Monday, December 1, 2008

Yushan Winter Closure

Yushan National Park has just announced it's annual winter closing of the main peak and sub-peaks of Yushan (this does not affect access to other mountains within the park), for the entire month of February 2009. This more lyrically described on the Park's English website as "2009 the Yushan Solemnity Activities".

Almost every year the main peak of Jade Mountain is closed to allow the mountain to 'rest' usually coinciding with the winter's coldest weather and the Lunar New Year holidays. This is a surprising early and concise announcement of the closure and is still liable to be brought forward or extended depending on actual weather conditions.

Some may argue there should be no closure - that conditions on the mountain are never that severe compared to many high mountains overseas or further north in Taiwan. This does not allow for the fact that most people climbing Yushan are not experienced mountain climbing-types, but are aiming to get up there for more cerebral reasons, rarely having the appropriate experience/equipment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hiking maps and other resources.

Taiwan hiking maps come in many shapes and forms, but with one common element - they're only in Chinese. The main printer of quality topographical maps is Sun River 上河. Their 1:25,000 TM__ series of 22 maps focusing on the top 100 peaks and key trails, plus a guide to mountain flowers and printed on weather/abuse-proof plastic is probably the most useful for hiking the high mountains. The accompanying hiking times and gradient charts seem accurate. Their 1:50,000 M__ (1-25) series seems to be out of print now with only certain maps still in stock, a pity as they covered some areas not on the TM__ series.

The M__ (40-47) series covers the hills around Taipei. M__ (31-36) follows an (often imaginary) "Green day hikes" route N-S over mid-level mountains and valleys just west of the main high mountains. Sun River also have a series of comprehensive Northern Taiwan hiking maps, and atlas-like books for all of Taiwan (1:50,000).
For regular navigation of Taiwan's roads, the free bilingual maps published by the Tourism Bureau are usually more than adequate. These are clear, marked with most appropriate places, and contain very few mistakes!!! In the collection there is a general Taiwan map, and separate maps dedicated to Northern Taiwan; Central Taiwan; Eastern Taiwan and Offshore Islands; and Southern Taiwan. The reverse is packed with lots of tourist information. Airports and tourist offices should have these - often you need to ask, failing that, politely suggest that they look in the bulging cupboard behind them.
Of interest to some hikers will be Sun River's coffee table map/photo books introducing the Top 100 peaks, and maps published by the forestry department for various excellent trails - why are these so hard to come by??? The Tourism Bureau's site has links to some good (and mediocre) maps. The Taiwan Mountain Magazine (pictured in first picture above) is a delight to look at even if you don't read Chinese. The googlemaps-based site CubePoint seems to work well. We are willing to annotate some maps with English, contact us at

Richard Saunder's excellent Taipei day trips and Yangmingshan guides are available at the Community Services Center.

Of course Lonely Planet Taiwan (remember to get the most up to date edition) and the Rough Guide have lots of practical advice. Check out Lonely Planet author Robert's blog Pashan for great (and well written) Taiwan hiking suggestions.

Books not to do with hiking but worth noting: 'Private Prayers and Public Parades' by Mark Cantonhill. And 'Keeping up with the War God' by Steven Crook.

Let's not forget Taiwan's premier English-language bulletin board, Forumosa, for all sorts of information and sophisticated discussion.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Southern-Cross Highway

The Southern Cross-Island Highway runs west to east from Tainan to Taidung county. It is wonderfully scenic, and probably the best way to travel through the mountains in southern Taiwan. The least traveled of the cross-island roads, expect few cars even at the busiest times.
This is highway 20, not highway 9 much further to the south - a more practical, busy, and not particularly stunning route. If you need to get to the East quickly and reliably travel south to No 9, if you want to see the best of Taiwan wander up No 20!From the peaks near the highest point big views can be expected - including of Yushan.

Many sections are as breathtaking as Taroko - 'private Hawaii' was the phrase someone used recently when describing it.
The Jhongjhihguan (Jhong-jr-guan) trail and the hike up to Taguan Peak are mostly through forest.

The east side of Yakou tunnel (2,722 meters altitude, km marker 147) is one of the easiest and best places for the sunrise over a sea of clouds experience. Much better than Alishan in my humble opinion - no train, but there is guy with his illegal van/coffee machine attempting to provide the Starbucks experience.
Arrive at Lidao on the right day and expect a hangover the next.
The Guanshanlingshan (Guan-shan-ling mountain) climb is mostly without shade, but affords first class 360 views.Some other notes: It's possible to go the whole across in one day, much better though to make two days of it. Try to travel the higher parts of the Southern Cross as early as possible in the day as mist and clouds are more likely in the afternoon and evening. In the rainy season and after typhoons do not be surprised if sections are closed due to landslides etc. If needing more advice or a custom tour contact Richard at Will fill out this post more soon!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Snow Mountain DIY

Hike Snow Mountain by yourself.

Snow Mountain is Taiwan's second highest - and an excellent choice if wanting to do a prominent peak by public transport and without a guide.

Embarrassingly known by many names including Shei, Syue, Hsieh, Xue, Sheui, Hsueh, Swei, it is in Shei-Pa National Park (the 'Pa' refers to another distinctive mountain Da 'Ba' Jian). It is is the highest point (3,886m) in the the Snow mountain range (the other ranges being the Eastern Coastal, Alishan, Central, and Yushan) and is Taiwan's second highest after Yushan. It is regarded by some as being more beautiful than, Yushan. For this reason - as well as the relative ease in getting permits we recommend foreign hikers, especially coming from Taipei, consider hiking Snow. It is possible to climb without a guide and using public transport (let us arrange the direct shuttle bus from Taipei). Having your own transport makes getting to and around Wuling Farm a bit easier though.

Snaps from a 2010 hike

There are several excellent hiking routes in Shei-Pa park including:
  • Standard Snow main peak hike - 2/3 days.
  • The Holy Ridge 'O' loop - a challenging 5/6 days.
  • The Sixiu '4 shows' - 4 peaks over 3,000m 3/4 days.
  • The west ridge 7 days.
  • Dabajian standard ascent 3/4 days (beautiful route from Hsinchu County)
  • Dabajian to Wuling traverse. 4/5 days.
These and other routes can be linked up for longer trips.

This post introduces the standard ascent of Snow main peak.

This hike starts from Wuling Farm/Wuling National Forest Recreation Area in Taichung County. But in practical terms it is closer to Yilan County or even Taroko Gorge. There are four main ways of getting there.
  1. From Taipei on Freeway 5 via the new 13km long Hsuehshan tunnel, linking up with highway 7/7jia. This is the quickest (3½ hours) and easiest route. We can arrange a shuttle bus service directly from Taipei Main Station to Wuling.
  2. From west central Taiwan via Puli, He-Huan Mountain, and the now down-at-heel Lishan. (Freeway 3, highways 14, 14 jia, 8, 7jai. Note: Freeway 6 is now open, linking Freeway 3 with Puli) This is a very scenic route but is best only if you are into enjoying most of a day traveling on winding roads.
  3. From Taoyuan or Hsinchu over the scenic and often foggy North Cross-island highway (No 7 meeting up with 7jai). Allow 5/6/7 hours for this drive.
  4. From Taroko. A trip to Wuling can (and should) be combined with a visit to the fantastic Taroko Gorge. Continue up No 8 beyond Tiensiang in the gorge, meeting No 7jai at Lishan. Allow half a day - enjoy it!
Notes: The formerly quickest way from west-central Taiwan on highway 8 is still closed between Guguan and Lishan. Rumor has it it may be opened to some traffic later this year - do not plan on it though. The free tourist maps available at airports and visitor centers are more than adequate for navigation. Two buses a day run from Taipei/Yilan, and one from Puli to Wuling.

Within Wuling
Wuling was originally (well, after the indigenous population were not to be found there anymore, that is) established as a farm for retired soldiers. In recent years it has taken on a more recreation-focused role and the the farming has largely disappeared. It is a very pleasant area with the Formosan Salmon Protection Area Cijaiwan River running through it. Key places include the Wuling Hotel (near the entrance), Visitor center, police station (where if we haven't obtained for you already you must apply for a 'mountain permit' - different from the 'National Park permit'), various orchards, Wuling Cottage from where you can do the day hike to Taoshan waterfall, campgrounds, and the trailhead for Snow mountain. These are mostly several kilometers from each other, thus, we suggest you have your own transport.

Hiking Snow
National Park permits must be applied for at least 10 days (1 month better) in advance and cannot be applied for on the spot at Wuling. Email us at and we can do all the paperwork for you - hard to do if you don't read/write Chinese, and haven't done it before. We will need the dates you plan to hike, your names, dates of birth, and passport numbers. If the application is successful (aim to hike on weekdays) we will email the permit as a PDF file and mail by conventional post a package including an indestructible topographical map annotated in English (see below) more detailed hiking notes, and as much advice as you desire. For this we charge NT$1900 (US$65) per group. If requested, we can arrange custom guided trips.

The number of hikers/permits is limited to spaces available in the huts/shelters - must apply to sleep in these. The shelters most relevant to this hike are, Chika (Qika), an easy hike only 2km from the trailhead and the higher-up Sanliojeou (369). The small Tswei-chr (Emerald pond), and beautifully located North Peak hut (within close range of the North Peak and the magnificent Dragon's spine) involve hauling all your gear over the main summit.

Visitor Center Area - 9.8km uphill (by car if desired) - Trail head (2,140m water, toilets, carpark) where your permits are inspected - 2km (on foot now) - Chika hut (2,500m large barrack-style bunk platform-beds rooms - space for 130 people, campground, water, toilets) - 3km - East Peak 3,201m - 2.1km - Sanliojeou (369) hut (space for 106 people, water-may be frozen in winter, toilets, no space to camp) - 2.6km - 'black' forest and start of Glacial Cirque - 1.2km - main summit 3,886m. A total of 10.9 km from trail head to summit.

For 'most' people it is recommended you stay in the huts for two nights. Everyone is different in their abilities and preferences - decide what is appropriate for you. Remember you are at altitude and may experience extremes of heat/cold you are not used to, only the very fittest and experienced should plan on staying on the trail only one night. Typical itinerary: Day 1. travel to Wuling, mid afternoon hike from trailhead to Chika hut. Day 2. Hike, via East peak, to Sanliojeou (369) hut. Day 3. Arise early, summit, return to trail head. Some people will be able to start hiking early on Day 1 and aim directly for Sanliojeou, some prefer to plan a later start from Sanliojeou Hut for the summit and spend an extra night there or Chika. Tell us clearly your dates and hut booking preferences - these must be specified on the permit application. Better to be over-cautious/conservative than be caught short of time or energy on the trail.

There is no bedding or cooking facilities at the huts, you must bring your own stove, utensils, gas, cooking pots, food, and sleeping bag. Other things you should have are: light hiking pants, warm fleece pants - in winter, spare underwear, wide-brimmed hat, warm hat, warm gloves, 2 pair spare socks, toilet paper - not tissue paper, headlight - fresh batteries, inner layer breathable shirt (not cotton!), 2 fleece layers - one light one heavy, toothbrush - toothpaste, sunblock, rain jacket, hiking boots - must be broken in and in good shape (remember most good shoes/boots are designed to disintegrate for recycling purposes after a couple years!), personal medicine etc, sleeping mat, backpack - must have good hip belt, backpack cover, bags to waterproof spare clothing/sleeping bag, water bottles - 2 liters, cell phone - CH telecom best, compass, water purifying gadget/tablets, maps (Barking Deer can supply).

We also appreciate having these things with us: hiking poles, sandals to wear at huts, shorts, glasses (better than contact lenses), entertainment - reading material/mp3, camera - spare battery/memory card, silica drying packs, first-aid kit, repair kit, Diamox for altitude sickness - do your own research on this.

Dogs not allowed. Not needed: technical climbing gear or crampons for most of the year. From December to March crampons and iceaxes may be needed.

The trail is obvious (but be careful in the 'Black forest' especially in low light), clean, and well serviced with bilingual signs and noticeboards.

Monday, September 29, 2008

More on Typhoons and Mountains

This has been a very bad season for typhoons causing havoc in Taiwan's mountains - and it doesn't seem to be over yet! Two images are keeping me from sleeping well these days. This from the Central Weather Bureau's website today (Tuesday September 30).It shows the paths, and predicted paths of JANGMI (no 15, now skirting Japan), MEKKHALA (no16, heading for Vietnam), and HIGOS (no 17, about to visit The Philippines).

There is speculation that the more frequent stronger typhoons later this year is due to the La Nina effect and the westward migration of warmer seas. When these warm water-dependent storms develop further away they have more time to gain strength.

Then again, Taiwan has had it's fair share of typhoons over the years. This map, from Wikimedia Commons, shows the tracks of all tropical cyclones in the Northwest Pacific Ocean from 1980 to 2005. The International Date Line, on the right, is the eastern boundary of the basin. The points show the locations of the storms at six-hourly intervals. Taiwan and lucky Luzon are almost invisible.Many trails and mountain roads have been damaged. The long awaited reopening of Daba may not happen until the end of the year now.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mountain Permits - Facts and opinions

Getting mountain permits sorted out is one of the biggest and most annoying hurdles to overcome before hiking in Taiwan's high mountains. There is a lot of inaccurate and misleading information out there on the subject, some by simple accident, some by those trying to be discouraging or over-cautious. I hope this answers some questions.

First thing to know is that anyone, in theory, can get permits regardless of (a) group size (including individuals-though we encourage you not to venture out alone) (b) whether you are Taiwanese or a Foreigner (c) have a guide or not. Permits are for the individuals, dates, and routes listed only...these generally can not be changed once issued. Also there is no such thing as a general season permit etc. A small number of especially sensitive ecological areas are only open to recognized scientific researchers...and Taroko Nat Park has serious misgiving about dealing with foreigners in a normal fashion.

There are 2 kinds of permits (1) National Park (入園, ru-yuan), and (2). Police permits (入山, ru-shan). The National Park permits are for entering the respective national park's territory (is that a bit too obvious?), and the Police permits are for entering any high mountain area. Hiking in the National Parks therefore requires both kinds of permits. Generally, permits are not required for public roads passing through the mountains, and some shorter, easier trails.

The National Park permits (ru-yuan) are the more difficult and time consuming to obtain. The Police permits (ru-shan), if not not gotten in advance, usually may be applied for on the spot at a police station in the same county or at a checkpoint on the trail - check first.

The National Park permit must be applied for at least 7 days in advance (Yushan main route, at least a month in advance. Much earlier is usually impossible too.). The best way to apply is online, unfortunately this is often only possible using Chinese, and the applicant (not necessarily the hikers) must have a valid ROC ID number - passport/ARC numbers may not work. Alternatively sending you details by regular mail or email can work...I won't get into the nitty gritty details now or I'll be writing till the next typhoon comes, just to say it's far from a perfect situation!

Yushan (Jade Mountain)
The standard ascent of Yushan is very, very popular but accommodation at Paiyun Lodge/hut/shelter/cabin (where most hikers will stay) is limited to less than 100 people per night. This means Yushan National Park must operate a lottery system if the number of people applying exceeds spaces available. Chances of a successful application are much better by avoiding the the busy weekends, especially Saturday night. On weekdays there is a quota of places left aside for foreign (remember this includes Japanese and Korean) hikers.

Yushan Nat. Park announces the Paiyun lottery result a month before the dates applied for. The screen shot below (click on for a larger image) shows the results, released September 25, for October 25 - a Saturday. 1,768 people applied for the 82 places - do the math! Leaders of the lucky teams are listed. All fair and open - well if you use Windows IE (one of the many government websites that only work properly when using Microsoft's browser). These are the results for the previous Wednesday. The numbers are better, but still not ideal 275 applied for 82 places.

The many typhoons and growing 'fame' of Yushan has put extra pressure on the system. When typhoons are imminent permits are canceled until the storm has passed, the trail/huts are inspected, and any damage patched up. After typhoons many people will be eagerly applying again to make up for their canceled trips.

We strongly encourage you to consider other mountains (there are hundreds over 3,000m in Taiwan) instead of Yushan. If you are Taipei-based and have your own transport, think about Snow Mountain (Shei/Shuei/Xue shan) just slightly lower than Yushan but often considered more beautiful. Or Dabajian Mountain, as seen on the NT$500 banknote, and a less retentive route.

The permit system, and especially the overlap of the two, is an annoyance to many hikers, Taiwanese and foreign. We hope there will be changes soon but have to accept this is the the best system possible at the moment. The concept of national parks, and longer multi-day hiking is still a fairly new thing here, trails can be very challenging, and arriving tired and cold at a mountain hut to find it full is not a nice experience. Some routes may seem easy to sneak onto without a permit and with minimal worries of being caught and fined, BUT if you require rescue (it can and does happen) you will pay all the costs of the rescuers and their big shiny helicopters - if there illegally.

We are happy to apply for permits for you (for a small fee) and to answer your questions. Contact me, Richard, at and hope I am near a computer to reply.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Goodbye Summer...Autumn & Winter Hikes

Some open-to-all hike dates for the fall (oops! Autumn) and winter season. More details as always on

Updates in Red

October 22-25
Dabajianshan (Mount Daba) standard route. This distinctive peak (3492m), the one hiding behind the deer on Taiwan's 500 dollar note, has been closed for some time. Now, if you are up for it, it is possible again to climb to the very top, hmm. Update: Daba is still closed and may remain so for some time yet. Chilai also closed.

October 26 - November 1
Snow (Syue/Shei/Xue/Hsuei shan) mountain west ridge route including main summit and possible 2 day extension to the North peak for a fantastic view of the Holy Ridge, Daba and the dragon's spine. Update: West ridge closed due to damage. Doing Holy Ridge instead - closed to more hikers.

October 31 - November 1
Snow Mountain standard ascent.

November 6-8
Snow Mountain 'Four Show's'
Four great 'Top 100' peaks loop starting and ending at Wuling Farm.

November 10-12
Nanhu Dashan standard route. Ranked by many experienced Taiwanese hikers as 'the best'. Located in Taroko National Park.

November 13 (date may change slightly)
Taroko Gorge secret trails. Full

November 14-17 (dates may change)
Yushan Main Peaks - Camp high and explore some sub-peaks. No more spaces

November 27-28 (meet up 26th evening)
Standard Yushan summit. Full

November 27-29 (meet up 26th evening)
Yushan Traverse, end up in Dongpu Hot spring resort. Batonguan still closed, changed to Yushan peak-bagging. Full

Mid December (possibly 11-18th)
Southern Second Section. The classic N-S ridge hike though the middle of Yushan National Park.

December 21 - January ?
Batongguan Traverse. Probably Taiwan best E-W trek. If Batongguan still closed will do a route of similar scale.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

2008 Summer Hikes

This is a very incomplete schedule of open-to-all trips.

June 23- 28th Southern-Second Section (6 days)

July 7-12 Snow Mountain Range traverse

July 16-17th Yushan

August 21-22 Yushan

August 26-28 Yushan Traverse (3 days)

Early September Batongguan Cross-Island (7-9days)

Late October Snow Mountain traverse & Nan-hu

Late November Neng-gao

Christmas/New Year Batongguan Cross-Island (7-9 days)

Goodbye Winter. Hello Summer.

As you can see, this blog tends to skip the occasional season. Then again this winter seemed to drag on for a bit longer and spring was fitted into a single April afternoon.

A recent photo of northern Kaohsiung County to get you in the mood for the winter that will come around before too many more posts here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Puli, Alishan and Yushan.

I'll try to be polite.

Recent trips to Puli and Alishan have reminded me that the point of those places is as a base to areas nearby, not to them.

Puli is just another dull town (I await a defense of it) with lots of great mountains, rivers etc nearby. Ensure you have transport to get you out of the urban area.

Alishan is fine if you've grown up hearing about its wonders. For more outdoorsy types it's essential to get away from the main zone. I strongly recommend Tatajia (watch out for the excellent grey leaflet published by the Nat. Park) within the boundary of Yushan National Park, and the villages Fenchihu, Taihe, Rueli (good colorful info from the Alishan Scenic area admin) etc further down the mountains.

Transport is as with many places in Taiwan problematic - without a scooter anyway. To get to Tatajai I suggest hitching (yes yes I know I shouldn't mention this...) the 20 something km from the Alishan entrance. For the villages down the mountain get off the small gauge train halfway up and walk!

Yushan closed After changing their minds several times the National Park decided to keep the main peak open without a 'rest' this year. The recent cold weather though has forced them to close the higher peaks in the last few days due to 'heavy' snow and ice.

Magpies and Pheasants

Last week on the Shau-kuan-shan Forest Road we came upon 2 usually hard to spot birds endemic to Taiwan - the Taiwan Blue Magpie, and a male Swinhoe's Pheasant.

Swinhoe's Pheasant (lophura swinhoii) named after the 19th century naturalist.

Soon to be our national bird, the Taiwan Blue Magpie (urocissa caerulea - member of the crow family, I think). As well as both parents mucking in, adult siblings help out in feeding the young. Wholesome!