April 2010 Note: this route remains closed for the time being due to the devastation caused by Typhoon Morakot in August 2009. We will report any changes on this blog.
Jiaming Meteor Lake,(嘉明湖 aka Jai-ming-hu, Chiaming Lake, Angel's Tear 天使的眼淚)
Highlights: Jiaming Meteor Lake, 2 of the 'top 100' peaks; Siangyang (向陽山) 3,602m, Sancha (三叉山)3,496m.
Time required: Ideally 3 days, possible in 2.
Relevant Map: Sun River's (上河)TM 19 or the Forestry Bureau's Jiaming map.
YDS Rating: Virtually all maintained Class 1 with small sections of Class 2
Our difficulty rating: 2-3 stars.
Permits required: Police permit only.
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Trail starts: Siangyang (Hsiangyang) Forest Recreation Area, 2,300m elevation, 154 km mark Southern Cross Highway
Trail ends: At starting point.
This is a popular (avoid weekends) hike for good reasons. This elliptical lake (120 meters long, 80 meters wide and 10 meters deep) is in the crater formed some 4–10 thousand years ago by a meteor strike, making it possibly the youngest meteor lake on Earth - even more remarkable as only about 100 meteor pits have been found around the world, and this one is on such a young island. Located high (3,310m) in the mountains near where Kaohsiung and Hualien counties meet (yes, they do meet, not many people realize that) and on the edge of Yushan National Park. The trail is generally easy to hike and is well signposted all the way.
This is also the the initial part of the longer Sinkang Mountain and Southern Second Section hikes. Siangyang Recreation Area, very often shrouded in thick mist, consists only of a police station and visitor center. Ask at the checkpoint for information in English for the wide well-maintained trails running through the forest of Taiwan Pine and Cypress behind the visitor center - suitable for everyone (no permits required). Much of this area is within the Guanshan Major Wildlife Habitat.
Day 1:Siangyang Trailhead (向陽山登山口) to Jiaming Lake Cabin (嘉明湖避難山屋). 5+ hours.
If you wish, it is possible to spend an easier first day hiking the 4.5 km/2 hours to the excellent Siangyang Cabin (向陽工寮). Additionally, your second day could be focused on getting to, and camping by, the actual lake - skipping the now less-than-salubrious Jiaming Cabin.
We start at Siangyang (Hsiangyang, Xiangyang) Forest Recreation Area, 2,300m, 154 km mark Southern Cross Highway (Number 20). 9 kilometers east of Yakou Tunnel. After dealing with any permit issues at the police station (also possible to apply for the police permit at Meishan) and passing the small checkpoint, hike 300 meters up the surfaced road to the visitor center. Right behind the center follow the signs for the Songtao (松濤) Trail and the lake. The way by the Songyang (松陽) trail is a little shorter but steeper and more tiring. At the 1.5 km point on the forest path there is an excellent spot to view the nearby peaks including two of the Southern Stars. Pass a pavilion and hiking another couple kilometers you come to the trailhead proper with the sign for 'Jaiming Lake 10.9km'. It's about 90 minutes from the checkpoint to here.
An hour's hiking through a forest of hemlock will bring you to the large and well built Siangyang Cabin. Both this shelter and the Jaiming Lake one cannot be officially reserved, at popular times (such as weekends) hiking groups will send people ahead to block up spaces. The water supply here is reliable and in the dry season it may be necessary to carry water for the section from here to the next shelter - ask hikers coming down or look out for the sign sometimes placed on the trail reminding you.
From here it is another 3.9 km to the Jiaming Lake shelter. Hemlock and dwarf bamboo will start to appear mixed in with Taiwan pine. A mediocre campsite just before the ridge - can be damp in rainy weather. Erosion means this section of trail is somewhat unclear. After making it to the ridge N23 16 16 E120 59 14, 3280m, and a space for a couple tents, turn left (N NW). Views are expansive and the path meanders through trimmed (short) dwarf bamboo, and small groves of rhododendron, juniper and Formosan Rose. On the west side of the small, but prominent and signposted juniper, are a couple excellent camping spaces. Avoid getting too close to this famous tree, the many people that have posed next to it have caused damage to its roots.
It is your choice if you want to peer down at Yakou Hostel over the rim of an enormous landslide around the 6 km mark. Some cell phone coverage around here. Between the 5 and 6 km mark there are various spots to camp, some good, some bad. Remember at the place marked 1.4km from Jaiming Shelter do NOT take the trails leading westwards (left). Around the 6.5km mark there is an intersection (3,500 m), packs may be left here for a climb of Siangyang peak (向陽山, 3,602m). The Shrdong Campsite (石洞營地) that appears on various maps and documents, are only a couple bad spots to camp before the cabin.
Note: the Jiaming Lake shelter, 3,350 meters, is still a long way from the actual lake. Recently the cabin has an overused feel to it, and is more functional than romantic. Camping near the cabin is far from ideal, if using a tent consider your options some distance either to the north or south. Water supply is from roof runoff and a small hillside spring nearby is adequate except in winter when it freezes up. Be prepared to haul water from either the lake or Siangyang Cabin. Reportedly there is a water source a 30 minute hike down the hill from the cabin, route unclear. Again, try to confirm in advance the recent water situation here.
Just north of Jiaming Cabin is another, more difficult, path to the summit of Siangyang that passes through tall dwarf bamboo and rocks.
Day 2: Jiaming Cabin (嘉明湖避難山屋), via Siangyang North peak, and Sancha Mountain (三叉山) to Jiaming Lake (嘉明湖) and back to Jaiming Lake shelter. 6 hours.
North from the Cabin there will be signs indicating distances to Sancha (Sanchao) Mountain - about 4 Kilometers ahead. The trail is fairly pleasant as it weaves around many of the peaks along the ridge line. On the north side of the ridge there may be cell-phone coverage. 1 kilometer from the lake the trail splits, N 23° 17 39, E 121 01 22 , left for Sancha summit, right for the lake. Is is also quite possible to come straight down from the Sancha's spacious summit to the lake - all well signposted. Sancha Mountain means 'intersection mountain' as this is where, three major routes meet - north (Southern Second Section), south (this trail, and Southern First Section) and east (to Sinkang Mountain).
700 meters further along where the four trails meet again, N23 17 46 E 121 01 56, near a helipad, is called Sancha-sha camping area. Good flat areas but lots of exposure to the elements. From here the lake is visible 300 meters ahead. If more adventurous (and have the pertinent national permits sorted out) this is where to set of northwards for the week-long Southern Second Section and Sinkang routes.
Top tip: Don't bring on a heart attack by jumping into the icy water while still hot and sweaty. If you decide to camp next to the lake be aware there is little shelter from the wind and sun rays reflected of the water surface. If possible use the slightly sheltered area, away from the lake, on the eastern side. Be responsible, ensure with you choice of toilet - go over the watershed. High chance of Sanbar deer coming by in the evening.
Day 3: Jiaming Cabin to the trailhead by the same same route.