After being a bit unsure whether it would be worth it or not, I decided to go ahead and take the train to Huasahan and do some more hiking.
Going to Huashan from Xi'an you have 3 options, the bus (2h), the slow train (1.5h) and the fast train (30 minutes). I decided for the middle ground as I figured the Xi'an main train station as well as the Huashan main station would be closer to town and easier accessible.
This was certainly the case in Xi'an but not so much in Huashan where the station is actually pretty far out, lucky for me a nice bus driver took me to the entrance of the Huashan Park. While at the entrance of the visitor centre and ticket booth, I was a bit sceptical as to why the mountain seemed so far away. Not long after I found out that you still have to take another shuttle bus to get to the cable car (North or West) or hiking (East gate or main Huashan gate). So the actual Visitor Center is not really near the mountain as you need to spend another 10-20 minutes in a bus.
After my shock at the entrance price and waiting around for the bus to drive me to the Huashan gate, I started my ascent by first exploring the Jade Spring temple at the bottom of the Huashan gate. This is the best point to start climbing up if you ask me and the temple itself is great to see with old, bearded guys practising Kung-fu, like you would have seen in any of the old Hong Kong movies. This alone is almost worth the trip there.
I took a few pictures around but it was getting late and I did not even start hiking so decided to head on and see what else expects me along the way to the top.
It turned out a lot more small temples, all laid along the mountain path like something out of a movie.
After the initial easy going it started to get more demanding and also more stuffy so I was sweating and feeling completely out of shape. I started to regret my 17km 'Wall Walk' from yesterday. Still, I had to get up there and quitting is not my thing so despite the strange looks at times I pushed on and made it up to the North Peak but this was not enough as I had to go further to the East Peak. People usually go there for the sunrise but I figured, sunset/sunrise is no big deal as the view will be nice anyway and with the hazy day there would not have been a sunset anyway.
This meant climbing up more very narrow and steep stairs but once up there it was worth it and I was glad I made it here. Strapped in a harness and climbing over the ledge of the cliff to get to the little pagoda was great fun, despite me being tired.
On my way back, I got more morale boost as I bumped into some teenagers from the bus who were very impressed with me making it up and being on my way down before they made it there so this kept me going all the way down the Soldier's path to the East Gate from where I caught the bus and afterwards a taxi to the train station.
This is when I learned another lesson, trains in China can have delays of up to 90 minutes and you never, ever want to travel in a long distance train in 3rd class on seats, even if it's only for an hour and a half.
The delay meant my dinner was some nice and tasty instant noodles but the train ride was completely mad, I mean you have to see it to believe it. Although I got a seat allocated, I (and two other guys who got in there for Xi'an) could not seat as a guy was sleeping across three seats, there were people on the floor, under the tables, under the seats, on the seats, standing in the entrances, aisles and everywhere there was space. Only the overhead lockers were free of people but full of luggage. It was completely mad and funny at the same time but I do wonder how people travel like this for over 15h.
This also reminds me of the best way to identify a Chinese railway station, if you see lots of people with luggage, sleeping backs, mats and picknicks in a square in front of a building, chances are high this is the train station. ;)
So having nothing to do or a place to sit, I figured I check out the restaurant car and grab a beer. This was short lived as people from 3rd class are not allowed into the restaurant care and the door was locked.
Reminds me to buy a 'triangle key' as this is essential for rail journeys and will literally open doors and windows (and also locked toilets at border crossings) for you. So here my top tip for anyone planning a long train journey, forget everything else but do get a 'triangle key', you will not regret it and will make lots of friends. :)
After this experience, I am glad I booked my soft sleeper for Shanghai in a fast train so this should be more comfortable and I think the extra price was worth it (and there was not other ticket available anyway).
Tomorrow, I will have time to go to see the Terracotta Army during the day and take the overnight train to Shanghai.
People who have looked at my itinerary would have noticed that Lahasa fell through but for money and time reasons I decided to skip this and do it another time.