October 2003. VOL.3 ISSUE 10
The Wild: Hiking In Taiwan's High Mountains
Photos by Richard Matheson
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.
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.
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.
hiking is, of course, physically strenuous, and careful
preparations have to be made if you're to enjoy yourself.
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
THE RIGHT GEAR
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
that severe sunburn happens more easily at higher elevations.
Use plenty of sunscreen and wear sunglasses.
further north one goes, the colder the winters, and the greater
the chance of rain or snow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
AND ENVIRONMENTAL PRESERVATION
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
there are many other mountains and routes which are
just as challenging, and far less crowded.
(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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.