The five peaks of Hua Shan provide some of the best mountain scenery in China – crowded though their trails may be, they make for thoroughly enjoyable hiking nonetheless. They rise in a series of rugged, occasionally tree-dappled granite crags from the plains 120km east of Xi’an; here you can choose your desired level of energy expenditure, from low (cable car) to medium (a hike up the North Peak), to hard (a terrifying hike along the “Danger Trail”). Though the summits aren’t that high, the gaunt rocky cliffs, twisted pines and rugged slopes certainly look like genuine mountains as they swim in and out of the misty trails.
Hua Shan was originally known as Xiyue (Western Mountain), because this is the westernmost of the five sacred Taoist mountains. It’s always been a popular place for pilgrimage, though these days people puffing up the steep, narrow paths or enjoying the dramatic views from the peaks are more likely to be tourists – or the astonishingly hardy porters who shuttle up and down the mountain, often several times a day, to deliver supplies.