mountains

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January was one of the busiest and best months I have ever had chasing waterfalls in Taiwan. The combination of great weather and seemingly endless holidays meant that I went camping 13 days on 4 different trips. Overall I visited 20 waterfalls and added 13 more to my waterfall guide.

February is also going to be a great month with the second half of Chinese New Year and the 4 day 2/28 holiday weekend. After that I will be slowing down and concentrating on blog/guide/website/social media updates. I currently have 9 waterfalls (+3 from the Philippines still), 8 hikes, 4 cool campgrounds and many blog posts to write or update. The goal will be to write 1 or 2 a day and try to get all caught up sometime this spring so I can direct my attention to website improvements and building my social media referrals. Instagram and Facebook are going quite well but I have only dabbled in Pinterest a little and haven’t even tried other forms. I find Flipboard particularly interesting and I should establish a Twitter channel but I hate the platform.

January started out with a fantastic 3 day holiday weekend. I first visited Caihong Waterfall 4 years ago but it was getting late and I only saw the 200 meter waterfall from the parking lot. I finally completed the hike and the trail ends at a smaller tier with a stunning swimming hole.

The main focus of the weekend was river tracing up to Sanzhan’s Golden Grotto. I spent all week checking the weather and luckily the temps remained unseasonably warm and the forecast was dry. I had really high expectations for this hike and it exceeded them. This is without a doubt one of my five favorite waterfalls in Taiwan. And I still need to write the waterfall guide and a separate blog for it.

We also visited three other smaller waterfalls that weekend. None of these will be on my favorites list although that is a pretty elite list.

Saguer Waterfall is a nice short hike in Hualien City and Caihong Waterfall (a second Caihong Waterfall) is part of a beautiful and rarely visited valley near Liyutan (Carp Pond).

My favorite was Zimu Waterfall near Mugumuyu in Hualien County. Mugumuyu is famous for its blue waters and swimming holes. It is so famous that they restrict entry to 600 people/day but it was unfortunately closed (and will be closed for awhile) due to a landslide. Outside of the police station I found a map with a mysterious waterfall on it. We checked it out and although the waterfall was small we found a perfect bluegreen swimming hole that Mugumuyu is famous for but without the hassle of a permit.

The following weekend I had planned to stay home but the weather was so nice and I really wanted to see maple trees so I planned a trip to Shimenggu and Shipangu in Chiayi County. Shipangu is a very nice hiking trail with several maple trees alongside the trail. The best spot was at one end of the suspension bridge but it doesn’t compare to back home or in Japan. So far in Taiwan I have seen scattered maples and other trees turn red, orange or yellow but not an entire hillside.

Shimenggu remains one of my favorite day hikes in all of Taiwan. This trail has it all. There is a giant suspension bridge, a deep and long valley, giant bamboo, a beautiful garden at an old farmhouse, maple trees, a waterfall, giant cypress trees, mossy forests and amazing pools. This time we hiked up a hidden canyon and believe that this is the reason that the place is called Shimenggu (Stone Dream Valley). This is a side hike that everyone should do when they visit. I plan on going back this summer when the waterfall in the hidden valley is flowing.

My only Tuesday hike this month with the Southern Taiwan Hiking Group was to Wanan Waterfall. The waterfall is impressively tall falling in 4 tiers but we found a secret butterfly valley (blog coming soon or perhaps someday…). We found at least a dozen different kinds of butterflies and the largest swarm of Maolin’s famous purple butterflies that I have ever seen. There were 100’s of them in the trees.

Every couple of months my junior high school students (4 classes) have a big test at their school and they study for that instead of coming to English class. I barely have any classes to teach that week and I go hiking and camping instead. This time I went to Hsinchu. I had been to Hsinchu twice before but I had a huge list of places I wanted to see and many I wanted to go back to. Yuanyang Valley Waterfall was my first stop. I had been there once before but I was rushed and didn’t go back to the final waterfall.

Next up on the list was one of northern Taiwan’s best waterfalls. Maliguang Waterfall is a long drive from pretty much anywhere but the hike is short and the waterfall is spectacular. They lie about the height though. It isn’t anywhere close to 80 meters tall.

After Maliguang I decided to check out the Guanwu Forest Recreation Area. It is a long drive but a couple of waterfalls have been on my list for years. I stopped at Baxian Waterfall and observed it from really far away since there isn’t a known trail that accesses the bottom. Followxiaofei and I are looking (more him than I…) for info on how to safely get to the bottom since the waterfall looks amazing.

My main goal was to find Guanwu Waterfall though. I had mistakenly thought that this waterfall was part of the Dabajianshan hike (the famous mountain on the 500 TWD bill) but there are other interesting waterfalls on that hike (which I must do sometime). Guanwu Waterfall is around 100 meters tall and has its own hiking trail in the park.

But the Zhenshan Trail stole the show at Guanwu Recreation Area. Dabajianshan deservedly is the main reason that people go to Guanwu but the Zhenshan Trail was spectacular even though you can barely see Zhenshan Waterfall through the trees. It isn’t an easy trail but I loved the forest and the views could be amazing if you get there before the afternoon fog. I also want to return and hike the Kuaishan Giant Tree Trail at Guanwu.

My final trip of the month was to Nantou for the first half of our Chinese New Year vacation. It was a little disappointing that the bridge to Momonaer Waterfall was being replaced but the Chunyang Hot Spring Campground was amazing. They have 19 private hot spring baths and a large community pool to relax after a long day hiking.

Our first hike didn’t involve a waterfall but Hehuanshan instead. Hehuanshan has 5 different peaks but 3 of them are fairly easy. They should be hiked but they are short walks on paved roads or stairs. North Peak however is a great hike and it is on the way to West Peak. Full details of Hehuanshan are included in this blog post but North Peak and West Peak are really difficult. We averaged a pathetic 1.25 km/hour due to the elevation gains and losses (and being slow). At the halfway mark we chose to turn around because we would have been hiking until 8 or 9pm or later (6pm sunset) to finish the hike. I will have to return another time to finish this hike.

Hehuanshan

We took it easy the next day and went to Jingying Hot Spring. Luckily Jingying Hot Spring has a really cool waterfall upstream.

On the final day of the trip we went to Aowanda Recreation Area which was predictably busy. The bridge and forests are still cool but they have built a new trail and viewing platform for the waterfall. They also built a new Maple Tree Trail which we didn’t have time to do this weekend.

The last waterfall for the weekend was a bit of a surprise. I had known about Shuishang Waterfall for a few years due to Richard Saunders but had never been in the area to check it out. I finally had a few hours on the drive home and took the opportunity to check it out. We started hiking down the trail and it was really, really dry. We expected the waterfall to be completely dry also but we found a little oasis. It was perfect.

So this was just January. I don’t expect to keep up this kind of pace any longer but it was a pretty great month. All (almost all) of the places above have been updated in the waterfall guide and I am busy writing up everything else. I hope you had a great January also.

I haven’t been everywhere yet but here are 10 easy waterfall hikes to do with children or retired parents. There are also great for those that are a little out of shape or who want to have a lazy day. And I know all about lazy days. Let me know if you have done any easy and safe waterfall hikes that aren’t on the list.

I picked several criteria for these hikes.

First, it has to be a hike and I am setting the minimum distance at 2km round trip.

Second, there should be a good trail surface so young, old and less confident hikers are comfortable hiking. Likewise the trails should have minimal rocks, branches and other obstacles even though I really like these natural trails. Another big issue in Taiwan is slippery moss covered surfaces but I think the below list minimizes those surfaces but they are difficult to completely avoid.

Third, there should be modest elevation gain.

Fourth, there should be an awesome waterfall on the hike and this is perhaps the most important criteria.

  1. Shanfong Waterfall is part of Yushan National Park in Hualien. This is part of the much longer Walami Trail (and even longer but currently closed Batonggaun Trail) but dayhikers can hike up to the waterfall or campground (5km one way) w/o a permit. On the drive to Shanfong Waterfall you will pass Nanan Waterfall where many locals swim during the summer.

Click for directions to Shanfong Waterfall

2. Baiyang Waterfall is one of Taroko Gorge National Park’s most visited places. The hike is along an old road that was built for a hydroelectric project that was cancelled (thankfully). The trail gives hikers an introduction to some spectacular high mountain scenery without the effort. Hikers should remember their headlamps (smartphones are adequate but not that great) for the 8 tunnels on the trail. At the end the Water Curtain Cave is a long tunnel that started leaking water and is now a tourist attraction. It is best to check the trail conditions before your trip because this trail is frequently closed (currently closed 4/2016). Trail conditions (link)

Click for directions to Baiyang Waterfall

3. The road to Longgong (Dragon Palace) Waterfall might be challenging with dozens of switchbacks but the hike is incredibly easy. The most spectacular aspect is when the trail continues behind the waterfall and comes out the other side. In addition to Longgong Waterfall there are two additional waterfalls to see. Leiyin Waterfall drops 100’s of meters opposite Longgong Waterfall. Be warned though there are two trailheads to Longgong Waterfall. One of the routes is almost completely flat all the way to the waterfall and the other descends 350 meters of stairs in 2 km.

There is currently (4/2016) trail damage and you can’t walk behind the waterfall but you can see the waterfall as shown below.

Click for directions to Longgong Waterfall

4. Xinliao Waterfall is a very easy and popular hike in Yilan. They first built the trail in 2006 but it was destroyed by a typhoon a couple of years later and then rebuilt in 2009. For those looking for a more natural trail they can also check out the nearby Jiuliao Waterfall.

Click for directions to Xinliao Waterfall

5. Shuiliandong Waterfall is one of my favorites in Taiwan. The hike goes over a REALLY high red bridge in a tight gorge and there is one more even taller waterfall at the end of this gorge. There might be some trail damage but I haven’t been there in 4 years. I think I need to go this summer.

Click for directions to Shuiliandong Waterfall

6. The trail to Maolin Waterfall was destroyed in the devastating Typhoon Morakot 7 years ago.  Nearly every bit of infrastructure in the Maolin and Duona area was also destroyed by that typhoon but they have slowly rebuilt the valley into a popular tourist destination. In 2013 they rebuilt the trail with two impressive suspension bridges back to the waterfall.

Click here for directions to Maolin Waterfall

7. Wuling Farm isn’t the most convenient place to visit but if planned correctly you can see peach and cherry blossoms in the spring, hike through a beautiful cypress forest and visit Taoshan Waterfall. You can also use Wuling Farm for access to some of Taiwan’s best high mountain hikes like Snow Mountain and Wuling Sixiu.

Click here for directions to Taoshan Waterfall

8. Sunlinksea (hate the name – it should be Shanlinshi) Forest Recreation Area has two spectacular waterfalls. Chinglong Waterfall is a beautiful 116 meter waterfall that can be viewed from across the valley. Those wanting to do a few extra (A LOT) stairs can descend to a better viewpoint. Songlong (Pine Dragon) Rock Waterfall is located right next to a shuttle bus stop at the end of the road.

Click here for directions to Chinglong Waterfall

9. Yulan Waterfall used to be a bit of an adventure to access but they have built a wide trail and several bridges for easy access now. The forest on this hike is particularly beautiful and I could have spent hours taking photos.

Click for directions to Yulan Waterfall

10. Yunlong Waterfall is part of one of my favorite hikes in Taiwan. The Batongguan Trail starts in Dongbu Hot Springs, connects to Yushan and if it is ever repaired it can be hiked all the way to the Walami Trail in Haulien. The hike follows a deep V shaped valley with spectacular views. The trail is in good shape and easy to walk but almost the entire trail is next to a very steep cliff and may not be suitable for young children or for those with a fear of heights.

Click here for directions to Yunlong Waterfall

Honorable Mention: I believe Neidong Waterfall is one of Taiwan’s most beautiful waterfalls. Last August the entire Wulai region was devastated by Typhoon Soudelor and it is unknown how long it will be until Neidong Waterfall reopens to the public.

Click for directions to Neidong Waterfall

Some other easy waterfall hikes:

Shuangliu Waterfall in Pingtung

Linmei Shipan Waterfall in Yilan

Qingshan (Laomei) Waterfall in New Taipei

Yuanyang Valley Waterfalls in Hsinchu

Liangshan Waterfall in Pingtung

Qinglong Waterfall (at the Sky Ladder) in Nantou

Longying Waterfall at Fuyuan Butterfly Valley in Hualien

Manyueyuan Rec Area Waterfalls and Yunsen Waterfall in New Taipei (links to Josh Ellis’s blog)

 

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek and a great trail.

Shimenggu (Stone Dream Valley) is located in one of the most remote parts of Chaiyi County in Taiwan.  Shimenggu itself is a series of strange pools but the hiking trail is absolutely amazing with several different amazing sights.  At the beginning of the trail there is a suspension bridge that links to an alternate entrance to Shuiyang Lake (blog) (and another Shuiyang blog) and some stands of enormous bamboo while walking up a valley of 500+ meter walls.  After a hard ascent (300 meters in 1+km) you reach the perfect mountain garden.  This garden used to be the home to a nice elderly couple that we met in 2013 and they operated a part time B&B.  Since then they have moved away but their garden is still perfect.

The trail is nice before the garden but the best places are the furthest away.  I had hiked part of the trail 3 years earlier with Richard Saunders (Richard’s blog from that trip) but I stopped at the garden to rest because I had a 5 hour motorcycle ride home that day.  Richard and several other hikers came back gushing with how great it was.  It took me 3 years to return but I finally found out how great the rest of the trail is.

Directions to Shimenggu and Qingrengu can be found on my waterfall guide

Near the end of the trail is a loop that we hiked the loop clockwise.  The waterfall was much larger than expected and is one of my favorites in Taiwan.  Just above the waterfall are some great pools for summer swimming.  The hike becomes very steep after this going past a grove of ancient trees that remind me of Jianxibao.  Sadly most of the trees have been illegally logged.  Immediately afterward it changes to a damp forest with green moss hanging from the trees like it was part of the Lord of the Ring set.  Finally we arrived at Shimenggu.  Shimenggu is a series of bizarre pools in a stream that runs down a large piece of rock.  The hike is difficult but not impossible and it will take most of the day.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek and a great trail.

Looking up the main valley from the suspension bridge.  The suspension bridge leads to an alternate route to Shuiyang Lake.  We have looked a couple of times and the route to Dadianyu Waterfall seems to be blocked by a giant boulder.  According to some hikers it takes 4 hours to reach 1000 person cave and an additional 2 hours to reach Shuiyang Lake.  The trail was in much better shape on my 2016 trip though.  In 2013 we couldn’t find anything that looked like a trail but now it seems to be in decent shape although it is a very steep climb out of the valley.

The cables across the valley are for a small cable car that was used by the family to transport their personal items up the mountain.  The path shown leads to the small waterfall.  Instead the trail climbs 500 meters in 2 kms to the top of the cables.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Huge bamboo flanks parts of the first half of the trail.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

There is a fair amount of stinging nettles at the beginning of the trail and much more of it on the other side of the suspension bridge (a side trip and not the way to Shimenggu).  It isn’t serious if you touch it but it is VERY annoying.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

The flower garden that was part of a beautiful home and part time B&B.  We met the owners 3 years ago but they have since moved away (likely into the village).  The garden is stunningly beautiful and you walk through a tunnel of rhododendrons, cherry blossoms and other flowers.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

This rather bizarre rock is right next to the trail.  I have no idea what caused this.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Qingrengu was just the first spectacular sight of many near the end of the hike.  The cave behind it is accessible and actually had an old stone wall built in it.  This one will definitely be on my favorite waterfall list whenever I publish it.

Directions to Shimenggu and Qingrengu can be found on my waterfall guide

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Directly above Qingrengu Waterfall are some perfect pools that would be awesome to swim in during the summer.  It is at 1500 meters of elevation so it might not be warm enough to swim even in early spring or late fall.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Asher (followxiaofei.com) stands directly on top of Qingrengu Waterfall.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

The trail goes vertical again climbing 200 meters in the next kilometer.  This giant cypress tree is right next to the trail and is sadly one of the last ones in this area.  There is access to an impressive valley here that I will explore next time.  It looked like there was a nice waterfall and some vertical cliff walls.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Illegal logging has taken its toll on the giant cypress trees.  There were several recently logged trees and we only saw one giant cypress and several other much smaller ones.  I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to carry the entire tree (chopped up) out by hand.  And they would probably have to work at night.  This is a fairly difficult hike with a daypack.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

At the highest elevations the trail becomes a lush green paradise.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

One of the more creative parts of the trail.  I am guessing that this type of construction is no longer allowed to preserve the larger trees in this forest.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

This part of the hike was probably my favorite.  It occurs at the highest elevation on the trail (about 1700 meters) and almost the absolute farthest point of the trail.  It is definitely worth it to hike the entire trail even though is over 800 meters of elevation gain to reach this spot.

Shimenggu is a series of bizarre pools where the rock has worn away in deep pools that go straight down.  This hole was well over 1 meter across and 2-3 meters deep.  I think these would be good places to swim during the summer.  We didn’t have time to walk upstream from the trail but there is potentially something really cool up there.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

The whole trail is nice but the best part is the loop at the end of the trail.  The bridge near the trailhead provides access to 1000 person cave (marked in Chinese in the top right of the map). It must be an exhausting hike since there are A LOT OF contour lines that it crosses. Shuiyang Lake is 2 hours past the cave.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

The isn’t quite as long as shown due to the off trail exploring across the bridge and the long breaks at the break area and the waterfall.  Overall the trail is about 10 km long.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Click for directions to the Banpingshan guide

Kaohsiung’s Shoushan National Park is much more than just Monkey Mountain but many forget about the other parts of the National Park.  Banpingshan is located between the Lotus Pond, the HSR station and World Games Stadium.  Embarrassingly I didn’t hike here until this spring because Monkey Mountain is just a couple of minutes from my apartment.  I will travel all over Taiwan and East Asia looking for new hikes but for some reason 20 minutes within Kaohsiung was too far.

My initial hike on Banpingshan was less than spectacular.  Banpingshan was heavily mined for cement and lime for over a century.  During this time the height of the mountain was reduced by 53 meters to its current height of 170 meters.  (gov’t source)  Michael Turton wrote an excellent blog with old photos about the history of the cement operations earlier this year so I won’t rehash that.  Read Michael’s piece here.

My first trip to Banpingshan was rather boring as I hiked up the stairs to the main mining road to the main observation point and back down the mining road past the old quarry on the eastern side of the mountain.  The southeastern portions of Banpingshan were most heavily affected by the mining and I almost entirely walked through that area.  The next time however I hiked along some trails about halfway up the western slope (near pt 2 on the map) and the trees and rock formations match or exceed the best on Monkey Mountain.

Fascinating trees and rocks can be found all over Taiwan but one of the highlights is a completely intact military bunker at the northeastern end of Banpingshan.  The bunker is likely from the post WWII militarization of Taiwan by the KMT as defense against a possible PRC (China) invasion although it could have been made by the Japanese during WWII.  The bunker has 4 exits, 2 tunnels, 1 connecting tunnel and 5 small rooms.  The longest tunnel is 50 meters long and about 1.6 meters tall.  It is made of concrete and is very safe from cave ins.

The Nanzih factory region.  Down there somewhere is Oil Refinery Elementary School.  Such a homey name.

One of the five interior rooms.  Maybe 2 meters wide by 3 meters deep by 1.5 meters tall.

Banpingshan overlooks World Games Stadium and the Straits of Taiwan.  Further north of this is the Nanzih factory zone.

Click for directions to Banpingshan

Dadi Gorge is one of those rare areas that is only accessible for a couple of months every year.  And I’m going to tease you with this one since it has rained a lot in the last week and you will have to wait until next March to visit.

Get directions to Dadi Gorge

Dadi Gorge is located at the northern end of Nanhua Reservoir on the Kaohsiung/Tainan county border.  To access Dadi Gorge you must cross this part of the main inlet river.  During almost the entire year this is under water.  It is never deep but it is a muddy mess and impossible to cross without a boat.

Dadi Gorge isn’t particulary wide nor is it long but it is rather dramatic.

This would be a really, really cool waterfall but unfortunately the only time to visit is during the driest part of the year.  An inflatable raft would be awesome.  Or a real kayak.  That would be even better.

Get directions to Dadi Gorge

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.

Hongye Gorge hike

Taiwan is a very small island with 23M people and hiking and camping are becoming really popular.  Traveling on long holiday weekends can be absolute hell and several times I have just wanted to go home because of the mobs of people.  The first weekend of April every year is one of Taiwan’s traditional holidays.  Tomb Sweeping Day doesn’t always fall on a weekend but they use some creative scheduling (adding in an extra day called Children’s Day) to usually make it a 3 or 4 day weekend.  This year was no exception.

On one hand I hate traveling with mobs of people but on the other hand you can do so much more with an extra day or two.   Usually I try to find places that are a little more off of the beaten path during these holidays.  There are several somewhat famous places that I would like to visit but I have less interest in doing them with a larger than usual mob.  This year I chose to do 3 somewhat easy hikes on the north side of Yangmingshan that I have wanted to do for awhile.  Of course they all had one thing in common – waterfalls.  For the first day I chose to be a group leader for Taipei Hikers meetup group and scheduled a hike to Qingshan Waterfall near Laomei.  However I failed as hike leader since I was late to my own hike because I got lost in Danshui but I caught up and we had a nice hike.

The next two days I chose to go by myself since I had no idea what kind of schedule or where I would be at any time.  I hiked back to the largest waterfall in Yangmingshan (Alibang) on the 2nd day and on the last day Hongye (Red Leaf) Gorge became my favorite hike.  Neither of those days I saw anyone on the trail.  A couple of people would have been better but it was great to be surrounded by the serenity of the woods.

Qingshan Waterfall is a popular waterfall near the village of Laomei.  It’s possible to escape the crowds but you will pay a price for the escape.  The price is a steep but short ascent on a pleasant trail.  The trail now goes past an old Japanese monument (pre WWII) that was recently rediscovered in the 90’s.

Directions to Qingshan Waterfall (click)

The trail to Alibang was fascinating.  I preferred this little guy to the 4 snakes that I saw on trail though.

Directions to Alibang Waterfall (click)

There was a group of 4 swallowtail butterflies playing on the trail.  Rarely do swallowtail butterflies stop and pose for photos but they are amazing.

It is all uphill (2.5kms) to this viewpoint of Alibang Waterfall.  This looks amazing from here but when I hiked around to the base I thought I was at a smaller tier of the waterfall and that I needed to continue hiking to the main waterfall.  I was so convinced that I didn’t even take a photo at the base and went up this insanely steep hill/trail.  It wasn’t until I got to a junction at the top that I realized my mistake but I had no interest in going down that slope so I took an alternate trail out to the main road.

The trail started out nice but then it also went down an insanely steep hill.  There were ropes but I slipped in the mud several times and didn’t enjoy this route much.  The trailhead practically goes through someone’s house and that was a little awkward.  Luckily I didn’t see the owners and their giant dog didn’t take an interest in me.   I wouldn’t go this way.

Understanding basic Chinese is a big help on hikes.  Sometimes there are full size junction markers with English but these are very common throughout Taiwan.  My Chinese level is still very poor but the first character is towards and the last two characters are waterfall.  I also know Ali but towards waterfall is more than enough for me to get where I’m going.  When headed out it’s a good idea to have the Chinese names of the where you are going and the other trails/destinations that might be on junctions.

Hongye (Red Leaf) Gorge Trailhead

The other navigation aid in Taiwan is trail ribbons.  Hiking clubs have made a habit of overdoing it by needing to leave their club ribbon everywhere and imo it’s almost like bragging ‘We were here’.  There are trails that these are really helpful for navigation though.  I could have easily had been lost on the alternate Alibang Waterfall trail if not for strategically placed ribbons.

The forest has reclaimed the human encroachment from earlier in the 20th century.  Large rock terraces from indigo extraction have become overgrown along the trail and serve as a reminder of just how powerful nature is.

These concrete circles were indigo extraction pits.  This article (click) gives a brief overview of indigo in Taiwan and why it’s no longer a cash crop.

Hongye Gorge Watefall wasn’t a physically impressive waterfall at 10-12 meters tall but the combination of the forest, the history and the peacefulness of the trail made it my favorite for the weekend.  In addition to that this could become a special place in November or probably December when the maples turn red.

Directions to Hongye Gorge Waterfall (click)

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).

Richard Saunders has been researching every corner of Taiwan for his new book (due out in the fall or winter).  I have been very lucky to tag along on several of his trips in the last year and a few weeks ago we visited several of Chiang Kai-Shek vacation homes in Lishan.  It hadn’t occurred to me but of course Chiang Kai-Shek would have had vacation homes built all over Taiwan.  Richard has identified and visited about 20 of Chiang Kai-Shek’s vacation homes scattered throughout Taiwan.  This particular house must have entertained important guests during Chiang Kai-Shek’s time but it is a fancy hotel and tourist attraction now.  I don’t know many of the details but Richard’s new book (101 must see places in Taiwan or something like that) will be a must own for those traveling in Taiwan.  It won’t be out until the fall or winter but I will have it (actually it will be two volumes).

Richard is also the go to resource for English hiking guides in Taiwan.  They cover northern Taiwan really well and his latest book comprehensively detailed Taiwan’s many islands.  His other books can be bought at Caves, Eslite or Page One bookstores (Taipei branches).  Caves in Kaohsiung only carries the Islands of Taiwan book.  You can also contact Richard directly at richard0428@yahoo.com (that is a zero after the d in the email address) and he can meet you in Taipei to hand deliver the books.  I was able to order the books through the Community Services Center a few years ago but their website doesn’t have order information anymore.

Additionally his Islands of Taiwan book is available as an e-book from Camphor Press.  Camphor Press is an intriguing and relatively knew expat business.  They are functioning as a small time e-book publisher with 10 interesting books available.  The books are written by expats and cover a mix of historical and current topics about Taiwan (and a little about China).  Their first paperbook (Barbarian at the Gate – an American becomes a Taiwanese citizen and must serve his compulsory service in the Army) is currently available and my copy should be arriving in the mail soon.

I have known about this waterfall for 2 years and lately a friend has been teasing me with pics from his frequent trips back there.  I decided that I was going for a long motorcycle ride and check this one off of my long to do list.  Majia is a stunningly beautiful and mostly unknown mountain village near Sandimen.  Despite its enormous size Shalawan Waterfall rarely shows up on maps and I didn’t notice any signs for it.  I was even looking for the Chinese but I could have missed one.  There were about a dozen roadside waterfalls that were the location of many Moon Festival barbeques.

Sometimes I have problems finding stuff in the mountains since the roads rarely have names or numbers and signs are rarely in English.  Sometimes they don’t even have signs in Chinese.   I’m also a man which prevents me from asking for directions.  I went to the end of the three main roads that I found past Majia and Shalawan Waterfall eluded me this time.  At the end of one of the roads I found an interesting aboriginal slate house.  At the end of another I found a great hiking trail and the other ended at a great mountaintop camping spot.  It turns out that the slate house was pretty much the trailhead for Shalawan Waterfall so at least I know where I need to return to next time.

The most impressive of the road side waterfalls.

One of the ends that I explored was the Zhenlishan trail.  It doesn’t summit a great peak but in the rain today it was a stunning trail to hike.

That dark cloud basically summarizes my day in the mountains.  It rained and then it stopped.  And then it rained and then it rained until I reached the sunny

parts of the flat plain.  This was quite refreshing after a hot, humid summer though.

The trail was a pleasure to hike even in the rain.

I have always enjoyed walking in clouds.

It really was an easy trail to walk.

It was just one of those days.

Looking north towards Wutai before more rain came down.

todays rainfallI’m pretty sure that I was inside of one of the those red dots in southern Taiwan this afternoon.