Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Taroko's Trails

Just in case you didn’t know -Taroko Gorge is Taiwan’s best place for very assessable stunning scenery and great hiking. A short flight, drive, or 2-3 hours by train from Taipei gets you there.

Many of you may be planning a trip there in the next weeks. Remember trail conditions are always changing, here is a summary of conditions at the moment (January 2011).

Trails in the gorge proper, starting from the eastern ‘start’.

Dekalun Trail (得卡倫步道). Up the hill behind the National Park headquarters. Open.

Shakadang (砂卡礑步道). A very pleasant must-do hike, starts after tunnel not far from National Park HQ. Open.

Eternal Spring Shrine Trail (Changchun, 長春祠步道). Another absolute must-do sight. Do the 1-hour loop hike up above the shrine exiting at the nearby Changuang Temple. Few people get beyond the car park. Usually open.

Buluowan Trail (布洛灣-燕子口步道). A good steep path to use - if staying at the Leader Hotel. Open.

Swallow’s Grotto Trail (Yanzihkou, 布洛灣-燕子口步道). A very easy stroll that should NOT on any account be missed. Usually open, occasionally closed due to loose rocks.

Tunnel of Nine Turns Trail(Jiuqudong, 九曲洞步道). A stunning, easy stroll. Currently closed due to rockfalls, a very short section on the western end is open but is often crowded with tourists form China nowadays.

Lyushui-Heliou Trail (綠水步道). A very pleasant 1-hour loop. The short tunnel is just about manageable without a flashlight. Open - and don’t worry about the signs warning you about snakes and hornets - not a significant worry.

Lyushui - Wenshan Trail (綠水文山步道) A recently reopened trail. Tough - at start and end some scrambling, and requires 3 to 5 hours. Permit required but easy to obtain from the the NP police (warden) station at the park headquarters or at Tienxiang (the station on the left going up the hill towards the protestant church...across the street from the regular police station!)

Baiyang Trail (白楊步道). A very very nice trail, CLOSED due to damage to mountainside at entrance next to highway. Tougher alternative route now available - see below.

Tianxiang - Baiyang Trail (天祥─白楊步道). Recently reopened access to the Baiyang Trail. Tough and potentially dangerous in places. Trail starts from the protestant church in Tienxiang village. Please get a permit (easy) from the nearby police station. Easy walking once you get to the original trail that ends at the fun ‘Water Curtain tunnel’. If possible bring a flashlight for the tunnels. Allow 5-6 hours.

Meiyuan Jhucun Trail (梅園竹村). Closed due to severe landslide damage after the turn of for Lianhua Pond.

Lianhua Pond (Lotus, 蓮花池步道). A very nice 3-hour hike starting and ending from Huitouwan (6km beyond Tienxiang Village. Don’t get too distracted by the views and walk of the edge. Open.

In addition to these trails, I sometimes reccommend the following:
Check out the views of the Qingshui (Chingshui) Cliffs along the coast from the Chongde Tunnel and the Heren Trail.
The ornamental entrance gate.
In the mid section of the gorge look up and try to spot the Jhuilu Trail - best at eastern end of the Tunnel of Nine Turns.
Take in the splendid Feng-shui of the pavilion at Cimu bridge.
Walk over the suspension bridge next to the Yuefei Pavilion. (The trail on the other side is the end of the very tough 7-8 day Cilai East Ridge Trail that starts at Hehuan Mountain.)
Tienxiang Terrace hike across the bridge and up to the statue and Xiangde Temple.
NOT sitting in the car or bus looking at a book or gadget. PLEASE LOOK AT THE SCENERY!!!
Travel further west, from the gorge proper into the high mountains proper. Truly fantastic views.

Food: Convenience stores just outside the gorge. Pleasant snacks and meals at: the national park headquarters; near the parking lot for The Eternal Spring Shrine; Buluowan Service Station; Jinheng Park in the middle of the Swallow’s Grotto Trail; Lyushuei; the upmarket Bulowan Leader Hotel or Silks Place; but NEVER EVER at the disgusting ‘restaurants’ near the bus station in Tienxiang.

A new highlight of the gorge Jhuilu Trail (aka The Vertigo Trail, Zhuilu, 錐麓古道) Requires a National Park permit as well as Police permit (email me for latest advice...getting much easier). Currently can not be done as a loop (still include the best parts), entrance/exit (with chap checking permits) only from the eastern end of Swallow’s Grotto Trail. Best day-hike around. Photos.

See some of our pictures of the gorge here. Watch out for the English-language map produced by the National Park.

A good English-language book with lots of detail on the trails of Taroko is available at Books from Taiwan.

I can assist in arranging accommodation, tours, and permits. One cost-efficient option is by staying at a hostel near Xincheng train station, being driven with your rental bicycle to Tiensiang and riding, via all the sites and hikes, back down to the hostel. Cost: NT$ 4800 per person. Includes: pickup from Xincheng (aka Taroko, Sincheng) train station, or Hualien train station/airport; two nights accommodation; 2 breakfasts; 2 evening meals; bicycle rental and van transport to the ‘top’ of the gorge either at Tienxiang or Huitouwan.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cold Fronts and Hehuan.

This winter has already seen several cold fronts sweep the Taiwan. Visitors to the high mountains should be ready for winter conditions. The Central Weather Bureau has the best forecasts by the way.

Last week saw the pass at Hehuan (the highest place you can drive here) close for a day to all traffic - including 4-wheel drive vehicles fitted with snow chains, as the road was cleared of snow and stranded vehicles. Of course this being Taiwan I’m sure there will be days in the next couple months when shorts and t-shirts will be fine for the easy peaks around there. Be prepared for restrictions on traffic between Dayuling on the north side, and Kunyang not far from Chingjing, and heavy weekend snow-viewing traffic. Also note, it can be more difficult (steeper uphill) coming southwards at the highest elevations. Feel free to ignore the guys selling/renting snow chains at Dayuling, if you continue on without and then start slipping there is sure to be someone nearby to sort you out - for a small price. The daily bus from Taichung to Lishan has been getting across most days. For current conditions, have a Chinese-speaker call the highway department - Puli (埔里工務段) 049-2982066 and Luoshao (洛韶工務段) 03-8691311、03-8691119.

On the subject of Hehuan - please note the hostel next to the road has been closed for the last couple years and the nearby replacements “5-star” Songsyue Hotel and Ski Lodge (hostel) run by the Forestry Bureau can be a pain to deal with. Great location but very can be restrictive and bureaucratic. Often better to stay at the CYC hostel at Guanyun a further away in the direction of Taroko Gorge.

The main route up Yushan (Jade Mountain) via Tataka will close in February, and in view of the recent weather close probably earlier. See previous posts for more info on this subject.

Being further north, the various mountains and ridge walks in Shei-pa (Snow) National Park are now very icy. Hikers should be appropriately prepared.

If planning a hiking trip over the upcoming Chinese New Year, try to schedule (especially if you have no family obligations) getting on the trails, a day or two before everyone else.

May I join the those deploring the adoption of the English-language name ‘New Taipei City’ for the municipality formally known as ‘Taipei County’. There was no good reason not to use the romanization of it’s new Chinese-language name - ‘Xinbei City’. This new name will cause much confusion in the years to come. Taiwan is a great place I’m very proud of, decisions like this are embarrassing.

Some updates on Taroko in the next post.