Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taroko (and Yushan) Spring 2011 updates.

Taroko (and Yushan) Spring updates.

Yushan (Jade Mountain): The official line is that Paiyun Cabin will be open from the end of July. Based on conversations with people who should know, I don’t believe this. I predict maybe a reopening at the very end of this (2011) year. Edit August 2011: best prediction will open spring 2012. Note very tough single-day ascents are still available now...when the mountain opens in the next few days.

Sometimes there is not always time to arrange last minute high-mountain hiking trips. You can’t go wrong with Taroko Gorge for a great range of sights, hikes and nature. See here for some recent photos.

Taroko Trail conditions at the start of April 2011, starting from the eastern ‘start’.
Original map here.

Qingshui (Chingshui) Cliffs at Chungde (崇德步道) 176.4km mark, right after the first tunnel north along the coast. Open.

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

Dali-Datong Trail (大禮大同步道) Long, scenic single-day, or couple days. 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). An absolute must-do sight. Do the 40-minute 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 down to the main highway - especially 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 falling rocks.

Jhuilu (Vertigo) Trail (錐麓古道) is now open its entire length. Unbeatable! See pictures. Needs both kinds of permits.

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 sometimes open but is often plagued with tourists from 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. Moderatly tough - at start and end some scrambling, and requires/deserves 4 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. Toughish and potentially risky 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. Edit August 2011: may be closed close to waterfall due to missing bridge and reconstruction work.

Wenshan Hot Springs (文山溫泉). Officially closed for the last few years, park officials suggest it will reopen this year.

Meiyuan Jhucun Trail (梅園竹村). Great 6-hour, fairly-flat path. Officially closed due to landslide damage after the turn of for Lianhua Pond. Usually passable.

Lianhua Pond (Lotus, 蓮花池步道). A very nice 3-hour round hike starting and ending at 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 recommend the following:
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.

Remember trail conditions are always changing. Recently delays just after (west of) Eternal Spring Shrine - traffic allowed through on the hour and at lunchtime/morning/evening. Currently no delays at the rockslide after Tienxiang.

Rihang, the owner of Country Garden Hostel in Xincheng at the edge of the gorge May 2012 update - new location, even better place. Click here. has been impressing us with his eagerness to help. His clean hostel/homestay is conveniently located 10 minutes walk (can also pick you up) from Taroko (aka Sincheng/Hsincheng/Xincheng) Train Station. Overall good service - as well as accommodation, transport, and food - he has bicycles to rent. Consider his offer to drive you up to Tienxiang (Tiensiang) or Huitouwan by van and then letting you freewheel the whole way down again - a superb way to see the gorge at you own pace, solving the problem of a proper public bus service. Other fancier accommodation can be arranged.

Accommodation NT$900 per/person private rooms. Includes breakfast.
Bicycle rental (hostel guests or day-visitors) NT$350/ day.
Bicycle rental + shuttle to Tienxiang NT$700 (very good value!)
Contact Rihang at 0922938743 rihangsu@gmail.com. Some English spoken, if having communication problems speak to me at 0938337710 or barkingdeerinfo@gmail.com

Note the 8:40 bus from Hualien to high-mountain Lishan (via the gorge, Tienxiang, Guanyuan, and Dayuling) stops briefly 9.30 at the nearby Sincheng (Xincheng) school. Also buses at 6:30, 10:50, 13:50 from Hualien City (orange building next to train station) take 1.5 hours to Tienxiang. Return leaves Tienxiang at 9:10, 14:00, 16:40, 18:30. Pathetic service considering this is such a top destination for visitors.

For most of the time the gorge is quiet and empty...except when the Chinese tourists arrive on mass. Almost all their tour buses seem to arrive at the main easy sights (Swallow’s Grotto, Eternal Spring Shrine) mid to late afternoon. Be aware.

Recently Chinese (from China that is) tour groups have been booking up train spaces from Yilan to Hualien or Taroko (Sincheng/Xincheng/Hsincheng) to avoid the (un-)fun part of the Su-hua highway. It can be difficult to secure guaranteed train seats if coming from Taipei. Please note: just because there are “no seats available” that does not mean you can’t buy a ticket - and then with a bit of luck find a seat to use for most of the journey. It is possible to get on any train (except the 'Taroko express' and 'tourist' trains) without reserved seats. A trick locals use is to take the bus from Taipei (main bus station, Gamalan Bus Co) to Yilan (either Yilan City, Luodong or Dongshan) and then catch the next local train onwards. As well as saving money and time (bus is quicker...via the Hsueshan Tunnel), it means, at very worst, you may only have to stand a shorter time on the final Yilan to Hualien/Taroko section. No reason for not just going to Taroko again!