit taken aback to see that he considered himself a scholar.

Well, Antoine was attacking me whether he realized it or not.

As long as he stuck to comments about the story, he had every right to question certain points.  But when he said that I made false claims and that my website was false and misleading, then it became a personal attack.  I think I had every right to feel like Antoine was accusing me of being a liar.

Those are strong words.  I do not appreciate being called a liar.

3) I wonder just how many people in this world canceled their plan to hike Huashan because of your website.

How many people in this world have canceled their plans to hike Huashan based on my website? 

Now that is a good question.

It never occurred to me before that people around the world might be making their decisions to visit Huashan based on my words. 

So I thought carefully about the 'right and wrong' of my Huashan story. 

Ethically-speaking, what would anyone expect of me?

The first thing any reader would expect would be for me to tell the truth as I see it. 

My conscience is clear on that one.  I tell the truth as I see it.  And I publish un-doctored pictures to support my claims.

The second thing any reader would expect would be for me to point out the places where I am unsure of the truth.

On April 21, 2008, I wrote a carefully-worded message that clearly stated everything I say is based on second-hand information, some of which is contradictory. 

On July 7, 2008, in response to Antoine's first letter, I wrote a second warning
message that I placed at the very top of this page.  In this message, I acknowledged my own short-comings.  Here is a brief excerpt of what I said:

For now, let me briefly address the concerns of my critics before continuing. I think it is important to note I have never personally climbed Huashan or had any direct experience of the place.  My critics have every right to use this fact as proof that I don't know what I am talking about.  I fully acknowledge the chance exists that perhaps my critics are correct.  Maybe the Huashan climb is indeed a lot safer than I give it credit for. 

The third thing any reader would expect would be for me to publish letters, pictures and links to videos that are relevant to my Huashan story whether they support my position or contradict it.

I think anyone who has scanned the complete Huashan page realizes I adhere to this policy.  Not only have I published letters that point out my limitations (e.g. Antoine's first letter), I publish letters from people who have actually climbed Huashan.  In addition, I provide links to places where people can obtain further information.

Finally, the fourth thing any reader would expect would be for me to make changes in my original position should I see fit.

I have made several changes to my original story. 

1 - The simple changes were to change my North Peak mistake back to the South Peak.  I originally correctly identified the 'South Peak' as the location of the dangerous hike, but changed it when Andre Hycenko's letter said "North Peak".  I think I misunderstood what Andre wrote and made a small mistake.   Since Antoine challenged me on getting my Peaks right, I switched it back.

2 - I changed the nationality of one of the videos from Chinese (incorrect) to Japanese (correct).

3 - In order to help people who were confused by Frank and Laura's story, I published letters from Andre Hycenko, Robin Esrock, and Christoph Rehage plus links to videos that make it clear that 'Changkong Zhandao', aka the
Floating in Air plank walk considered to be the most dangerous part of the Huashan Climb, is OPTIONAL and NOW HAS SAFETY FEATURES as well

4 - Finally I took steps to soften my original position on Huashan by publishing statements such as these:

1- I fully acknowledge the chance exists that perhaps my critics are correct.  Maybe the Huashan climb is indeed a lot safer than I give it credit for. 

I will say this - Based on the reports sent to me, I think when all is said and done, the Chinese have gone out of their way to make the Huashan climb safer.  Good for them.


As far as I am concerned, in response to Antoine's first letter and the Wikipedia reference, I did as much as I possibly could to be fair to the Huashan situation.  Three days is a lot of time to spend on this topic, but if the World is planning to visit, I suppose I owe people the fairest story I am capable of writing.

I do not know if my actions were sufficiently scholarly or academic to satisfy Antoine, but I certainly hope my efforts were good enough to satisfy all the other people who visit this story on my web site. 

Rick Archer
July 10, 2008


Letter Nine:  Antoine Returns

-----Original Message-----
From: Antoine L
Sent: Friday, July 11, 2008 10:14 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: Huashan

Good day Mr. Archer: It is unfortunate that I noticed today that you had posted my email online onto your website.

The main reason I had chosen to send you an email was especially for the reason that I did not wish my comments to be published online.

Whether or not you have judged my email to be offensive, it is not ethical of you to publish my words on to your website.

In my first email, I had no thought it necessary to include the standard warning. Please take note of it and remedy to the situation.




One who kills, or attempts to kill, by surprise or secret assault; one who treacherously attempts to murder anyone who is unprepared for defense. 


A skilled military shooter detailed to spot and pick off enemy soldiers from a concealed place, then retreats before a counterattack can be mustered.

To attack a person or a person's work with petulant or snide criticism, esp. anonymously or from a safe distance.

July 11, 2008

I was angry enough at Antoine's first letter.  Now I was furious at his second letter.

For the record, I keep up a daily international correspondence not only for this page, but several other pages on my website.  In my ten years of dealing with correspondence from people in all countries, Antoine's first letter had the distinction of being the single most hostile message I had ever received. 

Yes, I have heard from people who disagree with me, but no one writes to a complete stranger in the manner that Antoine addressed me.  I answer 15,000 emails a year, but I can only think of one other
letter even remotely as negative as Antoine's first letter.

And what was Antoine so upset about?  It wasn't like I was claiming the Holocaust didn't exist. Antoine was arguing over a hiking trail located on a remote mountain 7,000 miles away.   Was it really worth this kind of fuss?

That said, I have never received a letter as strange as Antoine's second letter.  His 'you have no right to publish my letters' email was downright bizarre.  Everyone should know by now if you put something out in cyberspace, it may just come back to haunt you.

It was Antoine's complete U-Turn that made his second email so shocking.  In like a lion, out like a lamb.  What is he so terrified of?  I didn't even publish his last name?

Just days after bravely calling me out for my "false and misleading claims", Antoine wanted his powerful pro-Huashan message removed from my web site. 

Furthermore, using his scholarly, highly academic approach, Antoine pointed out "
you kept the erroneous article standing as it was.  In my mind, this is a fail.  And you still haven't remedy to it"

Antoine even thought goading me a little might make me see the error of my ways. "You made a big mistake when writing your article on huashan, well swallow up your pride and do something about it."

Now as I read his second letter, Antoine seemed to lack the determination to continue to make his point.  Was this the same guy who was so sure of himself that he challenged me to
"take the job to hand like a man"?

Gee, if Antoine really believed in what he wrote, shouldn't he be thrilled to have his nemesis give him an open forum to present his ideas?  Wouldn't you expect Antoine to show some appreciation that I accepted his challenge to debate the issue?

Antoine called me out and I answered.  I updated my entire article.  It took some serious time and effort on my part, but I responded to every point he raised.  I even softened some of my original comments. Aren't people usually happy to get what they asked for?   Well, not Antoine.

Now that I had invested 20 hours of my time spread over three days to respond to his negative allegations, Antoine suddenly got cold feet. He turned around and completely abandoned the scholarly debate he had dared me to participate in.

For the record, I have no idea who this man is, where he lives or what started him on his "Free Huashan" tangent to begin with. 

But considering the passion of his Crusade to defend the honor of Huashan against my uninformed prejudice, I would have expected him to at least continue the argument a little longer, yes?  Most fights aren't won in the first skirmish.

Guess not.  Antoine did a Heckle And Hyde routine.  Once Antoine realized I was willing to fight back, the Sniper decided it was time to Hit and Run. 

It's like they say in deer hunting... it isn't nearly as much fun when the deer start shooting back.

Antoine was pretty outspoken in his first letter.  For someone this aggressive, you wouldn't expect him to pack his bags and hit the Retreat Button at the first sign of resistance.  Indeed, for someone so proud of his vaunted military background (mentioned twice), he sure gave up easy. 

If I didn't know any better, I would guess that Antoine was disillusioned to discover I was more than willing to accept his offer to debate the issue.  That is when he realized it is a lot easier to dish it out than to take it back.  So Antoine didn't want to play anymore.  He wanted to take his emails and go home.

From Antoine's Second Email:

"The main reason I had chosen to send you an email was especially for the reason that I did not wish my comments to be published online.

Oh, really?

Funny, I read his first email pretty carefully.  I must have missed that statement!  

I think Antoine was so busy insulting me and pointing out all my mistakes, he forgot to tell me that he wanted me to take his abuse laying down.  Hey, Rick, let's keep my insults between the two of us! 

So what exactly do you suppose Antoine L is worried about?

I will tell you what Antoine is worried about - he is afraid the entire planet is going to see what an idiot he is.

Case in point.  Antoine is the only guy on Earth who can read an entire page of published emails - Andre Hycenko, Jarrod Wirth, Robin Esrock, Christopher Rehage, etc, et al, ad infinitum, ad nauseam - and not comprehend that I publish emails sent to me.  A little slow on the uptake, yes?

Then Antoine has the nerve to come whining to me with a statement as pathetic as this.

"In my first email, I had no thought it necessary to include the standard warning. Please take note of it and remedy to the situation."

Bad news, Antoine, your emails will remain posted right here along with any other incoherent message you care to send me.

Maybe in your next email you could cite a legal case, Mothra v. Godzilla or something like that, which would help me understand what entitles you to shoot your big mouth off and not have to face the consequences.

In the meantime, I suppose you will stay bitter towards me for not kowtowing to your whims.  Be that as it may, I have some news for you.

You should realize if I had published your full name (as I had every legal right to do), this story would put a permanent Google stain on your reputation so deep it would follow you wherever you went for the rest of your life. 

So be grateful I showed mercy on you and kept you anonymous.  Hopefully you weren't dumb enough to tell all your cyber friends about the tough letter you sent to the guy who wrote the story about Huashan.  But that's your problem.

Now tell your handler to take your keyboard away before you go and write something even more stupid than you already have.


Letter Ten: Commentary on Antoine's Accusations

 -----Original Message-----
From: J Mei
Sent: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 8:31 PM
Subject: More on Huashan

Just thought this might help with the arguments your article has attracted -- the trail, and the plank road in particular, was given a major refurbishing by local tourism authorities in fall, 2005.

That's also when all the safety harnesses were brought in.  So you are quite right in guessing that conditions have changed. I imagine recent visitors may be quite unaware of how different things were before 2005.  The climb was very dangerous.

It's their ignorance, not your disinformation!

Letter Eleven: The Mount Huashan Climb is difficult, but not deadly.

(Rick Archer's Note:  This 4- page letter from Michael Sanderson is the best eyewitness account yet. 

Mr. Sanderson sent it to me with the express purpose of clearing up inaccuracies and giving a more accurate assessment of the risk involved in the climb. 

We are all in his debt for taking the time to write such a detailed letter.)

 -----Original Message-----
From: Michael Sanderson
Sent: Monday, August 04, 2008 10:35 AM
Subject: my trip to Huashan

Dear Mr. Archer,

First, I want to say how much I enjoy your site, and how much I appreciate that it exists. Six months ago, I read its stories and saw the pictures while planning a trip with my family. (I live in Guangdong Province in the south of China, and am teaching English, now for a hotel.) If I hadn't seen your site, I surely would not have been inspired to climb the mountain.

Reminiscing about my trip and visiting your site again, I'm sorry to see that there has been controversy surrounding it. I don't claim to be a Huashan expert, but I hope I can add some clarity to a few points based on my recent experience. I'm also including some photos I took and explanations of what's in them. 

My pictures of the Huashan climb can be seen on my
web site.

As for my opinion about the controversy, that I will save for the end.

I cannot speak to what the mountain looked like before the refurbishment in 2005. I should also note that due to limited time, I took the cable car halfway up. And while the couple's account was gripping and inspired me to climb the mountain, for a few reasons I don't think the account could have happened like they said. But that's not why I'm writing. I want to share my experience climbing the amount, provide some information and pictures, and encourage other people to do so if they have the opportunity. My apologies if you already are clear on a lot of this.

Because the mountain is approached from the north, the north-south orientation of the mountain is continually confusing--it seems that everyone has their peaks confused. On all good guide maps, up=south. So whether you start climbing from the ground or take the cable car, you first reach the North Peak area. This is the lowest peak. The assents to the North Peak go from ground level. One goes under the cable car route and is insanely steep. The other is apparently plenty arduous and dramatic itself, but I can't speak to that from experience.

From the North Peak area, there is only one steep, narrow route to the rest of the mountain. This is through the Heavenly Steps/Sun and Moon Cliff area. The Heavenly Steps area and the Sun and Moon Cliff area do contain some areas where steps are cut so vertically as to almost be ladders; some other places are like this as well. These areas, however, are not over cliffs. so while someone could easily slip, they would be hurt, but not killed. This continues to the Black Dragon ridge, as you describe. The Black Dragon Ridge is about one-meter wide, with sharp cliffs on both sides, and not a curve or break to stop a fall backwards. There are chain handrails along both sides, and a steady stream of people goes up and down both ways.

After that, you reach an often-overlooked area around the so-called Center or Middle Peak. This area is in fact relatively flat, and nicely forested. It lies between the East, South, and West peaks. There aren't as many people around, and stone paths go off in different directions. As you are already very high, going to the different areas requires as much walking as climbing steps. For reasons of time, I didn't go to to the East or West peaks, but towards the south edge of the mountain. Here is the highest point, the South Peak.

I'm sorry to report that the final assent to the South Peak is not particularly treacherous. The stone steps are not as steep or exposed as the Black Dragon Ridge, and the ground is level enough for the forest to continue right up to the top. There are a few steep places, but it's nothing compared to earlier.

Also along the southern edge of Huashan below the South Peak, is a newer Daoist temple, and around the corner from that, the legendary Changkong Plank Path. I did it, with the safety harness, and it was exhilarating. What struck me was the sound of the wind. Pressed up against the cliff, all the other sounds of the revelers disappears and the sound of the wind is clear. First you go down the ladder made from poles stuck into the crevice. Then there are a few purely-carved foot holes, and after that, the boardwalk. Another brief ladder takes you to the small outcropping, about 15 by 15 feet. There is a tree people tie red cloth ribbons to, and a small cave with a stature of a deity. Then you must go back the way you came.

Actually, I had to go out to the boardwalk twice. Andre does have a few minor inaccuracies. The mounted cameras are only security cameras; if you're by yourself and want a survivor picture, you have to have the guy come out with a Polaroid camera. This runs another 30 yuan.

Although my Mandarian was not good enough to ask, this (Boardwalk) was clearly a dead end, and given the configuration of the mountain, it was extremely unlikely that it was ever necessary to take the plank road to get to the South Peak. Also, there is no gondola from the West Peak to the South Peak--as indicated before, the cable car goes from the bottom of the mountain to the North Peak.

Still, I found there American's story to be exhilarating. They clearly have a flair for the dramatic, as the route becomes more and
more treacherous as they approach the summit, with a snowstorm threatening to cut off their escape--but actually, they layout of the mountain isn't like that. Could the story have some kind of disclaimer at its beginning suggesting that questions have been raised?

As for the large issue of whether Huashan is "dangerous." First, I think the distinction between Chinese people have a different sense of danger than Americans. For example, all over China, you see parents riding motorcycles with their children hanging on in front or behind them, without any helmet or safety features. Open manholes or trenches on the road are left open without barriers, of sometimes even warnings.

However, as far as this mountain goes, while the first impression is of course "people must die all the time," actually, all it is is climbing steps.  How often do we climb steps in our lives without falling?  Especially if concentrating, and holding onto the heavy chains, which don't slip away easily. Also, in most close-ups of the pictures you can see the carved stone steps have been textured, which makes them difficult to slip off. This is not a new safety feature, as it's standard to mountains in China. (I am no mountain climber and am not in top shape, but I have hiked some other mountains in China.)

So I would agree that while dangerous, I completely agree with Jarrod, "This is a great walk and I highly recommend it, certainly it can be challenging and without doubt death could easily call upon the unfit or unwary. However you don't need to spend the night before 'making peace with yourself' in case you don't come back."

Anyway, since I know you're interested in accuracy, I did want to clear up a few minor points about your account and also Hycenko.

The South Peak is forested on its approach, which makes for a pleasant final assent, but it is just a mountaintop. Rest areas are further down its slope. I just thought this was a little unclear.

The Black Dragon Pool is about a meter wide--I have a picture--so I'm not sure about calling it a "resort."

The Heavenly Stairs are the first leg of the climb from the North Peak area to the other peaks.

At the end of Jinsud Pass, there is a choice of any of the remaining peaks--East, South, Central or West, as well as the Changkong Zhandao and some other things to see.  This area is actually quite large, and quite nice, suffused with the feeling of accomplishment.

"The perilous climb is located at the North Peak." I'm not sure. There are some areas around the North Peak that are no picnic, but the most perilous climbs I saw are after the North Peak.

Also, where it says "The West Peak seen in the pictures above is said to be the most graceful peak. I think "Graceful Peak"..." The picture is of the Heavenly Steps area in the foreground, and the North Peak behind it. The North Peak looks small because 1) the Heavenly Steps area is much closer, and 2) an optical illusion resulting from the fact the buildings in the foreground are small in reality, but big in the picture, while the North Peak buildings are big in reality (it's a sizable temple and hostel, and the cable car terminal) but small in the picture.

I'm not sure which peak is considered the most graceful. As for Andre Hycenko, he clearly climbed the mountain but has a few
details off. I'm not sure where he got his statement "Most paintings of mountains are most likely those of Mt. Huashan." That is nowhere close to being the case. Also, the "cable-car peak" as he calls it, is the North Peak, and it's the South Peak that is the highest.

The Changkong Plank Road is located below the South Peak, not between the West and South Peaks.

Huashan does not have an alternate name Huangshan.  Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain, is a different mountain in Anihui province.

I think you know most of this already, it's just not clear thoughout the article. I hope this can help clear some things up.

It does, however, remind me, of what some Chinese students of mine told me when I said I was going to climb Huashan--no, don't, as the expression goes, it has places even a monkey couldn't pass!

Anyway, congratulations on running the top English-language site on Huashan!

Best, Mike

Letter Twelve: Ignore the Negativity

-----Original Message-----
From: Janet L
Sent: Monday, August 18, 2008 1:31 AM
Subject: Mt Huashan

Hi Rick, Greetings from Malaysia.

I have just found your website (my google search on Huashan saw your website listed as no.1 on Page 1 !!).

Congratulations on your efforts in bringing such a wonderful story to interested people the world over.

I will surely spend countless hours sitting at my pc reading all your other travel articles. It's been like hours since I started reading the Huashan article today and I'm only at Letter Six.

Please ignore all the discouraging or untasteful remarks from certain readers. They forget you have never visited the place and are putting in such great efforts into making your articles helpful and informative for other potential hikers.

Three cheers for Rick !!

Kind regards, Janet L
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Letter Thirteen: The Huashan Trail is Dangerous! 

-----Original Message-----
From: Diane B
Sent: Saturday, October 04, 2008 1:37 AM
Subject: mount huashan

Hi, just returned from Huashan.  After reading your posting I have to agree that there has to be more accident up there than any place else.

I'm not a climber, just a tourist who thought it would be terrific to see this place after reading about it in a guide book.

There was no information at the cable car at the bottom as to what to expect, unless it was all in Mandarin and I couldn't read it...
It was the national holiday and the mountain was so crowded that you could not stop and pause anywhere along the way for fear that the folks in front of you would push you off...

There was no evidence of emergency personnel along the way, only skinny boys dressed in uniforms trying to control the crowds...we were crushed up there against a holding gate controlling access to the cable cars, rock face against your cheek and precipitous staircases down the cliff on the other side.

Although this COULD have been a nice journey, I was terrified of the potential unpredictable behavior of the crowds and that no one up there had any was dark and cable cars were still riding people up...trails are unlit.

This is not hiking, it is extreme stair climbing, with each step a different rise and the step itself only fitting a child sized foot. to look back is to experience vertigo and to look up is impossible since it is too steep.

This needs to be better managed by the officials...I am sure there is a huge amount of accidents there... I saw old grannies being shoved up these stone ladders, parents with babies and toddlers, children left unsupervised on the trails...and no one up there speaks anything but Mandarin...making it impossible to communicate...signage is vague and it is easy to get disoriented.

You cannot conceive just how crowded it was on that trail. You cannot turn around since then it is like swimming upstream.

Altogether what I thought would be a reflective moment on the mountains turned into a mosh pit in the clouds...

Diane B


Letter Fourteen: The Huashan Trail is Dangerous! 

From: Ed
Sent: Friday, October 17, 2008 1:39 AM
Subject: Mountain trails in China

I have been climbing mountains in China for the past three years and I found some of them appear to be very dangerous especially if you fear heights at all. After reading the information on your web site I think I would like to try and climb Huashan. I think one should stay away during the rain, Snow or Chinese holidays and crowds. Every famous mountain in China attracts too many people which could cause a hazard on the narrow steep trails. I have recently climbed Huangshan which has some spot that are steep and leave your heart pounding.
I had the chance to climb on a trail in Tiger Leaping Gorge and have written a detailed account and pictures.

Letter Fifteen: Thanks for the Great Story!

From: Katleen P
Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 9:29 AM
Subject: Mt Huashan Hiking Trail

Hello Rick,

I am a Belgian teacher in geography and preparing a group trip to China in July next year. So my friends are forwarding me everything they can find about China. That's how I received the link to your story. My heart stood still reading it, I moved closer and closer to my PC-screen, terrified, breathtaking, astonished, I felt the cold and the wind as if I was there myself. The adrenaline raged through my body, can you believe it?

This is definitely something I would never do myself. We are planning a 4-hours hike on a difficult part of the Great Wall of China and that 'll be the most dangerous part of the journey. I hope. 

Thanks for the wonderful, well written story.  Katleen

Letter Sixteen: Danger is Exaggerated

From: Ben B
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2008 9:26 PM
Subject: Huashan planks in October 2008

Hey Rick,

I liked your website and had a good look at it before doing the walk across the planks a few days ago. It was a terrifying but great experience, and if you are interested in posting my story or a few of my pictures on your page, please feel free: There are also better resolution pictures at

One other thing: I liked the 2003 report by the American on your Hua Shan main page. However, I think it exaggerates the general hike on the mountain (not the planks) quite a bit. I have walked all over Hua Shan and all its peaks, and I think apart from the plank walk the trails are well marked, chained off and well maintained. As long as you stick to the tourists path, they are not more dangerous than your average other Chinese mountain (Emei Shan, Huang Shan or Tai Shan come to mind).

All the best,  Ben


Letter Seventeen: Danger is Exaggerated

-----Original Message-----
From: Jamie S
Sent: Monday, October 27, 2008 7:52 PM
Subject: HuaShan

Dear Mr. Archer,

I just visited Hua Shan with my mother on a sightseeing trip to China, and my experience was completely different than what was described on your website. We took the cable cars, which bring you almost to the top of the North Peak (referred to as "gondolas" in the account - and they do not link the North Peak with the West Peak, they take visitors from the base to near the top). From there, you can continue to hike to the other peaks or just look around and go back down on the cable
cars. We made it to the center, South, and West Peaks. It was strenuous work, but not particularly perilous -- neither of us has any mountain-climbing experience.

Definitely no need to cling to sides of the mountain using footholds. I would not attempt this climb in any sort of inclement weather, but that seems to be more a matter of common sense than anything else. At any rate, it seems quite possible that major parts of this trail were changed possibly in response to accounts like the ones on your sight, but many people these days are likely missing out on a great experience through the misperception that they will be doing crazy things to reach the top. To me, hiking Huashan was very similar to hiking the trails at Yosemite, except that you could buy noodles, water, and souvenirs just about every five minutes at different stands.

Best regards, Jamie S

Letter Eighteen: First-Hand Account of Huashan Climb

From: Moj P
Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008 11:22 AM
Subject: Huashan, pictures and video

Hi Rick,  I have recently returned from China and among other places I visited Huashan. Before I write something about my impressions and opinions I must say that your site is the reason that I found out about that amazing place. I remember that when I first saw Huashan photos a thought crossed my mind: ''I must see this place, sooner or later.''

A year after that I was climbing Huashan. I must say that I am not a climber nor anything like that and I have never visited a place like the trail below the South peak.

I climbed it by foot and it took several hours of exhausting climbing numerous steps. My main goal was to climb the fascinating trail made of wooden boards on the cliff. I didn't want to stop until I reach it. It certainly isn't for everybody, especially not for people afraid of heights or prone to panic.

At the beginning of the trail below the South peak you get the safety harness which cost 30Y (approximately 3 Euro), a short instruction how to use them and you are on your way. It is not important whether you are an adult or a 10 year old child - unbelievable but I even met small children there. 

It is of great importance to stay calm and concentrated on the trail, not only because of the trail itself but also because you often must walk by people who come from the opposite direction. If people are afraid and paralyzed it is hard to pass near them.

In normal weather conditions the trail is not dangerous nor deadly because of the safety measures that I mentioned.  I would say that the steps on the rest of the mountain which lead to the top are more dangerous than the trail bellow South peak. There are no safety clutches and in case that someone looses balance or falls down the steps, he has a long and painful way to the beginning of the steps.

I was lucky that I visited Huashan during perfect weather conditions but I'm sure that is not as safe to climb it when it rains or snows. At that time the chain which people hold to climb the trail more safely is not safe enough.

I really enjoyed staying in Huashan and I think that spending time in that fascinating place was the best and strongest experience I had in China.

To all those who love nature and challenges and come to Xi'an: Do not miss Huashan but be careful during the hike. A one day trip is simply not enough. The best thing to do is to sleep in one of the hostels on the mountain and stay there at least for two days.

I put some of my photos on my website and I tried to describe the hike to the trail made of wooden planks. There is also a short video on my website (45 sec). I was filming with my right hand while I was holding the chain with the left. It was made with an ordinary camera and is not of high quality but I think that it is relatively good considering the conditions.

Link on my webpage:

Best regards,
Moj P

Letter Nineteen: Thanks for an Exciting Read

From: colin l
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2009 5:07 PM
Subject: huashan letters etc !!

hi, just thought i'd put my two cents or so to say in !!! ignore that antoine, he obviously was just looking for an argument, in total military style as usual !!!

i read your articles on the huashan trail & el camino del ray ( spelling prob wrong but don't care !!) with eager excitement , you have really captured my mind , i'd love one day to complete both of these hikes, but it seems a long way off from this sleepy farm in Scotland!!

your web site is truly amazing & without it i may never have heard of these wonderful places (el camino del ray found first on you-tube , then linked to your site), they truly are awe inspiring & i just want you to know that i think your site is excellent & well put together!

there are 2 sides to every story & in the middle is the truth, by publishing such open minded & impartial articles i think you give a nice all round "feel" as to what these treacherous but breath taking locations are truly like !!!

all the best,  Colin L

Letter Twenty:
The Huashan Hiking Trail is still risky, but not as dangerous as it used to be

From: Philip D
Sent: Friday, April 03, 2009 4:02 AM
Subject: Huashan

Hi Rick.

I have just returned from China after staying there for one month and marrying my girlfriend. This is my second trip to China and my wife suggested that we climb mount Huashan to see the sunrise. I had no idea what to expect but having some experience of fell walking in the english lakes I agreed. We climbed up to the north peak in darkness but with the aid of the installed lights that line the path up. I am told that the chinese climb the mountain because it dangerous and that after climbing Hua mountain there will be no other problems with other mountains. Well I enjoyed the climb and the views are spectacular and there is still an element of danger in climbing this mountain despite the safety measures in place.

Over time my wife and I intend to climb all the peaks and I know that we will do it. Cant see why people have to score points against each other after climbing the mountain tho? Surely it must be enough to have climbed it. I am told that the local government is intending to install another cable car somewhere and that the monks dont agree with it but cant fight that decision. Thats tourism I guess. Any way the site is ok so dont worry about those that feel the need to discredit.



-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: 4/3/2009 4:13:57 PM
To: 'Philip D
Subject: RE: Huashan

Thank you for writing, Philip. I have a favor to ask.

I would like to ask your help. I would like to reprint your letter, but first I have a couple questions if you don't mind. On the big problems I have faced is that I am blind to any first-hand knowledge of the place. So I desire to trust your judgment and see if I can clear some things up.

One, you wrote: "Any way the site is ok so dont worry about those that feel the need to discredit."

Are you referring to my website article on Huashan?  Is my overall story accurate or is it offbase?  What on my website needs to be changed or updated?

Two, is the North Peak the most difficult climb? There has been some confusion on this.

Three, you commented on safety features. Do you believe these features have succeeded in reducing the danger? Out of curiosity, if you have the time, what are these features.

Four, pretend you and your wife are 50. How difficult in your opinion is the climb for someone of that age? Can you comment on the risk factor in more detail?

Anything else you can think of?

Thank you! I really appreciate your time!

Rick Archer

-----Original Message-----
From: Philip D
Sent: Monday, April 06, 2009 3:30 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: Huashan

Your web is site ok.

My wife is 43 and a chinese national who has climbed the mountain twice before and i am 54 and carried my camera pack up. The dangers are there because of numbers of people and the steepness. New routes have been built from the north peak onwards. You can get here by cable car though.  We walked 7hrs and 6km (3 1/2 miles) to reach north peak and stopped at that. We were tired. The other peaks are shorter in distance but higher. i will climb them later. Best way is to go climb.

The north peak will be the longest walk/climb and the safety measures are steep steps and chains. Some sections now have two sets of steps to allow ascent and descent at the same time. The other peaks have shorter but steeper steps. There is a new route from north peak called "soldiers path" that is mounted on the side of a cliff.  It leads to the west peak and then to the south peak etc. The mountain is very sheer everywhere but is beautiful and must be the goal of your life.  

Letter Twenty One: Thank you for the story

-----Original Message-----
From: Cedric
Sent: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 2:50 PM
Subject: Mt Huashan!

Hi ya!

Read your very well written account about Mt Huashan. That was in every sense a very treacherous hike, probably the most dangerous in China. I am also very glad both your wife and yourself did not have any mishaps.

Thank you very much also for consolidating the rare photos too. Just for your information, the difficulty of ascending Mt Huashan is relatively well known amongst the Chinese. (I'm Chinese, but I live in Singapore).  

And Mt Huashan actually has an ancient nickname, Tian-xian (??), which translates into something like "heavenly danger".

Strange thing though, and exactly as you pointed out, there's hardly any information on the actual hike itself. Even the official publications in China feature only faded, misty old images.

Your account, on the other hand, is one in a million.

Regards, Cedric


Rick Archer's Note:  This letter from Mr. Allen accomplishes many wonderful things.  The letter confirms there were definitely tragedies in the past.  It confirms there have been recent improvements to the safety of the trail as well. 

Mr. Allen's letter also gives Westerners a bird's eye view of his experience climbing Huashan accompanied by his two children. 

After you finish reading this letter, I think you will agree with me that we are all lucky to have someone like Mr. Allen to shed so much light on this fascinating story.

From: p allen
Sent: Sunday, May 03, 2009 2:00 AM
Subject: Huashan

Dear Rick,
I have enjoyed reading your site, and found the reaction of a few of your correspondents to be remarkably thoughtless.

The dilemma appears to be that Huashan has a reputation of being dangerous; yet a number of people have climbed recently and found it relatively safe.
Is this so hard to reconcile?

As Cedric mentioned, its reputation is widely recognised in China, and he correctly translates 'tianxian'.

By way of background, Chinese have, over generations, celebrated their more spectacular mountains through poetry, art and solitude. The most famous are Huashan, Taishan, two Hengshans and Songshan; but as the saying goes, if you visit Huangshan, you need not bother with the others. Huangshan has 72 peaks and is relatively accessible, as well as being stunningly beautiful, which is why it has had most attention from artists, as one of your contributors pointed out. Huashan gained artistic attention too, but has been too inaccessible over the years to have inspired a large number of artists.

The five mentioned above are related to Daoism, of which Taishan, as the centre of Daoism, has the strongest link; Songshan is equally renowned for Buddhism (Shaolin); the Hengshan mountains, I am not so clear about, and Huashan was always better known for its precipitous edges and steps anyway, hence the attendant danger. It has attracted hermits, whether Buddhist, Daoist or neither, and never been uniquely devoted to any.

The nature of its inhabitants first hacked the hair-raising pathways and passages to surmount it, deliberately desiring it to maintain its difficulty and danger to limit casual visitors.

The challenge has though always lingered. 

In the 80s, when Chinese gained some freedom of movement, and a degree of prosperity emerged, Mt. Hua faced tourism for the first time. Student groups in particular arrived in large parties.

Standard practice was to set out in the evening for the East Peak to arrive to see the sunrise; it was also specifically considered safer to climb at night to avoid viewing the nerve-jangling traverses and climbs that the mountain entailed.  It was very dangerous, and too many visitors fell off.

As of the early 90s, the government urgently began to build out the paths and steps; however in the mid-90s, they added the cable car to the North Peak (1614m - the lowest). Tourism was already blossoming; this new accessibility multiplied the numbers to levels that the improved passages could not handle, and the reputation as a potential death-trap continued. In around 2000, an urgent effort was made to further improve safety on the mountain; build more routes, some circumventing the more dangerous passages, and deny access, such that the most dangerous are now no longer available.

I do not know exactly what was done when; but I see no reason to discredit the author of the original tale cited. It should also be noted that they were travelling in a cold, icy moment with strong winds, both factors which make their journey absolutely perilous.

Nowadays, over 90% of the pathways are paved with heavy stone and almost all have railings or basic chain fencing. This is all new - over almost 20 years.

Originally there were only steps or footholds cut into the rock; chains or hand grips were also curved into the rock too where it was too narrow or perilous.

I had found and checked your site when I was deciding whether it would be possible to take my children (aged 8-11). I knew its reputation; but that safety improvements had been made.

I set out at about mid-day with the elder two. We walked the old route, which has been widened, alongside the river. One enters the Qinling mountains from the valley to the North. On the way, one passes the sign that states, "Conquer Huashan, and find peace ever after".

After about 4kms, the path crosses the river and the steps become steep. This is at Qingkeping, where it also reminds the traveler that it is necessary to be mentally and physically prepared to proceed: (perhaps more relevant to former times, too).

All the way through this vast gorge, the mighty West peak, with its precipitous face, stands huge and enticing ahead. Then the path, all steps, now turns South toward the North peak; one encounters the first set of heavenly steps, which are cut into the rock and rise at about 60 degrees or more; in two stages, these gain well over 150 metres as one holds a low chain. On the left side, sometimes immediate is a precipitous edge down to the river deep below. More hard work than dangerous.

Finally we reached the North peak and met my wife and eight year old, who had ridden the cable car. (Incidentally the soldier's path is an alternate route up from the base of the cable car; it is a new and slightly shorter route, starting slightly higher up than the original).

We had climbed about 1200 metres (think I read somewhere that the Huayin village is at 400m) at this stage in somewhat over 3 hours, good going for the little guys.

To proceed to the higher peaks one must climb another sharp set of steps carved into the rock, Heavenly Ladder. Only about 20m in height and probably 80 degrees or so, again not too dangerous, barring the cascade of people descending. There are tight chains on both sides of two tracks for grip.

Not too much further is the Black (or Blue, or sometimes Green) Dragon Ridge. The mountain used to have just one route, which we have followed so far, and this Ridge was the 530m connection to the bulk of the mountain. Now one enters through two parallel paths, one of which heads onto the Ridge; the other to the Flying Fish ridge which is a new track which takes a more circuitous lower course to begin.

However one can note that at this entry, the paths are both new and built up; to the right, is a small cliff leaning in with a chain and some handholds initially; once this was just a very narrow path tight to the angled rock which pushed one's stance outwards.

Then the Ridge itself: the steps are now more deeply cut and wider. Basic metal railings have been placed on both sides. It remains very exposed - amplified if it is windy- but the improved steps and railing make it safe to-day, particularly since it is one way on crowded days..

Thereafter one heads passed the Golden Lock Pass and around the stunning WuYun Peak towards the East Peak. Nothing difficult, though from time to time one can see where the old pathway was just some tight small steps which would have had no protection.

Close to the East Peak is another ladder ( Cloudy?). Nowadays an almost 80 degree metal ladder about 25m is another option; but the original route remains up a stone cliff, which actually surpasses the vertical to about 100 degrees in its mid-section. Steps are cut into the rock, and a chain hangs down. One grasps the chain and leans out holding the majority of one's weight in one's arms even as you grasp the chain ever higher. I wish I could say that I took this route; but with 5 kg on my back and a family watching below, discretion won out when faced with the necessity to lean out. Immediately a ranger strode up with practiced ease.

The route thereon to the East Peak is easy; though the original sunrise watching place has a dangerous rock which is hard to scramble up. Today's visitor might find it hard to imagine that many places on the path up, and the peaks with their precipitous edges used to have no protection at all.

I was exceedingly nervous as my children invariably went straight to the heavy twin chain fences, which were placed where the rock had already begun to slope away towards that peak's bottomless sheer faces below.

There are four pictures in the middle of your website, which refer to the West peak. These pictures are from the main body of the mountain looking back to the North peak in the distance and probably from the Zhenyue palace , and the Jinsud pass in the near ground.

Imagine that track with its steps more lightly cut, and no railings; then add a blast of cold wind.  I shudder at the consequences of my darkest fanatasies.

The picture below of the chess-playing temple (gazebo) is a way below the East peak hotel (a heavenly bargained Y760 for five in one room, and mercifully only Y15 for a large beer - carried all the way up by porter), which itself is immediately below the East peak.

A new path runs passed this temple en route for the South peak. One drops about 200m before ascending again to a temple around which one can head onto the perilous path on which the older lady (in your pic) is standing by herself. It is sheer down almost 2,000m beyond that fragile-feeling chain railing. It is now a photo-op dead end; one can no longer pass on to the plank walk and somersault ladder in the chimney described.

Other routes take one back up to the South peak, where again its is quite safe, though one's hearty palpitates somewhat when one's children lean on the chains to look over.

Our first day saw only a relatively few fellow travelers; but overnight many students had climbed up, and more were arriving on the day before a holiday. exuberant youths were testing their mettle at many places. No doubt some still falter; or those enthusiastically showing their ability to rush down steps may also cause others to stumble, sometimes in dangerous spots. Certainly people still do die on the mountain.

All over the mountain, parts of the exposed old pathways remain, as one now proceeds on the well-made steps. The path up to the West peak is the same and very exposed, if not too steep, as pictured as the broad ridge in the latter part of your site. Again the new railing gives comfort if the weather turns.  (The intermediate picture is of the West peak from the North peak, and the more distant East peak).

There was no essential safety problem for the children provided they paid attention, and did not dare themselves too recklessly to take shortcuts and test the edges. The larger danger was always other people. However the trip brought back memories for my wife who had climbed it in 1984 in the dark. She had been in a party of 70 students selected from her province, and had been the only woman to make it to the sunrise out of less than 20 of her group altogether, though none of the others had fallen off. She was reminded of the perilous parts and the outright determination which had been required.

In many parts, they had crawled across the rock steps, particularly on the way down, when they had been witnessing the exposed dangers all around.

I am 50 and consider myself fit; we saw some local woman of about 70 climbing it.  It remains a spectacular mountain with stunning views all around; but it is accessible and broadly-speaking safe, maybe for too many on high days and holidays.

Hope this helps.

One more point
My wife told me there was a large accident reported a year or two after my wife originally climbed Mt. Hua, when a group somehow had collectively stumbled on the Black Dragon Ridge, causing a chain reaction that caused many to fall to their deaths. 

From: Rick Archer
Sent: Sunday, May 03, 2009 12:46 PM
To: 'p allen'
Subject: RE: Huashan

You have written the most comprehensive and valuable letter I have ever received on the topic of Huashan.

I am deeply grateful to you. I am certain that the many people who visit my site will be just as appreciative. You have given us all not only a clear picture of the modern status of this mountain, you have given us a peek into some of the history that the original reputation of danger was well-deserved.

You have also made it clear that steps (literally and figuratively) have indeed been taken to improve the safety of the climb. That is a wonderful contribution.

You have also cleared up once and for all the disconnect between the original Frank and Laura story and the more recent claims that Huashan is nowhere near as dangerous as it once was.

May I ask some questions?

1 - As a father myself, I noted with a smile your concern for your children. From your commentary, I take it you felt they were at risk on several occasions. In my opinion, part of being a parent is exposing children to risks you believe they can handle, thereby helping them gain confidence. Do you think that your two children were up to the task? Would you take them again? Do you have any particular suggestions to parents facing the same dilemma?

2 - How did you become so knowledgeable about the history of this mountain? I am guessing that you have married a Chinese national who was able to fill in some of the details. Personally, I believe you have done the Western world an extraordinary service by explaining the past and present in such wonderful detail. If it doesn't cause a problem for you, I would like to know more how you arrived at such comprehensive knowledge.

Thank you so much, Mr. Allen. You have cleared up so many issues in such a gentle and clear way. I think I speak for many people who will read your letter and be thrilled to see so many misconceptions explained and reconciled in a way that it is easy to understand.

Furthermore, the Chinese government should be grateful that you have written your letter. Thanks to you, I think many people will be encouraged to take this climb in the future.


From: p allen
Sent: Wednesday, May 06, 2009 5:53 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Huashan

Rick, Glad you enjoyed my note.

To answer your questions, I try to expose my children to as much risk as I can, whether it is cultural, social, sports or more abstract.

Though not danger per se, your website was useful in assessing the current danger of Huashan, even if I did so through some of the more ill-considered correspondence. If Huashan were still as dangerous as the 2003 description, we would not have gone.

As it is today, we would go back, or at least to somewhere that was equally 'risky'.

The risk on Huashan was always identifiable - we had good weather. Children know what they can do, especially if they can see reliably.  However, not all children are the same, as you know.  My middle son is most likely to show off and to take an extra risk.

With such knowledge, I think a parent must try to stand back, though not ignore the child in various situations.

I was naturally nervous because a fall on Huashan would often be fatal. However, I was interested to note that, while my children walked comfortably to the railings on the East and South peaks, when they got to the West peak - which required a short vertical step climb with a central chain to hold - the area on top of the rock was larger and flatter, as well as uncrowded. However, all the children cautioned me about going close to the edge, and did not test it themselves. Was this in part because we had been looking at the huge cliff for so long as we had trudged up the valley the day before?

Yes, I think they all handled and gained from it.

As to your second question, my wife is Chinese and very well educated. It happens she was brought up in Huangshan area; so I had heard the ditty about the five stunning mountains around China, but that a visit to Huangshan rendered a visit to the others unnecessary, long ago.

She had also told me of her original trip to Huashan, and its profound effect on her. So she filled me in on much of this. I also encouraged my children to acquaint themselves and me with where we were visiting (Xian itself has a huge history, and at less than 2 hours from Huashan makes for a good combination for a trip - though easier when based in China!).

I have lived in China for over 7 years and my business has provided a bridge between China and the west (in financial matters). Naturally I am interested in the country and its history.

My wife meanwhile is developing a TV series about Western experience involving a business venture in China, and we have several films proposed which explore both aspects of to-day's China and its historical legends.

Kind regards, P

From: Rick Archer
To: p allen
Sent: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 11:42:49 PM
Subject: RE: Huashan

Your two letters were so valuable that I posted them immediately.

One last question.  On my first page, I printed this letter:

Letter Two from Tongyan to Jim

Jim, I was unable to find anything on the Internet but I can tell you my story about Hua shan.  It happened next year I visited Tai Shan. I was in my the 3rd year in University. There was a group of students as same age as me, they were went to Hua Shan to play. Those students were from The 4th Army medical school.

When they are in the middle of the climb, something happened and people from top of the mountain all drop down. ( I forget what cause this happen), since the mountain shape so sharp, it is hard for the people in the middle to prevent the drop people from top, so there is a lot of injury. And very badly. Those group of students who were in the 3rd year of their learning began to rescue the injuries immediately. (yes, there is rescue team for the traveler, but that takes time, some injured people might not able to wait). It was these group of students that offered a first time period diagnoses and huge skilful support before the ambiances and other medical personnel's come, some injured people got survived.

Whole country gave them great honor. Our university "Tianjin University " actually invite them come for lectures, thousands of students were in the auditorium to listen how do they diagnose, how to help transfer the injures to the hospital, how do they assistant the operation, how many life were saved, more important how they use their text book knowledge to apply for each individual's diagnose…... This page permanently exist in The 4th Army medical school history. It is called "Hua shan Rescue".

Is this the same incident you referred to in your first letter?  Here is what you said in your first letter:

"there was a large accident reported a year or two after my wife originally climbed Mt. Hua, when a group somehow had collectively stumbled on the Black Dragon Ridge, and many had fallen to their deaths.”

People have hinted to me that there were indeed been fatalities in the past, but other than that incident it is all rumor.  Do these things still happen or do you think by and large people falling to their death is a thing of the past?

I understand this is a controversial question.  Since you do not know me personally, you might be reluctant to be candid.  Whatever you say, I will not attribute it to you.  I will simply place whatever you say as an anonymous letter somewhere in the pack.  But I would like to know what the truth is about the current and previous danger since so many people make their decisions whether to visit based on my site.

Thank you again.

From: p allen
Sent: Friday, May 08, 2009 10:18 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Huashan


I cannot confirm whether the two incidents happened to be the same. Unlikely though.  Amongst Chinese at that time the mountain was well recognized for its danger, and the occurrence of fatal falls was widely known - more than one multiple fatality certainly occurred.

Have checked some current blogs: I could not find any reference to anything historic, except one mention of the difficulty of two people trying to pass in previous times.
However it is clear that the mountain's reputation for danger still lingers. But current bloggers are relatively dismissive, like some of your correspondents, of the danger to-day - fair enough; the swarm of people on holidays are identified as the main danger now, as well as ice in the colder months.

The government is promoting tourism, and indeed the effort to make Huashan safe and accessible has been enormous, as well as largely successful.

It is probably in few people's interest to dwell on the specifics, if the details are known, particularly on the internet.

Letter Twenty Three:  A Note from a Daughter to her Mother after a successful climb

From: Jenna
Sent: Mon 7/20/2009 9:40 PM
Subject: Mt. Haushan - want to make sure you are in 1 piece

Hi Mom, Did I tell you we were going to climb Huashan? I completely forgot, it was such a spur of the moment decision. Not to worry, I am fine. Unfortunately, in my opinion, we took the cable car up the first part. Most people do this, it is a rugged 2,000 meter stretch. However, I wanted to climb this part because it was the most untrammeled and uninvaded by venders and pit stops. It would've been very hard for my siblings though. After we got off the cable car, we climbed to the top of what is called the East mountain. There are three main peaks of Huashan - the South, East, and West peaks. You arrive at the North peak when you get off the cable car. The climb was strenuous at certain parts, but it was all stairs.

I don't remember if I told you about the mountain climb my family went on a couple of weeks ago - it was much more rugged. We drove out into the countryside and my father simply chose a mountain to climb. Before we could ever get to the mountain, we had to cross a river. We couldn't find a stone path to cross, so we just took our shoes off and walked. When we got to the other side we put our shoes back on. However, my brother dropped his shoe in the river and I had to dive for it to save it from the rapid current. So before we even began climbing I was soaking wet and had a cut on my knee. There was no path on this mountain, and at points we were climbing on all fours because we either had to climb through the brush or because the mountain was almost vertical. There were countless thorns and I had cuts all up and down my arms and legs (I was the only one who was wearing shorts, aside for my father who was wearing his boxer briefs because he had to ditch his pants to cross the river). I basically had to drag my siblings up the mountain as we cut through the ravine. At certain points I actually lifted my brother and sister onto things because they were too small. At one point I had one of those TV moments were someone slips over the edge of a cliff and grabs onto something at the last second. My experience was not as dramatic, but my legs were dangling over a ridge and I had to pull myself up using a root. Though my father may seem like a small, bubbly, sheltered business man who likes to talk a lot, he was a fearless beast when it came to climbing this mountain.

Anyways, there were some dangerous parts of Huashan. As it is at most tourist sights in China, the steps were made in the Tang Dynasty, so you constantly had to watch were you were walking. Additionally, there were parts where you basically had to rope climb up the side of a cliff because the steps were too narrow. We climbed the most dangerous part (you have to pay to do so) where we had to wear a harness to climb the side of a cliff where there were no steps, only holes and inlets in the rock for our feet and hands. I later learned it was the part where people have died in the past. It was very cool though, we were the first ones to climb it that day (it was probably about 5:45) and so everyone was watching us. Though the climb was dangerous, it is a tourist site after all, so the proper precautions (for the Chinese at least) had been taken; unlike at the mountain we climbed a couple weeks ago.

Anyways, we climbed to the top of the East peak and watched the sunset. After that we stayed in a guesthouse (obviously without running water). The next day we woke up at 430 to watch the sunrise, which we actually didn't get to see very clearly. Then we climbed that dangerous section, and then my brother, my "cousin" - a young man who is very close to my family who has climbed Huashan many times -, and I climbed up to the South peak, the tallest peak of Huashan (about 3,000 additional meters - almost as high as Tibet - in total about 3,000 meters shorter than Mt. Everest). It was very cool, but climbing up there you could feel the air getting much thinner, making the climb more difficult.

We were all very tired when we got back yesterday, but overall we had a fun time. I got to talk to many foreigners, even an Australian from Sydney!

Much love, Jenna


Letter Twenty Four: A Rainy Day on Huashan

-----Original Message-----
From: richard j
Sent: Wednesday, August 05, 2009 5:29 AM
Subject: Huashan Mt

This past Saturday I had the experience of climbing Mt. Huashan.

I must say it was an experience, but because of the weather the experience was damped, pun intended. It was a very overcast rainy day, and little of the mountain could be seen. But what could be seen was still spectacular. The tram going up the side of the mountain was enough to make my heart do a couple of flip flops. It was so crowded that I was never sure how far we climbed or what peak we were climbing if any. We just sort of followed and the crowd pushed us up the trails. We climbed for about two hours, but decided to turn back and head down.  We did this due to the rain, the slippery steps and the amount of people climbing. There were as many people trying to get up as there were going down. It is too bad they didn't have one trail for ascending and descending. I marvel at the people who work there, and climb up and down those stairs with yokes of garbage and supplies.

When we bought our tickets for the climb, there was also insurance included in case of accident. I was with a chinese only group, no foreigners.  However since I was with my asian wife they let me go along.  I am not sure if the insurance was a part of tour agency or the park.

Anyway I think given a good day the mountain would be a good hike. Maybe I will try again sometime. But then maybe hiking on a bad day is also good.  This way you can not see how far you would fall.

On Aug 5, 2009, at 8:06 AM, Rick Archer wrote:

Thanks for the story.

Did you feel the hike was particularly dangerous or have reports of the danger been exaggerated?  Since I have never been there personally, I am always trying to gauge the difficulty since many people base their decisions on what I write.

----Original Message-----
From: richard j
Sent: Friday, August 07, 2009 5:11 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Huashan Mt

Truthfully I think that if you are prudent and have good weather the climb (hike) is rather safe.

But given the circumstances I was in, I felt that the climb was a potential hazard--large amount of people trying to go up and down at once, we were packed like sardines, wet slippery steps, and rain and fog.

On a good day I think I would have enjoyed the climb, but to tell you the truth, I was a little scared. Some of my uneasiness was due to the brochure the tour guide had. As you have seen in your pictures, it looks very imposing. To tell you the truth I am not sure if my feelings would have been decreased or increased had I been able to see down the sides of the Mountain.

I did not hear of any accidents, but I did see a couple of people lose their footing. Luckily they were holding on to the chains.


Letter Twenty Five: An Interesting Letter about Huashan - October 2009

From: wei
Sent: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 8:32 AM
Subject: about huashan

Hello, I have seen your website on Huashan, which impressed me with its details and responses attracted. Just to clarify things a little bit, I went there in the 1990s.  I wouldn't say it's unbelievably dangerous, and it's certainly not realistic to expect people falling off every minute, but every step I took in some relatively dangerous trail, I needed to give my full concentration.  I didn't even dare to turn my head around, the only thing I was looking at is my feet and the stairs. I promise you, if you concentrate, you will not fall off or anything.

When I went there, there certainly is no safety measures such as harness.  I heard in recent years, in those steep 90 degree climbs, the locals have built a safer steel stair next to the original stone stair, so all this add to the safety of the trail.

And I certainly think it's unfair for people to go there, expecting 'mountain climbing' type of danger, with a touristy outfit.

Also, it's interesting to note the major huashan accident that one of the email have mentioned. My father was one of the 4th military medical school students that have participated in the so-called 'huashan rescue', he recalled that on that day, he and his schoolmates stood at the very edge of the long narrow cliff (canglong ridge, apparently no supporting chain installed at the time), hand in hand, so that they themselves have formed a human wall protecting the other tourists. My dad said he thought at the time 'this is it!'

and thank you again for the informative website, I am very glad it has attracted so much attentions, because the sheer beauty of the mountain itself is worthwhile.

Regards Wei



October 28, 2009
Rick Archer's Response:

As I piece together bits of information from people like yourself, I gather that my original assessment that Huashan was once a dangerous climb was legitimate.  You say that if people pay attention and concentrate, they will be safe.  Yet at the same time, your very own words - "I didn't even dare to turn my head around, the only thing I was looking at is my feet and the stairs"  - indicate that you were well aware that any mistake could be fatal. 

It is my guess that as China opens its doors to ever-increasing tourism, they are modernizing the facilities of their major attractions including safety features. I have heard that recent improvements have taken a great deal of the danger out of the climb. From my perspective, this is a good thing.

I don't regret labeling the Huashan climb as dangerous back in 2007.  Perhaps my criticism called attention and helped officials decide to make it safer.  On a positive note, my 'danger' story served to bring attention to the beauty of the area as well. With increased attention came curiosity and new Western visitors.

Thank you for your kind words, Wei.

Letter Twenty Six: Is Zion National Park in Utah a safe climb? - January 2010

From: Carrie M
Sent: Sunday, January 03, 2010 8:24 PM
Subject: Zion's Angel's Landing


Have you ever heard of Angel's Landing - Zion National Park, Utah?

Another scary and very dangerous climb. The park service has warnings, but after climbing to the top myself I realized that I had put my life in danger, and I wondered if anybody had died on this "hike." I asked a local girl in town and she told me that on average 1-2 people per summer fall to their demise. My husband and I were shocked! Sure, you are warned that it is dangerous, but few people seem to really get it as they are making the climb. How can the park service allow this to go on? Check out the LA times article below. Might want to add it to your list of places. Zion is beautiful, but Angel's landing needs to be safer.

Rick Archer's Note: If anyone would like to share information on Zion, please do so.

Response to Letter Twenty Six: 
Regarding Angel's Landing in Zion and El Camino del Rey

-----Original Message-----
From: Sarah Brown
Sent: Friday, November 26, 2010 4:22 PM
Subject: Angels Landing in Zion and El Camino Del Rey

Hi there. My name is Sarah, and I am from Cambridge in the UK and rock climbing is a hobby of mine. I'm writing this from a B&B in El Chorro, Spain, however, where I have just completed one of my life's ambitions - both yesterday and today I traversed El Camino Del Rey, which was amazing fun.

I guess I want to say a a few things about it. The first is that it's a type of trail known as a via ferrata. Via ferratas are "equipped paths", originally invented in Italy for alpine troops to move around the mountains in WW1. They still have a lot of them and they are a popular tourist attraction. I did some in the Italian dolomites in August this year. A basic via ferrata consists of a steel cable which to follow. Wearing a climbing harness, you use something called a Via Ferrata kit attached to your harness which consists of two lanyards with carabiners at the ends as well as a shock absorber, to break your fall should you lose your grip. The idea behind having two lanyards is that each time you pass an anchor point, you unclip one, clip it to the other side, and then follow with the second. That way you are always attached to the cable.

In addition, a via ferrata will often have ladders, stemples, pegs etc. drilled into the rock to help you along.

El Camino Del Rey is equipped as a Via Ferrata - most of it is protected by stemples or a steel cable, and by via ferrata standards it's actually really easy. Anyone with climbing skills would consider it a walk in the park. Without climbing skills you would want a guide, but you will need a head for heights - it's really exposed, and the bits where the concrete has fallen away are kinda spicy. They make great spots for photos to terrify your friends with though!

The cable is also a lot thinner than a typical Via Ferrata cable. I wouldn't like to rely on it to hold me in a fall, but it probably would. I honestly think the Via Ferratas of the Italian Dolomites are scarier and tougher than El Camino, although perhaps not as famous nor as unique! The thing is, I've seen people take kids on some of those!

Anyway, I noticed on your site that you asked about Angels' Landing in Zion, and that's why I have decided to write to you. I go to Zion most years, to descend the canyons there. It's a lot of fun. No trip to Zion is complete without doing the Angels' Landing hike though, and I have been up there several times.

The hike itself is quite short - 2 1/2 miles in each direction (it's an out and back hike), and starts from the valley floor on a mostly paved trail, ascending over a thousand feet up a series of switchbacks to a junction called Scouts Lookout. Left is the west rim trail, which eventually leads out of the park. Right is the half mile ridge hike to Angels' Landing itself.

Angels' Landing is a 1500 feet high promontory sticking out into Zion Canyon. In places the walls on either side are sheer all the way down and the path is only a few feet wide. There are chains to hold on to in the more exposed bits. It's a very popular hike and lots of people attempt it, and scare themselves silly! Most I would say reach the top. While a few people have died falling from there, if you take care and pay attention to the weather, I really don't think it's dangerous.

Certainly unlike El Camino Del Rey, you don't need climbing experience to hike to Angels' Landing - its not technical in any way, it's just a hike with some very long drop offs! Still, if you search the web there are plenty of dramatic photos of it up there. It has to be one of the coolest walks in the world though, and rightly deserves a mention on your site. The view from the top is incomparably stunning, and if you find yourself passing through Southern Utah on I15 with a day to spare, do take a diversion and check it out - I promise it's worth it!

In a nutshell, I think Angels' Landing is probably one of the more extreme things you can do as a hiker. El Camino Del Rey is a not-especially extreme thing to do as a climber, but it is interesting and fun! As a climber I felt pretty safe up there, but without proper equipment and technique it would be very easy to die.

Meanwhile I have to work out what's next on my list after crossing off El Camino Del Rey. That's the problem with life goals, isn't it? What to do when you've accomplished them!

Let me know if you'd like photographs of either - I'm sure I could dig some out for you.

Kindest regards,



Hiking China's Hua Shan Mountain

Oct 21, 2010
Written by Jeff Fedorkiw

Hua Shan mountain gained some amount of notoriety years back when an article appeared on the internet sharing one hiker's harrowing experience. The article might seem hyperbolic at times but it is believable for experienced China travelers.

Nevertheless, the original author has updated the site, saying that a number of people have reported the safety conditions vastly improved. I visited the mountain in 2009. Although it is quite imposing for a tourist hike that sees large numbers of visitors, careful hikers in good condition needn't worry.

Hua Shan is More than Just a Death Trap

Hua Shan is a spike of smooth grey-brown rock forced from the earth at impossible angles. The ascending trail, a wonder in itself, is a never ending series of steps carved into the side of the mountain.

Hua Shan is a Taoist holy mountain and home to a number of temples. The temples are much smaller than what can be found elsewhere, for example Wu Dang, as the mountain leaves little space for building. It does attract religious Taoists on pilgrimage but when I was there they were outnumbered by Chinese students on summer vacation. Perhaps because of its reputation, Hua Shan is popular with this demographic.

I was advised by a few people on separate occasions that it is best to climb Hua Shan at night. One reason is that, presumably, you are less likely to be frightened by what you see. You may well have other safety concerns. Another reason is that by climbing during the night you can arrive on East Peak just before sunrise. If you choose this option remember to bring headlamps.

Ascending the Stairway to Taoist Heaven

You can start your way up the mountain by taking a gondola up to the North Peak or walking from the bottom. The recommended route for walking is a fair distance from the bottom of the gondola. The bus from Xi'an will arrive at this trail head before getting to the gondola. You can also walk all the way up along a less scenic route from the bottom of the gondola. This is the route we took. Note that you will have to buy a park pass when you are entering the area; I assume you would also have to buy the pass if you walk up from the scenic route.

It was still early in the afternoon and we planned for a night ascent so my companion and I leisurely ate some of Shaanxi's famous biang biang noodles near the gondola. We struck out around 3 or 4 in the afternoon which ended up being too early. If you are planning to walk from the bottom and be at the summit of East Peak for the sunrise you can start much later or plan to rest at the guesthouse on Five Clouds Peak until just before the break of day.

The less scenic route from the bottom of the gondola was arduous and only occasionally awe-inspiring. We encountered few people. About 3 hours of hiking takes you to the North Peak. The North Peak is where the gondola and the two hiking trails from the bottom meet. There is a small guesthouse here. A thick fog clouded our views but there were already hints of the spectacular.

If you do not wish to make a full ascent you can wander around the North Peak and take photos. Those not mentally prepared for what lies ahead will find that the trail quickly becomes uninviting.

Continuing along the trail you will soon arrive at the Ascending to Heaven Ladder. Hold the chains on either side and take it easy. Keep three limbs attached to the mountain at all times. If the ladder is no problem for you then you needn't worry. I found it to be the most harrowing non-optional part of the trail.

Jackie Chan and his apprentice are seen climbing up to Five Cloud Peak in the movie "The Karate Kid". Their climb somehow continues in the Wu Dang mountains. You will have to continue on Hua Shan unless you're ready to return to Xi'an for an overnight train ride.

We arrived at Five Cloud Peak about 4-5 hours after departing the North Peak. Despite the name this is not a high point on the mountain but a plateau situated as a mid-point between the 4 (North, East, South and West) true peaks. The trail is lit only until this point. There is a large guesthouse here with rooms to accommodate different sized groups. However, it quickly become crowded with people waiting out the darkest part of the night. If you are on a religious pilgrimage pray that you will not need to use the high-traffic public toilets located here.

If you arrive early enough you can rent a room to rest in before continuing your ascent. There is also a larger, much nicer, and more expensive hotel further along. We had too much energy to stop so we pushed toward the top in total darkness. This resulted in missing out on all the scenery from Five Cloud Peak onward as we had made it back to the guesthouse before sunrise. It was a memorable experience nevertheless.

If You Make it to Taoist Heaven, Stay for the Sunrise

From Five Cloud Peak the trail splits off to the main summits. Visiting one or two of the peaks is a reasonable goal for energetic hikers in a long day. Aside from the views afforded by further ascent there are numerous other attractions. Particularly infamous is the "planked path". Here you can walk along a very narrow wooden plank attached to the side of a sheer cliff. Visitors can only walk this part of the trail under supervision and it is closed at night so we weren't able to experience it. The pictures I saw of it on a poster reveal that the path now features modern ropes and harnesses.

For us, what started as a foggy and wet day gradually become much worse as we continued on from Five Cloud Peak. We were forced back from our chosen route just shy of Facing Yang Summit, the highest point on the east peak. Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable experience.

Hua Shan mountain is 2-3 hours by bus from Xi'an. Buses leave from the eastern side of Xi'an's train station.


Letter Twenty Eight: Huashan is Still Pretty Dangerous 
January 2010

From: Daniel O
Sent: Sunday, January 03, 2010 11:26 PM
Subject: Hua Shan

Hi Rick,

Your webpage on Hua Shan is great! I'm just starting to read through the letters, so I may write more to you later. However, I just wanted to clarify one point about cameras and photos. I was there in the summer of 2005. I took a lot of photos; there was certainly no ban on them. Also, the night before my buddy and I went, we were in an internet cafe in Xi'an deciding whether we were going to use one of our few days in the area to go to Hua Shan. I found lots of pictures, although I may have been using a Chinese search engine and Chinese characters (I don't recall). As I am somewhat afraid of heights, the pictures terrified me (including some of Changkong Zhandao).

Anyway, we spent most of the next day day just hiking up the mountain, rather than taking the cable car (and, prior to that, taking a cab from Xi'an to Hua Shan), so THANK GOD we never went further than the "Staircase of Suicide," which I refused to climb, but the Chinese nonchalantly pranced up and down (some carrying boxes or other things on their backs!).

Even though we didn't hit the "dangerous" parts of the mountain, there were many parts that were pretty damn scary on the way up. On your webpage, next to "The Story Begins" is a picture of two verticle stone stairways. I chose to take the wooden stairs to the left in that picture (even these were scary, as the jutted out from the cliffside), but my more courageous (or stupid!) friend decided to take the stairway on the right. I watched him go up. Just near the top, a bee landed on his hand and he instinctively let go of the chain and jumped back a bit. He was dangling half off the stairs with one foot down and one hand holding the chain. I really thought he was going to fall to his death!

He quickly realized the bee wasn't a danger to his life, grabbed the other chain and climbed back down to where I was.

So, the points are even the less dangerous parts of Hua Shan are (or at least were) pretty terrifying in places. When I was there, the Staircase was filled with people; if one had slipped, dozens would have fallen. Second, pictures were allowed. I never came across any evidence that Chinese were trying to hide the danger; in fact, anyone I spoke to about having gone there would say, "It's so dangerous!."

Finally, the Chinese definitely view danger differently than we do. Not only did many groups of Chinese students pass me without a care on the way up Hua Shan, but I vividly recall a time in Taiwan when I was hiking in the mountains. The pathway was about three feet wide with a cliff going straight down on one side. I was getting kind of nervous, so when I got to a point that had a bit of a crevice, I leaned back against the cliff to take some deep breaths. While I was resting, I KID YOU NOT, a Taiwanese woman in a dress and heals carrying a dog passed by me. I swear it is the truth. What's more, following behind her were kids who then ran past her! I'll never forget it as long as I live.

It's a different mindset.

Thanks for the webpage!

Meet Darren Crawford

Rick Archer's Note: Darren Crawford is a man I met through the Internet.  As I poked around for more information about Guoliangcun and Huashan, I noticed his name kept popping up.  Mr. Crawford not only had first-hand knowledge to share about Huashan, I noticed he also wrote about the infamous "Road of Death" in Bolivia, another interest of mine.  I was impressed.... and a little envious too.  While I sit at my computer here in Houston, Texas, and visit these places through Google Earth, Mr. Crawford actually visits these exotic places in person!

I quoted Mr. Crawford's stories on several occasions.  One day he was nice enough to write me and introduce himself.  I immediately saw an opportunity to ask Mr. Crawford some questions. 

He was nice enough to take time from his world travels to share his thoughts.

Letter Twenty Eight:

Darren Crawford writes about Huashan, Guoliang, and El Camino del Muerte

Letter One: Darren Crawford to Rick Archer

From: Darren Crawford
Sent: Monday, March 01, 2010 4:30 PM
Subject: Mt Huashan & Guoliang Tunnel

Hi Rick Archer

I did a Google on my name and stumbled across your web page since you have a link to my blog.

It was interesting reading all the facts about Huashan, Guoliang and Yungas and its nice to see my material helped you publish a very helpful article for others. You are right, when I purposely ventured out to find these three places there was much confusion on the internet, no one seemed to know where they were located. That included half a dozen taxi drivers and bus terminal reps. It took me a long time to track down the information and then a lot of patients to actually find these places (Huashan, Guoliang).

Its nice to see all the info in one place.  Good job, mate!

Thanks for referencing my blog properly, it is much appreciated. I have been finding copies of my stories and photos all over the internet without reference. Still its nice to see people find my blogs interesting. Maybe I should try publishing some of this stuff myself.

Cheers, Darren

Letter Two: Rick Archer to Darren Crawford

From: Rick Archer
To: Darren Crawford
Subject: RE: Mt Huashan & Guoliang Tunnel
Date: Tue, 2 Mar 2010 06:51:20 -0600

Your story was wonderful, Darren!

I remember you well because you have been to three of the places I write about.  Here is a note I put in one of my stories:

"(Rick Archer's Note: Did you noticed Mr. Crawford hit a trifecta of sorts?  Apparently Darren Crawford has visited all three of the locations I wrote about in my original Danger story back in January 2007 (Bolivia, Guoliang, Huashan). Not only am I impressed, I am envious!)"

I know what you mean about finding your material popping up everywhere. Same thing happens to me all the time. It irritates me so it must irritate you as well.

On the other hand, unlike you, I have never published anything original since I have never visited any of those places. So if someone wants to borrow my stuff, they are taking the chance I could be completely wrong… as I have been on several occasions!

If you do decide to write, let me know and I will add a link to it. I consider myself an "information" conduit, so I don't mind redirecting people.


From: Darren Crawford
Sent: Tuesday, March 09, 2010 5:53 PM
Subject: RE: Mt Huashan & Guoliang Tunnel

Answers below.

Darren Crawford BSc, MBCS, CITP

RA: Do you mind if I ask a couple questions?

No problem, just needed to find a spare 20 mins

RA: How dangerous is Huashan? Seriously, if you have a 50 year old American woman leading a sedentary lifestyle, how hard would this climb be for her?

To climb Huashan I would recommend that you are of reasonable fitness and agile enough to do basic climbing. To climb on the old plank road (the wooden structure) is very easy and only requires you to climb down/up some steal pins that resemble a ladder. The steel pins are sturdy, while the old plank road is a bit wobbly. You will be required to connect/disconnect your harness as you go but Its more of a psychological challenge than a physical one. If you dare to let go to take some photo they will amaze your friends. At the end of the old plank road is a place of prayer

Another part of the climb that is not connected to the old plank road (on a different face of the mountain) requires you to climb down a vertical cliff face. All that exists are small holes carved into the rock. This is both your foot holes and hand grips. Although you are harnessed, the carved holes are very warn and slippery. On the was down you can not see the foot holes below which requires you to feel around for them! I recommend anyone attempting this part of the climb has some basic wall climbing experience. Only 3 out of 4 of us attempted this part of the climb. We all had indoor wall climbing experience. If you manage to complete this part, you get to ring a bell inside a stunning structure surrounded by a spectacular backdrop.

Photo of Huashan map

RA: Second question, did you hear any rumors of loss of life at Huashan?

Yes, but not that many people speak English so I couldn't find out the details.

On the other hand I took quite a risk climbing Huashan, we did it 6 days after being caught up in the 7.9 earthquake disaster

RA: Third question, there is a myth that Guoliang was carved out of a mountain by a bunch of peasants back in 1970s. that is starting to sound fishy. Do you have anything to share about how that tunnel was created?

Precipice Long Corridor took 12 people 6 years to carve into the cliff face. Before that I was led to believe there was a rope ladder which was used to climb the cliff face which is still there. At the top is a small town with various basic rooms for rent in peoples homes. I believe it was hand made with pound hammers and drill rods so supplies could be provided for the villagers. I don't remember who built it although I do remember wondering why someone would decide to build a village somewhere so inaccessible, but I saw lots of strange things in China!

Just a quick note: If an earthquake hits this area, the place will come tumbling down!

This photo is useful for more details...

RA: Fourth question: the road in Bolivia looks terrifying. Is it really as dangerous as it looks?

That depends on you!. I did gravity assisted mountain biking down Yungas Road. A couple of months before, the mountain bike company had their first gringo fatality. Hundreds of people have died on the road. The roadside is littered with crosses indicating where buses, cars, and bikes have gone over the edge. Its a true adrenaline rush hitting speeds up to 30mph. I believe that if you can cycle on the pavement without losing control and being squashed by oncoming traffic then you can mountain bike the worlds most dangerous road. Still, this really does come down to your own common sense and self preservation. A good head for heights is a must!

Coming back up the most dangerous road on a old clapped out bus is far more terrifying. The road can be very narrow and the bus feels like it is hanging over the edge on multiple occasions. Together with the fact that you are often relying on an ego crazed Bolivian driver, it certainly makes for a nerve racking experience!

RA: One more thing - what made you decide to visit all three of these places? I am very curious.

I am an independent traveler that likes to look for things that are not necessarily mentioned in the Lonely Planet/Rough Guide. For this particular case I was at work when my colleague decided to Google the most dangerous roads in the world - no idea why!. At the time (2007) it looked like all three roads were in one place with nobody agreeing on their location. Some people said it was in Tibet, others in South America. It took me some time to realise they were indeed three separate roads and then a long time to pinpoint their exact location. I eventually went in search for them in 2008. Precipice Long Corridor was the most difficult to get to on local transport.

RA: It is good to meet you!  Where are you from?

I am from Nottingham, but now live and work in London, England

Extra info

My entire collection of photos for Huashan, Precipice and Yungas can be found in the following location. Some of my Huashan photos have already been published by polish entertainment website ONET who approached me from my blog.




Out of time now, gotta go


Letter Twenty Nine: Huashan is No Longer Dangerous... dangereaux! 

From: Raphaël
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 10:24 AM
Subject: Huashan mountain

Hello Rick,
I'm a french people who has just been to Huashan 2 weeks ago.

You'll find some picture in my blog
Sorry it is in french…

I write you to tell you that the security of huashan mountain has been highly improved since the first pictures of your site.
In fact I've never felt myself endangered during the 2 days I had on the mountain.

It is still very impressive but for me it's not anymore one of the most dangerous hiking in the world.

The most dangerous part is now secure with "via ferrata" type equipment. Still impressive, but no more dangerous.

Another example is in one very steep climbing with steps in a quasi vertical rock : they have now installed a metallic stair for those that don't want to use the steep part.

Anyway, it's still a fantastic mountain and now we can have the same sensations but without danger, so it's great.

The only problem is that it is really overcrowded...

Regards, Raphael

Letter Thirty: Huashan is No Longer Dangerous

From: Kwong Y
Sent: Monday, April 11, 2011 1:35 PM
Subject: Mt. Huashan story

Hi Rick,

By chance, I came across your website on Mt. Huashan Hiking Trail, in which you mentioned that Mt. Huashan "might just be the most dangerous Tourist Hiking Trail in the world."

I guess I felt quite a vindicated to read your comments and the letters on your website :)

I have been to Mt. Huashan twice. It was years and years ago, when I was in my late 20's. I'm now in my late 50's :)

I was there with a friend of mine on the hike to Mt. Huashan (the last leg of our trip on a tour to the Silk Road), and we took great pride in that we managed to get up to the top with little rest .... and those were the days. But it wasn't until we climbed down to the wooden plank did we get our first taste of dose of Mt. Huashan.

We had our feet firmly on the wooden plank, our hands holding tight to the chain. Needless to say, we dared not look down. Taking deep breaths, we were debating hard whether we wanted to move on. We didn't even want to say the word "chicken".

There was just the chain and the wooden plank .... with the blue sky up above and the deep deep bottom down below. Speaking of safety harness, sorry, we never heard of them, and I doubted if they were commonly used by any amateur climbers, at the time. It was in the early 1980's anyway.

Two young souls too proud to admit "fear" or "defeat", but in our hearts, we both knew we were more than a bit scared ... an understatement. We spent a few minutes talking (probably a few seconds ... ), looking into each other's eyes, and in the end, we went back up.

It's probably one of my most greatest regrets in my life, but considering the danger and the risk, and seeing what you said about Mt. Huashan given your experience in mountain hiking (or climbing, if you have it:) ), I guess I can now live with the decision we made at the time.

I went back to visit Mt. Huashan with my wife-to-be 3 years later, and trying to impress her as I often did then, I went down to the plank again, and had a photo taken. I was told in no uncertain terms, of course, not to take the risk and I gladly complied .... though knowing well in my heart, I wouldn't want to take another step further :)

Thanks for the wonderful photos of Mt. Huashan - the landscape was just stunning and breath taking, and they surely brought back a lot of the fond memories from the good old days.




From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, April 11, 2011 6:07 PM
To: Kwong
Subject: RE: Mt. Huashan story

I have mixed feelings about my story. Based on reports from people like you, Huashan was EXTREMELY dangerous many years ago. Lately people have written to say that many safety improvements have reduced the risk considerably.

So, in a way, I suppose my original story about the danger is inaccurate by modern standards, but in the old days it was a dangerous trip indeed.

Thank you for your letter!

Rick Archer

From: Kwong
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 2:49 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Mt. Huashan story

Hi Rick,

It was kind of you to reply, as I didn't really expect to hear from you.

I wouldn't say that your story about the danger is inaccurate, whether by modern standards or not, and I dare anybody to take on the challenge to walk on the boardwalk on the cliff of Mt. Huashan.

From the photos I saw on your web, there appears to be some obvious improvements, such as the "wider" board than it was before, and the safety harness being now available, in addition to the rusty metal chain.

"Danger" is much more than a subjective perception and can be gauged objectively only by having regard to the totality of the surroundings, and as far as I am concerned, the boardwalk on Mt. Huashan is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Well, I guess I'm getting a bit older than I thought :)

Cheers and have a good day!




Rick Archer's Note: It has now been three complete years since I came under intense criticism for my original article on Huashan by a man named Antoine.  The criticism leveled at the time was that the climb at Huashan was nowhere as dangerous as I made it out to be.  In addition to pointing out that Huashan was so easy that Antoine saw an 8 year old child climbing it, he added: "Whatever your decision, remember that I am not the first one to be upset with your website. So much that even wikipedia has a paragraph written on your false claims."
Wikipedia?  I was horrified.  My respect for Wikipedia knows no bounds - it is a blessing to all of us and I contribute money every year at Christmas.  The thought of being criticized to the entire world on Wikipedia upset me greatly. 

I rushed to the Internet and discovered Antoine was correct.  Some sniper named Chong-Dae Park actually had the nerve to suggest that I had made everything up in an attempt to become an Internet sensation.  I was stunned by this deeply personal and quite public attack on my honesty by someone I had never met.  I was further incensed that the man had said these things about me in a public forum without having the courtesy to contact me first to discuss the issue. 

When I first wrote my article on Huashan in January 2007,  I made my conclusions of Huashan's danger based on the pictures and stories that appeared on the Internet  at the time.   There really wasn't much material to go on.  In fact, Wikipedia didn't even have a reference page on Huashan.  Furthermore, the truly accurate information was inaccessible to me because it was written in Chinese and my Google searches were in English.  I was operating with one arm tied behind my back. 

Nevertheless, I was the first Western person to actually take the time to write a story about the place.  My 2007 story was instrumental in creating a tremendous amount of interest in a place most Westerners never knew existed.

So was my original conclusion that Huashan was dangerous a fair one?  Absolutely.  Given the reports that were available to me at the time, the climb at Huashan had resulted in several fatalities.  Furthermore, the pictures were terrifying.  That said, given that I had never seen the place personally, I was not only well aware I was flying blind on this story, I took the time to point this out to my readers. 

Over the past four years, I have received many well-meaning letters from people who said they had written to suggest that maybe Huashan wasn't nearly as dangerous as I made it out to be.  As any reader can see, I posted every one of these letters. 

Many of these writers pointed out there seemed to be recent safety updates.  I came to the conclusion that as China opened it doors to the Western world, the tourism boom made it necessary to upgrade the safety features of the climb.   As many people have pointed out, the safety of the climb still isn't quite up to "Western standards", but today the climb is nowhere near as dangerous as my original article made it out to be.

In other words, if you are in good health and have good balance, as long as you pay attention, the climb at Huashan is within most people's reach. 

Out of curiosity, in July 2011 I took another look at Wikipedia.  I flinched as the page opened, fully expecting to become irritated again at seeing the suggestion I had written my "false article" in a desperate attempt to become an Internet sensation.

Instead, I was quite pleased to see the insulting reference to my story had been completely removed.  In its place was a well-written paragraph that basically said the same thing I did... that Huashan was once very dangerous and that fatalities had indeed occurred, but that recent safety improvements had made the climb much safer.   Read for yourself immediately below.  RA

2011: Wikipedia on Huashan (as of July 2011)

"Huashan has historically been a place of retreat for hardy hermits, whether Daoist, Buddhist or other; access to the mountain was only deliberately available to the strong-willed, or those who had found "the way".

With greater mobility and prosperity, Chinese, particularly students, began to test their mettle and visit in the 1980s. The inherent danger of many of the exposed, narrow pathways with precipitous drops gave the mountain a deserved reputation for danger.

As tourism has boomed and the mountain's accessibility vastly improved with the installation of the cable car in the 1990s, visitor numbers surged.  

Despite the safety measures introduced by cutting deeper pathways and building up stone steps and wider paths, as well as adding railings, fatalities continued to occur.

The local government has proceeded to open new tracks and created one-way routes on some more hair-raising parts, such that the mountain can be scaled without significant danger now, barring crowds and icy conditions.

Some of the most precipitous tracks have actually been closed off. The former trail that leads to the South Peak from the North Peak is on a cliff face, and it was known as being extremely dangerous; there is now a new and safer stone-built path to reach the South Peak temple, and on to the Peak itself."

Letter Thirty One: Huashan Not Dangerous, but very crowded

From: Stephen Drake
Sent: Sunday, July 24, 2011 10:30 PM
Subject: Hua Shan - May 2011 Hiking


In May while on my honeymoon, I spent a day hiking around on Hua Shan, visiting the North and West peaks after taking the cable car up. I've made a complete write-up of the day on Hua Shan on my journal of the trip to China. Click on the "May 14, 2011" link to the pdf file. I have pictures of our complete day of hiking and not just the "scary" pictures which so many people focus on.

Note: If you want to link to my journal of my day on Hua Shan, please link to the above html page and not to the pdf file. The pdf file is large and I'd prefer to not have people using a lot of bandwidth on my website without actually visiting it. Thanks.

I read every word on your website on Hua Shan before we went and really didn't know what to expect because so many people have given you so many diverse opinions.

First, the "fear" of hiking Hua Shan is overblown in many of your pictures and descriptions. My wife and I are not great hikers and are in average shape. I'm very much scared of heights. NEVER did we get on a trail where we were confronted with our fears or doing something outside of our comfort level. We did not see any of the scary places that are in pictures on your website, it's totally my understanding that those are optional side trips. Any time there was a trail that required the use of a chain or any additional effort besides normal walking, there was an alternate, easy route around it. When the trail had a long dropoff on one side, there was a very sturdy railing.

Second, I didn't see any limitations of the type of people on the trail. There were people young and old. We saw kids as young as 5 or 6 hiking on it and also many senior citizens. We saw people who were hiking in dress shoes and totally not dressed appropriately for hiking. The most dangerous part of the hike was the high number of people crowded onto the trails.

Third, the line to take the cable car down was absolutely brutal. It was an hour and a half of pushing and shoving. That was the only time during the day I was scared of anything. I thought it was dangerous as everyone was pushing on everyone else in the confined space of the line.

The weather on our day of hiking it was warm and sunny, really ideal.

Anyway, you say you haven't been to Hua Shan. You must go.

Stephen Drake

Rick Archer's Note: Stephen Drake wrote an excellent story of his climb complete with pictures.  In particular, look for the May 14th link which guides you to Stephen's Huashan story.

Letter Thirty Two:

From: joseph
Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 1:04 AM
Subject: Huashan carriers

Weinan, April the 3rd 2012.

Hello Rick,
Thanks for your wonderful web page about HuaShan.  I climbed it the day before yesterday. Huashan is one of the best walks I have ever done.
It's amazing, awesome.

Today, I've found your website and took a lot of pleasure to read your article and the letters.

For me, HuaShan is physically hard. If you walk from the village and visit the 5 peaks, this is about 2000 meters of difference in level, mainly on stairs sometime really steeply.

Nowadays it is not dangerous but you must pay attention every step especially in case of rain or of snow. Everybody, in good shape, should pay a visit if travelling in the area. If they think it's too hard, there is the gondola to save some difficulty and sweet.

But for me something doesn't appear on your web page or in the comment and is missing, the carriers [see pictures].

verything in HuaShan is brought by carriers : the bottles of water, the food, the sand and cement and even fridges. These guys are really incredible, they just climb as if they where alone, carrying 30 to 50 Kg on their back.  Some Chinese told me that it's very expensive to buy goods in HuaShan, but when you see them, it's not true.

Such an exiting place.


Letter Thirty Three:

From: Louise Daniel
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:21 AM
Subject: Mt Huashan


All I would say is you should go there yourself before writing about it... how can you write articles like this when can't verify the truth of what you write? I did the hike in 1988 and it wasn't dangerous or scary. [
Editor's Note: read letter below]

It was awe inspiring because the route was built for spiritual reasons - so that pilgrims could to reach the top of a holy mountain. NOT for tourists or mountaineers. There are several holy mountains in China with this kind of steep step climbing with chains to hold on to.

Anyone who is scared of heights shouldn't attempt anything like this, it goes without saying, just as you wouldn't climb a high mountain in the Rockies or Scottish Highlands or do any kind of rock climbing.

The Chinese are never scared of anything - it's their attitude to life. They are tough, they don't fear death. Because for them, this climb is a spiritual one, but also because they have survived one a hell of a lot over the centuries.

But good to see they Chinese have made the climb safer.

That's all.  Louise Daniel

Letter Thirty Four:  Report of a Fatality

From: M
Sent: Sunday, June 10, 2012 8:53 AM
Subject: Hua Shan

Mr. Archer,

I am a 23 year old American recent-graduate teaching in Xi'an, China. I just came across your website and decided to write to you.

Yesterday I climbed Hua Shan for the first time and witnessed someone fall to their death.

I was on a school-sponsored trip to Hua Shan and made it to the top of the East Peak with another foreign teacher. There was a group of three Chinese people at the same spot. One wanted a picture with me and the second friend took it. At the same time, the third friend, a man probably early-40s, was taking a picture of the view. We were in a completely allowed tourist section of the mountain, he was on the correct side of the rail, just standing. He slipped on the edge of a worn-down rock and I looked up just to see his feet go over.

The following is a morbid detail but I feel like I have to include it when I relate this story because it's the last thing I know about what happened. He didn't make any sound, but we heard his body hit the mountain three times a few seconds apart (I suppose only one second apart, it felt like a few), and then that was all. From the east peak, the mountain is straight down. There is nothing to grab, no where to land except the bottom. It must be a full 10 second fall to the bottom. My friend and I left the peak almost immediately after ensuring the other two Chinese people had come with the man and would make sure something someone knew what happened. An hour and a half later we had descended back down to where the cable car leaves from, where about seven of the mountain police staff were sitting around chatting and snacking. I came across your website as I was trying to find news about the accident, but have found nothing.

Probably nothing will be done, although to be fair probably nothing can be as it would be almost impossible to find the body. I will certainly never return to Hua Shan in my life or allow anyone I care about to visit either. Although all of the letters about it being safe are reasonable, it's only safe until something happens--and things really do happen there.

Trust me I am not a crazy thrill seeker; I couldn't even be bothered to do the whole mountain but instead took the cable car. I was there in the middle of the day, doing what I was supposed to, with my school. This man was exactly the same. Tourists should absolutely not be allowed on that mountain.

Feel free to do or not do anything you want with my letter, but please don't use my name or email as I perhaps should not be writing this from China. I'm not interested in influencing your page but just felt like writing to a sympathetic listener. Hope all is well in your part of the world.



El Camino del Rey

Have you read our about El Camino del Rey,
another dangerous hiking trail? 

El Camino del Rey is the name of a very dangerous walkway that winds its way along the steep walls of a narrow gorge known as El Chorro

The walkway is in serious disrepair, but intrepid climbers like to give it a try anyway.

Incidentally, this walkway is much more dangerous than the climbing trail at Mt Huashan.

El Camino del Rey

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