Mount Kinabalu – February 2016


Kinabalu, from near the park entrance.

4096m Mount Kinabalu is Malaysia’s highest mountain.  Kinabalu stands on the island of Borneo, in Malaysia’s Sabah province.  Kinabalu is an accessible trekking peak famous for its sunrises, spectacular clouds, and the many interesting rock formations found on the upper mountain.

We began our hike in Kinabalu National Park, where we arrived by bus in the early afternoon.  We had booked a climbing package in advance, going directly through the national park.  After doing a good amount of research this appeared to be the least expensive means of hiking.  The park rules mandate that all hikers be accompanied by a local guide, and a multi-day hike with an overnight in the Laban Rata resthouse (a hotel) was also mandatory without special permission when we hiked.  This makes hiking Kinabalu quite expensive when compared to comparable mountains in Taiwan or China.

After an evening resting in a dorm room within the national park, we were up at around 8 a.m. to meet our guide and begin the hike.  A short drive in a park bus took us to the trailhead.  The first day of the hike was steady and laid back, with no need for much rush.  Our destination was the Laban Rate resthouse, located at 3272m below the bare rock of the upper mountain, where we would spend the evening before heading for the top the next morning.  The hiking trail is a well maintained path through dense forest, with an abundance of stairs.  We were lucky not to see any precipitation on the way up, although clouds and mist flowed past us through the forest as we ascended.


Hiking through the lower forests.

We reached the Laban Rata guesthouse in the early afternoon.  Given the slow pace we had taken, it struck me that there isn’t much reason to hike Kinabalu across two days.  Indeed at Laban Rata we met a British hiker who decided to head for the summit that afternoon rather than wait until morning, and did so with daylight still remaining when he returned.  Laban Rata is a well stocked hotel, and meals were included with the room booking.


Laban Rata.


View of the upper mountain from Laban Rata.

After dinner the clouds began to rise, and we were treated to a fantastic light show as the sun set.


Sunset from Laban Rata.


Sunset from Laban Rata.


Sunset from Laban Rata


Sunset from Laban Rata.

Overnight it rained heavily.  We woke up at around 1 a.m. and ate breakfast, ready to get started.  The rain stopped, and we began hiking alongside the crowd at 2:30 a.m.  Above Laban Rata the trail first follows stairs and a dirt path, and later begins to ascend over bare rock.  Kinabalu’s rock is wonderful granite, grippy and textured.  Fixed ropes were in place along steeper sections, but with my trekking poles for support they weren’t really needed.  The steepest section involved a little bit of easy scrambling, and above it we reached the checkpoint hut below the mountain’s enormous plateau.  From here the going was easy, following a guideline across mostly level rock towards the plateau’s highpoint.  Reaching the summit before the sun, I joined the crowd of other hikers waiting for the sunrise.


The signpost on Kinabalu’s summit.

The sunrise was far less impressive than the vast sea of clouds which obscured it.  Low’s Gully was impressively deep, stretching out beyond the edge of the summit plateau.


Sunrise from the summit.


Low’s Gully, from Kinabalu summit.


Looking down the guideline which stretches across the summit plateau.


The summit plateau.


The summit plateau.

The way down from the top was a lot more enjoyable than the ascent, and I jogging downwards across the grippy rock.  Returning to Laban Rata for a second breakfast, we took a nap before making the long walk back down to the trailhead and park entrance.


Kinabalu was a very straightforward hike across easy terrain.  The low altitude of the mountain doesn’t pose significant difficulty, and the extensive infrastructure in place on and around the mountain makes the hike very accessible.  The cost to hire a guide, book a room in Laban Rata, and cover meals was relatively a lot more expensive than ‘free’ mountains elsewhere which still offer equally interesting terrain.  The hike is not particularly challenging.

Despite all of this the upper mountain does offer some impressive and beautiful rock, and the cloud formations we encountered were quite lovely.  Living close to Malaysia and already visiting for tourism, hiking Kinabalu was particularly accessible for me and worth the two day time commitment.  I wouldn’t recommend travelling specifically for Kinabalu, but a hike as part of a grander travel itinerary makes sense provided that the price of access isn’t too off-putting.  From some perspectives it might be a better idea to save the money and put it towards a trip to South America or China instead!

We booked our hike through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, the company which directly manages the park’s restaurants, dorms, and Laban Rata resthouse.  In planning our trip their rate was the least expensive I could find, likely because they are the direct service provider which other companies book through.  Their website is and while the site has no mention of Kinabalu they can be contacted about bookings via email.

Ecuador Climbing Itinerary – January 2014

1/15  : Arrive in Quito (12:30 a.m.), rest, buy gas, to Machachi at ~3200m
1/16  : Buy food, Hike 4791m Corazon out of Machachi
1/17  : To Illiniza Hut at ~4700m
1/18  : Hike 5126m Illiniza Norte, rest in Illiniza Hut
1/19  : Climb 5263m Illiniza Sur, return to Machachi
1/20  : Rest Day in Machachi at ~3200m
1/21  : To Cayambe hut at ~4600m
1/22  : Climb 5790m Cayambe, return to Machachi
1/23  : To Cotopaxi parking lot at ~4600m
1/24  : Climb 5897m Cotopaxi, return to Machachi
1/25  : Rest day in Machachi at ~3200m
1/26  : To Antisana, retreat due to weather conditions
1/27  : To Chimborazo parking lot at ~4800m
1/28  : Climb 6310m Chimborazo, return to Machachi

Illiniza Norte – January 2014


Illiniza Norte, from the refuge cabin.

5126m Illiniza Norte, the northern of the two Illiniza peaks, is Ecuador’s 8th highest mountain and a popular acclimatization hike.  An extinct volcano, the two Illinizas were once connected, but have long since become separate peaks with distinct characteristics.


Illiniza Sur, left, and Illiniza Norte, right, as seen from near the summit of Corazon.

I visited the Illinizas on my third day in Ecuador, one day after hiking the nearby 4791m Corazon volcano.  My acclimatization and climbing itinerary can be seen here. 5263m Illiniza Sur, the slightly higher southern mountain, was one of my main climbing objectives in Ecuador, and Illiniza Norte presented a convenient acclimatization opportunity.  Illiniza Norte turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable hike in its own right, and well worth the day of travel time which I budgeted for climbing it.


Illiniza Sur, left, and Illiniza Norte, right, from the summit of Cotopaxi at sunrise.

Day 1:  My climb of the Illinizas started at my hostel near the city of Machachi, south of Quito – a popular area for climbers to base out of due to its proximity to numerous 4000+m hiking peaks, as well as both the Cotopaxi and Illiniza national parks.  A short drive from the hostel brought us to the Reserva Ecologica Los Ilinizas national park, where my mountain guide and I registered our names.  We continued from the gate over a rough road to the climber’s parking lot.


The Reserva ecologica Los Ilinizas park entrance.

Ecuador’s volcanoes are fantastic in their accessibility, and many can be climbed from mountain cabins.  During my visit to Ecuador the cabins at the base of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo were closed for construction, but the cabin, or refuge, situated near the saddle between Illiniza Norte and Illiniza Sur was open for business.


The climber’s parking lot and access point for the Illinizas.

The Illiniza refuge can be reached via a clearly signposted and moderately sloped hiking trail from the parking lot at 3950m.  Loaded up with climbing equipment for Illiniza Sur, sleeping gear, food and snacks for three days in the refuge, and carrying my heavy double boots inside of my pack, we began hiking up the trail around noon.  Having recently come from near sea level I found maintaining steady output at 4000m to be quite taxing, so I focused on breathing slowly and steadily while forcing myself to move at a very conservative pace.  The effects of altitude were pronounced, and I could feel quite clearly that I was not yet properly acclimatized.

Looking down the trail towards the parking lot, roughly halfway to the refuge.

Looking down the trail towards the parking lot, roughly halfway to the refuge.

As we moved upwards the weather turned, and blue skies were replaced by clouds and a light rain.  Higher still, cold fog engulfed everything and obscured our views.  This would become a consistent and predictable pattern throughout my stay in Ecuador – clear mornings with weather quickly deteriorating in the early afternoon.  After roughly three hours of hiking we reached the refuge at 4700m.


The mountain cabin, just below the saddle between the two Illinizas.

The refuge was basic but comfortable enough, and definitely preferable to camping in the cold humidity waiting outdoors.  Sturdy wooden bunks accommodate climbers and their gear, and thick mattresses provide a soft bed.  The guardian of the refuge, a young man named Freddy who resides there permanently during the climbing season, kept hot water boiling, cooked hot food at mealtimes, and watched everyone’s gear for a nominal fee.  The cost for my mountain guide and I to stay in the refuge for three days ended up being around $70 USD, including food.  Constant access to boiling water compounded the convenience of the cabin, and its location at 4700m makes it an excellent spot for acclimatizing.


Inside the Iliniza refuge.

My mountain guide Pato and Fredy the refuge guardian in the cabin's kitchen.

My mountain guide Pato with Freddy the refuge guardian in the cabin’s kitchen.

As evening approached the cloud cover descended and opened up views of Illiniza Norte.  A large group of Polish climbers arrived later in the evening, and would depart again very early the next morning.  Still feeling the effects of altitude, I went to sleep early after some extra hydration, hoping that I would feel better in the morning.


Sunset from the Illiniza refuge.


Illiniza Norte at sunset.

Day 2: We were up early and on the trail at 7:45.  The beginning of the route was straightforward hiking, first from the refuge, crossing the saddle to the base of the mountain’s southeast ridge, and then following the ridge itself directly upwards.  The large Polish group had left many hours earlier than us, and we wouldn’t encounter them again on the mountain; we had the route all to ourselves.


The beginning of the southeast ridge.

Higher up the ridge became steeper, and the route began to involve some exposed scrambling over rough volcanic rock.  Hand and footholds were secure and abundant, making the climbing very enjoyable.


Looking across the clouds from Illiniza Norte’s southeast ridge.

I was feeling fantastic in the fresh morning air, and despite a light breeze and some light cloud cover moving past us with the wind, the weather was clear and promising.  The altitude-induced lethargy of the previous day appeared to have lifted, and I was filled with energy.  Climbing unroped we quickly progressed upwards, and scrambling over the rocks with all four hands and feet felt crisp and free.


Snow on the ridge.

In two locations the route moved off of the ridge and cut to the climber’s right, down and around a pair of false summits.  These two sections were fairly easy to spot even without my mountain guide Pato’s indication – although the route ahead appeared to continue over the false summits, the turns off of the ridge were worn from usage.  The false summits appeared very climbable, but would have involved a lot more exposure than the normal route which bypasses them.  I have tried to indicate these two sections below.  Stopping only for a short break we made great speed, and soon found ourselves below the final leg of the route, an icy gully leading straight to the summit.

A rough diagram of the route near the top of Illiniza Norte - down and around the two false summits, descending via scree on the mountain's northern slopes.

A rough diagram of the route near the top of Illiniza Norte – ascent down and around two false summits, descent via scree on the mountain’s northern slopes.  Zoomed in, the gullies which one ascends/descends are visible amidst the rock by the dotted lines.


Taking a break above the clouds.


Looking up the final gully to the main summit.

Past the final gully we reached the top at 8:55 a.m., one hour and ten minutes after leaving the refuge.  The summit, marked by a frozen cross, was windy and cold.


The summit cross of Illiniza Norte.


On the summit of Illiniza Norte.

Fog blew past us, and periodic windows of clear sky opened to the sea of clouds below us.


View from near the summit of Illiniza Norte.

From the summit we descended straight down the north face of the mountain, a steep slope of loose scree.  Descending on the scree was fast and comfortable, and with little route finding involved we found ourselves back at the Illiniza refuge by 9:30 a.m.  The rest of the day was spent resting, eating, and hydrating in preparation for our planned attempt of Illiniza Sur the next morning.


Illiniza Norte, from Illiniza Sur at sunrise.

Illiniza Norte was a short but very enjoyable hike.  The scrambling on route was solid and a lot of fun.  Fall exposure in some areas was considerable, but with an abundance of great holds the terrain felt easy enough to climb fast and unroped.  The hike was straightforward to access due to the mountain cabin, which also makes the Illinizas a superb area for acclimatization.


Illiniza Norte is very accessible.  The Reserva Ecologica Los Ilinizas park is within reasonable driving range from Quito, and the mountain cabin makes overnighting comfortable and simple.  Like many climbers choose to do, I stayed in Machachi the night before heading to the refuge, which made the drive much shorter and would later provide convenient access to Corazon and Cotopaxi.  The hostel I used in Machachi, the Puerta al Corazon, was comfortable, well managed, very clean, and had great food.  They can be contacted by email at

Ecuador’s high mountains can be climbed year round, but weather is often inclement with high winds and heavy precipitation. December, January, and February are considered the most stable months for climbing due to lower winds and relatively lower chances of rain and snow. The Ecuadorian climbers I met told me that June, July, and August are also popular climbing months, drier but very windy. During my trip fog and rain were common in the afternoons, while morning and night weather was typically clear but windy.

Since late 2012 the Ecuadorian government has mandated that all climbers use the services of a local mountain guide.  This policy was put into place in response to a fatal accident on Illiniza Sur.  While in Ecuador I met one unguided group who had snuck onto the mountain, but this is discouraged, and the national parks enforce the policy by refusing entry to unguided climbers.  I hired a 1:1 mountain guide and climbed with him throughout my trip.  We accessed all of the national parks via a 4×4 truck, which my guide drove and owned.  While organizing the logistics and guide for my trip I used the services of Diego Cumbajin Parra, the owner of, and I would strongly recommend him for his excellent communication, attention to detail, personal presence, and reasonable pricing.  My guide Pato was strong, very familiar with all of Ecuador’s mountains, and completely focused on climbing.

Mount Goode – June 2013


Mount Goode, from near Long Lake.

Keen to enjoy some hiking and camping in California’s Sierra Nevada, our trip began at the White Mountain Ranger Station in the town of Bishop, where my friend Don and I stopped to pick up our overnight permits and rent a bear canister.  The rangers in Bishop told us that the trail was in great condition, with all of the lakes at least partially thawed.


The White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop.

Having already acquired a map at the REI in Sacramento, and with the promise of good early summer weather, we left the ranger station promptly and began driving to the South Lake trailhead.  We had a rough plan to try and hike two or three 13,000 foot peaks in the Bishop Pass area, but ended up just hiking one, 13085 foot / 3988 meter Mount Goode.


A map of our three day hiking trip.

Day 1: On arrival at the South Lake trailhead a short drive later, we were greeted with distant views of Hurd Peak, the first of many impressive granite mountains on our route.


The South Lake parking lot, Hurd Peak in the distance.

After getting our bags ready and bear-boxing spare food, we began heading down the trail towards Bishop Pass.  The trail is well maintained and easy to follow, with signposts marking the way.  Near the trailhead we encountered a few people out fishing for the day, looking relaxed in the lovely weather and fantastic scenery.


South Lake.

Past South Lake the trail moved through forest.


The Bishop Pass trail.

Once above the trees the views were fantastic, and we couldn’t help but take our time stopping for photographs and enjoying the weather.


On the the Bishop Pass trail.  Hurd Peak in the background.

We reached a fork in the path, splitting east to Chocolate Lakes and south to Bishop Pass.  We decided to stash our camping gear, switch to light packs, and head in towards Chocolate Lakes.  To the east waited 13525 foot Cloudripper, one of the peaks we intended to take a shot at.  In front of us, appropriately named Chocolate Peak reflected off of Bull Lake below it.


Chocolate Peak and Bull Lake.

Further in, Cloudripper stood above us.  We could not make out the straightforward hiking/scrambling route which our guidebook described, so we chose to try ascending near the wide scree slope located just to the right of the peak in the below picture, with no idea whether or not it would offer us a way up.


Cloudripper, from Chocolate Lakes.

We began climbing over the big rocks and talus beside the scree slope, enjoying the scrambling upwards.  Soon we were above Chocolate Peak, and had some great views of nearby lakes and mountains.


Looking down on Chocolate Peak.

As we climbed higher route finding became more involved.  Equipped with only our hiking poles, we stuck to moderately sloped scrambling as much as possible.

Climbing up the rock and talus on Cloudripper.

Hiking up the rock and talus on Cloudripper.

Soon we were above the talus and scree and found ourselves faced with big granite slabs.  Climbing past two fairly straightforward but hazardously exposed pitches it became evident that the terrain above only became more difficult and dangerous.  We realized that the route we had chosen would probably not yield us an accessible way up.

The scrambling quickly transitioned into exposed climbing.

The scrambling transitioned into exposed climbing.

Faced with considerable exposure to serious fall on nearly vertical rock, equipped with no rope, and knowing we would have to down-climb any further progress to return to our bags, we decided to descend.


Trying to find a route up.

As we turned around a light snow began.  We felt disappointed, but grounded in the reality that we were unprepared to safely continue.  Later we found pictures better illustrating the standard route up the west side of Cloudripper, which follows a chute to the left of the peak – next time!  As consolation we enjoyed great views of the whole area below us, including the north and east slopes of the next day’s objective, Mount Goode.


Looking down from high on Cloudripper, Mount Goode is the highest peak in the top left corner.  Mount Goode’s south-east slope, used for hiking ascent, is to the left of the peak.

Once off of Cloudripper we slowed down to enjoy the easy hike back through the Chocolate lakes area, reuniting with our heavy overnight packs and continuing south towards Long Lake.  Soon Mount Goode stood in front of us, a commanding, aesthetically pleasing fortress of granite.


Mount Goode in the distance.

Slightly south of Long Lake we turned off of the trail and pitched camp in a sheltered, quiet little area at the top of a small hill.


Our campsite near Long Lake.

We enjoyed a fiery sunset as we cooked dinner and drank Californian IPA beer.


First night’s sunset.

Day 2: Up before the sun, we began hiking south towards Bishop Pass, and the southeast slope of Mount Goode.


Mount Goode’s north side.

Once we reached Saddlerock Lake we cut west, off of the trail and overland between Saddlerock Lake and Bishop Lake.  The terrain here was pretty, with lots of rolling granite, shrubs, and snow banks.


Looking up Mount Goode’s southeast slope.

To the southwest, Mount Aggassiz stood mirrored by Bishop Lake below it.


Mount Agassiz and Bishop Lake.


Looking back at Saddlerock Lake and Bishop Lake from the southeast slope.

Initially the route took us over rock and brush, but soon changed to sand and scree.


The sandy lower slope.

Not too bothersome due to the gentle angle, we were soon through the worst of the sand and moving over big rocks.


Looking up the southeast slope, almost above the sand.

We chose a direct route straight up over the rocks and enjoyed some scrambling as we reached the top, where we were met with a sharp drop off down Goode’s north face.  We were west of the summit, and could see the highpoint jutting out from the ridge.


Looking east along Mount Goode’s north face, the summit ahead of us.


West of the summit, looking west.


Looking East, towards Mount Agassiz and Thunderbolt Peak (right).  Bishop Pass is below Mount Agassiz.

We climbed east, moving along the edge, passing over snow and big rocks to what appeared to be the very top, where we stopped to snap some photographs and take in the views.  This area was surprisingly large and flat.  This was unexpected, as viewing the mountain from the north we had earlier marveled at the narrow, jutting apex of the north buttress.


The summit of Mount Goode.


Looking down the north face.

Far below we could see the winding trail and many lakes we had passed earlier.


Looking down at the Bishop Pass trail.

After spending a good 40 minutes on the top, we quickly descended and began hiking north, back to our campsite.  The afternoon weather held for us, and we enjoyed a lovely blue sky.


Melt water rivers.


Looking back at Mount Goode.

At camp we celebrated a fantastic hike with a final pair of beers and a big dinner.  We were treated to another wonderful sunset, and turned in for the night.

Day 3: After sleeping in we packed up camp and enjoyed an uneventful hike out to the South Lake trailhead, arriving before lunch time.


Second night’s sunset.

The Sierra Nevada is a beautiful wilderness, and it was wonderful to experience it firsthand.  The hiking was scenic and covered some very enjoyable terrain, with plenty of opportunity for engaging scrambling.  The Bishop Pass trail offers fantastic, compelling views of granite mountains the entire way in.  I left with a strong desire to return, and definitely shall!


The Bishop Pass trail is accessible year round, although full winter weather mandates the use of snowshoes or skis due to heavy snow coverage.  We brought ice axes and crampons, given our early season hiking, but had no need for them.

California’s permitting process is developed and very user-friendly – permits can be applied for in advance or on the spot, and are picked up at several different ranger stations and visitor centers.  The website for Inyo National Forest camping permits is here:

Iztaccihuatl – December 2012

Iztaccihuatl, as viewed from the central square in Amecameca – the profile of the sleeping woman is clear in the photo: head and hair to the far left, legs and feet to the far right.

Iztaccihuatl, as viewed from the central square in Amecameca – the profile of the sleeping woman is clear in the photo: head and hair to the far left, legs and feet to the far right.

Iztaccihuatl is a 5230m dormant volcano, the third highest mountain in Mexico.   The mountain’s name means ‘White Woman’ in Nahuatl, an Aztec language indigenous to central Mexico.  From a distance the mountain’s profile resembles a sleeping woman, sometimes seen blanketed white with snow.  Climbing Iztaccihuatl is mostly a straightforward hike, with an uncrevassed glacier traverse near the top.

Iztaccihuatl, viewed from near La Joya.

Iztaccihuatl, viewed from near La Joya.

I hiked Iztaccihuatl over 3 days as warm up and acclimatization for Pico de Orizaba.  While the climb served this purpose wonderfully, Iztaccihuatl is a fantastic hike in its own right.


Popocatepetl (left) and Iztaccihuatl (right) on the horizon, as seen from the summit of Pico de Orizaba.

Day 0: My trip began in Mexico City, where a short taxi ride took me from the airport to the TAPO bus station.  At the TAPO station I took a ~2 hour bus to Amecameca, a town near the base of Iztaccihuatl.  Amecameca sits at ~2450m, making it a good overnight acclimatization rest for someone coming from sea level, as I was.  In Amecameca I walked from the bus stop to the central square and checked into the Hotel San Carlos, a budget hotel recommended by many climbing websites.  For $10 per night, it also serves as excellent storage for luggage while on the mountain.  Equally convenient, the Hotel San Carlos is right next door to the Izta/Popo national park headquarters, where one must arrange an access permit to hike Iztaccihuatl.

My plan for the next day was to hire a taxi to drive me to La Joya, the trailhead for “La Arista del Sol”, the ridge of the sun, the standard route up Iztaccihuatl.  At check in the hotel owner asked me which country I came from, and when I told him I was Canadian he excitedly informed me that three other Canadians were also staying in the hotel and were planning to hike Iztaccihuatl the next day.  I introduced myself to the trio in the morning, and we agreed to carpool to La Joya and hike together.


The parking lot at La Joya, trailhead for Iztaccihuatl’s La Arista del Sol route.

Day 1:  After a rough drive out of Amecameca and up some steep switchbacks, we reached La Joya, a large open space at the base of the mountain – pretty much a big parking lot.  

Iztaccihuatl, viewed from near La Joya.

Iztaccihuatl, viewed from near La Joya.

This is a good area to camp and rest, and a great acclimatization interval at ~3900m.  After sorting some gear and hydrating, my new friends and I headed upward for an acclimatization hike.  


Memorials near La Joya.

Iztaccihuatl sees a lot of traffic, and is quite a popular weekend hike for locals living near Mexico City.  Near the La Joya trailhead are numerous memorials – many to famous Mexican climbers who have died on mountains around the world.


Looking ahead, near the La Joya trailhead.

As we headed up the route followed a usage path of scree and volcanic rock. The terrain was interesting, with big rock formations and little vegetation.


Rocky terrain and scree.

After an hour and a half of hiking steadily upwards, we stopped to take a rest. Higher up we had great views of Popocatepetl looming to the south.  Popocatepetl is an active volcano, and lives up to its Nahuatl name, meaning ‘Smoking Mountain’.


Popocatepetl to the south.

After a short rest for acclimatization, we descended to La Joya and pitched camp in the parking lot.


My little campsite at La Joya.

Day 2: Today we planned to hike up to our second overnight, the Grupo de los Cien climber’s hut at ~4600m.  This second night at altitude is an important acclimatization interval – the summit of Iztaccihuatl is over 5000m, and I had recently come from sea level.  We left La Joya early, carrying with us food and water supplies for the next two days.  Iztaccihuatl is a dry mountain, and below the glaciers there are no water sources.


Heading up over volcanic rock and loose scree, a usage path was often visible.


Colorful volcanic rock.

Just below the Grupo de los Ciens hut crosses stood on many of the rock spires above.  I can only assume that these were more memorials, but their presence above us was somewhat chilling.


Crosses on the rocks above.

Finally we cleared a ridge and saw the Grupo de los Ciens hut below us.


The Grupo de los Cien hut.

At an elevation of ~4600m, the hut serves as a rough overnight and an excellent high camp for a climb to Iztaccihuatl’s summit.  The hut is located just below the ‘knees’ of Iztaccihuatl, when considering the mountain’s sleeping woman profile.


The Grupo de los Cien hut is nothing if not sturdily constructed.


Crosses lined the rocks above the hut.

Inside, we unpacked and began sorting gear for our overnight climb to the summit.  Comfortably, the hut would accommodate around eighteen people.  We had it mostly to ourselves, only sharing it with two others who were on their way down.


Inside the Grupo de los Cien hut.  Each half of the hut has three ‘bunk layers’.

Looking past the hut, a steep scree slope awaited us.


A clear usage path followed steep scree upwards.

Day 3: We woke up early, ate a fast breakfast, and headed up the scree-covered ‘knees’ towards the summit.  Below, the lights of Amecameca shone brightly.


Amecameca below us.

Atop the knees, at roughly 4930m, we discovered the ruins of another hut, long destroyed by weather.


The ruins on top of the knees.

Shortly after we passed the knees the sun began to rise, giving us gorgeous views of Pico de Orizaba in the distance.


Sunrise illuminated Pico de Orizaba, far in the distance.


Orizaba’s silhouette at sunrise.


Popocatepetl at dawn.


Popocatepetl above the clouds.

Ahead of us the Ayoloco glacier, Iztaccihuatl’s ‘belly’, glowed in the sunrise.  The summit plateau was visible past the glacier.


The Ayoloco, ‘belly’, glacier.

Here we stopped to put on crampons.  Probably not necessary for the flat crossing, but the ice was very hard in the cool morning air.  From the glacier, Iztaccihuatl’s shadow stretched over the clouds below.


The shadow of Iztaccihuatl.


Looking over the clouds from the Ayoloco glacier.


Sun cups on the glacier.

Looking at the route behind us.

Looking at the Ayoloco glacier behind us, Popocatepetl in the distance.

From up here Pico de Orizaba could be seen in the distance, above the clouds.


Pico de Orizaba (right) in the morning clouds.



Across the summit plateau the summit was visible across a large snow field.  Three ridges of similar height ring this snowfield, but the farthest ridge marks the true high point of the mountain.


The true summit is at the top of the farthest summit-plateau ridge.

After crossing the snowfield, the ridge was an easy walk.


Looking back at the ridge.

From the summit the ‘head’ of Iztaccihuatl was visible below.  The rocks of the head had an eerily realistic resemblance to a human face.


The ‘head’ of Iztaccihuatl resembles a human face when viewed from above.

The summit, at 5230m, was marked with crosses and prayer flags.


The summit of Iztaccihuatl.


On the summit.

Shortly after we reached the summit, Popocatepetl began to smoke.


Popocatepetl smoking in the distance.

Below us, an incredible cloud ocean.


Cloud ocean from the summit of Iztaccihuatl.

Descending was much faster than ascending in the dark had been, and we made our way back above the Grupo de los Cien hut without issue.  The weather was perfect, and the sunny views very enjoyable.


Returning to the knees, the Grupo de los Cien hut below.

Popocatepetl had stopped smoking, and we enjoyed a final clear view of it in its entirety.  Popocatepetl used to be glaciated, but its recent volcanic activity has melted everything, and it now appears to be a mountain of rock and scree.


Popocatepetl from the knees.

At the Grupo de los Cien hut we packed up all of our gear, filled a few bags with garbage left behind by other hikers, and had an uneventful descent to La Joya.  In Amecameca we celebrated our hike with a dinner of Mexican street food, and then parted ways.  I would meet the three Canadians again while climbing on Orizaba, but as we had arranged the services of different lodging/transport providers, we traveled and climbed separately from here on.

Iztaccihuatl was a rewarding hike.  The views of Orizaba, Popocatepetl, and the Ayoloco glacier made for interesting scenery, and the hike itself was enjoyable.  As an acclimatization hike, at 5230m Iztaccihuatl was superb preparation for my Orizaba climb a few days later.


Iztaccihuatl is easily accessible.  From the Mexico City airport, take an inexpensive taxi to the TAPO bus station.   From there, a bus ticket to Amecameca can be purchased via the Sur or Volcanes bus companies.

Bus tickets to Amecameca can be purchased at the SUR / Volcanes Ticket Counter in the TAPO bus station, Mexico City.

Bus tickets to Amecameca can be purchased at the SUR / Volcanes Ticket Counter in the TAPO bus station, Mexico City.

Once in Amecameca, look for the San Carlos Hotel, located right on the town’s central square.  In the below photograph, a prominent building is visible to the far left.  The San Carlos is located just to the right of this easily found building – its ‘hotel’ sign is at the far right of the photo.  The San Carlos is a great place for safe, affordable lodging and luggage storage.


The prominent building at the left is a good landmark – the San Carlos is to the right of it.

The address, from their keychain.


Once in Amecameca, Butane/Propane fuel canisters can be purchased at the Ferreteria, a hardware store just off of the central square.  It is bright orange and easy to find.


This store in Amecameca is an excellent source for fairly priced fuel canisters.

Iztaccihuatl can be climbed year round, but the dry season occurs from November through March, and this is the most popular time to climb.

A permit is required to access the La Joya trailhead by car, and to hike Iztaccihuatl.  Permits can be obtained at the Izta/Popo park headqurters, near the Hotel San Carlos.  A driver to La Joya can easily be found nearby the park headquarters, and I am told that a ride to La Joya from Amecameca costs around $50 USD.  Don’t forget to bring a large quantity of water to La Joya – enough for three or four days.  There are no water sources below the glaciers on Iztaccihuatl.

Zhongyangjian Shan – 中央尖山 – August 2012

Zhongyangjian Shan, at right.  Nanhuda Shan is the broader peak to the left.

Zhongyangjian Shan, at right. Nanhuda Shan is the broader peak to the left.

3705m Zhongyangjian Shan, located in one of the most remote sections of central Taiwan, is among Taiwan’s highest.  Having viewed the stark, rocky pyramid of Zhongyangjian Shan far in the distance during several other hikes within Taiwan’s central mountains, I had long been eager to hike it.

My three day itinerary.

My three day itinerary.

I had hiked in this area before, and was familiar with the initial leg of the route, which is shared with the Nanhuda Shan trail.  Knowing roughly what the terrain was like, I planned a three day trip using a single campsite.  Unfortunately, a typhoon had passed over the island the week prior to my hike, damaging sections of the road into the trailhead, and as I would later discover, obstructing the trail itself.


The Nanhuda Shan Trailhead.

Day 0: To get to the trailhead, I first took a bus to Luodong, in Yilan county.  Luodong is a convenient starting point for hiking the Nanhuda Shan circuit because it is a popular tourist destination with frequent bus access from Taipei, closer to the trailhead than Yilan, and most importantly, because it is a very easy place to rent a cheap motorcycle.  Unfortunately, I learned of the severe road damage when I arrived, and was informed that the trailhead was inaccessible to motorbikes.  Undeterred, I found a taxi driver willing to drive me in.  By the time we arrived at the trailhead it was 9 p.m., and my driver was not in a good mood – the road was almost destroyed in sections, with numerous landslides making it all but inaccessible in places, and the driving was very slow.  I tipped him generously, then pitched a quick camp by the trailhead and turned in for the night.  I wouldn’t see another person for the next three days.

My first night's camp - by the trailhead.

My first night’s camp – by the trailhead.

Day 1: Packed up and moving by 6 a.m., I started down the normal Nanhuda Shan route.  This follows an old road, long destroyed by typhoons, landslides, and earthquakes.  The route was much different than the last time I had hiked it; it was obstructed by several large, fresh landslides.  These were unmarked, so I crossed over them carefully.

Long abandoned equipment on the old road.

Long abandoned equipment on the old road.

Some big landslides disrupted the first section of the route.

Some big landslides disrupted the first section of the route.

Some of the landslides looked like they had been crossed before, but none of them were marked, and no trails were broken.

Some of the landslides looked like they had been crossed before, but none of them were marked with tags, and no trails were broken.

As I continued, I was met with more walls of foliage and soil, brought down by heavy rain.

As I continued, I was met with more walls of foliage and soil, brought down by heavy rain.

The landslides made this portion of the route grueling and seemingly endless – with my heavy pack, it took several hours to get through it.  After this first section I reached the ‘old trailhead’, a large clearing with a drop box for permits and space for several tents.  A switchback trail heads upwards, eventually breaking onto a ridge which continues to a junction in the trail.  Here a separate path breaks south towards Zhongyangjian Shan.  One can continue to the Yunling cabin and Nanhuda Shan, or split towards the Nanhu river cabin (南胡溪木屋) and Zhongyangjian Shan.  Clouds over Zhongyangjian Shan obscured the view, although this area is one of the best vantage points of the mountain.

The junction, marking the trail split and 1.7km south to the Nanhu river cabin.

The junction, marking the trail split and 1.7km south to the Nanhu river cabin.

Here the route drops off of the ridge and downhill into a valley through forest, quickly joining a stream.  From here to the bottom of the valley there is no longer a trail, and the route follows the rocks of the stream.  Going is slow along this section, as the route is slippery.

The trail slowly becomes less defined, but trail markers were abundant.

Trail markers were abundant, along with the odd rope.

Eventually the trail disappears, and the route continues along the side of the stream.

Eventually the trail disappears, and the route continues along the side of the stream.

Looking back up the stream.

The stream is rocky, and strewn with boulders.

Steeper sections with water were protected with chains and posts.

Steeper sections with water were protected with ropes and posts.

Eventually the stream reaches a river, where a second signpost points in the direction of the Nanhu River cabin.

At the bottom of the valley the stream meets a river, where a signpost indicates the direction to continue.

A signpost indicates the direction to continue.

From here the trail continued a short distance along the riverbank.  More fresh landslides blocked parts of the route along this short section.

More landslide aftermath along the riverbank.

More landslide aftermath along the riverbank.

A short distance downstream I found the Nanhu River cabin.  It is roughly constructed and quite run down, but could be used as shelter if necessary.  Were one to break this trip up over four or five days, the area around the cabin would serve as a decent first night’s campground.

The Nanhu River Cabin.

The Nanhu River Cabin.

Past the cabin a trail leaves the river and heads south, uphill.  This trail was marked with hiking tags.  The overland section here is long, 8.3km according to the map, and ascends some several hundred meters before descending back down to the river on the other side – uphill both ways.  On the other side of the overland trail, another signpost points in the direction of the Zhongyangjian River Cabin (中央尖溪木屋), a further 2.2km along the banks of the river.  To my dismay, I found the Zhongyangjian river swollen and running deep, likely due to the recent typhoon and heavy rains.

The Zhongyangjian River cabin is a further 2.2km south once the route rejoins the river.

The Zhongyangjian River cabin is a further 2.2km southeast once the route rejoins the river.

The river was deeper than anticipated.

The river was deeper than anticipated.

From here on the route follows the Zhongyangjian river to the base of Zhongyangjian Shan itself.  It had been a long day, and I decided to stop here and pitch my camp in a clearing near the river.  I would use this campsite for the next two nights.

My campsite for two nights.

My campsite for two nights.

Day 2: Up early, I began following the river southeast towards the Zhongyangjian River Cabin. This section of the route follows rocky riverbanks, but frequent crossings are required due to the cliffs which line both sides of the water and occasionally protrude over the water.  This became very taxing, as with the water higher than expected there was usually no means of crossing the river without getting wet.  After taking my boots off for the first two crossings I gave up and kept them on, guaranteeing wet feet for the rest of the day.

Looming rock walls framed sections the river.

Looming rock walls framed sections of the river.

A nice waterfall at a bend in the river. just before the Zhongyangjian River Cabin.

A nice waterfall at a bend in the river, just before the Zhongyangjian River Cabin.

I reached the Zhongyangjian River Cabin and took a short break to take a look inside.  A little trail off of the river makes the cabin hard to miss.  Similar to the Nanhu River Cabin, the hut is crude and run down.  Another good area for camping, but staying in the hut itself wouldn’t be pleasant.

The Zhongyangjian River Cabin.

The Zhongyangjian River Cabin.

The very basic cabin interior - it looked leaky!

The very basic cabin interior – it looked leaky!

Continuing along the riverside, now moving south, the river grew narrower and crossings were more frequent.

The river grew narrower, its walls more defined.

The river grew narrower, its walls more defined.

The river cuts through rock, creating some visually interesting terrain.

The river cuts through the rock, creating some visually interesting terrain.

Further upriver, I finally caught sight of Zhongyangjian Shan in the distance.  Clouds were moving overhead and granted only brief windows of view.

My first glimpse of Zhongyangjian Shan.

My first glimpse of Zhongyangjian Shan.

Near the base of the mountain the terrain begins to get steeper, and the river continues uphill.  Huge, freshly collapsed landslides had wiped out sections of forest along the riverbank, and clogged the river with debris.

Looking upriver towards Zhongyangjian Shan, the river obstructed by landslides.

Looking upriver towards Zhongyangjian Shan, the river obstructed by landslides.

Going was slow here, as the only way forward was through a mess of trees, branches, rocks, and dirt.

In the middle of one of the worst sections.

In the middle of one of the worst sections, Zhongyangjian Shan in the distance.

Looking back at the landslide below.

Looking back at the landslide below.

Continuing upriver, another cliff had to be overcome.

Continuing upriver, a small cliff had to be circumnavigated.

Ahead I could see the mountain through brief gaps in the clouds churning overtop.  The river tapered off, replaced by a moderate slope of loose scree.

Zhongyangjian Shan waited ahead.

Zhongyangjian Shan waited ahead.

A scree slope leads to the mountain above the river.

A scree slope continues after the river disappears.

Looking behind me I could see the river and the route I’d taken far below.

Looking down the scree slope from near the top.

Looking down the scree slope, near the top.

Eventually, the scree breaks onto the saddle between Zhongyangjian Shan’s main peak and east peak.  Up here the ground is covered in grass and even some trees.  As soon as I reached the saddle, clouds rolled in and a light drizzle began.

A signpost marks the saddle at the top of the scree slope.

A signpost marks the saddle at the top of the scree slope, the main peak less than 1km away.

The saddle is covered in vegetation.  Looks like a nice sheltered spot to camp.

The saddle is covered in vegetation.

A usage path leads upwards to the summit.  One final, steep section at the top has mounted ropes.

A path leads to the summit.

A path leads to the summit.

Ropes just below the summit.

Ropes just below the summit.

At the top I stayed long enough to take a few photos, and then began to descend, concerned that the light rain might develop into an afternoon shower, which could make the return trip down the river tricky and dangerous.

The summit sign.

The summit sign.

Feeling accomplishment, despite the clouds and lack of view.

Feeling accomplishment, despite the clouds and lack of view.

On the way down the clouds moved onwards, and blue skies returned.  This would be my final view of the mountain – clouds would return soon and obscure it for the rest of this day, and all of the next.  After seeing Zhongyangjian Shan in the distance so often during other hikes, its fierce shape compelling me to plan a climb, the mountain’s continually clouded presence seemed somehow symbolic.

A short window in the clouds.

A window in the clouds gave me a final view.

On the way down I stopped to take better photographs of the large landslides along the river.

A closer look at one of the landslides near the base of the mountain.

A closer look at one of the landslides near the base of the mountain.

The recent typhoon had taken out swathes of forest along the river.

The recent typhoon had taken out swathes of forest along the river.

From my vantage point uphill, I could see that the much of the debris I had encountered earlier came from the landslides above.

Debris in the river.

The debris-filled river from above.

Near my campsite, I found what appeared to be fresh deer tracks in the mud.

Tracks in the mud.

Tracks in the mud.

By the time I returned to camp it had been a 13 hour day of hiking – much, much longer than planned due to frequent river crossings and slow progress over the landslides.

Day 3: I packed up camp, and headed back overland towards the Nanhu River Cabin.  My route out was identical to my route in, with no exceptional differences to the first day of the trip.  Of note, the section of stream which had taken me down towards the Nanhu River Cabin was slower and trickier on the way up and out.

Back at the first trail split, on the ridge which leads to the Yunling cabin and Nanhuda Shan, I was delighted to find a perfect, clear view into Syue Ba National Park.  Zhongyangjian Shan, unfortunately, remained cloud covered and was not visible to the south.  On the ridge I met a pair of hikers headed for Nanhuda Shan, the first people I’d encountered in three days.

A lovely view of Syue Ba National Park and some of its mountains.

A lovely view of Syue Ba National Park and some of its mountains.

Back at the trailhead, some 11 or 12 hours of hiking from my campsite, I hitchhiked all the way home with a truck driver hauling vegetables from rural Ilan into Taipei City.  We made several stops across Ilan county to load up bundles of cabbage and other produce.  I couldn’t have been luckier, not only was the road leading to the trailhead damaged and traffic very sparse, but the trucker’s drop off was close to where I’d left my motorcycle in Taipei, just one MRT stop away.  Riding with this trucker was an experience unto itself, and gave me an interesting firsthand perspective on rural Taiwan.

Hiking Zhongyangjian Shan was one of the best mountain trips I’ve had in Taiwan.  The mountain is very remote, with an approach lengthy enough for a solid multi-day trip.  Hiking Zhongyangjian Shan alone really immersed me in the environment of the mountain; the final portion of the route up the river was especially memorable.


Once past the Nanhu River Cabin, there are several good spots for camping along the route, with reliable water from the river.  Officially, however, one is only supposed to camp at the cabins themselves.  Past the Zhongyangjian River Cabin, there are no areas large enough to accommodate camping until one reaches the Zhongyangjian Shan saddle.

The Nanhuda Shan trailhead, also the entry point for a Zhongyangjian Shan hike, is fairly easy to access.  Take a bus or train to Yilan City or Luodong, and rent a motorbike.  Alternatviely, a taxi in costs around NT$2500.  Be sure to check road conditions beforehand – the road is typically damaged or even wiped out after a big typhoon.

Hiking Zhongyangjian Shan requires national park entry permits from Taroko National Park, as well as Police issued mountain entry permits. The park entry permit requires two Taiwanese group members; one as the “group leader”, and one as the “emergency contact”.  I did this hike alone, but still needed to have a Taiwanese friend on my permit.  The Taroko National Park permit website (In Chinese) is located here:
Police permits can be applied for here (In Chinese).  For the website to load, you need to use Internet Explorer (other browsers do not work with this website) and adjust the encoding for ‘Chinese Traditional, Big5′ (found through Page -> Encoding):

Mount Meru – August 2012

Mount Meru.

4566m Mount Meru is Tanzania’s second highest mountain, a prominent volcano near the city of Arusha.  It is speculated that Mount Meru may have once been larger than Kilimanjaro, as a large eruption ~8000 years ago destroyed the eastern side of the mountain, greatly reducing its size.    The volcano is still active, resulting in some interesting geographical features.  I hiked Mount Meru as a warm-up and pre-acclimatization for Kilimanjaro.

A map of my route.

Day 1: After a short drive to the Arusha National Park, I arrived at the Mount Meru visitor’s center.  There, along with an abundance of information on local wildlife, was the above model with the various hiker’s huts marked.

Mount Meru as seen from just outside Arusha.

Mount Meru is fairly prominent, and can be clearly seen from the city of Arusha.

The park ranger, armed with a rifle.

One interesting aspect of Meru is the considerable amount of wildlife inhabiting its lower slopes.  Because of the animals, it is required that one ascend to the first hut accompanied by a park ranger, who carries a rifle.  When asked, he told me that a warning shot would scare off most anything, and that he’d never had to fire on an animal before.

A large fig tree arches over the beginning of the lower trail.

After considerable delay waiting for the park authorities, we began moving up the trail towards the first cabin at 12:30 p.m.  We decided to take the long route up, which would take us through Meru’s crater.

On the mountain’s lower slopes, lovely forest and grassland surrounded the trail.

A small waterfall marked a lunch break.

After about an hour of easy hiking over a gently sloped trail, we took a lunch break at a small waterfall.

These brightly colored plants were abundant on the lower mountain, and in the crater.

Mount Meru’s crater.

As the path continued upwards, we reached Meru’s crater.  While the volcano is still considered active, it hasn’t had an eruption since 1910.  The crater is filled with vegetation, and apparently is often visited by animals.

Interesting trees covered in Spanish moss dotted the crater.

The crater walls are covered in plants and moss, creating a lush impression.

This sign marked the approach to Miriakamba Hut, the first overnight stop.

Moving at a relaxed pace, we reached Miriakamba Hut, the first night’s rest point, at around 4:30 p.m.  At only 2500m, and after a very short day with an incredibly late start, I was quite surprised when the Park Ranger announced we would stop for the day!

The huts were basic and sturdy.

There were huts for sleeping, cooking, and even a washroom.

The cooking hut.

On arrival I went to the cook hut and prepared my dinner.  The room was crowded with porters, preparing meals for their clients.  Here is where I first experienced issues with my stove, a temperamental piece of kit which would later cause much annoyance on Kilimanjaro.  Fuel cells cannot be transported by air, and I was unable to bring a liquid fuel stove/bottle, so I had to source both stove and fuel in Arusha. Almost all hikers in Tanzania use porters – who carry heavy kerosine tanks for cooking – and thus portable propane/butane fuel and personal cooking gear is somewhat difficult to obtain, and of poor quality.

The dorm rooms were sturdy and comfortable.

The rooms were simple but comfortable.  Basic mattresses were provided, and I ended up with a four-person room to myself.

My cabin in the morning.

Day 2: In the morning, a substantial fog had settled over everything.  After cooking up some breakfast, and waiting for the park ranger, I began heading up to the next overnight, Saddle Hut at 3570m.

Part of the trail above Miriakamba Hut – man-made wooden staircases up the mountain.

The trail remained easy and well maintained, with man-made staircases forming large portions of the path.  To this point, between the clear trail and cabin lodgings it didn’t really feel like I was on a mountain at all.

These spiny plants were everywhere, most unpleasant to step in.

The vegetation remained dense.

Mount Meru finally became visible.

The fog finally lifted, and a gap in the trees granted a view of Meru’s peak.

Little Meru, which rises above Saddle Hut.

Further ahead, Mount Meru’s secondary peak, ‘Little Meru’, could be seen jutting into the sky.

A lovely cloud ocean on the way to Saddle Hut.

These plants began to appear in great number along the trail.  I would later see fields of them on Kilimanjaro.

The final stretch of trail, prior to arrival at Saddle Hut.

Saddle Hut, clearly signposted like everything else on Meru.

We arrived at Saddle Hut around 1 p.m.  The weather was lovely and sunny, with no trace of the morning fog.  Once again, the park ranger announced that the day was over.  Traditionally, Meru’s summit is hiked overnight, with a ~1 a.m start.

This approach to the mountain – two abnormally short days at low altitude on easy, well groomed trails, followed by one long-haul combining an overnight push to the top and a lengthy descent – doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Unfortunately, schedule on Meru is inflexible, and determined entirely by the ranger.

Saddle Hut, much like Miriakamba Hut, provided lodging in dorms.

Similar in design to Miriakamba Hut, Saddle Hut consisted of a number of dormitory style bunk houses, a kitchen room, and toilets.

Ravens were numerous here, hunting for scraps.

Saddle Hut in its entirety.

After unpacking my gear and cooking lunch, I headed up the trail towards Little Meru.

Near the top of Little Meru.

Little Meru Peak.

3820m Little Meru had a great view of Mount Meru’s main peak, and the route I would hike at night.

Saddle Hut, far below, from Little Meru.

Clouds rolling over Mount Meru.

Back at Saddle Hut I ate an early dinner, and went to bed around 5 p.m.

Day 2: Awake at half past midnight, and on the route up to the top of Meru at 1:30 a.m.  The weather was foggy, and fairly cold due to wind.  The route followed cairns and spray painted markers, the first time with no clearly defined trail.

Rhino Point, a hump in the route where it is said a rhino skeleton was once uncovered.

After several hours of steady progress across rough volcanic rock, I reached the summit, Socialist Peak.  The morning fog obscured the views, but the sunrise created a lovely effect, glowing pinkish-orange through the cloud cover.

Mount Meru’s main peak.

With high winds, the mountaintop was cold and felt exposed.

Looking west, where Meru slopes steeply downwards in a field of loose scree.

During descent the fog lifted, and provided great views of the volcanic ash cone in Meru’s crater.

The ash cone.

Meru is still considered to be an active volcano, and the large central ash cone is the result of minor activity.

Back at Saddle Hut I packed up the remainder of my gear and began descending.  The entire descent would be undertaken in one shot.  On the way down, I opted to take the short route, avoiding the crater and passing through Meru’s lower grasslands instead.  Here I was lucky enough to encounter some wildlife.

A large herd of buffalo, grazing on Meru’s lower slopes.

Along with a big herd of buffalo was a family of five giraffes.

The giraffes didn’t seem particularly surprised to see me.

I was told that giraffes, and elephants as well, are a common sight on Meru, where they are protected from hunting.

Back at the park gate I got one last view of Mount Meru, and got a ride back to Arusha with my hired driver.

Mount Meru in the distance.

All said and done, the hike was enjoyable enough, scenic if not particularly strenuous.  As pre-acclimatization for Kilimanjaro, it served well.  A different itinerary would have been more logical and more enjoyable.  The summit definitely doesn’t require an overnight push, and would be far nicer in daylight, clear of morning fog.


Hiking Mount Meru is fairly straightforward.  Fees for cabin lodging are paid at the park, where a Ranger will be assigned to you.  From Arusha, a driver can be hired at minimal cost.

Most outfitter companies which provide services to Kilimanjaro also run hikes on Mount Meru, and can provide full-service with porters, cooks, and a guide.  While the majority of hikers do seem to use porters, the hike is moderate enough that it is unnecessary.  Each cabin has a stable water source, and a light pack can easily be managed due to the indoor lodging.  My pack weighed less than 15kg, with a liberal amount of extra food.  The dormitory rooms are comfortable enough, and have locking doors for storing spare gear.

A good amount of information exists on hiking Meru, and many of the outfitter websites also incorporate detailed planning information.

Mount Kilimanjaro – August 2012

Kibo, Kilimanjaro’s central and highest volcanic peak, as seen from the Mawenzi saddle.

At 5895m, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain on the continent of Africa.  Kilimanjaro is a massive volcano which has three distinct peaks, Shira (3962m), Mawenzi (5149m), and Kibo (5895m).  Uhuru Peak (“Freedom Peak” in Swahili) is the highest point on the mountain.

Kilimanjaro, as seen from near the airport, is remarkably prominent. Kibo to the left, Mawenzi to the right.

For some time I had been keen on broadening my hiking experience at higher altitudes, and Kilimanjaro seemed like the perfect extension of the hiking and climbing I had been doing in Taiwan.  I planned a 7-day schedule, but ended up finishing in 6.

A map of my route.

I chose the Rongai route pictured above due to its abundance of acclimatization opportunities, great views and interesting geology.   My route passed below Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s second highest volcanic peak.

Prior to beginning Kilimanjaro I spent three days hiking 4566m Mount Meru, Tanzania’s second highest mountain, for additional acclimatization.

My gear and food supplies for seven days.

Most who approach Kilimanjaro do so with full logistical support – with porters and cooks – but this is not strictly required to access the mountain, as the law only requires the use of a licensed guide.  I decided that I wanted to hike unsupported, and manage my own gear, schedule, food, and water.  I would carry everything that I used, and I would provide everything for myself.  This also made my hike much less expensive, since I didn’t hire porters or cooks.

To obtain my permit, I did have to use a guide.  My guide Jackson was not only great company, but also possessed in-depth knowledge regarding the mountain’s endemic species, and the mountain’s history.

The last village on the way to the Rongai Gate, near Tanzania’s border with Kenya.

Day 1: Met my guide and our driver in Arusha, and drove ~5 hours north to the Rongai gate.  Started hiking from the Rongai gate, 2000m, with my pack weighing in at 21.5kg without water.

Near the Rongai gate seasonal farming communities grow maize corn.

The Rongai trailhead, marked by a list of warnings.

The area’s maize corn had mostly been harvested. Of interest, the corn is grown alongside trees, to be harvested once mature, several of which can be seen here. The farmers are permitted to grow corn in this area only so long as they also take responsibility for the trees.

Man-made forest near the Rongai gate. I was told that these trees will be harvested for producing paper and lumber.

A small stop past the Rongai gate – some people from the farming community have set up a small shop selling fruit, drinks, and snack foods.

Further along, rough volcanic rock became visible, though the terrain remained gently sloped.

Near the first campsite I took a short detour to a nearby stream for cooking water.  I collected water at camp each evening, and restricted myself to carrying just ~2.5L for use during the day.  For effective acclimatization, it is imperative that one stay well hydrated – in addition to my day-supply of drinking water, I consumed an additional ~4L per day.

The first water source, a small runoff stream a ~5 minute walk off of the trail.

After covering roughly 6.5km, I reached the first campsite at 2600m.  The campsite was large, but surprisingly crowded.

My campsite on Day 1.  I found a nice, quiet corner for my tent.

Porters arriving at camp.

Many others camped nearby; here are the tents of a large group.

To make the weight manageable, my meal planning involved using a lot of freeze-dried food, mixing pre-made meal packs with freeze dried vegetables and rice.

First night’s dinner. Looks terrible, tasted great!

Day 2: In the morning the sky was clear and bright, and I enjoyed some excellent views of Kibo in the distance.  The day started slowly, due to problems with my stove.

On the morning of the second day I had my first good view of Kibo.

After 5.8km of hiking, I reached the day’s lunch stop, a volcanic cave named “Second Cave” at 3450m which provided great shelter for cooking.

This cave, “Second Cave” provided a nice shelter for cooking lunch.

The porters of a large group quickly deployed tables and chairs and began cooking for their clients.

A stagnant water source nearby the lunch stop. From here on, water needed to be filtered carefully.

While cooking lunch, my stove continued to cause issues. The thing was temperamental throughout the hike; sometimes it worked fine, but far too often it leaked gas at the joints, flared up suddenly, or stuttered the gas flow.  Fuel cells cannot be transported by air, and I was unable to transport a liquid fuel stove/bottles, so I needed to buy both a stove and cooking fuel in Tanzania.

Because most hikers use porters, who haul enormous and heavy Kerosine cooking rigs up the mountain, sourcing appropriate fuel and a stove in town was remarkably difficult.  Most stores only sold pierce-able gas canisters, which incorporated no valve and could not be resealed once opened.  I finally ended up with a good Propane/Butane fuel mix, but could only find a really dodgy stove which required an adapter to fit the non-standard threaded gas cartridges.

Cooking lunch, keeping a close eye on stove.

After lunch, continuing onwards the terrain remained gently sloped and easy to navigate.

Past the Second Cave I crossed a large barren area which had suffered a forest fire.

Halfway to the second day’s campsite, Jackson suggested we stop to explore another cave nearby.  He told me that this one had only been discovered some years ago, and wasn’t too well known yet.

Jackson proposed a short detour to explore another cave.

The cave entrance was difficult to spot, even from a short distance away.

This cave was formed by volcanic activity; hardened volcanic rock forms the ceiling, and long-term erosion from rainfall and runoff has hollowed out the ground underneath it.

6km beyond the lunch stop at Second Cave I reached my second day’s campsite, Kikelewa Cave at 3600m.  The sky was overcast, and a thin fog covered the mountain, preventing any views.

Looking up at Kikelewa Cave, my second campsite.

Large ravens such as this one combed the campsites for scraps.

My water source, a runoff stream conveniently close by.

My second day’s camp.

Inside my little tent – very comfortable for one person!

My second dinner on the mountain; cooking, eating and drinking occupied a lot of my time at camp.

As the sun set, the fog cleared, and Mawenzi appeared in the distance.  At night the temperature plummeted, and unnecessary forays outside the tent became unpleasant, so I enjoyed the view from the warmth of my sleeping bag.

Mawenzi at dusk, distant, but right outside my front door.

Day 3: The morning air was clear and fresh.  This day’s destination would be the Mawenzi tarn, a small mountain lake at the base of Kilimanjaro’s Mawenzi peak.  In clear air, Kibo and Mawenzi were visible on the horizon.

Mawenzi in the sunrise.

Kibo rose out of the horizon. It is massive, very impressive to see in the distance.

Getting ready to break camp down, enjoying the morning sunshine and the views of Kibo in the distance.

An interesting plant, growing in dense patches on the lower mountain.

These plants grew all over the mountain at this elevation, creating the appearance of snow.

As I got closer to Mawenzi, interesting volcanic rock formations dotted the terrain.

Throughout the hike I often shared campsites and trail-space with large groups such as this one.

Around ~4200m I spotted this lizard just off of the trail. It looked cold!

After a short ~2 hours of hiking, covering 3.7km, I arrived at the Mawenzi Tarn campsite at 4330m.  The porters of several large groups had arrived before me, and so when I came into the campground it was fairly crowded with tents.  Thick fog hung over camp, for the most part socking everything in and obscuring views.

The Mawenzi Tarn campsite.

Pitching my tent in the fog.

My third campsite.

The Mawenzi tarn, a mountain lake at the base of the  Mawenzi volcano, served as a very convenient water source.  Overnight, it froze over completely.

The Mawenzi tarn.

After pitching camp and preparing drinking water, I went for an acclimatization hike towards Mawenzi.  I climbed roughly ~400m above my campsite, and rested for half an hour before descending to cook dinner and sleep.

The campsite, as seen from partway up Mawenzi. Fog obscured views higher up.

A nearly full moon appeared at dusk.

Third night’s dinner – spaghetti, peas, and corn!

Day 4: The morning came with a bright sunrise, unveiling a clear blue sky.  Mawenzi was stunning in the morning light.  The ground here was very dry, and gritty dirt began to cover my gear.  From here on, everything remained very grimy.

Mawenzi, catching the dawn.

Breaking camp, taking my time in the sunshine.

With the fog gone, the cloud ocean was visible far below.

I decided to head towards my high camp today, and so set off towards Kibo Hut, located across the Mawenzi saddle.  Kibo Hut is located in dry alpine desert and has no stable water source, so I had to carry the next day’s water supply up with me. Hauling the extra 7.5L of water made this a slow and difficult morning for me.  Despite this, I enjoyed perfect weather and amazing views of Kibo and Mawenzi as I crossed the saddle.

Kibo, across the saddle.

Looking back at Mawenzi, from the saddle.

Loaded up with water and gear, crossing the saddle.

Kibo hut, my fourth campsite, far in the distance. Crossing the saddle was demoralizing not only because my pack was burdened with extra water supplies, but also because the distances were visually deceptive.

This plane wreckage, still scattered across the saddle, is left over from a 2008 crash.

I was nothing if not relieved when I finally arrived at Kibo Hut, 4700m.

My fourth night’s campsite at Kibo hut.

I was feeling strong, and so decided to head up to the summit the next morning.  After pitching my camp and unloading gear, I began my final acclimatization hike.  I followed the summit-trail up to Hans Meyer Cave at 5243m, where I rested for an hour before heading down to my campsite to cook an extra-large dinner, hydrate, and sleep.  The summit trail followed a face of somewhat steep loose scree.

The summit trail. Steep, loose scree all the way to Gillman’s point, roughly 950m of gain.

Resting at Hans Meyer cave, 5243m.

As I prepared to go to bed, the sunset created a beautiful glow behind Mawenzi, highlighting a nearly full moon.

Mawenzi from Kibo Hut, at sunset.

Day 5: Summit day.  Most who climb Kilimanjaro opt to begin hiking to the summit around midnight, climbing overnight and reaching the top in the morning.  I didn’t fancy the idea of sharing the scree-covered trail with a large crowd, and was also keen to avoid the darkness and cold of nighttime.  Pace hadn’t been a problem to this point, so time wasn’t a big concern.  With all of this in mind, I made it my plan to climb to the top during the day. This turned out to be an excellent decision.

I woke up at 6 a.m., spent an hour boiling a liter of water (more problems with the stove), ate a fast breakfast, and started up the summit trail at 7:20 a.m.  On the way up, I encountered large groups of other hikers coming down.  Quite a few were in poor condition, suffering from severe altitude sickness, and several were unable to walk unassisted.

Many other hikers were descending, as I headed up.

I encountered quite a few porters and guides assisting the descent of climbers suffering from altitude sickness. I wondered why their clients had been pushed to continue.

I reached 5243m Hans Meyer cave at 9:00 a.m., about 30 minutes faster than I had managed during the prior day’s acclimatization push.  Mawenzi loomed on the horizon, a brilliant and seemingly endless cloud ocean behind it.  Up the scree slope, I could see the rocky outcrop which marks Gilman’s point, the end of the scree and the beginning of Kibo’s crater ridge.

Mawenzi on the horizon, a huge cloud ocean behind it.

Gilman’s point, the rocky outcropping in the middle of the picture.

I reached 5681m Gilman’s Point at 10:45 a.m.  Here, I had my first glimpse of Kilimanjaro’s famous glaciers.

A large sign marks Gilman’s Point.

Distant glaciers were visible from Gilman’s point.

Further along, Uhuru Peak was visible in the distance.  At 11:20 a.m. I reached 5739m Stella Point, roughly one hour away from the summit.

Uhuru Peak in the distance (center).

Another large sign at Stella Point.

The landscape inside Kibo’s crater rim was barren and devoid of life.  The path followed the rocky crater ridge, covered in volcanic scree and snow.

Alpine desert, inside Kibo’s crater.

The path past Stella Point, heading towards the summit.

As clouds billowed past, the famous sign which marks the true summit of Kibo, Uhuru Peak, became visible.

The summit sign finally appeared.

The glaciers on Kibo were impressive, but it was clear from their appearance that they had been receding.

The glaciers were prominent near the top.

It was incredible to see the size and height of the glaciers.

Bits of glacier inside of the crater ridge had almost melted completely.

The cloud ocean seemed to stretch on forever.

Stopping often to absorb the scenery and take lots of photographs, I arrived at 5895m Uhuru peak, the highest point in Africa, at 12:25 p.m.  I spent around 25 minutes on the summit before heading back down.

The final leg to the summit, where a small group was taking photographs and getting ready to descend.

The summit sign.

Feeling great at the top!

Retracing my steps along the crater ridge trail.

I arrived back at my campsite at 2:40 p.m., a 10.8km round trip.  After cooking a quick meal, I packed up all of my gear, and began descending another 9.6km to the Horombo campsite.

Packed up and ready to begin descending.

The route to Horombo was mostly level. The Mawenzi/Kibo saddle is vast, dusty, and very flat.

Mawenzi looked much different from the east.

Many of these giant plants, Senecio Kilimanjari, were growing along this part of the route.

The furry trunk of these plants is covered in their dead leaves. These apparently help insulate from the cold.

Horombo, my sixth campsite at 3720m, was more like a small village than a campground.  Numerous huts housed hikers and their support staff, and there was even running tap water!

Approaching Horombo, where huts have capacity to accommodate a large number of people.

My final campsite.

Day 6: I slept in until 7 a.m., cooked a big breakfast, and prepared to leave the mountain. My final day, I descended from 3720m Horombo down to the Marangu Gate trailhead at 1800m.  The trail down from Horombo was wide, and very gently sloped, so despite the substantial elevation loss the descent wasn’t too strenuous.

The morning view from Horombo.

An abundance of interesting vegetation covered this side of the mountain.

The trail from Horombo was wide and level.

From the east, Kibo and Mawenzi were visible together.

At 2700m I passed Mandara, another campground with an abundance of huts.

As I descended further the vegetation thickened, and the path passed through forest.

Many of these small, bright ‘elephant’s trunk’ flowers grew everywhere.

Finally I reached the Marangu Gate, my exit point and the starting point for hikers taking the Marangu route up the mountain.

At the Marangu Gate I checked out with the park rangers, weighed my pack at 17.5kg, and took a bit of time to look at some interesting commemorative plaques, maps, and signs near the gate.  After six days on the mountain, it was a little bit peculiar how quickly I found myself back in civilization after reaching the trailhead.  Jackson and I met our driver, had a huge lunch of cheeseburgers, salad, and cold beer, and drove back to Arusha.

A plaque at Marangu gate, commemorating Hans Meyer, the first European to climb Kilimanjaro.

Another plaque, dedicated to Hans Meyer’s climbing team.

Kilimanjaro beer and ginger cookies back at my hotel.

In all, the climb went almost perfectly as planned.  Aside from persistent – but manageable – issues with my stove, everything went smoothly and was enjoyable. I was lucky with weather, and mostly had clear days.  Climbing to the summit during the day was excellent; it afforded great views and allowed me to avoid the crowds and cold.

Above ~5000m the altitude made physical output more challenging, but I didn’t have any issues with altitude sickness or related discomfort.  My acclimatization definitely benefited from spending three days hiking Mount Meru before beginning Kilimanjaro, and I feel that the geography of my route also helped a great deal.  I was surprised at the crowds on the mountain, and a little bit disappointed by the amount of garbage I saw, especially near the top, left behind by other hikers.  Doing the climb unsupported kept my days busy setting up camp, cooking, obtaining water, and managing gear, which made for a rewarding hike!


Kilimanjaro is highly accessible.  Numerous guide and tour companies exist, and offer a wide variety of support options for hikers.  Price varies dramatically, and largely depends on the level and quality of support provided.  Most companies incorporate transportation, accommodation, and related logistics into their trip pricing. The Kilimanjaro Airport offers easy access into Arusha and Moshi.

At minimum, a guide is required for climbing permits, and I hired mine through a no-frills outfitter called Kilimanjaro Alpine Service, who offer unsupported ‘superlight’ services (no porters, cooks, gear or food).  I stayed at the Outpost Lodge in Arusha, which I found to be very comfortable and reasonably priced.  A wealth of information exists on hiking Kilimanjaro, and some outfitter websites also serve as quite detailed resources.

Snow Mountain North Peak – 雪山北峰 – July 2012

Snow Mountain’s North Peak.

Snow Mountain, with its Main Peak at an elevation of 3886m, is Taiwan’s second highest mountain.  After an exciting climb up the Main Peak in deep snow and inclement weather the past January (Snow Mountain – 雪山 – January 2012), I was eager to return for more hiking.

Snow Mountain’s Main Peak, viewed from the north ridge.

Having already made two winter hikes of the ‘standard’ eastern route up the Main Peak, I decided to take a longer, alternative route up and along the mountain’s ridge-line to visit Snow Mountain’s North Peak, and spend the night camping up on the ridge.

This map outlines the route I followed:

My hiking route.  Longer and more strenuous than the traditional Main Peak ascent, but worth it for the experience of hiking the ridge!

Day 0: Bus to Yilan, rented a scooter, drove to the eastern trailhead at Wuling Farm.  Hiked for ~45 minutes to Chika cabin, arriving quite late.

Day 1: Up eary, and hiking by 5:30 a.m.  The sky was clear, and the morning moon was bright.  As the trail moved higher up a series of switchbacks, the views got better and better.

The morning moon.

The air was clear, and to the east there was a great view of Nanhuda Shan (left), and Zhongyangjian Shan (right).

The weather was fantastic.  Blue skies and almost no clouds, but very hot.  A far cry from the winter weather I was accustomed to on this trail!

The trail looked unfamiliar in the summer weather.

After several hours of hiking, the trail reached Snow Mountain’s East Peak. In the wonderfully clear air both Snow Mountain’s Main Peak and the northern ridge were visible, looming in the distance.

On the East Peak of Snow Mountain, the Main Peak and north ridge in the distance.

A closer view of Snow Mountain’s Main Peak (far left) and North Shoulder (middle), as seen from the East Peak.

Further away, the Wuling Sixiu ridge could be seen.  At an even greater distance, Chilai Shan scratched the horizon.  The bright, clear sky was truly delightful.

The Sixiu ridge from the eastern Snow Mountain trail: Pintian Shan, Chiyou Shan, and Tao Shan left to right.

Chilai North Peak (left), and Main Peak (right) were visible far, far away.

Below the East Peak, 369 cabin rested in an alpine meadow, a barren stretch of terrain created by a forest fire.

369 cabin to the west, below the East Peak.

I reached 369 cabin at 9:00 and took a good rest.  I left 369 cabin at 10:30, heading along a rough forest path and across a stream, towards Kailantekun Shan and the north ridge of Snow Mountain.

The forest route looked great in the morning sunshine.

A small stream crossing near the end of the forest.

Higher up, the trees began to thin out, and eventually disappeared altogether.  As I broke out of the forest, I was greeted by an intimidating sight.  The fearsome cliffs of the northern ridge towered above me, and a steep trail of loose scree led upwards, cutting past the cliff faces and onto the ridge itself.

As I ascended above the treeline, this cliff face was my first view of the north ridge.

The north ridge is startlingly steep, crowned by vertical cliffs.

The path upwards was steep, and covered in loose scree.

The scree was tiring and unpleasant to climb, especially given my full backpack and large water supply. From the top of the ridge, I had great views of Snow Mountain’s northern ‘2nd’ glacial cirque.

The north, ‘2nd’ glacial cirque of Snow Mountain, located right behind Snow Mountain’s North Shoulder. This bowl-like formation is a remnant of ancient glacial movement.

Further along the ridge-line, I could see the North Peak jutting out to the west.

The North Peak beckoned.

369 cabin and the East Peak looked tiny below me.

369 cabin and the East Peak below.

As I moved north along the ridge, the weather began to deteriorate.  Huge, dark clouds began to form.  Thunder boomed in the distance, and the temperature dropped.

Ominous clouds were forming, accompanied by thunder. A gap in the clouds revealed blue skies over Zhongyangjian Shan.

The trail along the ridge wound up and down, alongside vertical cliffs and across rocky slopes.  The ridge offered some really exciting and enjoyable hiking!

The ridge trail followed the cliffs.

To the west, thick clouds billowed up and over the ridge.  I was certain that a downpour would begin any minute.

The clouds were moving in, and rain seemed imminent.

I finally reached the base of the North Peak.  Cairns of rock marked the summit.

Cairns on the North Peak.

The heavy clouds obscured any views from the top.  A roughly constructed rock sign sat atop the largest cairn.

The triangulation marker on top of the North Peak.

The North Peak summit sign.

As I returned south, heading towards the Main Peak, the clouds began to clear. I was lucky to avoid rainfall; the ridge is exposed, and any amount of rain would have been uncomfortable.

As the storm clouds cleared, the view returned. Here 369 cabin and the eastern trail are framed by Nanhuda Shan and Zhongyangjian Shan.

Further south, I passed back over the summit of Kailantekun Shan, marked with a neatly engraved metal post.

The Kailantekun signpost.

I reached the Kailantekun Shan saddle at around 5:30 p.m., and upon finding a small area of flat ground, decided to pitch camp.

My rough campsite on the ridge. The spot was very tight, and while my vestibule was a little bit crooked, I had just enough flat ground to sleep comfortably.

The sun began to set, and I enjoyed a colorful evening sky as I ate dinner in the vestibule of my tent.

I had a nice view of the horizon from my tent.

The sunset was colorful and very pleasant.

After a great night’s sleep, I awoke at 4:15 a.m.  The sunrise was unimpressive, and mostly obscured by clouds.  I cleaned up my campsite, and continued heading south, towards the Main Peak.  Looking back, I could see the winding ridge I’d traveled, the North Peak (far left) prominent.

Looking back at the north ridge.

At the base of Snow Mountain’s North Shoulder, more scree awaited me.  Scree is remarkably annoying to ascend.

More scree on the way up Snow Mountain’s North Shoulder.

The top of the North Shoulder was marked with another neatly engraved post.  Below, I could see huge groups of hikers headed up the ‘standard’ eastern route towards Snow Mountain’s Main Peak.

The top of the North Shoulder.

Below me, big groups of hikers were headed up the eastern trail to the Main Peak.

Watching the crowd below, I was happy to be approaching the Main Peak from the north, to this point with the trail all to myself.

From the top of the North Shoulder, a steep descent took me to a saddle between the Main Peak and North Shoulder.

The North Shoulder cast an interesting shadow past the saddle.

Looking back, the North Shoulder’s cliff was an impressive sight.  The route down towards the Main Peak curves past the sheer drops.

Looking back at the North Shoulder’s sharp face.

The Main Peak was crowded with other hikers.  It was a strange sight, given I’d been completely alone with the trail all to myself since passing 369 cabin the previous day.

The Main Peak was very crowded, and I had to line up to take a photo with the summit rock.

On top of the Main Peak.

From the Main Peak, I had a great view of Dabajian Shan.

Dabajian Shan, with the North Peak in front of it, from the Main Peak.

In the summer weather, the route down from the Main Peak was much different than the icy, snow-drift covered face I had experienced on previous Snow Mountain hikes.

The eastern Main Peak trail, my descent route.

Behind me the North Shoulder looked impressive on the way down.

The North Shoulder, viewed from the eastern trail.

Further down, I returned to the evergreen forest.  It was vibrant in the morning light.

I descended back through the forest, enjoying sunshine through the trees.

An opening in the trees, glowing with sunshine, marked the end of the forest.

From 369 cabin to the trailhead, the hiking was uneventful but pleasant.  The weather was hot and sunny, but not the slightest bit humid, and so quite comfortable.

One final signpost near the end of the trail.

I reached the trail head at 12:30 p.m., had a snack, packed up my gear, changed my clothing, and drove my rental bike back to Yilan.  This had been a fantastic hike, and I left feeling grateful to once again have had great luck with weather.  Camping on the ridge was exciting and beautiful, and the strenuous first day (most notably that short burst up the north ridge’s scree slope) had paid off through great views and enjoyable hiking terrain.


Wuling Farm, where the trailhead is located, is fairly easy to access.  I drove in via rental motorbike from Yilan. You need a Taiwanese driver’s license to rent.

Hiking Snow Mountain requires a national park entry permit, as well as police issued mountain entry permits.  Both are easy to apply for.  The Shei-Pa National Park permit website (in Chinese) is located here, and offers a very intuitive, easy to follow interface (perhaps the best of all Taiwan’s national parks):
Police permits can be applied for here (In Chinese).  For the website to load, you need to use Internet Explorer and adjust the encoding for ‘Chinese Traditional, Big5′ (found through Page -> Encoding):

Jade Mountain Main Peak – 玉山主峰 – December 2011

The Main Peak, as seen from the north saddle. This photo was taken on my April 2012 trip.

Jade Mountain, Taiwan’s highest at 3952m, is also perhaps Taiwan’s most famous.  A popular two-day hike, Jade’s Main Peak is relatively easy to access via a well-maintained – perhaps best described as ‘groomed’ – trail from the western trailhead at Tataja.

The first ~8 km of the western trail follows a cliff. Areas prone to landslide have been reinforced, and the trail is wide and smooth.

Doing more and more day hikes around Taipei, I had slowly begun looking into a Jade Mountain hike with some friends.  As I was fairly new to Taiwan’s system of mountain permits (a system especially pronounced at Jade, perhaps the country’s most popular high-mountain hike) the two day trip took some planning, and came with high expectations! We planned to use the Yuanfong cabin to overnight, as the Paiyun lodge was undergoing renovation at the time of our trip.

Here is an outline of the itinerary we took:

An outline of our two-day hiking itinerary.

Day 0: Took a bus from Taipei to Jiayi, where we rented scooters.  Drove to the western trailhead at Tataja, and overnighted in the Dongpu hostel, near the restricted access road at the base of the mountain.  The drive from Jiayi takes roughly three hours, and the Dongpu hostel is a very comfortable place to base a hike out of.

The beginning of Yushan national park, near the Dongpu hostel.

Day 1: After a good night’s sleep, we were up for an early start up the service road. After an hour of walking on pavement, we reached the official trailhead.

Our group at the trailhead.

The weather wasn’t ideal; overcast and very humid.  It looked like rain.  The trail upwards took us along the side of a cliff and through a deep valley, with very steep drop offs in sections.

Trees growing from the side of the cliff.

The trail is very well maintained, and for additional safety numerous chains have been installed where the path is narrow.

In rockier areas, the trail navigates across boardwalks.

Steep drops lay below.

Some of the drop-offs at the side of the trail were very impressive, and the views of the valley below were noteworthy, despite the fog and overcast sky.  We began to appreciate the wide trail; unmaintained, a narrow trail along this steep cliff would be quite dangerous!

Numerous rocky outcroppings extend above the valley.

Looking out across the valley.

Further in, the forest became denser, and some beautiful trees could be seen lining the path.  The hike to this point was fairly easy and very straightforward, due largely to the great trail and gentle ascent.  As we entered the forest, fog began to roll into the valley, obscuring most of the views but contrasting nicely with the trees along the path.

A thick blanket of fog poured into the valley.

We had to accept that the views were gone.

Dead trees on the side of the cliff created an eerie atmosphere in the fog.

Taking a sandwich break along the way, a pair of plump little birds joined us.  No doubt looking for food!

The birds, pondering us with inquiring minds (or so it would seem).

They were bold little creatures, and definitely expected some handouts!

After a few hours of progress a light drizzle began, and the trail began to ascend more sharply, following a series of rocky switchbacks.  We found ourselves enjoying the terrain, and began to feel like we were actually climbing up a mountain.

The path became rockier as we headed upwards.

Further along, we reached “the great precipice”, a steep and severe rock wall bypassed by a section of boardwalk and some clever trail construction.  It was impressive to look at, and a great spot to take a little break.

At the start of the precipice.

Resting on the boardwalk.

After the wall, the rain began coming down in earnest.  The fog thickened, and the great views we had been hoping for higher up were completely obscured.  We passed Paiyun cabin, and as we gained altitude, the weather got even worse.  Our original plan had been to wake up early the next day and head to the top for a sunrise, but we reasoned that this plan wouldn’t bear fruit for us given the weather.  We agreed that if it continued raining the next day we would rather sleep in, and thus we decided to head to the top in one push.

The wind worsened as we moved up the final portion of trail, a rough and very direct scramble over loose scree and crumbling rock.  I would learn later, on my third hike of Jade, that there is an alternative, much easier switchback route which branches off to the side – but the direct trail is more fun!  In strong winds and rain we felt as if we were climbing up into a storm.  Visibility was very poor.  When we finally reached the top, I was yelling at my friends to stay low, for fear the wind would take us right off!  The weather was heinous.

Taking pictures in the wind and rotten weather at the top of Jade Mountain.

My facial expression is a mixture of happiness, relief, and annoyance.

We spent less than five minutes on top; just long enough for some quick pictures.  We descended quickly, eager to make the Yuanfong cabin and get out of the weather.  The Yuanfong cabin is very basic inside, but it was dry, and we had it to ourselves.  I can’t imagine sharing it at capacity, with twelve other people.  It would be very unpleasant.

Yuanfong Cabin.

A basic A-frame, the cabin was nonetheless nice and dry.

“Bedspace” is allocated as part of the permit application process. You are designated a section of floor to sleep on. Luckily, we had the entire thing to ourselves.

Day 2: The next morning, our decision to sleep in paid off, as the weather had refused to clear up overnight.  Fog still hung over everything, and rain continued to drizzle down.  We ate a hot breakfast, packed up, and began to head down.  Roughly halfway down, the rain stopped, and we enjoyed a nice glow through the fog and trees.

Taking a break underneath an interesting old tree.

The air cleared a bit, and we enjoyed some morning light.

After four or five hours of descent, we reached the restricted access road that marked the trailhead.  By now the rain had stopped, and we comfortably headed back to the Dongpu hostel to pack up and head home.  We ate a nice lunch at the Dongpu hostel, and drove back to Jiayi, catching a train from there back to Taipei.

Eating snacks while walking the restricted access road.


We chose to use the Yuanfong cabin, and booked space for it through the permit application process.  At the time of our trip, the Paiyun cabin – the use of which would make climbing the Main Peak easier – was still closed for construction.  It will probably open soon.  Yuanfong has a reliable water source.  It is also possible to make a single-day ascent/descent of the Main Peak (and, with determination, probably one of the East, or North, or West peaks as well), provided you can illustrate experience and physical fitness  – email the permit application staff through the Yushan National Park website (linked below) to obtain the paperwork for this.

The Dongpu hostel (東埔山莊), located at the base of the mountain near the restricted-access service road, is very comfortable, and even provides warm bedding.  Bedspace can be booked, their phone number is 0492702213.

Getting to the trailhead isn’t difficult.  We took a bus to Jiayi, rented motorbikes, and drove ~3 hours to the trailhead.  This is by far the least expensive means of getting there!

Hiking Jade Mountain requires a national park entry permit, as well as police issued mountain entry permits.  Jade Mountain is a popular hike, and it is difficult to obtain a weekend permit; with Paiyun under construction, the number of hikers allowed access per day is limited.  Plan on going during the week.  The Yushan National Park permit website (in English) is located here:
Police permits (In Chinese) can be applied for here.  For the website to load, you need to use Internet Explorer and adjust the encoding for ‘Chinese Traditional, Big5′ (found through Page -> Encoding):