Thursday, December 30, 2010

Paiyun and other notes.

Some end of year notes on hiking in Taiwan.

Paiyun Lodge.

There is progress being made in the rebuilding/renovating of Paiyun Lodge. Most people still predict it will be completed and reopened by May or June 2011.This I don’t believe, my best guess is September or October 2011. [Update June 2011: my best guess now is maybe the end of the year]

The inside has been gutted and building materials are being helicoptered up from Tataka. The contractors estimate 50 days-worth of airlifting will be required. Can only do about 20 trips each day in the mornings before warm air currents make flight tricky. Each load is between 250 and 350kg.
Sensors and cameras are being installed at various locations along the main Tataka-Paiyu route to more easily monitor the location of (lost) hikers. More info when I know more.

Yushan Single Day Ascent.

I can assist qualified people in arranging permits and other logistics for single-day ascents of Yushan’s Main Peak. This tough option is only suitable for those with more than average experience and hiking fitness. You will need to convince me of experience on some of the top international most prominent summits, or relevant trails in Taiwan. Repeat: only suitable for the fit and experienced hiker. The National Park needs photographic proof.

Note also, Yushan will be closed to all hikers for the month of February plus (depending on actual weather conditions) some of January and March probably. There are icy patches near the summit, the National Park is enforcing the requirement for hikers to carry crampons and ice axes.

North Dawu Mountain.
The Forestry Bureau have completed repairs to the trail and Kuaigu Cabin. The campsites have been rebuilt and the lighting upgraded.

What has NOT improved is access to the original trailhead. The 7.5 km ‘public’ road from upper Taiwu Village is still very bad condition and then ends abruptly near the ‘new’ trailhead. This adds at least an extra 1.5 hours rough hiking to the normal ascent. The land in this area belongs to the local community, they do not have the resources or interest in doing large-scale reconstruction and would prefer to let the mountain ‘rest’ for some years.

Wuling Farm.
Wuling Cabin (武陵山莊) - the accommodation at the north end of Wuling Farm has been renovated, and now managed by the Hoya Hotel...which means it is not the cheap option it was in the past!

Nengao Trail.
The Western Section of the Nengao Trail to the central ridge and the summits of Cilai South and Nanhua are a top recommendation for people wanting an excellent 2-3-day hike - but without the time to arrange permits for peaks in the national parks. I can arrange accommodation and transport from Puli/Wushe to the trailhead for those wanting to do this trip. Note the Tienchr Cabin has already been demolished, the new structure should be completed in the next few months. Porter-supplied food and tents can be arranged.

Island-wide Tours.
Get in touch if looking for escorted tours anywhere in Taiwan - we do some very tame hikes too! Richard at

Happy New Year!

Southern Cross Conditions.

Made a reconnaissance trip up the Southern Cross Highway (Highway 20) from Tainan December 15th 2010. Some conclusions I previously posted on

Passable now by car to just past the Yakao tunnel. This only applies if you are very confident driving difficult roads and for the next few months of dry weather (remember the south generally has dry winters). When the next significant rain arrives the road is sure to close in several section.

Impassable by any means (km mark 148 I think), between the tunnel and the Yakao hostel. There are suggestions (that I don’t really believe) that this large landslide section will be passable by Chinese New Year. We did the last, highest, section on bicycles and then on foot. There was no way we could have crossed the final landslide. Based on previous experience and most reports the highway should usually be fine from Xianyang eastwards.

Even if open in practice, the road between Meishan and Xiangyang may remain officially (legally) closed. If planning a cycle trip over the new year, get up to date road condition reports, be prepared for the road to be closed beyond Meishan, and consider only riding the section from Meishan (for reasons of pleasantness).

The highway is ‘scruffy’ all the way from Jiasian (Jiaxian) to Meishan, stunning scenery after Meishan. Starting in Jiasien (or even Yujing/Liogui) the road is less than pretty in many places. There are numerous places where the road has been/is being patched up - and vulnerable to further damage/closure. The villages (Jiaxian, Baolai, Taoyuan, Meishan etc) have a down-and-out feel to them. After Taoyuan a several kilometer section of road is unsurfaced and is in the riverbed - unsuitable for many cars or drivers. After Meishan the views are as wonderful as ever, and the road is fine for 99% of its length. The problem lies in the remaining 1% obviously, most bad spots have been patched up and only OK for confident drivers.

Lots of people have lots of contradictory and inaccurate opinions on the current state of the road and what is likely to happen both in the short and long term. This includes those that should know: Forestry Department, National Park, Highway Bureau, police, hunters, road workers, surveyors, etc etc. Also note some people’s, otherwise reasonably informed, knowledge ends when it goes out of their jurisdiction - Kaohsiung County people are badly informed about conditions 500 meters further along in Taidong County. Any 'information' should be interpreted cautiously.

My conclusions in January - after a recce trip when I was able to drive all the way over, still make sense: The 921 earthquake and Typhoon Morakot have fundamentally changed the state of things. There will be various targets and a lot of money spent on keeping the road open for the next couple years. Much of the work will unfortunately cause damage that will influence the stability of hillsides for later periods - ie work to temporally open it for the next weeks/month will cause damage that will make medium-term repairs in 6 months time more difficult, in turn those repairs will make the long term reconstruction more difficult. I will not be surprised if after 3 or 4 years of typhoons/earthquakes/deaths/money spent the government will announce the closure of the highway for 10/20/30 years. There is a decent chance of it being kept passable as far as Meishan (still some resilient residents there) on the west side, and to Xiangyang (road conditions OK) on the east side. There are no magic solutions, anything done is at the end of a vulnerable supply chain - the road itself.

Further photos of the recce here Includes a lot of photos of rolling rocks from road building around the section of highway beyond Taoyuan. Over 15 excavators were dumping debris over a cliff. It was an incredible show, watching a non-stop stream of rocks, some as big as regular cars, bouncing down into the river.

A note on conditions and background. We drove a a high-wheelbase 2-wheel drive van, in dry conditions. My friend and I are both confident and well experienced dealing with rough roads and crossing landslides. We do not recommend this trip to everyone - no offense that may include you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Start of winter notes.

An update on Yushan, Snow Mountain and a friend’s treks.

First, a reminder: Most of Taiwan (south of Taipei and Yilan) has great weather in winter. Get out of grey Taipei!

Shei-pa Permits.
Shei-pa (Snow) National Park have announced some changes to the process of applying for national park permits see announcement (in Chinese). Starting today there will be a ‘waiting list’ function for over-subscribed cabins. Starting January 2011 there will be no need to apply for the Police Permit in addition to the National Park permit. Applies to Shei-pa only but I hope this sensible policy will be adopted elsewhere. I will watch how both of these new policies are put into practice - the devil is always in the tiny details...and update things here.

Yushan is, as mentioned before, effectively closed due to the rebuilding of Paiyun Lodge. The only options open are a single-day ascent or staying at the higher and remoter Yuanfong Cabin. THESE OPTIONS ARE NOT SUITABLE FOR THE AVERAGE PERSON. If you have the fitness and experience I may be able to help you out with logistics. Expect (not announced yet) Yushan to close as usual for Chinese New Year for the month of February.

Disappointed? Do not forget Yushan is usually very visible from around its Tataka (Tatajia) trailhead. Permits are not required for the excellent day-hikes in the Tataka area.
The roads to Tataka from Chaiyi/Alishan (Highway 18), and from Sun Moon Lake/Dongpu (Highway 21) are reliably open and should remain passable until the next rainy season (summertime) or earthquake.

Some longer treks being led by a Tsao aborigine friend of ours, Xiao Yang (Small Goat) in the new year:
January 6 - 11 Nengao-Antongjun 能高安東軍
February 24 - March 2 Southern Second Section 南二段 (assuming it’s open by then)
March 11 - 20 Southern Third Section 南三段 (hope to join him on this one)
March 31 - April 5 Cilai East Ridge 奇萊東稜
Dates listed are only for the core hiking dates and do not include travel or extra days. If interested in joining in please email or call Xiao Yang's wife, Sarah Tsai, 0972218185 (speaks excellent English) to register, or see their website (in Chinese).

As of December 1st 2010:
All Shei-pa (Snow Mountain) National Park hiking/trekking trails open.
All Taroko hiking/trekking trails open.
Most of Yushan National Park trails closed (including the Southern Second Section, Batongguan etc). Some special exemptions may be possible for trails starting around Jiaming Lake. If you read Chinese have a look at this document on the state of the Batongguan Trail...not cheery. A couple interesting observations about the increase in sanbar deer and the emerging eastward erosion of the Chen-you-lan River/Kinmen Tong landslide.
Jiaming Lake, Nengao, Bei Dawu open.
Southern Cross-island Highway closed from Meishan to Xiangyang. Some rumors of possible opening.
And remember, many of Taiwan’s trails can be very tough going, only attempt what you really are ready for!