Even deeper reaches in Hsinchu – Jianxibao ( 鎮西堡)

Jianxibao is located across the valley from Smangus.  Smangus has become famous for being the most remote aboriginal village in Taiwan.  It was just 20 years ago that roads and electricity reached it.  Since then it has become an overly popular as a tourist destination.  It’s almost laughable thinking about the large tour buses that continuously make the trip to Smangus on the narrow switchbacking roads with tourists that wouldn’t consider stepping off of a sidewalk into the real nature that surrounds the place.  Somehow they pass right past Jianxibao and keep going.  Even though we saw it from our breakfast table we chose not to go to Smangus this time.  Instead we hiked two outstanding trails through Jianxibao’s grove of ancient Red Cypress trees and found a secret place that was an amazing mixture of dark/gloomy and beautiful.

The million dollar morning view from our guesthouse.

On a previous weekend our guesthouse had a similar million dollar view but was completely forgettable in every other way.  This guesthouse (500NT/person or <20USD/person) was amazing.  (035847715/0919281283)  Most of the mountain guesthouses are old family homes that have been retrofitted into guesthouses since most of the family has moved away from the mountains.

On the first day we hiked an 8.3km loop (loop B) through the forest on a level and well maintained path.

Smangus and Jianxibao are notoriously wet as seen by the endless moss clinging to branches.

I have been incredibly lucky so far this year with weather.  I expect that will cruelly change on my next hike with an overabundance of rain.

Richard, the ladies and myself in front of one of the giants.  It seems like a person could sneak through that hole…

Another one of the giant Red Cypress trees (2000+ years old).  I think this one was named Giant Tree while others were named King, Queen, Adam, Eve and countless other creative names.  Adam and Eve were particularly naughtily named…

Hiskia tried to warn me that I might be disappointed since there wouldn’t be any waterfalls on this trip.  I knew that but we were completely shocked when we crossed this stream not once but twice.

The giant trees are such a big attraction that these waterfalls don’t show up marked on any maps or brochures of the area.  They are now marked on my waterfall website though.

On the second day we hiked the significantly harder Loop A to some more giant trees.

Hiskia in front of one of the smaller giants.

Ginny walking through one of the few flat places on the trail.

Shortly after this the trail went vertical and presented challenge after challenge as it climbed over 800 meters mostly in the 2nd half of the 5.4km hike.

Dulongtan.

A place that was so eerily dark and depressing yet so incredibly serene and beautiful at the same time.  It was coated with a layer of pond scum and was unlikely to be more than a meter deep in the middle.  In the US this would be dismissed as just another swamp but Taiwan’s geography doesn’t allow lakes to form and this is one of the few lakes that I have seen in my 4 years in Taiwan.  There is perhaps no better name than the English translation of Poison Dragon Lake to describe this almost mystical place.

Yuanyang Valley Waterfalls

Before meeting up with Richard and several others from the Taipei Hikers group I went for a short hike in Yuanyang Valley and found one of the three waterfalls.   Directions to Yuanyang Valley.

The view down the valley.

My camping spot at one of the Yuanyang Valley parking lots with my rented scooter.  I did try to shift the scooter several times the first day.

 

The deepest reaches of Hsinchu county

10 hikers from the Taipei Hikers facebook group explored the deepest reaches Hsinchu county.  Hsinchu is better known for its science park but the mountains hold many secret places.  By the end of the weekend we had visited 3 amazing waterfalls and 2 of the best wild hot springs in Taiwan.  We also stayed at a forgettable hotel with an amazing morning view.

We started at one of the best waterfalls that is known but requires a little effort to reach.  It ends up being a short hike and the directions are on my waterfall website.

Above Maliguang Waterfall there’s an unknown trail that takes you to the top of another waterfall.

Taiyao Waterfall plummets over the edge unfortunately out of sight.  There are rumors that the bottom is accessible but from where remains a mystery.

Hiskia encounters one of the many obstacles on the trail.

The photo doesn’t really do the danger justice.  The trail is washed out and it’s a LONG way down.  I’m just taking photos instead of actually helping.  Richard’s fine…

Yuling waterfall required getting wet.  This would have been better during the summer but we were quite lucky that the water was only mid thigh deep.

Dan enjoyed  the cold water the most in our group.  This would be an awesome place in the sweltering summer heat.  Directions to Yuling Waterfall.

Located just upstream was Water Curtain Cave.  It’s a brilliantly constructed dam that provides a constant water supply to a swimming hole.  We weren’t sure why the dam was ever built but we loved it.

It’s spring here and the wildflowers are blooming.

There were dozens of these rare flowers on one of our hikes.

Our crew outside our forgettable hotel with an unforgettable view.

Our weekend was filled with obstacles.  This particular ladder had several rungs replaced with tree branches.

Cheryl is just showing off.  One unnamed person crawled across.  It took me about 100 baby steps to cross it.  Xinxing hot spring is in the background and well worth the hike down (300m elevation drop).

Sileng hot spring is in a stunning location that luckily requires significant effort to reach.  Otherwise it would be overrun every weekend.

Sileng hot spring cascades down the stained rock filling small rock pools.  Directions are here.

It’s always a god’s birthday in Taiwan

If you have lived in Taiwan for awhile then you probably dread the local temple festivals.  Typically they start early in the morning with crates of firecrackers and drums and continue late into the night.  In addition to all of that noise they also burn ridiculous amounts of paper (fake) money as an offering to the gods.  After exploring the southern cross island highway (possibly re-opening April 1st) we arrived in Baolai Hot Springs for a quick lunch at the height of one of these festivals.  It was a welcome diversion to our weekend and we (and our motorcycles) managed to escape unscathed.

Not every festival features the elaborate face painting and costumes.

Yes, our motorcycle and scooter were in between the firecrackers and barrel of burning paper money.  There wasn’t a safe parking spot in the entire town.  Every business (every 10 feet) was burning an offering to their god while we were there.

The man on the left in the yellow multicolored robe is the representative of the god.  He stopped at every local business to bless them for the next year.  This god is particularly known for his love of spirits and he drank at every blessing.  He was loaded by the end of the day.

The focus of the trip was locating some lesser known waterfalls on the southern cross and in nearby Namasia.  Despite a deluge of rain in this area 3 weeks ago the valleys were mostly dry.  We did get a lot of questions answered about locations and other interesting information about the waterfalls.  Many of them have actually had landslides across the faces of the waterfalls.  There still is a waterfall during the summer and fall but much of the beautiful foliage that the waterfall flowed through is gone.  The Yuanlin trail near Baolai was an unexpected find on our waterfall hunt.  It’s an 8km trail weaving through a mature forest along ridgeline.  At several points it offers stunning views of valley below although that was obscured by haze while we hiked it.

Duona, waterfalls and the moon?

I returned to familiar terrain on my last motorcycle trip and I served as an assistant guide for our group since I have made about a dozen trips to Maolin.  Unlike previous trips we explored Duona this time.  Duona is the last village in Maolin Valley and it suffered a terrible loss when its famous hot springs were buried under a cliff.  In the last 3 years Duona has transformed into a pleasant bustling aboriginal village.  There are now a half dozen nice restaurants and several nice tourist shops.  There’s a chance that it becomes overly touristy but currently it’s just about perfect.

Despite being to Meiya Waterfall a couple of times before I got us lost.  Not such a great a guide I guess.  I was also so convinced that the waterfall would be dry that I left my tripod and needed to balance my camera on a few small rocks for this photo.  Directions to Meiya Waterfall are on my waterfall website.

Duona High Bridge is the tallest suspension bridge in Taiwan towering 103m above the valley before.  We chose to Evil Kenevil it across the bridge (not necessary for visiting Duona).  It’s not particularly difficult but it is a little tense.

The trip gave me an opportunity to visit a new place in Maolin.  Guifu Canyon (Ghost Axe) is located about 1km upstream from Duona and it seems to be flying under the radar.  Apparently before Typhoon Morakot the canyon was full of small rock swimming pools but there are filled in with rock and silt now.  Perhaps they will resurface in a few more years.  Directions to Guifu are on my waterfall website.

Guifu Canyon is a narrow canyon that is similar to some of the tight canyons in the American Southwest (minus the red rock).  Not far from the entrance a waterfall drops into the canyon over the cliffs.  It is possible to go further upstream past the waterfall but you should bring some ropes and safety equipment with you.

The walk out of Guifu Canyon back to Duona.

Richard Saunders also led us around to several scenic oddities in Taiwan.  These are part of Taiwan’s Badlands.

Yangnu Mud Volcano was one of several that we visited during the weekend.  This isn’t actually a geothermal vent but rather a methane vent that can be lit on fire.  It didn’t actually smell from where we were.  Taiwan is one of the few countries in the world with mud volcanos.

An action photo from the weekend.  This was taken by Trevor Barth while wearing a backpack and twisting around on the back of a scooter traveling at 50km/hr on bouncy mountain roads.

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