Over the centuries, China has seen countless mountains become centers of religious seclusion. Examples range from the Four Sacred Mountains of Daoism to Mount Emei, which is said to be the place where the bodhisattva Samantabhadra found enlightenment but is perhaps more famous for being home to the Shaolin Monastery. However, the mountains preeminent in the Chinese imagination have been the Five Great Mountains since time immemorial, one mountain for each direction of the Chinese compass. Of these, Mount Hua is the Great Mountain of the West, famous for being one of the most dangerous climbs found in either China or the rest of the world.
Similar to its peers in the Five Great Mountains, Mount Hua has seen pilgrimage to its heights since the earliest Chinese dynasties. However, in contrast to those same peers, the difficulties in climbing in Mount Hua meant that its pilgrims were restricted to the most dedicated religious devotees and emperors intending to perform the most sacred of ceremonies. In fact, Mount Hua became renowned as a destination for Daoist practitioners in search of the rare herbs that the ancient Chinese believed could render humans immortal, rather ironic in light of its precipitous heights.
Mount Hua shares many of the same charms as its peers in the Five Great Mountains. Its slopes are home to numerous shrines built to honor Chinese figures of religious importance, each one possessing its own place in Chinese history. Of the shrines found on Mount Hua, the most famous is the Cloister of the Jade Spring, which was built to honor and entomb a famous Daoist practitioner of the Northern Song named Chen Dao. To complement these sites of historical and religious significance, Mount Hua is also covered in expanses of green that serve to accentuate its natural stone, much the same as the other Great Mountains.
However, Mount Hua might not be the best choice for visitors interested in nothing more than sightseeing, because its slopes are some of the most dangerous in the world. One of the most famous pictures of the ascent depict a path that consists of little more than boards hammered together and hanging out over the precipice, with no more than chains embedded in the face of the mountain for support. Scenes of similar danger can be found throughout the ascent up Mount Hua, ranging from climbing steel rods built into the mountain to trusting in nothing more than handholds in the stone.
Still, the stream of visitors to Mount Hua seems to suggest that the experience is more than adequate recompense for the challenge. Visitors who climb Mount Hua during the night can stand on the Summit Facing the Sun to watch the spectacular sunrise, while those brave enough to continue can pass the mist to gaze out upon the valleys laid out before them as though an unfurled map. People dedicated enough to climb the eastern peak can even boast of having seen the famous Chess Pavilion. Similar sites and stories exist for each of the five peaks that make up Mount Hua.