Taiwan’s Top Hundred Peaks: 2. Eight Easier Treks

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Yushan, Taiwan’s highest mountain, is also one of its easiest to climb

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Mountains in Taiwan are famous for their sunrises, but often it’s the sunsets that are the most unforgettable

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Early morning on Mount Tao, Wuling Quadruple

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Jade Mountain is both an exciting climb and a surprisingly easy one

Let me start by saying I’m no expert at hiking Taiwan’s high mountains! Of the Top 100 Peaks (a list of one-hundred mountain peaks from the 270-odd summits in Taiwan that exceed 3,000 meters in height), I’ve so far only done 29 – a lot less than some hiker friends of mine. However I’m acutely aware that starting out on the Top Hundred can be be a bit daunting – the difficulty of the peaks on the list varies hugely, and while two or three summits on the list are within the ability of all able-bodied people, and a further ten or twenty can be conquered by anyone that’s reasonably fit and has a few Taiwan day-hikes under their belt, after that the difficulty level quickly goes through the roof, and inexperienced hikers could easily find themselves in serious trouble if they pick the wrong trek. Continue reading

Mount Baiguda (白姑大山; 3, 341 meters)

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The deceptively gentle-looking summit peak of Mount Baiguda

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Dusk at Siyan campsite, day one

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On the crags which lead to the final climb to the summit

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Ancient trees (both standing and fallen) are a dominant feature of the trail to Mount Baiguda

Mount Baiguda (3,341 meters, no 45 on the ‘Top Hundred’ list) on the border between Nantou County and Taichung City doesn’t seem to get nearly as much love as some of the other summits on Taiwan’s Hundred Peaks list. Permission to climb is easy to get (only a police permit is required), yet there were few other people up there this last weekend, despite the absolutely perfect weather. It’s among the tougher peaks on the list I’ve done to date, especially since we did it in 2 days (meaning a 14-to-16-hour second day of hiking!), but it amazed us all with its beauty. Photos I’ve seen on blogs and elsewhere are usually of the deceptively gentle, rounded, wooded summit dome, which looks boring as anything, but is in fact steep and very rocky, with a stellar 360-degree view from the top. Even more rewarding are the series of crags which the trail follows on the way to the final slog up to the summit peak – nothing technical or difficult, but plenty of tough, knee-breaking  ups and downs, and absolutely stunning views over the surrounding wilderness. Definitely one of my top five high mountains so far, and among the tougher ones too! Continue reading

Taiwan’s Top Hundred Peaks: 1. Getting Started

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Mount Yingzui in eastern Taichung City is the perfect place to get fit (and a bit of experience) for Taiwan’s high mountains

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Around Taipei, The Bat Cave is a compulsory part of a trip to Huangdidian, since it’s the hardest landmark on the ridge to get to.

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Mount Wuwowei is the steepest and probably most interesting of the Guguan Seven Heroes, and with a thousand meters of vertical ascent, it’s a great day hike for boosting stamina and endurance.

Anyone who’s even a bit serious about hiking in Taiwan will sooner or later make a start on the island’s greatest and most tempting hiking challenge: the Top One Hundred Peaks (百岳).

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Negotiating a slippery obstacle on the Fengtoujian Ridge hike

Hiking, like hot spring bathing, was pioneered in Taiwan by the Japanese, who made first ascents and established trails up the island’s tallest mountains, Jade and Snow, and first coined the term “Holy Ridge” to describe one of the island’s most iconic high mountain routes. The small but extraordinarily rugged island of Taiwan is said to have the highest density of high mountains of any country in the world, with 286 named summits over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) – far more than most mountain climbers are likely to conquer, especially considering how remote and inaccessible many of them are. Perhaps it was because of this that in 1971 members of local hiking clubs made a list of the “top hundred peaks,” a selection of the 3,000 meter-plus mountain summits they considered the finest, most distinctive, most beautiful, and generally worthiest of climbing. Continue reading

Taiwan’s Wild Hot Springs 2: The Central Cross-island Highway

Waterfall on the way to Maling Hot Springs, Guguan, on the Taichung side of the highway

Waterfall on the way to Maling Hot Springs, Guguan, on the Taichung side of the highway

The beautiful marble canyon at Wenshan Hot Springs, Taroko Gorge

The beautiful marble canyon at Wenshan Hot Springs, Taroko Gorge

The beautiful Central Cross-island Highway, which once linked the cities of Taichung on the flat western plains of Taiwan, and Hualien, below the towering mountains and sea cliffs of the island’s east coast is, like the North Cross-island Highway, graced with a number of fabulous hot springs. Like their northern counterparts, developed resorts (at Guguan) can be found, but the remaining three main hot springs along the highway remain pristine, and fabulously scenic to boot. Continue reading

More Bad News Regarding Access to Taiwan’s Mountain Landscapes

The wonderful Stegasaurus Ridge trail is now closed,, and hiker5s that attempt to walk it from the main trailhead on the northeast coast road could face jail time.

The wonderful Stegosaurus Ridge trail is now closed, and hikers that attempt to start it from the main trailhead on the northeast coast road could face jail time or a huge fine.

UPDATE September 21st: In true Taiwanese fashion, a resourceful local hiking group has already found a way round the ominous sign that blocks entry to the Stegosaurus Ridge trail, with a new trail skirting around the perimeter of the disused copper plant. It starts a little further down the coast road at the 80.2 kilometer marker. A post on the group’s Facebook page (in Chinese but with a sketch map of the new route, which joins the original route behind the compound) is up here:  https://www.facebook.com/paul.lee.79827/media_set?set=a.1378880355474393.1073742720.100000573244989&type=3&hc_location=ufi

Yesterday I learned that the trailhead of a very popular Taipei-area trail, which I (and many others, no doubt) regard as one of the finest day hikes in Taiwan, has now been officially closed, and with warnings of jail-time, no less, for those caught trespassing. It’s just the latest event in an ongoing, but seemingly intensifying attempt to curb or limit access to Taiwan’s beautiful countryside, or to ‘tame’ it with the intention of making it ‘safer’ and more ‘accessible’. Continue reading

A new threat to access to Taiwan’s greatest asset – its countryside

UPDATE: The proposed law has since thankfully been withdrawn (at least temporarily).
A piece was printed in Taiwan’s China Post newspaper this morning. Here’s the main thrust of the story:
China Post September 8th, 2016
Nantou’s county council passed a statute Wednesday that requires mountain hikers to equip themselves with GPS and basic communication devices, and to buy insurance before going hiking in the mountainous county in Central Taiwan. […]
Fair enough so far… most of this is what any sensible hiker would do on a trip into the deep mountains. But then it continues…
Under the new law, which will go into effect after being sent to the central government, people planning to engage in mountain activities must present their proposals in advance, including routes and destinations.
This looks bad – routes and proposals will now need to be sent to (and approved by??) the authorities before we can enjoy a hike in the mountains. It gets worse, though. The last part of the law, as reported by the newspaper, is the real knockout blow to responsible adult hikers everywhere:
Once in the mountains, they [the hikers] are required to stick to the planned routes, carry location and communication devices, and to hire professional guide with emergency rescue abilities, according to the text of the law.
What? When hiking in the mountains of Nantou County we’ll now have to engage a professional guide, just to hike??

Continue reading

Taiwan’s Wild Hot Springs 1: The North Cross-island Highway

The river at Sileng Hot Springs

The river at Sileng Hot Springs

Pool near Xinxing Hot Springs

Pool near Xinxing Hot Springs

Looking down into the Xinxing Hot Springs gorge from Galahe village

Looking down into the Xinxing Hot Springs gorge from Galahe village

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both hot springs (and the routes to them) are described in detail in Taiwan 101, volume 1, on pages 137 – 142.

We’ve got Taiwan’s position on the Pacific Ring of Fire to thank not only for its hot springs, spooky, steaming fumaroles and volcanic peaks, but for its very existence!  The island was created as the Eurasian Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate met, pushing the first under the second. Of course it’s not always peachy living on the scenic collision point of two massive chunks of the Earth’s crust, and earthquakes (most, thankfully, only big enough to jolt rather than do any real damage) happen several times each year, even in Taipei.

The benefits, of course, generally far outweigh the potential for violent natural mayhem, however. Taiwan probably wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful, as mountainous, or as enchanting if it were created any other way, and the chilly, rainy weather that descends on the northeast corner of the island every winter from December to about April (thanks to the prevailing northeast monsoon winds) would make life in the capital a lot more dreary if we didn’t have a choice of hot springs (to the north, east and south!) to head for during those long, cold, wet evenings.

Sileng Hot Spring waterfall

Sileng Hot Spring waterfall

Taiwan’s hot springs were generally only enjoyed by the island’s aboriginal population until the Japanese introduced hot spring culture to the island during the colonial era (1895-1945). The ensuing popularity has since seen most of the island’s hot spring sources (many in beautiful, wild spots, deep in the mountains) developed, robbing them of their former wild beauty.  The last decade or two has seen a huge growth in more aesthetically pleasing hot spring spas, and while most of them make no attempt to blend into their surroundings, they do at least look less of an eyesore than the horrible, purely functional concrete-box designs that once seemed to be the default for hot spring developments island-wide.

Near Sileng Hot Spring

Near Sileng Hot Spring

For the nature lover, however, the relatively few completely unspoilt, undeveloped hot springs sources that can still be found around Taiwan can’t be beat. Just a couple, such as Wenshan Hot Springs (文山溫泉) in Taroko Gorge and that wonderful gift to Taipei-dwelling nature lovers, Bayan Hot Spring (八煙溫泉) lie just a short walk from the road, and can be enjoyed by just about any able-bodied person. The real charm of most of Taiwan’s undeveloped hot springs, however, is in getting to them. Getting to several of the island’s remoter springs takes several days, which is too big a commitment for most explorers. A number of others, however, are day hikes – remote enough to keep the crowds (and the developers) away, but within the range of reasonably fit hikers. Over the last few years I’ve started exploring more of the island’s natural hot springs,  and a goal for the approaching winter/spring season (2016-7) is to get to some of the others. Meanwhile I’m hoping, in a series of blog entries, to write up those I’ve already visited. As I explore the others, I’ll add them to the blog. Continue reading