Do yourself a Favor: Explore Haushaun
Upon arrival at our hostel in Shanghai we went to our room and began talking about our trip. Katie and I were in a 6 person room, but three of our roommates where out and about. Our fourth roommate was a British guy who had his headphones on and was relaxing on his bed.
This was in the winter of 2014, when the smog in Beijing was so bad that they were encouraging people to say away from the city is they could. Of course that was where we were planning to spend most of our time. Damn it!
“You should go to Xi’an,” our roommate said, pulling one of his ear buds out.
“What’s in Xi’an?” Katie and I asked.
“The death trail OR as I like to call it the cookie trail.”
“Why, do you call it the cookie trail?” I asked?
“So it’s less scary.” Like it was totally obvious.
I was immediately interested, Katie not so much. He told us that the death trail is well known as The Plank Walk in the Sky and is on Mount Haushaun (We later on learned that the shaun is Chinese for mountain so it’s actually called Mount Hau) 120 kilmeters outside the city of Xi’an. He stumbled upon the experience by joining some people on the trip with some other travelers he met at his hostel. He told us that if we liked beautiful views and a rush of excitement we had to go.
After a little convincing and research on when else was in the area – i.e. The Terra Cotta Warriors – Katie and I purchased plane tickets from Beijing to Xi’an and then from Xi’an back to Shanghai. We were going to Haushaun!
Fast forward to Xi’an about 7 days later and we’re getting up early to get to the bus station and attempt to find the right bus that will take us to Haushaun. After navigating through the hordes of people at the bus station, showing pictures of the mountain on Katie’s phone and using our very limited amount of Chinese, we got on the correct bus and started towards the mountain. Katie slept, I looked out the window and did by best not to gag while listening to the women in front of my hack up a lung.
2 hours later we arrived at what I would call the Welcome Center and ticket entrance. Once inside we deciphered that we needed to buy a ticket to get on another bus to bring us to the base of the gondola as well as purchase a ticket for the gondola itself. From there it was confusing as to where we had to go to catch the bus, but ended up finding it because we had to use the bathroom and it was right next to the door we needed to go out. Lucky us!
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A twisty, turny bus ride and a hike up a massive amount of stone stairs leading to the ticket booth of Haushaun and then up some more stairs (I’ve never climbed more stairs than I have the 10 days I spent in China) and we boarded the gondola. After a brief alli-oop over a rock face we were faced with a vista that took my breath away. Craggy mountains speckled green, surrounded by mid-morning mist. In that moment I understood by the Chinese consider this one of the 5 sacred mountains, there was an other worldly power there that is impossible to describe.
During our 12 kilometer ride we bobbed up and over parts of Haushaun that jetted up towards the sky. Below we saw the hiking trail that leads to the peak, unoccupied and seemingly lonely. At one point during the ride we flew over small huts surrounded by gardens on the cliff-side, occupied by villagers. It is a wonder how their homes are able to withstand the wind that whip through the mountains. Nearing the end of our journey the gondola’s wire lead into the mountain of Haushaun. The station was carved into the side of the mountain and swallowed us as we entered. Stepping out of the shelter of the car wind engulfed us and there was an instant chill. Layers were added and our journey continued.
Haushaun has 5 peaks and we knew The Plank Walk in the Sky was located near the South Peak, so we soldiered on climbing higher and higher. Red fabric was tied to metal posts and chains along drop offs to keep visitors away from the edge. The cloth blew in the wind creating a sound of birds wings flapping. In addition, shiny gold locks covered the chains locked on to symbolize good luck. Further and further we climbed. A large boulder appeared and as we turned the corner we spotted the South Peak right in front of us surrounded with locks and streaming red pixels. We stood on one of the highest peaks in China, nothing but smiles.
A little ways back there was a sign that read, “Plank Walk in the Sky,” so we turned around and followed the arrows. More colors and banners appeared when we came across a Taoist Temple hidden atop Haushaun and among the rocks. A small maze of hallways spit us out on the other side and near a large bell with another arrow. Along a small path, with nothing but a chain separating us from flying towards the ground and into the yellow river, led us to a man giving out chest harnesses and carabiners. This was it.
Katie began to freak out, “I can’t do it.”
“We didn’t come all this way to Haushaun not do it. You’re going first,” I told her.
The man put her hardness on, showed her how to use the carabiners and sent her off. He did the same to me and I followed her. Down the side of the mountain and on to some “stairs.” Which were actually metal rods shoved into the side of the mountain. I can’t remember who is taller, Katie or I, but we are not what you would call tall people, so when the “stairs” were unevenly spaced Katie’s freak out escalated to, “Retha, I hate you, I hate you!” I just told her to keep going because I was coming and she had to move. She didn’t like that response, but she kept going. She’s almost in tears, I’m snapping pictures. That’s our friendship I guess. We alternate who’s crying and who’s taking pictures though, which is a nice balance.