King of the World at SongShan Nature Reserve

By Emma Harries

      Flailing about on the side of a sheer rock face wasn't quite what I anticipated when a day out at SongShan Nature Reserve was proposed. The reserve, a popular escape from the smog and crowds of central Taipei, is home to four peaks--Elephant, Lion, Tiger, and Panther mountains--and is easily accessible from the World Trade Center neighborhood. Having benefited from substantial investment in recent years, ecological information points, exercise bars, and immaculately laid stone paths lace the park, making it easy to find your way about. Should you, of course, choose to follow the paths.

      Our guide--self appointed after taking a liking to one of our party--assured us that we could take a short cut up to the 375-meter-high crest of JiuWu, the highest point in the reserve. He warned us that it is ¡§a bit steep,¡¨ but we rubbished his caution, assuring him and ourselves that we were all healthy and strong.

      Bad idea. The first dirty scramble was indeed steep. The next bit of clambering over rocks and grasping roots was slightly perilous. But nothing compared to the final stretch.

      Three ropes trailing down sheer-faced vertical rock, punctuated by a few footholds. We were faced with a stark choice: Climb, or prepare to be found by archaeologists of the future.

      Some time later, to the bemusement of several infinitely more sensible hikers who were steadily making their way up the steps, four dirty individuals emerged onto the path, sweating, swearing and dancing about as if they had made it to the North Pole. When the weather is good, incredible views over the Taipei basin can be had from the peak of JiuWu. And if you're slightly delirious from the climb--like we were--there's likely to be an ¡§I'm the King of the World¡¨ moment!