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Huangshan Western Steps

The Western Steps pass through some of China's most jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery, meandering past a series of Huangshan peaks Celestial Capital, Jade Screen, Lotus Flower and Bright Summit - en route to the distinctive Flying Rock (Feilai Shi) and the Xihai (West Sea) with its early morning views of clouds filling rugged valleys.

The path is paved with stones, many of them forming steep stairs that can make for quite strenuous climbing. Along the way, you're likely to encounter throngs of other visitors during peak times and see countless engraved padlocks fastened to railings by lovers who have followed the custom of consecrating their attachment by leaving a symbol hanging in the mists of one of China's most romantic landscapes (you can purchase locks on site if so compelled).

If you walk the distance at a typical pace, the Western Steps generally takes around five to six hours to complete. You can pick up refreshments along the way, whether in hotel restaurants or from vendors. If you head north from the southern Jade Screen Peak Hotel (Yupinglou Binguan), you'll end up on the Peak Circuit, which can take you away from the crowds, toward the less-frequented Purple Cloud Peak. Heading south from Flying Rock, a massive stone block balancing on an outcropping, you'll eventually arrive at the Hot Springs Area after passing the peaks and Banshan and Ciguang Temples.

Cable cars provide shortcuts, dropping tourists off near either end of the steps. The Taiping Cable Car drops off at Pine Forest Peak, where a trail heads east toward the Peak Circuit and then south to the Steps. The Jade Screen Peak Cable Car takes tourists from the Hot Springs Area to the southern end of the Steps.

See also: Huangshan Eastern Steps

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