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

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.

Accessibility

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:
http://mountain.ysnp.gov.tw/english/CP_how.aspx?pg=03&w=2&n=23001
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):
http://eli.npa.gov.tw/E7WebO/index02.jsp

Nanhuda Shan – 南湖大山 – February 2012

Nanhuda Shan.

Nanhuda Shan.

Zhongyangjian Shan and Nanhuda Shan

Nanhuda Shan (left) and Zhongyangjian Shan (right) viewed from North Hehuan Shan.

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

Nanhuda Shan (left), and Zhongyangjian Shan (right) viewed from near Snow Mountain’s East Peak

Nanhuda Shan, Taiwan’s fifth highest at 3742m, is one the most beloved mountains among Taiwanese hikers and is famous for its views and impressive, rocky faces.  Many experienced Taiwanese hikers will tell you that Nanhuda Shan is the most scenic, the most beautiful of Taiwan’s mountains.  I visited Nanhuda Shan in early February, and unfortunately experienced absolutely terrible weather on all four days of my trip.

Walking the entry road near the trailhead on the first day, before the weather turned to soup.

Despite the awful weather, the hiking was exceptional.  The route initially heads up through forest, but breaks the treeline after the first day, leading one across an awesome landscape of barren rock.  In the snow higher up, it was an eerie and severe place.

Here is an outline of my four day hiking route:

My four day hiking itinerary.

Day 0: Caught a train from Taipei to Luodong, in Yilan county, and stayed overnight in an inexpensive hotel.

Day 1: Up early, caught a taxi (NT$2500) from Luodong to the trailhead.  We opted to shell out for a Taxi, rather than rent a much cheaper motorbike, due to the already very unpleasant weather.  Rain showers and thick fog on the drive up.

From the trailhead, we walked 6.7km along an old overgrown service road, long rendered impassable to vehicles due to earthquakes, landslides, and typhoon damage.  Not so much a road as a wide, level hiking path.  Several detours took us off of the road, and over sections wiped out by landslide.  The weather began to worsen, and fog descended over everything.  It began to rain again.

The ‘road’ is overgrown and rough. Mostly level, we covered the 6.7km at a fast pace.

From the “true” trailhead, we hiked another couple of hours to the Yunling cabin, where we would camp for the first night. The Yunling cabin has plenty of bedspace and is well constructed, but we had opted to use our tents.  The weather was wet and wretched, and as night fell it became quite cold.  The temperature hovered around 0C; not quite cold enough for snow, and very unpleasant in the constant drizzle.  I had a good night’s sleep, but the friend who accompanied me this far was feeling ill, and didn’t sleep well.

Yunling cabin, with two friendly hikers whom I met on the third day.  We’re all wet!

Day 2: In the morning, my friend was much worse; he had stomach pain, and could not keep food down.  After much discussion, he decided to accompany another team who was headed home, and get off of the mountain.  The team he went with conveniently lived in Taipei, nearby his house. They gave him a lift all the way home!  I continued alone.

From Yunling cabin, I hiked upwards towards the Nanhu Cabin/campsite, passing Shenmazhen Shan and Nanhubei Shan on the way.

Shenmazhen Shan. Wet from the drizzle.

Nanhubei Shan. Terrible visibility and heavy rain.

Finally reaching the Nanhu Cabin, I pitched camp nearby.  The weather was even worse up high.  Colder, but just as wet.  I headed off to the Main Peak of Nanhuda Shan with two friendly Taiwanese hikers whom I met in the cabin. One, a businessman who spoke fluent English, had hiked Nanhuda Shan twice before, and told me that he had never seen such awful weather!  The route up to the Main Peak was surreal.  The fog was so dense that we could only see a few meters in front of us, and no trail had been broken through the snow.  We climbed up to the saddle between the East and Main Peaks, and then went about the business of finding trail markers, still visible despite the snow.  The terrain was rocky and desolate.

At the Main Peak, soaking wet. Whiteout visibility.

Getting back from the Main Peak took us much longer than it would have in decent weather.  We got lost a few times, and had to carefully backtrack.

Returning to the campsite, I crashed in my tent for a few hours of sleep.  When the sun set the temperature dropped, creating mucky fog and sleet.  It is hard to imagine worse camping weather.

Day 3:

I woke up feeling strong, and decided to take one more trip up the ridge before heading down.  My two new friends from the day before descended all the way to the trailhead, deciding to leave early due to the weather.  The temperature had dropped, freezing everything.  The sleet/rain stopped, but the fog remained.  Visibility was poor – I was completely socked in.  Retracing our route from the evening before, this time I turned east on the saddle, heading over fields of ice and snow towards the East Peak of Nanhuda Shan.  The trail was rough, rocky and almost totally devoid of plant life.  I built rock cairns as I went, to protect myself from getting lost in the low visibility fog.

The East Peak of Nanhuda Shan. Zero visibility!

From the East Peak, I returned to the Nanhu cabin.  There, I packed up my camping gear, and headed back to the Yunling cabin.  It began to rain again. At Yunling, I pitched camp in the rain, cooked a hot dinner inside and went to bed.  I slept like a rock; compared to the freezing sleet and saturated humidity of the night before, the rain was pleasant!

Adjusting my tent pitch, in the rain, on the third evening. Yunling had plenty of space, and I managed a nice comfortable setup.

Day 4: I slept in until 7 a.m., packed up, and hiked out to the trailhead.

Despite the weather, I thoroughly enjoyed this trip. The terrain at Nanhuda Shan is impressive, varied, and exciting higher up.  Hopefully I’ll get some views, and some better photographs next time!

Accessibility

The Yunling cabin is well built and appeared spacious enough for sleeping.  I chose to camp at Yunling, and did so quite comfortably for two nights.  The area around Yunling has space for two or three tents.  Yunling has a reliable water source.  You can book cabin space and camping space during the permit application process.

The Nanhu cabin is quite large, and was very comfortable.  There are numerous spots for camping at the Nanhu cabin, and plenty of space, as well as a reliable water source (a nice stream).  Nanhu campsite is above the treeline and very exposed.  In the high humidity and freezing rain/sleet I experienced, it was definitely not ideal for camping.  There is also a ‘middle’ cabin located between Yunling and Nanhu, the Shenmazhen cabin.

The Nanhuda Shan trailhead is fairly easy to access.  Take a bus or train to Yilan City or Luodong, and rent a motorbike.  A taxi in cost us NT$2500.

Hiking Nanhuda 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”.  After the first day I did this hike alone (and the friend who accompanied me on the first day isn’t Taiwanese).  My Taiwanese friend was, unfortunately, feeling under the weather and couldn’t make it. 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 and adjust the encoding for ‘Chinese Traditional, Big5′ (found through Page -> Encoding):
http://eli.npa.gov.tw/E7WebO/index02.jsp

Beidawu Shan – 北大武山 – March 2012

The summit of Beidawu Shan, as seen from the ridge-line trail which approaches from the south.

3090m Beidawu Shan (北大武山), located in Pingdong county, is Taiwan’s southernmost 3000m+ mountain. Remarkably prominent, visibly towering over the surrounding area, the  trail up to the top of Beidawu Shan ascends almost 2000m, making for a really solid hike.

The trail winds up over staircases of rock and tree root, crossing a narrow ridge.

This particular mountain is well renowned for its ‘cloud ocean’ in clear weather.  I had great luck with the weather on this trip, and wasn’t disappointed – above the cabin I had fantastic views.  Here is an outline of the route I took:

A map of my two day hiking route.

Day 1: I caught the overnight train from Taipei to Kaohsiung, arriving in Kaohsiung at 6 a.m.  I rented a motorbike in Kaohsiung and drove to the trailhead.  Getting to the trailhead was a nightmare – after passing the Pingdong Train Station and leaving Route #1 (see the linked map below) the road goes through some very rural farming areas, and signage is absolutely horrendous.  I had to stop and ask for directions several times, despite having a map and basic instructions.  If making this trip for the first time, I strongly recommend using a GPS.

For reference, here is a map outlining the route from the Pingdong Train Station to the trailhead: MAP

Past the village of Taiwu, the road up to the trailhead is in poor condition, heavily damaged by typhoon Morakot.  Higher up, the road is impassable due to landslide, and the trailhead has been moved further down the mountain as a result.  The above maps reflect this change.  The lower trailhead adds a few kilometers of steep terrain to the first day of hiking, but overall this wasn’t too bad.  There was plenty of parking space along the road, and the roadside trailhead was clearly marked with hiking tags.

Hiking through the misty lower forest.

The weather was a bit unpleasant on the first day; very humid and muggy, with fog obscuring most of the views.

The trail lower down crosses several landslides. Foggy weather on the first day.

Interesting, twisted trees grew all over the mountainside.

After four hours of hiking, I reached the Guigu Cabin (檜谷山莊), which was very comfortable and well constructed.  I went to sleep at 5 p.m., knowing I had to be up early the next day.

Day 2: I woke up at 2:30 a.m., and began hiking in darkness at 3:30 after cooking a hot breakfast.  The trail from Guigu Cabin, which is located at ~2100m, ascends roughly 1000m up to the top, and is moderately steep. The trail stretches upwards across the mountain before breaking onto the ridge, where I began to enjoy some great views.

Contrasted by trees, the clouds were fantastic.

The horizon looked interesting in the morning light.

The mountain casts a huge shadow with the sunrise behind it.

The shadow of the Beidawu Shan in the morning sun.

Nearby mountains looked small.  At 3090m Beidawu Shan isn’t the highest of Taiwan’s mountains, but it definitely dominates its landscape.

Much higher than anything else nearby.

Mountains peeking out of the clouds below.

The trail on the ridge was interesting, with lots of foliage to navigate.

The ridge was covered in trees and vegetation.

Near the top, some interesting artifacts can be found.  A crumbling war monument, built on the mountain to honor the Aboriginal Taiwanese who fought for the Japanese during the Second World War, occupies a clearing in the trees.  It fits right in with the environment; ancient and overgrown.

The war monument.

An old Japanese shrine also occupies the ridge.  According to signboards posted nearby, the shrine was originally built right on the summit of the mountain, against the wishes of the local Aboriginal Taiwanese, who hold the mountain sacred.  Perhaps due to this transgression, the shrine was repeatedly struck by lightning, and had to be moved lower to its present-day location.  From the shrine, the summit is roughly an hour’s hike away.

The old Japanese shrine.  The summit of Beidawu Shan is visible past the trees to the right.

I reached the top at 7:30 a.m., and spent an hour on top taking in the views, enjoying the sunshine, and eating snacks. The sea of clouds was brilliant, and the sun was bright in the morning sky.

Near the top.

From the mountaintop the clouds seemed endless.

At the top of Beidawu Shan.

I took my time descending, and stopped at Guigu on the way down to cook a hot lunch.

An interesting section of trail just below Guigu Cabin. Severe drops to either side of this narrow stone ridge.

I got back to the trailhead at 2 p.m., making for a long day of hiking with roughly 1000m of ascent and 2000m of descent.  Since I knew where to go, the drive back to Kaohsiung was much faster and more pleasant than the drive in had been the day before.  In Kaohsiung I boarded the train back to Taipei, and had a good long nap on the way home!

Accessibility

From southern Taiwan Beidawu Shan is fairly easy to get to – it is only ~3 hours out of Kaohsiung (assuming you don’t get repeatedly lost, like I did).  From the north, you’re looking at a 6-7 hour car drive, or a train ride, then a motorbike rental, and then a 3 hour drive.  Here is a map outlining the route from the Pingdong train station: MAP

The Guigu cabin (檜谷山莊) is a comfortable and well built mountain hut. Sleeping space inside of the cabin can be reserved through the Forest Recreation website, here (in Chinese):
http://recreation.forest.gov.tw/askformonhouse/AskForMainB.aspx
Reservation needs to be done well in advance, as space fills up very quickly on weekends.  Unfortunately, a Taiwanese I.D. number is required to register for the website, and thus, to make reservations.  If a Taiwanese friend registers and reserves a space in your name, it won’t be an issue if they don’t accompany you on the hike.  Alternatively, several very nice campsites exist below the cabin.  Most of the campsites use wooden platforms, so bring extra guyline if your tent isn’t freestanding.

Hiking Beidawu Shan doesn’t require a National Park entry permit.  However, it does require a police-issued mountain entry permit.  There are two ways to obtain this.  The easier method, is to apply in advance through the police website.  For the website (in Chinese) to load, you need to use Internet Explorer and adjust the encoding for ‘Chinese Traditional, Big5′ (found through Page -> Encoding):
http://eli.npa.gov.tw/E7WebO/index02.jsp
Alternatively, you can visit any Pingdong police station in person, on your way to the mountain, and fill out the paperwork by hand on the day you plan to begin hiking.  I strongly urge that this only be considered a last-minute option.  It is much faster and easier to do this online.

Snow Mountain Main Peak – 雪山主峰- January 2012

The north shoulder of Snow Mountain, as seen from the glacial cirque at its base.  This photo was taken during my December 2010 trip.

At 3886m Snow mountain (雪山) is the second highest mountain in Taiwan.  So named due to the heavy snowfall it can experience during the winter, the Snow Mountain trail hosts some of Taiwan’s most beautiful hiking.  Across snowfields, into an ancient forest, and finally up through a unique glacial cirque, the east Snow Mountain route takes one through several ecological zones and some marvelous terrain.

The mountain had seen heavy snowfall just prior to our trip.

Last year, in December, I made a trip to this mountain with a group of five friends.  Cold weather and icy conditions made for a real adventure to the summit.  This year’s trip promised to be equally exciting.  I expected the January weather to present a real winter landscape, and I wasn’t dissapointed.

Heavy snow in the black forest.

Here is an outline of our hiking itinerary:

Our three day hiking route.

Day 1: We started our trip with a four hour bus-ride from Taipei to Wuling farm in Shei-Pa National Park.  The cherry trees were in full blossom.

Cheery trees in bloom at Wuling Farm

From Wuling Farm we hitched a ride up to the trailhead.  Our plan involved a short 2 km hike from the trailhead to the Chika mountain cabin, where we would spend the night.  The second day, we would hike 8.9 km from the Chika hut to the summit, and then 3.8 km back down to the 369 hut, where we would spend the second night.  On the third day, we would hike 7.1 km back to the bottom.  The trail to Chika was short and easy – time permitting it is much better to hike to 369 hut on the first day.

The short trail to Chika runs through some nice forest.

The hunchback of Chika Cabin. We had some time to kill!

Day 2: At Chika we woke up at 3 a.m., and after breakfast, hit the trail at 4:30 a.m.  Above Chika, the air became colder, and we got our first glimpses of snow.

The trail above Chika gave us our first glimpse of snow.

The trees were very beautiful.

The air wasn’t perfectly clear; a thin mist hung over everything.

We reached 369 cabin and found it mostly empty.  A park ranger greeted us, and warned that the weather had been poor higher up in recent days.

369 Cabin was blanketed.

A snowy landscape.

Above the 369 hut, we entered the black forest, a beautiful and haunting place in the winter.  On our way through the forest, we met a team of five climbers from Hong Kong, on their way back.  They didn’t greet us or smile.  We would learn later that they had gotten past the forest, but had decided to turn around due to the poor visibility.

The Black Forest.

The path through the forest.

It was hard to believe we were still in Taiwan!

Huge icicles in the black forest.

The snow became deeper and deeper.  Undeterred, we pushed onwards.

The snow was getting deeper.

After the forest we reached the primary glacial cirque, a unique ‘bowl’ formation at the base of the ridgeline which marks the final leg of the route to the summit.  It began snowing when we arrived in the cirque, and in places the ground was covered with a good 2 feet.  Visibility was very poor, but our spirits were high.

At the cirque, the weather quickly worsened.

The ridgeline above us was invisible due to the snow, and the trail markers were buried.  I had hiked this route before, and knew where we needed to go.  We forged along the face of the mountain, headed south-east towards the ridge, kicking and stomping footholds.  The poor visibility made the going slow.

Heading up to the Main Peak of Snow Mountain.

Finally, I saw the ridgeline and we burned a trail straight to the top.  We were a bit unsure whether we were north or south of the summit – but a quick hike confirmed that we were to the south.  Ten minutes later, we were at the peak.  All three of us made it, and it felt like a real accomplishment.

On Snow Mountain Main Peak.

We got back to the 369 hut one hour before nightfall, right on schedule.  In all, we had been hiking for roughly 12 hours – slow due to the visibility.

Day 3: The next morning we woke up at 6 a.m., and hit the trail at 8 a.m. – plenty of time to cook a nice breakfast.  On our way down, the weather cleared up a little bit.  The Ranger at 369 took off for the summit, keen on what appeared to be a break in the weather.

A view of the ridge – the main peak obscured by clouds – on the way back down.

Clouds were billowing past, and we had interesting views on the way down.

Under blue skies, the landscape was very pleasing.

As we descended the air warmed at lower altitude and the snow slowly disappeared.  We found ourselves enjoying the sunny pine forest which we had hiked mostly in darkness on the first two days.

Lovely sunshine warmed us up.

The forest was cool and refreshing.

Our adventure complete, and successful, we caught our bus back to Taipei!

Accessibility

The 369 cabin is large, and while basic, is fairly comfortable.  There is a reliable water source at both Chika and 369.  Hut space can be booked online, during the permit application process.

Wuling Farm, where the trailhead is located, is fairly easy to access.  We took a bus from Taipei to get there (~4 hours).  Be warned that buses don’t run to the trailhead itself, only to the Wuling Farm visitor center.  It is fairly easy to hitch a ride up to the trailhead – try politely asking the park staff.  More information on the bus we took here (in Chinese): http://www.wuling-farm.com.tw/location/index.php

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):
https://apply.spnp.gov.tw/
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):
http://eli.npa.gov.tw/E7WebO/index02.jsp

North / West Hehuan Shan – 北合歡山 / 西合歡山 – April/May 2012

Looking out over the Hehuan Shan.

The Hehuan Shan mountain range is a popular tourist spot in Taiwan. Well known as home to the country’s highest road, several of the area’s mountaintops are easily accessible.  The Hehuan mountains are famous for their heavy snowfall in the wintertime, and vibrant rhododendron flowers in the spring. The Hehuan range is quite exposed, and receives more snowfall (and generally inclement weather) than most of Taiwan’s other mountains.

Rhododendrons and a great view.

In April I headed to Hehuanshan with a friend to hike the North-West ridgeline – a camel back of ups and downs, all over 3100m in elevation. The plan just barely fit into my weekend; I’d be able to get there Saturday, camp out on the ridge overnight, hike all day Sunday, and get home at a reasonable hour.  The April hike was so enjoyable, that I went and did it again in early May, this time with my friend Richard.  This journal provides a rough outline of both hikes.

Here is an outline of the itinerary we took for both trips:

A map of our two day itinerary.

Day 1: Both trips started with a ~4 hour bus from Taipei to Puli, a motorbike rental in Puli, and a 2 hour drive to the trailhead.  From the trailhead, we hiked for an hour or so to the North Peak, and then pitched camp nearby.

In clear weather Snow Mountain is visible from the North Peak of Hehuan Shan.

Chilai Shan’s North Peak (left) and Main Peak (right) can also be seen.

Day 2: Up early, we hiked across the entire North-West ridge, from the North Peak to the West Peak and back.  The West Peak has a great little sheltered spot to stop and eat lunch in a nearby patch of trees.  From the trailhead, we drove back to Puli, and caught a bus back to Taipei.

In clear weather, the views of surrounding terrain are lovely.

On both trips, we pitched camp nearby the 3422m North Peak.  There are lots of comfortable spots for this (albeit, none with a water source); don’t settle for the first one you see if it isn’t perfectly level!

Our very comfortable campsite on the April hike.

Our campsite for the May hike – not the best tent pitch, as the ground wasn’t perfectly level and the bushes prevented proper guy-line use.

The north-west ridge of Hehuan Shan is perhaps the only moderately challenging hike the Hehuan mountains have to offer.  Four of the nearby peaks offer trails which can be completed in between fifteen minutes and two hours, but the north-west ridge offers a solid 8-9 hour day of good hiking over very enjoyable terrain.

Many people come up the North Peak to take photographs of the flowers and beautiful terrain.

After waking up and eating breakfast, we set off west along the ridge, headed towards the 3145m West Peak.  The “West Peak” isn’t much of a mountain, more just the western-most termination point of this particular ridge.

Looking back at the North Peak behind us.

The trail continuously drops and climbs, and has five big ‘humps’ to travel over before reaching the West Peak.  The terrain is very aesthetic, with pastoral fields, intermittent pine forest, and Yushan cane. On both hikes, the rhododendrons were blooming, and their pink flowers were a common sight along the trail.

Rhododendron flowers.

Rhododendron flowers.

Patches of pine forest cover parts of the trail.

At times, the trail is quite steep.  With the entire ridge above 3100 meters, it makes for great exercise.

Heading down the ridge.

Some great views in clear weather. Nanhuda Shan and Zhongyangjian Shan.

Knowing that the objective of the hike, the diminutive and unimpressive West Peak, was somewhat uninspiring once achieved, we brought along snacks and a nice beer on both hikes.

The softly rounded West Peak in the distance. Zoom in and you can see some hikers on top.

About to enjoy a cold beer on the West Peak!

Accessibility

In great weather, this is a truly fantastic day hike.  Logistically, it takes some time to get to the trail, and might be best if done as a relaxed two or three day trip, with some time spent exploring the smaller trails in the area, or enjoying the high-end facilities of nearby resorts.  The cheapest way to get there, is to drive a car, or take a bus to Puli and rent a motorbike.  The North Peak trailhead is hard to miss, and is located right near the 37km marker of route 14, well past the Songsyue mountain lodge.

The North Peak offers some great terrain for camping.  Some of the best spots are just off the trail on the south side of the North Peak, a short distance below the top.  Unfortunately, there are no reliable water sources.

There are no national park permits for this particular hike, although a police-issued mountain entry permit is required.  There is nobody up there to check for it though, and it seems highly unlikely that anyone bothers with it, given the fairly crowded area around the base of the North Peak.  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):
http://eli.npa.gov.tw/E7WebO/index02.jsp

Jade Mountain Seven Peaks – 玉山七峰 – April 2012

Jade Mountain’s Main Peak.

Jade Mountain (玉山), Taiwan’s highest mountain at 3952m, can also be considered the high point of its own small mountain range.  I’d climbed the remotest, seldom visited pair of  mountains on this range, 3081 meter Xiluanda Shan (西巒大山), and 3263 meter Junda Shan (郡大山) a few weeks before this trip, and had already climbed the Main Peak of Jade the past December, forging through unpleasant weather to get to the top.

A landslide-prone trail segment on the way to the Main Peak.

April is the beginning of spring in Taiwan, and prime hiking season. A return trip to Jade Mountain seemed to be a good idea, and I slowly put together an interesting itinerary for a three day trip. I made a plan; climb all seven of the 3000+ meter peaks near Jade’s Main Peak (saving the southwest Nanyu Shan and southeast Lu Shan for a later trip, given the additional two days required to reach them) in three days.

After hours of paperwork and correspondence with the Yushan National Park to acquire the necessary permission and park entry permits, the plan solidified. A few friends also decided to join me for the main summit.

Here is an outline of the hiking plan:

A map of my three day route.

Day 0: Caught a bus from Taipei to Jiayi, and met a friend who conveniently lives nearby. Rented motorcycles, and drove three hours from Jiayi to the Tataja trail-head, went to sleep early in the Dongpu mountain hostel.

Day 1: Started hiking up the restricted-access service road to the start of the trail at 4 a.m., slow with a heavy pack of camping gear and food (We ate very well; a gourmet – but heavier – menu of dumplings, meatballs, soup, noodles, canned fish, cheese, cookies, pizza, and an abundance of chocolate and snacks). A tiring beginning!

Feeling sleepy, walking the police road to the trailhead.

I reached the first trail split at 7 a.m., slightly ahead of the others, dropped my pack and burned up a steep trail of big boulders and scree to the first mountaintop of the trip, the Front Peak (3239m). The view wasn’t much to speak of, but the path up was a really fun scramble over huge rocks. Back on the trail by 8:30 a.m., caught up with everyone by ~10 a.m.

Jade Mountain’s Front Peak, seen from higher up the trail.

On top of the Front Peak.

We had wonderful weather, and on the way to our campsite the clouds parted for a moment, revealing Jade Mountain’s distant Main Peak, bathed in sunlight.

The Main Peak in a patch of sun.

Reached the Yuanfong campground (above the treeline at ~3600 meters) at 1 p.m., where I unloaded and pitched camp.  I left Yuanfong alone at 2 p.m., heading south towards the South Peak and Dongxiaonan Shan, the second and third mountains on my schedule. Clouds were rolling in, and the temperature dropped sharply.

The ‘trail’ along the south ridge of Jade Mountain is wild and unmaintained – almost nonexistent for long stretches – a compass is mandatory for hiking here. The ridge itself is made up of loose scree and boulders. Numerous ‘teeth’ and cliffs break the ridge apart, making it difficult to follow.

The south ridge of Jade is jagged and sharp, featuring many eerie rock ‘teeth’.

I reached the base of the barrel-like South Peak (3844m) at 2:30 p.m. It was definitely one of the hardest peaks of the trip, with some scrambling to the top.

The route up the South Peak. Steeper than it appears pictured here!

On top of the South Peak of Jade Mountain.

Continuing south towards Dongxiaonan Shan, the weather worsened and thick cloud descended.  Visibility was very poor.  I reached the top of Dongxiaonan Shan (東小南山, 3744m) at 4 p.m. The name of this mountain doesn’t translate well; it literally reads “East Small South Mountain”. An easy mountain to climb, it was a bit difficult to find due to the fog and twisting ridge. In stark contrast to the South Summit, Dongxiaonan Shan is a softly-rounded dome.

On top of Dongxiaonan Shan.

Returning to Yuanfong the trail was immersed in fog, and I spent ~45 minutes lost, just blindly following the jagged ridge-line north with no trail, using my compass to keep course. I got back to Yuanfong at 6:30, exhausted, and went to sleep after cooking up some hot dinner.

Day 2: Started hiking at 8:30 a.m., headed North towards the Main Peak. It was a clear, beautiful day, and the switchback trail up to the Main Peak, as well as the Peak itself, were both visible in the distance.

The route from Yuanfong towards the Main Peak.

With very clear air, we had excellent views south towards Yuanfong. The trail to Yuanfong is clearly visible.

We reached Jade Mountain’s 3952m Main Peak at around noon, and spent an hour celebrating, eating snacks, taking pictures, and enjoying the view.

At the top of the Main Peak.

Our group parted ways at 12:45 p.m.  Two of my friends hadn’t slept well, and decided to descend to the trailhead and return home. The remaining two of us had slept like a pair of rocks in my tent, and were feeling well fueled by heaps of dumplings, meatballs, and noodles, so we were sticking to our plan. The next objective on my schedule was the impressive East Peak of Jade Mountain. It was clearly visible from the Main Peak, and looked daunting.  I descended Jade’s east face alone, sliding down steep scree to the eastern saddle. The summit of the East Peak, marked by a cairn of rocks, was clearly visible in the distance.

The East Peak, seen from the eastern saddle.

A close up of the East Peak.

On top of the East Peak, the Main Peak in the background.

I reached the top of the East Peak (3869m) at 2 p.m. – a steep, exhilarating, and thoroughly entertaining climb to the top, and worth it for the views.

I returned to the sheltered East Peak trail-head at 3 p.m., where I met my friend. Together, we descended the north ridge, headed towards the North Peak of Jade Mountain. It was cold and windy!

Covered up in the wind.

Taiwanese hikers sometimes do things a little bit differently than Westerners. For one, rainboots are widely regarded as footwear well-suited for hiking. This makes sense, when one considers Taiwan’s consistently inclement weather, mud, leeches, and sharp rocks. Rainboots are cheap, waterproof, and difficult to ruin. A Taiwanese friend whom I’d met climbing on Snow Mountain and Beichatian Shan (he was using his own pair of rainboots to hike in deep snow and sub-zero weather on Snow Mountain in January!) helped us out for this trip, and gave my friend a pair of top-end rainboots for climbing Jade. Not your standard rainboots, these have thickly padded insoles, grippier outsoles, and bold styling: the Chinese says “Legendary White Rainboots”.

Legendary white rainboots.

In addition to great views of the Main peak, the East Peak was clearly visible from the north ridge trail.

The Main Peak towers above the north ridge.

The East Peak was prominent and clearly visible from the north ridge.

We reached the North Peak (3858m) at around 5 p.m.  We had amazing views of the North ridge, the Main Peak, the East Peak, and a billowing sea of clouds.

On the North Peak of Jade Mountain.

Our view of Jade Mountain’s Main Peak and East Peak.

The sea of clouds north of the North Peak stretched into the horizon.

We took our time returning to Yuanfong, enjoying a bright moon and near-cloudless sky full of stars. We got back to camp at 9:30 p.m. – a long 13 hour day for me, and a solid 11 hours for my friend.

Day 3: Packed everything up, and started hiking at 8:30 a.m. We still had perfect weather!

All packed up, we departed Yuanfong. The hut (and water source), seen here, is very basic – our tent was far more comfortable.

Looking down at the Yuanfong campsite.

We reached Paiyun lodge at 10 a.m., and took a break. The lodge is placed for the convenience hikers who only wish to climb the Main Peak of Jade Mountain, and was  under renovation at the time of our trip. When it is completed, the mountain’s Main Peak will be very accessible, and much, much easier. The campsite we used adds another ~2 hours round-trip to any overnight trip involving the Main, North, or East peaks, but is conveniently located with access to the southern ridge.

Paiyun lodge, right on the western saddle. The west ridge and the West Peak are to the left.

We reached the West Peak (3518m) at noon, and were back at Paiyun to cook up a hot lunch by 1 p.m.

On the West Peak of Jade Mountain.

Descending, we reached the trailhead and our motorcycle at 5 p.m. A long drive, followed by a longer bus ride, and we were back in Taipei at 3 a.m.  This trip was better than I could have imagined.  My friends had a fantastic time, the weather was perfect, our food was delicious and worth carrying, and all four of us accomplished our respective goals.

Loaded up with camping gear on the way out.

Accessibility

We chose to use the Yuanfong campground, and brought a tent.  Yuanfong campground is above the treeline, and thus is very cold and windy year-round, but has plenty of space for pitching.  If one desires, “bedspace” (I use that term very loosely – you sleep on the floor) at the Yuanfong hut can be booked.  At the time of writing, the Paiyun cabin – the use of which would make climbing the Main Peak easier – is still closed for construction.  It will probably open soon.  Using Yuanfong to overnight is a viable alternative to Paiyun, although it does add a good ~2 hours of hiking on the first day.  Yuanfong has a reliable water source; the rainwater reservoirs were half full when we visited, despite the dry weather which the area had been experiencing.  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:
http://mountain.ysnp.gov.tw/english/CP_how.aspx?pg=03&w=2&n=23001
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):
http://eli.npa.gov.tw/E7WebO/index02.jsp