Nestled high atop the southern-most peak of China’s holy Mount Hua is a Buddhist and Daoist temple that offers refreshments to anyone daring enough to reach it via what has been described as one of the most dangerous hiking paths in the world.
Mount Hua actually consists of five separate peaks, each with a temple on it thanks to the religious significance that has been ascribed to the mountain for centuries. However, the most remote peak to the south is home to a temple that has incorporated a tea ceremony to answer the demands of the increased number of visitors who are drawn to the site by the pull of danger.
To reach the temple, you must begin at a series of steps known as the “Heavenly Stairs,” a long trail of stone steps carved right into the mountain that is so steep, one slip could cause hikers to tumble down them uncontrollably. Or, you can take a rickety gondola that ferries hikers high above a mountain valley to the base of the northern peak.
For the ascent of the southern peak, the trail almost completely disappears as hikers must sidle along the sheer mountainside across a thin ledge made of what looks like scrap wood, stapled and lashed together like an afterthought. Even the planks fall away at some point leaving nothing but a chain and some pegs to stand on, hundreds of feet off the ground. Once past this section, another set of worn stairs leads to the temple, although their sharp grade makes the previous steps seem like child’s play.
Thanks to the increasing number of visitors to the site in recent years, the Chinese government has taken steps to make the route safer, by shoring up the ledge planks and cementing in more guide chains. However despite the increased safety precautions a number of hikers each year continue to plummet to their deaths from the dizzying trail. But no matter how many people continue to perish on the often snow-covered path, the promise of serenity and a warm cup of hard-earned tea keep people coming back in larger numbers each year.