Clear Skies And Unforgettable Scenery: Snow Mountain
By Steven Crook Translated by Sheng Chen Photos courtesy of Freshtreks
Standing on the summit of Snow Mountain (Sheishan), Taiwan's second-highest mountain, in the moments before sunrise, gazing at the lights of distant lowland towns, we dug into our daypacks for snacks, cameras and sunglasses. The man who'd made it possible, Jean-Marc Compain, was just as excited--even though he does this kind of thing most weekends as part of his job, and was responsible for getting us back down the mountain safety.
He's got a job he loves, and he does it well. In the days before our Friday afternoon departure from Taipei, we received e-mails and phone calls from the company he founded, Freshtreks, telling us when and where to meet, and what to bring. If we lacked some of the items on the checklist, we were assured, Jean-Marc would loan the necessary equipment.
We drove from Taipei to Wuling Farm, via Ilan. We stopped for dinner in Nanshan (a small village surrounded by cabbage fields), and arrived at the trailhead an hour before midnight. While a policeman checked our permits, we divided up the provisions Jean-Marc had brought. Then, flashlights in hands, we set off along a well-maintained trail. The sky was clear; we could see thousands of stars.
Hikers tackling Snow Mountain do not need tents. There are two huts between the trailhead and the summit: Chika Refuge (2,463 meters above sea level) is just two kilometers from the checkpoint; the night before summiting, most people stay in Sanliujiu Refuge (altitude: 3,100 meters). Both have dormitories, cooking areas, and toilets. Chika has a reliable supply of water, but Sanliujiu often lacks running water.
On Saturday morning we lazed in the sun while Jean-Marc prepared breakfast--cake, bread, cheese, ham, jelly, washed down with real coffee (not instant). As you would expect from a Frenchman, Jean-Marc's culinary achievements throughout the weekend were exceptional.
From Chika to Sanliujiu is just five kilometers, but involves a number of steep sections. We ate lunch on Snow Mountain's East Peak (altitude: 3,201 meters), then soaked up the afternoon sun before proceeding to the refuge.
Jean-Marc is a >proactive leader. He often reminded us to speak up if we felt a blister or symptoms of altitude sickness coming on. And before settling in to sleep at Sanliujiu, he asked how many members of our multinational group were prepared to start for the peak at 3:30 the following morning.
Two opted to sleep late; after coffee and some breakfast, the rest of us set off in the pre-dawn blackness through the White Forest--a clearing on a slope dotted with the white remains of long-dead trees. Soon we were in alpine woods, where Jean-Marc warned us it is easy to get lost.
We came across a trickle surrounded by icicles--a sight we were glad to see, because it meant we would be able to replenish our dwindling water supplies on the way down.
The final few hundred meters to the peak required breathless exertions. Every 10 or 20 paces, I stopped to rest. But Snow Mountain seems less exhausting than Yushan, or even some smaller peaks such as Guanshan.
At the top, 3,886 meters above sea level, splendid weather allowed us marvelous views in every direction. We were surrounded by dozens of smaller peaks. Admiring the distinctive pyramid of Dabajianshan as it emerged from the night, I was tempted to immediately commit myself to another weekend in the mountains with FreshTreks!
Steven Crook hiked Snow Mountain courtesy of Freshtreks, a Taipei-based organizer of trekking, rock climbing, bungee jumping, paint-balling, paragliding, river tracing and other outdoor activities on land and water. Freshtreks can be contacted at (02) 2700-6988, and firstname.lastname@example.org. proactive leader. He often reminded us to speak up if we felt a blister or symptoms of altitude sickness coming on. And before settling in to sleep at Sanliujiu, he asked how many members of our multinational group were prepared to start for the peak at 3:30 the following morning.