Hehuanshan, Taiwan

Click for directions on my waterfall guide website

Hehuanshan is the highest point on the highest road in Eastern Asia and one of the only places that you can cross over the central mountain range by car.  It also has five Baiyue peaks if you count Shimenshan which is only a 1 hour hike from the main road.  The Baiyue are Taiwan’s 100 best (not highest) mountains to climb and each of them are over 3000 meters.  Some hikers know how many Baiyue peaks they have summited.  I’m hoping to do a couple every year but I don’t really have summit fever.  I enjoy good hikes regardless of whether or not they involve a summit.  Just in case you are wondering I have 6 Baiyue peaks.  I don’t even care about the number but I still know.

It almost seems like cheating to be able to hike multiple Baiyue peaks as dayhikes.  There is elevation to deal with but overall 3 of the peaks are relatively easy (relative for 3000 meter peaks).  The North Peak is a little more difficult but most hikers shouldn’t have a problem as a dayhike.  The West Peak however presents more of a challenge.  The hike shares the trail with the North Peak but then goes 5+ kms past it on an undulating ridgeline.  It’s possible as a dayhike but it is a really long day.

Some stats

Main Peak – 3417 meters – 1.5-2 hour hike – 2 kms each way – 190 meter ascent

East Peak – 3421 meters – 1.5-2 hour hike – 1 km each way – 290 meter ascent

North Peak – 3422 meters – 4-5 hour hike – 2.5 kms each way – 475 meter ascent

West Peak – 3145 meters – all day (very long day) – 8 kms each way (estimate)

Shimenshan – 3237 – 1+ hours (estimate)

This is the easiest place in Taiwan for city dwellers to see snow and if there is a chance of snow the road is absolutely packed with drivers that have never seen ice or snow.  I know that sometimes they close the road and that is likely to save Taiwanese from themselves.  They would stand no chance on windy ice/snow covered roads.

Part of the ski lift on Hehuanshan East Peak

Hehuanshan East Peak was once used as a ski hill but it has been closed for many years and is incredibly unlikely to ever reopen.  I had found an old article (written in 1983) at Taiwan Review but the link and article are gone now. Here is part of that article.

During our stay on the mountain, the cable lift had broken down. Ski meis­ters and green hands alike had to spend 15 minutes climbing the 150-meter slope, just to slide down in 15 seconds. Most of the novices, not knowing how to stop or change directions, would fall on their backs to break their speed. When one of them crashed into one of our colleagues, we broke into cold sweat. He turned a somersault and lay flat for several minutes before we finally got him up.

Hehuanshan Ski Resort is almost like a myth in Taiwan now.  It’s hard to believe that it ever existed but every once in awhile it gets brought up by tourist or recent expat as something they have heard of and want to do.

The weather can change quickly at high elevations.  In one hour it went from perfectly sunny in every direction to heavy cloud cover by the time we hiked Main Peak.  I found the Main Peak to be an uninspiring hike up an old military road.  There are some nice views but there are nice views everywhere in this region.  The biggest reason to hike this is if you want something easy and if you are really interested in adding to your Baiyue number (top 100 peaks).

We hiked about halfway up the North Peak trail at dusk and setup camp in the last light (barely) of the evening.  In March the temperatures are perfect during the day but nighttime temps are still quite cool.  It’s not exactly pleasant to sit around and chat in camp.

The following morning we woke up in heavy fog and ascended the North Peak completely viewless.  Between 1 and 1.5 kms from the trailhead there are many good spots to camp and there were 15-20 tents set up.  Plan on carrying all of the water up from the trailhead though.  There might be a source but I wouldn’t depend on it.   I think it might be officially against the rules to camp up there but it doesn’t seem to be enforced.

North Peak is the highest (by 1 meter) of the 4 Hehuanshan peaks and in theory offers great views.

The fog started to lift on the descent.  We were told that typically it is clearer in the morning and in the afternoon clouds roll in.  This might be true but current weather systems will also be a factor.  If you are going to Hehuanshan (or the other high mountains) then expect overcast but be pleasantly surprised with clear skies.

If you look very carefully this is the same campsite and view as the photo above (3 photos up) in this blog.  This was actually a second group of foreigners but I didn’t recognize anyone and we didn’t stop to chat.  The fog had completely burned off and we were lucky to have great weather both days.

The view from our makeshift campsite.

The North Peak Trail is everything you want in a hiking trail.  It’s constructed out of dirt and rock.  It offers great views and varied terrain.  It isn’t easy with about 200 meters of elevation gain for every kilometer but it’s not really long.  The East Peak Trail was nice but it is mostly a staircase to the top while the Main Peak Trail is just an old military road.  I will be back sometime to complete the hike to the West Peak (goes over the North Peak).