December Waterfall Updates/Trips

Last year I chose to go a slightly different route with my blog. Previously I would write a waterfall guide entry and then combine everything that happened on a weekend into one post. The result was blogs that largely duplicated the guide entries that I had written and jumbled mess of what we did. Instead of doing that I wanted to do more comprehensive regional blogs like the one that I did for Maolin (Explore Taiwan – Maolin and Duona) in April. I also wanted to do some best of lists like the 10 Best Easy Waterfall Hikes and North Sumatra’s Waterfalls. There were also some places or events like Shimenggu or The Wang Ye Boat Burning that needed much larger blogs to do them justice. Along with a few other recurring blog themes (Local Spotlight and Great Bloggers) this was the plan for the year.

Something happened though. I traveled so much and so often that it was impossible to work and to keep up with the waterfall guide entries. I visited 40 NEW waterfalls in Taiwan and 35 waterfalls in Minnesota, the Philippines, East Java and North Sumatra in addition to dozens that I have gone back to because I wanted better photos, better information, better maps or simply because they are great waterfalls. If you do that math I went to almost 100 waterfalls in 2016. Blogging became an afterthought since it was nearly impossible to keep up with all of the basic information in the waterfall guide entries.

The logical solution would be to scale back the number of trips that I go on but I have actually increased the number of trips so far in 2017. Taiwan received a nearly devastating amount of rain from two typhoons and a couple of heavy storms this fall. That combined with the unusually warm temperatures this winter has resulted in perfect waterfall chasing conditions. Not only is the weather perfect for hiking but I have swam at almost a dozen waterfalls in December and January. Maybe it will slow down in February (unlikely with so many holidays). Perhaps March…

So this year I am going to try to make an effort to do a brief rundown of all the waterfalls and places that I have visited each month. We will see how long I can accomplish that.

December’s first trip was a 3 day weekend to Taipei/New Taipei. I stayed at this spaceship themed hostel which was very interesting and was also able to meet many Taipei Hikers (FB group) that I hadn’t seen for awhile for a potluck dinner one night. More importantly though I was able to add 5 new waterfalls to my guide that weekend.

Yunsen Waterfall has been on my to do list for a long time but I chose not to do the whole loop to Manyueyuan so I will be back sometime to do it again.

Xiufeng Waterfall was my favorite of the three waterfalls on Dajianshan.

Silong Waterfall was a nice short hike that was pretty easy to get to.

I have also been leading hikes with the Southern Taiwan Hiking Group. One of benefits of teaching English in Asia is that most classes don’t start until the afternoon or even the evening. I lead 2-3 Tuesday hikes every month to places in Kaohsiung or Pingtung and have made really good progress on my local area to do list.

The Liangshan Waterfall trip was actually at the end of November but close enough. This was my 3rd trip to Liangshan and I finally got the perfect photo. No, I don’t know who that woman is. She showed up and posed for 3 minutes and then left.

Swan Lake is a rarely visited but once very popular recreation area. It isn’t easy to get to either Swan Lake Waterfall or Lover’s Lake Waterfall but it is awesome to be there with only your friends.

One of the bigger trips that I led in December was a Miaoli Research Trip. I had only been to one of the waterfalls before and I wanted a smaller group that could handle poor trail conditions. We visited the Luchang and the Taian Hot Springs areas and made it to 4 out of 5 of the waterfalls that I wanted to visit.

Kuhuatan Waterfall was a difficult to find but perfect swimming hole that our group didn’t fully enjoy in December. It would be great to return here with warmer temperatures.

Shenxian Waterfall is a nice waterfall made very famous by the Seediq Bale movie. It lacks the fun aspect since they ‘discourage’ people from going down to the waterfall. My favorite part was the hike from Shimen Bridge to Shenxian Waterfall. Of course, they strongly discourage this with ‘DANGER’ signs. This waterfall can officially be known as the No Fun Waterfall.

Shuiyun Waterfall was the highlight for the weekend. The waterfall drops into a beautiful side canyon full of interesting rock strata. Josh has always been in the right place at the right time for my photos. I only wish that his wardrobe didn’t consist of shades of gray. I also wish that he hadn’t moved back to the states. He has been an excellent waterfall adventuring companion for the last year.

The final trip of the year was a Christmas Day hike to Maolin and Duona. Guifu Canyon is one of my favorite places but this trip is one that I will think about for a long time. Three people in our group got caught in an eddy and couldn’t swim out. Everything happened so quickly but luckily we were able to get them out.

At least Lesley knows how to wear bright colors for photos.

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail Revisited

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail is one of the best waterfall hikes in Taiwan. Not only are there 3 great waterfalls on this trail but there almost another 10 nearby waterfalls that can be combined as part of your dayhike. Typically most people start their hike at Sandiaoling Train Station and end it at Shifen Waterfall but I have suggested a different and in my opinion better route in my waterfall guide. Shifen Waterfall looks great in photos but it is filled with mobs of people and the entire area is concreted. The other problem is that if you end your Sandiaoling hike at Shifen then you have to walk through a railway tunnel. I have done this before and it kind of freaked me out (no trains came). It is also very illegal to walk through the tunnels although many do.

Directions for Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail on my guide

Instead I recommend that hikers start at Dahua Train Station. If you have time you can take a short walk down the tracks and view the Dahua Potholes (photo above) at the exit to Yerengu (Wildman Valley). Yerengu was a famous attraction with 4-5 waterfalls until a typhoon wiped it out over a decade ago. I would love it if they were able to open the area up again someday

The red bridge crosses the Keelung River just downstream of Shifen Waterfall and can be reached from Dahua Train Station. This bridge and trail used to connect to Yerengu but now it is the longer version of the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail.

After the red bridge you ascend almost 1/2 km up what I call ‘The Stairs of Death’. These kind of stairs covered in moss are found all over Taiwan and are probably one of the most dangerous parts of hiking here. I strongly prefer walking up stairs like this instead of down. At least they have installed a railing for part of the route now.

 

After hiking up ‘The Stairs of Death’ you come to the large parking for Yerengu. The gates are locked but you can access a small Tudigong Shrine with a view of Xinliao Waterfall.

The next part of the hike is a mix of roadwalking and small trails until you get near Pipadong Waterfall. You can easily make a few wrong turns between Yerengu and Pipadong Waterfall but hopefully my waterfall guide is clear enough to follow.

Directions for Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail on my guide

Before reaching Pipadong Waterfall you will have to climb down a ladder similar to this one. This ladder was between Pipadong and Motian Waterfall and has been replaced with a metal staircase. I don’t think it would be fun in the rain but it looks scarier than it actually is to use.

Pipadong is the first waterfall that you will reach if you start at Dahua Train Station. The water falls over an impressive overhang and there is a small pool below. The water isn’t very deep but this is probably the best swimming opportunity although there are some nice pools downstream of Motian Waterfall.

At Pipidong Waterfall you can see potholes being hollowed out. The rocks are stuck in the holes and during heavier rains they move around in the hole. These potholes are everywhere in the Pingxi area.

The rope-log ladder might have been replaced by metal stairs as shown below but that doesn’t mean that it is an easy trail between the two waterfalls though. Overall it isn’t that difficult but some might be comfortable hiking here. The trail from Sandiaoling Train Station to Motian Waterfall is quite easy to hike and doesn’t involve any ropes or ladder climbing. That is an excellent option for those that are less confident in these situations.

Motian Waterfall is frequently called Sandiaoling Waterfall but there actually isn’t a Sandiaoling Waterfall. The trail is named after a local village and the 3 waterfalls have different names.

At Motian Waterfall you can hike in a small cleft in the rock wall behind the waterfall. Here is a rare photo of me.

There are two cool rope bridges pass over small streams near Hegu Waterfall.

There might be some old trails that lead to the top of Hegu Waterfall but most only see the waterfall from the viewing platform. One improvement is that your view isn’t as obstructed as much at the viewing platform as before and you can see most of the lower tier at Hegu Waterfall.

My version of the hike ends at Sandiaoling Village although for most it starts there. The old school has been turned into a small museum. There are bathrooms at the school and some snack and drink vendors are now in Sandiaoling on the weekends. Don’t expect much but several years ago there was nothing to buy in the village.

Directions for Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail on my guide

Northern Yangmingshan National Park, Taiwan

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)