Mount Kinabalu – February 2016

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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.

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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.

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Laban Rata.

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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.

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Sunset from Laban Rata.

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Sunset from Laban Rata.

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Sunset from Laban Rata

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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.

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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.

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Sunrise from the summit.

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Low’s Gully, from Kinabalu summit.

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Looking down the guideline which stretches across the summit plateau.

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The summit plateau.

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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 http://www.suteraharbour.com/ 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunset from the Illiniza refuge.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Taking a break above the clouds.

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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.

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The summit cross of Illiniza Norte.

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On the summit of Illiniza Norte.

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

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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.

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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.

Accessibility

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 info@puertaalcorazon.com

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 www.andesclimbing.com, 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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South Lake.

Past South Lake the trail moved through forest.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Our campsite near Long Lake.

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

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First night’s sunset.

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

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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.

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Looking up Mount Goode’s southeast slope.

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

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Mount Agassiz and Bishop Lake.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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West of the summit, looking west.

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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.

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The summit of Mount Goode.

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Looking down the north face.

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

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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.

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Melt water rivers.

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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.

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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!

Accessiblity:

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: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/inyo/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=stelprdb5144746

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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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Popocatepetl to the south.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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Crosses on the rocks above.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Amecameca below us.

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

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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.

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Sunrise illuminated Pico de Orizaba, far in the distance.

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Orizaba’s silhouette at sunrise.

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Popocatepetl at dawn.

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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.

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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.

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The shadow of Iztaccihuatl.

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Looking over the clouds from the Ayoloco glacier.

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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.

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Pico de Orizaba (right) in the morning clouds.

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Popocatepetl.

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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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The summit of Iztaccihuatl.

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On the summit.

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

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Popocatepetl smoking in the distance.

Below us, an incredible cloud ocean.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Accessibility

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.

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

The address, from their keychain.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Accessibility

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:
http://permits2.taroko.gov.tw/welcome/index.aspx
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):
http://eli.npa.gov.tw/E7WebO/index02.jsp

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.

Accessibility

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.