FYI SOUTH Magazine, February 2003. VOL.3 ISSUE 2


Tainan's "Big Frozen Mountain"

By Richard Matheson
Translated by Irene Wang ¨L¾Ð¦p

       People don¡¦t think of Tainan County as mountainous, but the area¡¦s highest peak, Dadongshan, is a surprisingly lofty 1,432 meters ¡V taller than any mountain in the British Isles. Dadongshan translates as ¡§Big Frozen Mountain,¡¨ but it never snows here, and is seldom cold. The area makes for very pleasant day hiking, with the possibility of longer, overnight hikes.

       Few people in Tainan City, where I live, seemed to know about this mountain, but by the time we got to the hot springs area of Guantzling, we found that most people we talked to knew how to get to the trailhead.

      We followed a well-marked road past the Red Leaf Elementary School, and then a sizable temple, to a little Earth God shrine where we started our hike.

       The first section of the path is actually a farming road, paved in places and certainly navigable by jeep or motorcycle. Walking is much more pleasant, though, and gives you a chance to properly enjoy the surroundings. The lower part is lined by thin arrow bamboo, which grows tall overhead and bows over the road, giving not only shade but also the lovely sound that bamboo leaves make when they are rustled by a warm breeze. Higher up the arrow bamboo gives way to thicker species of bamboo and betel-nut trees.

       Many different kinds of butterflies and insects can be seen hereabouts, and the relentless drone of traffic and city noise that is almost inescapable in Taiwan mercifully disappeared as we climbed higher. We were only 45 minutes away from Tainan City but it felt like we could be days away. The farming road passes two wooden pagodas, both of which afford great views of Guantzling, and could be great vantage points for the sunrise.

       After passing the second pagoda, we took a small footpath that heads off to the left and into the forest. Ropes have been fixed along this stretch ¡V useful for less sure-footed hikers, but probably unnecessary for most people. In fact, this part can be avoided, and the summit still attained, if you stay on the road and turn left at a white building.

      Just before the peak there is a pleasantly shaded rest area complete with a bamboo shelter, cement tables and chairs. This would be an excellent spot to pitch a tent or enjoy a barbeque.

       It took us two hours of fairly steady hiking to reach the summit. The peak itself is somewhat disappointing. In a small clearing there¡¦s a weather station, a rather interesting but dilapidated structure, and restricted views of Guantzling. I had hoped to be able to see Tzengwen Reservoir, but trees to the east precluded that.

       The hike back down to the car took less than an hour. Throughout our mid-week hike we had encountered only two other day-trippers, plus a few farmers. On weekends this area is often crowded, and locals set up stands selling snacks and refreshments.

       There is a trail from Dadongshan to near Tzengwen Reservoir. According to a sign, this hike takes almost five hours. A circular hike taking in Jiulongshan is also possible.

       Driving to Guantzling and Dadongshan has never been easier now that the Second Southern Freeway is open; residents of Chiayi should be able to get from the city to the trailhead in less than half an hour.