Off the Beaten Track is Moving!

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I’ve been busy the last couple of months moving the blog over to a new, more ‘professional’ website, with web developer Murray Richardson. We’ve got the blog exported and the basics worked out, and we’re just getting a bit done on the other areas of the new site before opening it.

All my blog posts are being put up on there, so they’ll be invisible for a bit yet, but there are already posts on on my trip Antarctica several years ago (with about a hundred pics – words can’t begin to describe that place!), and our much more recent adventures in Barbarian Valley, a largely forgotten scenic gem on the headwaters of the Keelung River in New Taipei City. Lots more blog entries to follow soon.

The new website will be up and open for business soon!

By the way, Murray (whom I strongly recommend if you want to set up a new website!) can be reached at murverine@gmail.com.

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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

Six of the Best: my favorite corners of the world (so far): Part One

Incredible coastal scenery in the Faroe Islands

Incredible coastal scenery in the Faroe Islands

Adele penguins in Antarctica

Adelie penguins in Antarctica

The unforgetable ice fjord at Ilulissat, Greenland (taken just before midnight in July)

The unforgetable ice fjord at Ilulissat, Greenland (taken just before midnight in July)

Following an enforced change of plans this summer, over the last six weeks I ended up exploring Ireland and Sicily, two European regions I’ve been fascinated by for years, but never made it to until now. Both are magnificent, amazing places, although their also far from unknown quantities to travellers. Ireland was about as wonderful as I’d long expected, but Sicily really took me by surprise – it’s surely one of the great travel destinations of the world.  Despite the popularity of both places, one thing that struck me in a very positive way was how ‘authentic’ they felt on the whole. Tourism is still relatively low-key in Ireland, Sicily and elsewhere in southern Italy, the people of both countries are curious, friendly almost to a fault, and absolutely fascinating culturally, retaining their own unique characters in a world where people often seem to be losing their individuality. Best of all though the despised plague of mass luxury tourism that’s infecting popular tourist destinations the world over has yet to taint either.  This summer’s travels set me thinking about other far less well-known places that I’ve been lucky enough to visit already, and how bizarrely and inexplicably (although so fortunately, for us travellers) they’ve remained off the radar for most to this  day. Continue reading

Shanghuang Stream (上磺溪): a Little-known Yangmingshan Gem

The 'cave' on the Shanghuang Stream

The ‘cave’ on the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

Yangminshan has a couple of classic river traces – the wonderful Masu Stream (still one of my favorite river traces to date) and the popular Toucian Stream – a very popular place for beginners to learn the art of river tracing. The remaining river traces in the national park (and it’s beginning to look like there are quite a few good ones!) seem to be the preserve of keen local river tracers, and, if our discovery of this real gem last week is any indicator, there are some jealously kept secrets on YMS waiting to be discovered by the rest of us!

We only discovered the Shanghuiang Stream and its amazing gorge/cave scenery after a member of our hiking group posted a video of two blokes kayaking (yes, kayaking!) down it (probably after a typhoon). Continue reading