Huashan, China

One of Taoism’s Five Great Mountains (there are also four sacred Buddhist peaks), Huashan is in Shanxi province to the west of the city of Xian, and is not to be confused with the almost equally spectacular Huangshan to the southeast in Anhui.

Difficulty: 1 out of 3
Duration: one or two days
Season: spring-autumn

One of Taoism’s Five Great Mountains (there are also four sacred Buddhist peaks), Huashan is in Shanxi province to the west of the city of Xian, and is not to be confused with the almost equally spectacular Huangshan to the southeast in Anhui.

Comprising five rearing granite peaks, Huashan looks like something off an archetypal scroll painting, spires of rock wreathed in mist and surmounted by temples backed onto the very edge of staggering precipices. But if centuries of classical Chinese art have immortalised this landscape, the internet has added the gloss of latter-day celebrity with video and website coverage of the more exposed of Huashan’s trails.

The mountain’s original rail-less steps cut directly out of the rock were always dangerous for casual visitors and fatalities appear to have been a regular occurrence. Climbers were advised to go at night as then they would not be able to see the danger they were in! Happily, today most of these routes are off-limits or have been upgraded to cope with booming tourist numbers and the authorities’ growing appreciation of their civic responsibilities.

Most famous of all is the Plankwalk, an incredibly haphazard affair of rustic boards not much more than a foot wide and hung from the side of a rock wall hundreds of metres high.

Edging along over the gaping void, you have to simply push the height out of your mind – not easy, especially in the days when there were not even any safety harnesses on offer! Thankfully, today you are clipped into a pair of lines but the dizzying exposure still makes this a real test of nerve for the average hiker, let alone the ill-equipped Chinese families that continue to take it on.

With the changes to the infrastructure, the dangers lie mostly in attempting the hardest sections in poor weather or at times when sheer numbers push the foolish to take bigger risks. For this reason, try to avoid visiting during China’s major public holidays.