The five peaks of Mount Hua have been vertical sanctuaries for monks, hermits, and spiritual seekers, especially Taoists, for centuries, but to get to them pilgrims must cross treacherous trails, such as those made from links of chain and wooden planks joined by iron staples. And now with winter approaching, it's the most dangerous time of year to attempt what could be the most dangerous hike in the world. All five peaks are joined by steep, narrow trails, stairs, and ladders, and dotted with temples and lookout points. Though some peaks involve riskier ascents than others, all hikes require slow and steady climbing along the trails, or you'll risk a speedy decent. Numerous visitors have embarked on the hike and never returned, although the Chinese government isn't saying how many. Check out this skyscraping trek below.
If you miss a step here, it's a mile to the ground. Image by Aaron D. Feen
With a surge in Western tourism, and following numerous deaths, some of the more dangerous routes have been retooled or closed off altogether. The harrowing ladder above was apparently safe enough. Image by Clint Koehler
It's a centuries-long tradition, still followed by many Chinese today, to climb Mount Hua at night. Many report it's actually easier to tackle in the dark since you can't look down and get scared. Image by Aaron D. Feen
The Plank Walk, the most famous, and dangerous, trek on Mount Hua, joins the north and south peaks. A more benign, alternative trail has been opened but many continue to test their courage and luck by hugging the sheer rock. Image by Aaron D. Feen
It's not all vertiginous tightrope walking. Most of the trails are wide enough that you need not turn sideways, at least as long as no one's coming the other way. Image by Ian Armstrong
It's no wonder hermits climbed these peaks to get away from it all. Even with the handy stairs in place, it's a hike that would put most off. Image by Kevin Felt
Mount Hua greets visitors year-round. Ice and snow don't scare the ambitious, or foolhardy, away. Image by China Off Season
The always dangerous trails are doubly so in winter, as ice makes the steep climb slippery. Image by China Off Season
Padlocks left by couples line many of the chain handrails along the trails of Mount Hua. The tradition is to secure the lock and throw the key off the mountain to symbolize eternal love and commitment. Image by Simon
Of course, with a view like this to greet you at the top, all that dangerous climbing seems worthwhile. Image by Dave Morrow
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