camping

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Somehow I live only a couple of hours away from Beidawushan but I have never hiked it yet.  I guess I still officially haven’t but that’s another story for later in this blog.  Beidawushan is the southernmost of Taiwan’s Baiyue (top 100 peaks) and it is spectacular.  Overall there are 358 peaks taller than 3000 meters (9850 feet) but 40-50 years ago a group selected the top 100 mountains (several criteria) from that list and called them the Baiyue.  Some of the Baiyue are easy hikes (like Hehuanshan) and some are grueling 3-5 day treks (possibly even longer).  Beidawushan is a reasonably difficult 3 day (or very difficult 2 day) trip and is only a few hours drive from Kaohsiung.  I have wanted to hike Beidawushan for a long time but I always put it off.  Had I known how spectacular the trail was I wouldn’t have waited so long.

My hiking guide for Beidawushan

Despite Taiwan being in a 7+ month long drought (seasonal but worse this year) and the reservoirs emptying to the point that rolling water outages were happening it was raining on our trip.  This was almost the only place in Taiwan that got any rain that weekend.  It is inconvenient to hike in the rain but it is awesome to take photos in between rain showers.

Beidawushan was another casualty of the much written about Typhoon Morakot.  I moved to Taiwan shortly after one of the worst typhoons in Taiwan history and during the last 5 years I have seen all kinds of damage that in some cases still isn’t repaired.  At Beidawushan the typhoon caused a massive landslide that will never be repaired across the access road.  They have built a new trail to the old trailhead and the hike is now 2.8kms longer.  This really isn’t a bad thing since the new trail is spectacular and the first day was already a short hike to the Kauigu Cabin.  Unfortunately they haven’t built a new parking lot yet and it might not be possible given the geography.  Cars now parallel park along a narrow mountain road at the trailhead and it isn’t rare that a car will have to back down the road 50 meters because there isn’t any room to turn around on a weekend.

The rest of Taiwan might have been bone dry from the drought but Taiwan’s mountains have different micro climates and stay lush year round.  Our trip alternated between light rain, no rain and heavy rain.  It didn’t really affect my trip but it is obvious that I need to upgrade my rain protection system.  I’m currently considering adding a Packa rainponcho that doubles as a packcover and in theory ventilates better while keeping your pack really dry.

5 of us left Kaohsiung early Saturday morning.  Alastair, Wolfgang and Joshua were photobombed by a ghostly Taiwanese hiker coming out of the mist.

Nick walks into the abyss.

The access road might have been destroyed but overall the trail is in really good shape.  It is a natural dirt and rock trail and there are many sections where hikers need to scramble up or down rocks but the provided ropes make it relatively easy.  I say relatively because the overall pace of the hike is between 1 and 1.5 kms/hr.  That is partly due to the 1900 meters of elevation gain over 12 kilometers and partly due to rock obstacles on trail.  It isn’t an easy hike but I love hiking these kind of trails because there is a trend in Taiwan to overbuild trails with boardwalks or concrete.

My hiking guide to Beidawushan

One of the best parts of the trail is a narrow ridgeline that is within a very cool part of the forest.  This area must be prone to some awful winds and weather.  The trees were rather short and crookedly bent.  In some places the ridge is less than a meter wide and sharply drops away on both sides.

Kuaigu Mountain Cabin is a basic bunkhouse that offers all of the amenities (but nothing extra) that a hiker could want.  There is only one room and just outside there is a long counter for cooking.  One unique thing about Taiwanese camping groups is that they like to cook up elaborate meals in the mountains even if they are carrying all of the food and gear for many hours.  On a different hike one group carried an entire chicken and went through the long rotisserie process over an open fire.  It was interesting to watch but it would frustrate me after a long day of hiking.  Most foreigners seem to prefer survival food consisting of packets of noodles.  I’m a little more ambitious with my cooking and volunteered to cook for the group.  We enjoyed pasta (gluten free for me), fresh mini corn, green beans and garlic with canned chicken (Costco), olive oil, basil and seasoned salt.  It’s pretty awesome and not that hard if you know how to boil water.

The cook station in the morning.

There is only room for 40-50 people in the cabin but there about 30 tent platforms that are available on a first come basis.  We arrived around 4pm on a Saturday and got some of the last tent platforms downwind of the bathrooms.  Ironically we were camped next to the other foreigner group that weekend.  A pair of fathers brought their teen/preteen sons on a 3 day trip.

My REI quarterdome tent still performs quite well after 6+ years and dozens of trips.

I ultimately chose not to hike to the summit the second day and instead stayed in camp.  I have described the hike options on my Beidawushan guide but the 2 day option that we did requires a 12-14 hour hiking day.  That might have been possible but I had a lot of work to do that week starting immediately on Monday and I really wanted to also go on the Alanyi/Qufengbi trip the next weekend.  Most likely I would have been completely exhausted and stayed home that weekend if I had hiked to the summit so I will have to return sometime for the rest of the hike.  Overall I loved the shortened version of my hike and don’t regret at all not hiking to the summit.  The trail is absolutely amazing and I missed the best part.

My hiking guide to Beidawushan

This is just the ascent to the camp.  The summit is another 1000 meters up in less than 5 kms of hiking.

An even better map than mine.  I still have a lot to learn about map making.

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).

Usually hikes are just hikes but sometimes there is much more to a hike than that.  Despite Taiwan’s west coast being densely populated Taiwan’s mountains hold many secrets that take some effort to find.  Jiuhaocha is one of those secrets.  Jiuhaocha is a Rukai aboriginal village located deep within the mountains of Pingtung County in southern Taiwan.  The Rukai are one of Taiwan’s 14 recognized tribes (more unrecognized).  Despite being located close to China, Taiwan was originally settled 1000’s of years ago by an Austronesian people.  The Chinese (now the dominant ancestry) didn’t start settling Taiwan until the 1600’s.

Directions to Jiuhaocha Village

Jiuhaocha offers one of the most authentic aboriginal experiences in Taiwan.  In 1979 the village chose to move five kilometers from the mountains into the river valley below.  Life was good in Xinhaocha (Jiu = old and Xin = new) for many years but in the 2000’s the village began to suffer from flooding caused by Taiwan’s many typhoons.  119 houses were damaged by Typhoon Sepat in 2007 (Taipei Times).  In January 2009 plans were made to relocate to Rinari near Sandimen (China Post).  Unfortunately the infamous Typhoon Morakot occurred that summer before they were able to move the villlage.  Unlike Xaiolin in Namasia everyone in Xinhaocha was evacuated before the disaster but their homes were either washed away or buried under silt and rock.

Today the only part of the village that remains is the top of the two story church.  Aside from one electrical pole you wouldn’t even know there was ever a village there.  Unfortunately more silt and rocks wash down from upstream every year and the church will soon become completely buried.  This video (in Chinese) shows the rising levels silt in the 5 years since Typhoon Morakot (video link).  Originally the river was located far below the village and 15 meters of silt and rock have since been deposited.

Here is a good blog link that shows original pictures of Xinhaocha in 1979 and also a 2007 photo.  It also shows another trail out of Jiuhaocha back to the river.  Blog link

We were more interested in visiting Jiuhaocha that weekend though.  Our aboriginal guide and Daniel wait for us to upstream of the buried village.

It seems a little silly but we went to extraordinary lengths to keep our feet dry.  We were lucky since we only had to cross the small river 5-6 times but trips earlier in the season need to cross it at least twice as many times.  During the summer there is likely too much water to even make the trip to the village.

Our guide is a true mountain man.  He only needed a chainsaw, a bottle of water and some betelnut for the hike.

Shortly after this dry waterfall we encountered the most impressive and slightly terrifying part of the trail.  The trail is cut into and steeply switchbacks up a cliff face.  For some this will be the highlight of the hike.  For others it will be a good chance to face their fears.  There are ropes to guide you and it isn’t actually that dangerous but it is very impressive.

Eventually you reach the top and hike through a beautiful forest the rest of the way to the village.

An impressive waterfall across the canyon that requires future exploration.

Dennis takes a break five minutes away from the village.

Jiuhaocha once had 300 families living in the area.  The houses aren’t setup right next to each other like a modern village but they are spread out across the mountain.  We visited about 10 houses that remain in good condition.  There are probably many more all over the mountain.  Today a handful of aborigines still live in the area at least part time.

The first house in the village is setup as a bunkhouse for guests although it also serves as living quarters when tourists aren’t there.  Nearly everything except the roof, wall and door supports is made out slate.  This is a typical building method for the Rukai tribe and you can find similar slate houses in southern Taiwan.  These are probably the best examples though.

A couple of houses had a throne outside.  We didn’t ask what the story behind them were.

The team hard at work on an excellent dinner.

Mark Roche from Blue Skies Adventures guided the trip and arranged our aboriginal guide, Jiuhaocha accommodation, transportation, meals and every other detail of the trip.  Mark prepared a massive feast that evening and those pork chops were just the beginning.  Note the game meat hanging and drying above the fire.  We didn’t have any of that.  That is the aborigines continuing to live as they always have.

This was obviously a great hike but it is set apart from other hikes as offering a unique experience that is difficult to find.  This is the type of thing that everyone spending a few years in Taiwan should do to really understand the country.  Aboriginal recognition and festivals are becoming more popular but they have been focuses on mass tourism and entertainment.  This little hidden (still hidden) village offers a truly authentic experience into aboriginal life.

Directions to Jiuhaocha Village

I basically randomly picked a campsite from the Camping in Taiwan map for my trip to Yilan.  It was located outside of town and would make a good base for a trip to Taipingshan.  As a bonus there was a waterfall nearby.  I thought it would be easy to find but I didn’t get there until it was already dark.  Rather inconveniently I rented the worst scooter ever.  Whenever I was coasting the light lost power and basically turned off.  I was able to trade my scooter for a much better one the next day.  After a little searching I found the campsite and was knocked out by the view.  The facilities were not impressive but it has a million dollar view of Yilan and the valley.  Directions to Yulan Campground.

My view of Yilan at arrival.

The sunrise view from my tent.

The view across the valley.

The view up the valley with my tent all by itself.

Nearby Yulan Waterfall now restricts vehicles from reaching the trailhead and instead hikers can choose between a roadwalk and some well done trails.

Most choose to walk the road but the trail is by far the better route.

My perception of Yilan is that is is nearly always raining and the trees showed it with various vines and moss.

In the last few years they have replaced many rickety bamboo bridges with some impressive bridges.  Hopefully a typhoon doesn’t wipe out all of the hard work in the future.

 I could have spent hours on macro photography.

Nearly every tree on the 4km trail was interesting.

Not surprisingly it was originally a logging trail.  It was called Camphor Station #9.

Yulan Waterfall is at the end of the trail and it was spectacular after Yilan’s recent rainfall.  Locally it is known as Gaba Waterfall.  It will require some imagination but the local tribe many centuries ago named it after the thunderous sound of the waterfall.

Directions to Yulan Waterfall

We have been incredibly fortunate this year to have multiple 3 day holiday weekends.  This doesn’t happen every year since some holidays are based on lunar cycles and others are date specific.   The challenge every 3 day weekend is finding awesome places to go that aren’t completely overrun by others also taking advantage of the 3 day holiday weekends.  This weekend we chose Tsengwen Reservoir in Tainan/Chaiyi county and were able to avoid most of the weekend crowd.  Tsengwen Reservoir is Taiwan’s largest reservoir but we were focused on the 15-20 waterfalls that show up on maps surrounding the reservoir.  We haven’t found all of them yet but we found 5 last weekend.

Tsengwen Reservoir on a hazy day from the spaceship looking observation deck

Two years ago this observation deck had been built but looked abandoned.  Since then they have built up the tacky touristy attractions in the recreation area and there is now a cafe in the observation deck.

Our target the 1st day was Feiyun Waterfall on the west side of the reservoir.  We explored several roads but we only had a general idea of where it was and where we were and we couldn’t find it.  Obviously I didn’t take this photo of myself.  Asher Leiss took it as I rode up a mountain in a fruitless search.

We did find Shuiliandong Waterfall just off of the road near Tsengwen Dam.  I was quite surprised to find this perfect grotto for swimming and it is still a little hot here so we went swimming.

Directions to Shuiliandong Waterfall (click here).

One great thing they have done with Tsengwen Reservoir Recreation Area is setup a large and free (with paid entry 100/50NT) camping area near the south entrance.

Landslides are a constant issues on mountain roads and the workers are reinforcing the hillside with concrete to prevent road closures.

We observed a target from across the valley and concocted a plan on how to get there.  We weren’t able to go here this time but we found this stream with several waterfalls above it.

Asher is scouting a potential trail to our waterfall target.

After a 2km roadwalk uphill through a betelnut farm the road became an overgrown trail.  We weren’t going to turn around at point.

First we heard the water and then we were rewarded with an amazing swimming hole and waterfall.

Directions to Caoshan Stream Waterfalls (click here).

There are numerous waterfalls upstream and downstream but climbing equipment is needed.

Rolling hills on the walk back to our motorcycles.

We quickly stopped at Chingyun Waterfall on our way to our campsite.  Chingyun is a very popular swimming hole near Dapu.

Directions to Chingyun Waterfall click here.

Our campsite is the island in the foreground right on Tsengwen Reservoir.

A morning guest at our campsite.

There were also 10-20 powered paragliders flying over the reservoir.

Just by chance Ken Nelson (Asher’s friend) was flying that day and took a photo of our campsite.  We are on the little island in middle right of the photo.  We are still there but we look pretty small from way up there.

We talked to Ken Nelson for awhile and I took this video of another paraglider taking off.

This was the start to our hike on our third day.  On the other side of these seven sturdy pieces of bamboo is a water lover’s playground.  It’s not for those scared of heights though.

There is no way to access the area without going over the bridge.

There are many interesting pockmarks caused by water erosion.

And there is of course Chinglong Waterfall (Green Dragon).  Twice this weekend we had an idea of where to go looking for waterfalls but we were very surprised to actually find such amazing places.  We aren’t so lucky other weekends.

Directions to Chinglong Waterfall (click here).

We visited one last roadside waterfall on our way back to Kaohsiung.

Directions to this waterfall are available in my waterfall guide (click here).