Chinese legend has it that a fierce creature named Nian once tore through villages on New Year’s Eve. The dragon-like monster devoured livestock whole before targeting the youngest and oldest people in the community.
So just before Nian was expected to attack, villagers gathered their most vulnerable kin and fled to the mountains.
But they probably didn’t flee to these mountains.
From the dizzying heights of K2 to the cliff-clinging boardwalk along Mt. Hua, China offers a laundry list of spectacular hikes that aren’t for the frail. Some folks may be better off taking their chances with Nian.
But if you’re looking for an intense trek to tackle after Chinese New Year, check out this list of nerve-shattering hikes.
The Chinese side of K2
Most climbers tackle this epic mountain from the less-treacherous Pakistan side, but ultra-fit hikers can challenge a 16-day trek to the Italian K2 Advance Base Camp by starting in China. Along the way, you’ll have to cross ragged terrain while tackling steep climbs every day. And at an altitude of more than 5,000 metres, the views will literally leave you breathless.
Even starting this trek is tough. You’ll need to endure a two-day drive, followed by a two-day off-road jeep ride through the Tashkurgan Desert before the hike begins.
Why list a mere 1,800-metre peak on the same list as the legendary K2? Because this one takes people by surprise. A razor-thin path slices through thick jungle brush as it rises toward the top of the mountain. You’ll need to grab tree roots and makeshift ladders to haul yourself up the trail. This four or five-hour trek comes precariously close to mountain climbing – I bet no one will blame you for bringing a few carabiners.
Located near Wuzhishan City, Wuzhi is the tallest mountain in the province of Hainan.
Jiankou section of the Great Wall
Prepare to scramble over jumbled stones and then bushwhack through deep patches of brush if you aim to cross the most dangerous section of the Great Wall of China. The Ming Dynasty build this part of the Wall in 1368 along sheer mountain ridges. But over time, nature reclaimed the stacked stone. That means giant chunks of the wall have crumbled, creating a challenging mix of man-made and natural obstacles.
The starting point for hiking Jiankou is located near a small village called Xi zha zi 5, located about 80 kilometers north of Beijing.
Guoliang Tunnel and Sky Ladder
Pick your poison: Stomp up a treacherous stone staircase laid centuries ago or take your chances in a cliff-hugging tunnel that was hand-carved by villagers in 1977. Watch for traffic along this narrow road as you round blind corners. There are no guard rails either.
Residents of the tiny village of Guoliang were sick of being cut off from the outside world. The only way in or out of the community was via a steep trail known as the Sky Ladder that climbed through the rainforest. So some of their strongest men spent five years digging out this tunnel to allow traffic into Guoliang. The result: a crude, 1.2-kilometre cavern that doesn’t reward careless drivers or hikers. Guoliang is located in the Taihang Mountains in the province of Henan.
Google the most dangerous hike in the world and you’ll immediately find the Huashan Trail at Mt. Hua. At the most perilous section of the trek, you’ll have to inch along one-foot-wide wooden planks built along a sheer cliff face. At least there are chains to hold onto. Then there’s the tiny footholds carved into the rock and the almost-vertical Heaven Stairs near the peak, all made more difficult by the potential of extreme wind or rain. The most popular and treacherous trek is up to the South Peak, with an altitude of 2,160 meters.
Mt. Hua, one of China’s five sacred mountains, is located in the Shaanxi Province of China. It stands to the south of Huayin City, 120 kilometres east of Xian.
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