Lonely Planet review
The 15km western steps route has some stellar scenery, but it’s twice as long and strenuous as the eastern steps, and much easier to enjoy if you’re clambering down rather than gasping your way up. If you take the cable car up, just do this in reverse.
The western steps descent begins at the Flying Rock (飞来石; Fēilái Shí), a boulder perched on an outcrop half an hour from Běihǎi Hotel, and goes over Bright Summit Peak (光明顶; Guāngmíng Dǐng; 1841m). Look out from Bright Summit Peak to Áoyú Peak (鳌鱼峰; Áoyú Fēng; 1780m): you’ll notice that it looks like two turtles!
South of Áoyú Peak en route to Lotus Flower Peak, the descent funnels you down through a Gleam of Sky (一线天; Yīxiàn Tiān), a remarkably narrow chasm – a vertical split in the granite – pinching a huge rock suspended above the heads of climbers. Further on, Lotus Flower Peak (莲花峰; Liánhuā Fēng; 1873m) marks the highest point, but is occasionally sealed off, preventing ascents. Liánruǐ Peak (莲蕊峰; Liánruǐ Fēng; 1776m)is decorated with rocks whimsically named after animals, but save some energy for the much-coveted and staggering climb – 1321 steps in all – up Heavenly Capital Peak (天都峰; Tiāndū Fēng; 1810m) and the stunning views that unfold below. As elsewhere on the mountain, young lovers bring padlocks engraved with their names up here and lash them for eternity to the chain railings. Successful ascents can be commemorated with a gold medal engraved with your name (¥15). Access to Heavenly Capital Peak (and other peaks) is sometimes restricted for maintenance and repair, so keep those fingers crossed when you go!
Further below, the steps lead to Bànshān Temple (半山寺; Bànshān Sì) and below that the Mercy Light Temple (慈光阁; Cíguāng Gé), where you can pick up a minibus back to Tāngkǒu (¥13) or continue walking to the hot springs area.
Huángshān is not one of China’s sacred mountains, so little religious activity is evident. The Cíguāng Temple at the bottom of the western steps is one of the few temples on the mountain whose temple halls survive, although they have been converted to more secular uses. The first hall now serves as the Mt Huángshān Visitors Centre (黄山游人中心; Huángshān Yóurén Zhōngxīn), where you can pore over a diorama of the mountain ranges. Now head to Tāngkǒu to find yourself some beer as a reward.