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HOME >SOUTHERN TAIWAN >KAOHSIUNG&PINGTUNG> ARTICLES >

FYI SOUTH Magazine, October 2003. VOL.3 ISSUE 10

Cover Story:

Into The Wild: Hiking In Taiwan's High Mountains

By Steven Crook
Translated by
Photos by Richard Matheson

     You don't have to get out of your car to enjoy Taiwan's mountains. The cross-island highways provide tremendous views of the Central Mountain Range.

     But these roads have brought development and pollution to many areas. To get away from humanity's garbage, and properly appreciate how unspoiled and untamed much of Taiwan remains, one has to shoulder a backpack full of equipment and supplies, and walk--for a day or more--into the wilderness. It's easy to hike for a week without meeting another soul.

     In the high mountains, apart from the occasional gurgle of running water and the rustle of leaves in the wind, there is almost never a sound. At night, you may hear the barks and yaps of monkeys, deer, and other animals. But no cars, no motorcycles, and no people.

     High-mountain hiking is, of course, physically strenuous, and careful preparations have to be made if you're to enjoy yourself.

    Unguided and even solo treks are possible, but those without much experience should consult a hiking association about guides, routes, and mountain permits. Hiking clubs can be found in every city and county, and can be contacted through sports-equipment stores.

GETTING THE RIGHT GEAR

     If you don't already have a pair, hiking boots may well be the most costly item on your shopping list. A decent two-man waterproof tent can be had for less than NT$5000. Many essentials, such as camping stoves and sleeping mats, can be found at hypermarkets.

     In addition to the obvious (sleeping bag, cooking utensils, flashlight, food and water, a change of clothes, raincoat, First Aid kit, a Swiss Army knife, map and compass, toilet paper), there are minor articles which can prove very useful: An umbrella; plastic sandals; and duct tape (for repairs).

     Several layers of thin clothing are preferable to a few bulky garments. Always change out of sweat-drenched clothes before night falls. Take a cheap pair of cotton gloves, and a small towel.

    Staying hydrated and nourished is as important as keeping dry and warm. Avoid canned foods for weight reasons. Dried products such as instant noodles and soups are ideal. Bread, crackers, granola, nuts, cookies, and chocolate are all worth bringing. Take some instant coffee, tea bags and powdered milk; boil all water collected from streams.

HEALTH HAZARDS

     Snakes are extremely rare above 2,000 meters. Mosquitoes are not a problem in the high mountains. Rodents can be found above 3,000 meters; they don't attack humans, but they will nibble at food left outside overnight.

     Many first-time high-mountain hikers feel some ill effects because of the high altitude. Some experience nothing more than a mild shortness of breath, while others suffer persistent headaches, nausea, and a loss of appetite.

     The most serious danger is High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). The symptoms are similar to pneumonia: Fluid collects in the victim's lungs, causing breathing difficulties, a cough, and occasionally death.

    Whether you'll suffer from altitude sickness, and how severe it will be, depends on how high you go, how fast you ascend, and how hard you are exerting yourself. Don't push yourself too hard on the first day, and drink plenty of fluids.

     Remember that severe sunburn happens more easily at higher elevations. Use plenty of sunscreen and wear sunglasses.

WHEN AND WHERE

     The further north one goes, the colder the winters, and the greater the chance of rain or snow.

     Shei-pa National Park, which straddles the counties of Miaoli, Hsinchu and Taichung, is so named because it includes both Snow Mountain (Taiwan's second tallest peak at 3,884 meters), and Dabajianshan, an imposing 3,492-meter-high massif. According to the authorities, the best periods for hiking in the park are October to December and March to April. In winter, snow and ice sometimes blocks trails; heavy showers are common in April and May, and in summer typhoons are a threat.

    Yushan, Taiwan's highest peak at 3,952 meters, remains the nation's No. 1 high-mountain hiking destination. Because of its location in the southern half of the island, between October and April conditions around the mountain are almost always dry and clear.

     Because of Yushan's popularity, permits and youth hostel-style accommodation at Paiyun Villa have to be arranged well in advance, especially if you plan to arrive on a weekend or holiday.

     Fortunately, there are many other mountains and routes which are just as challenging, and far less crowded. Nanhudashan (3,740 meters) and the notoriously dangerous Chilaishan (3,605 meters)--both in Taiwan's north-east--require more than a weekend.

     If you've a desire to see the most pristine and scenic parts of Taiwan, consider tackling the South Second Section, a trail that links Shiangyangshan (beside the Southern Cross-Island Highway) with the hot springs resort of Dongpu in Nantou County. This route, which takes seven to nine days, demands stamina and a fair amount of equipment.

PAPERWORK AND ENVIRONMENTAL PRESERVATION

     A system of mountain permits regulates access to Taiwan's high mountains and conservation areas. The rules are complex and often amended. At Yushan and some other mountains they are enforced strictly, but elsewhere checks are sporadic.

     See www.npa.gov.tw/explain/main1.htm for details. The websites of Yushan National Park (www.ysnp.gov.tw), Taroko National Park (www.taroko.gov.tw) and Shei-Pa National Park (www.spnp.gov.tw) are full of practical information

     While hiking, look after yourself--but remember also to respect nature. Campfires are prohibted in many places. Do not leave litter; do not pick flowers or worry wild animals. Leave Taiwan's mountains in the state you'd like to find them.

WHEN AND WHERE

     In southern Taiwan, October to April is the most pleasant season, and also the best time of year for expeditions into the southern half of the Central Mountain Range.

    Days are short--dusk comes before 6 pm--and at high elevations the nights can be extremely cold. But conditions are almost always dry and clear. This makes for safer exploring and better sightseeing, and means hikers need not worry about crampons, ice axes, and other impedimenta.

     Yushan, Taiwan's highest peak at 3,952 meters, remains the island's No. 1 high-mountain hiking destination. Because of its popularity, permits and youth hostel-style accommodation at Paiyun Villa have to be arranged well in advance, especially if you plan to arrive on a weekend or holiday.

     Fortunately, there are many other mountains and routes which are just as challenging, and far less crowded.

     Guanshan (3,668 meters) and Shiangyangshan (3,603 meters) stand adjacent to the Southern Cross-Island Highway. Either peak can be conquered in a weekend, or used as steppingstones for longer treks.

    If you've the time, and a desire to see the most pristine and scenic parts of Taiwan, consider tackling the South First Section (a trail that heads south from Guanshan) or the South Second Section (northward from Shiangyangshan to the hot springs resort of Dongpu in Nantou County). Both routes demand stamina and a fair amount of equipment; ropes have been affixed along the steepest stretches, but technical climbing skills are not required.

     The South First Section can be done in five days. The path follows a spectacular watershed for much of its length, and incorporates a dozen peaks more than 3,000 meters high.

     Once on the ridge there are few escape routes. This, together with a perennial lack of water that forces hikers to carry enough liquids for the duration of the expedition, makes it one of Taiwan's toughest hikes.

     The clearly-marked trailhead for Guanshan and the South First Section is less than two kilometers east of Tianchr, which is served by a daily bus from Tainan City.

    The South Second Section is an alluring option for hikers wanting to spend more than a week in the wilderness. The trail takes hikers past the icy waters of Chiaming Lake. Roughly the size of a soccer pitch, the lake is the result of a meteor striking the Earth 4,000 years ago. It is a sublime sight and makes for excellent camping.

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