Shanghuang Stream (上磺溪): a Little-known Yangmingshan Gem

The 'cave' on the Shanghuang Stream

The ‘cave’ on the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

Yangminshan has a couple of classic river traces – the wonderful Masu Stream (still one of my favorite river traces to date) and the popular Toucian Stream – a very popular place for beginners to learn the art of river tracing. The remaining river traces in the national park (and it’s beginning to look like there are quite a few good ones!) seem to be the preserve of keen local river tracers, and, if our discovery of this real gem last week is any indicator, there are some jealously kept secrets on YMS waiting to be discovered by the rest of us!

   We only discovered the Shanghuiang Stream and its amazing gorge/cave scenery after a member of our hiking group posted a video of two blokes kayaking (yes, kayaking!) down it (probably after a typhoon). Luckily they posted the name of the stream in Chinese, and thanks to a great Chinese-language book I have on Yangmingshan (hiking maps of the area are hopelessly inaccurate – neither of the commonly available ones correctly identifies the position of the stream) I discovered where it is, and on a blazingly hot Saturday in mid August a group of us set off to discover the stream and its scenic wonders for ourselves.

En route to Bayan Hot Springs

En route to Bayan Hot Springs

Near Bayan bus stop

Near Bayan bus stop

Fumaroles beside the trail to Bayan Hot Spring

Fumaroles beside the trail to Bayan Hot Spring

Following the hot spring stream down to Bayan Hot Spring

Following the hot spring stream down to Bayan Hot Spring

   A logical place (not the shortest route, but perhaps the most interesting) is to start at Bayan (八煙) bus stop on the northeast edge of Yangmingshan National Park. Directly beside the bus stop, a narrow lane and series of paths lead down, past a steaming volcanic fumarole to the natural and very popular Bayan Hot Springs. This marvelous place has long been hugely popular, which has led to it becoming a bit spoilt. At least it looked a lot better than my last visit many years ago, since the tarpaulin shades and fly-ridden piles of rubbish were absent this time.

Following the Huangxi

Following the Huangxi

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  Walking downstream from the hot springs, it’s less than ten minutes to the wide Huangxi, a big stream rushing over a mass of rounded boulders colored bright orange by minerals dissolved in the water. Turning left, upstream, it’s a fun if rather rough river trace upstream through the boulders and a few welcome deep pools to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream, about 40 minutes away.

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Finally on the Shanghuang Stream!

Finally on the Shanghuang Stream!

Approaching the gorge

Approaching the gorge

   The confluence isn’t especially obvious. The side stream simply sidles in from the left, although it’s clear you’re there when the orange coloring of the rocks suddenly disappears and they return to their natural colors.

   At first the trace up the stream is quite unremarkable, but slowly the sides get taller, there are a couple of slightly bigger and deeper pools, and then, only about 20 minutes up, the gorge begins. The cliffs have only started to rise vertically above the stream when the main event is reached – an extraordinary ‘cave’ formed by a vast, house-sized boulder which has clogged the narrow ravine completely. The stream plunges over a 2 meter-high waterfall, then flows through a deep pool through a short, dark ‘tunnel’ formed by the vast rock. It’s quite unique.

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In the gorge

In the gorge

Into the cave...

Into the cave…

   The tricky part is getting past this small but sheer cascade. There are few footholds, the water is deep inside the cave, and although most of our group managed to manhandle their way up the fall (a rope is of limited use and the climb is awkward), the feat needed far more upper body strength than I was capable of.

The cave and waterfall

The cave and waterfall

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    In the end the whole group turned back at this point, although not before the successful river traces made a quick reconnaissance trip upstream a few meters, and reported back that the gorge above the waterfall looked very promising, as it certainly did in the video I’d seen.

   The choice now is either to start some serious upper body workouts to give myself the strength to haul myself up that waterfall with the few handholds available or (more realistically in the short term) to start at the Shanghuang Bridge upstream from the waterfall and trace the stream down. Either way, I’ll certainly be back. This place promises to be a magical addition to the list of more adventurous things to do in wonderful Yangmingshan National Park. 

An English Lakeland Summer

Helvellyn from Striding Edge

Helvellyn from Striding Edge

 

On the way to Great Gable near the fell known as Brandreth

On the way to Great Gable near the fell known as Brandreth

 

Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

Scrambling up the screes of Great Gable

 

The English Lake District has been well and truly on the tourist path for the last 150 years or so, yet although as a teenager I spent long expeditions collecting the area’s numerous waterfalls for a youthful (and finished but never-published) book documenting the complete waterfalls of England, last week was the first time I’ve ever climbed any of the peaks in the National Park. The extraordinary beauty of this area has been well documented since Tennyson’s time, of course, but in fine, sunny weather, and with the company of a few like-minded hikers, considering the tremendous rewards to reaped for relatively little effort, the Lake District’s peaks simply can’t be beat in my book. It’s simply fabulous up there! Continue reading ‘An English Lakeland Summer’

Batongguan Historic Trail (Dongpu Section): Another of Taiwan’s Finest Day Hikes

On Batongguan Old Trail, about ninety minutes out of Dongpu

On Batongguan Old Trail, about ninety minutes out of Dongpu

Cloud Dragon Waterfall

Cloud Dragon Waterfall

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In a blog entry several years ago, I wrote that the awesome Zhuilu Cliff Trail is the finest day walk in Taiwan. I haven’t changed my mind yet, but in it’s different way the Western end of the cross-island Batongguan Historic Trail is probably an equal partner. I walked this stretch (from Dongpu Hot Springs to Yinu (‘one girl’) Waterfall), permits are required to go further) once twenty years ago and it blew me away. Continue reading ‘Batongguan Historic Trail (Dongpu Section): Another of Taiwan’s Finest Day Hikes’

Zhenxibao Ancient Tree Groves

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

Another Giant, in Grove B

Another Giant, in Grove B

Poison Dragon lake is small and reached only by an long, exhausting climb, but it's an atmospheric place

Getting to the little Poison Dragon Lake involves a long, exhausting climb, but it’s worth it – it’s an atmospheric place

It seems like everyone is going to Smangus (司馬庫斯) these days; why they don’t (also) head to nearby Zhenxibao (鎮西堡) in their droves is hard to understand – the road there is a bit easier and shorter, the village (Xingguang) before the trailhead is miles more attractive (and far less touristy than Smangus itself), there are more trees – of comparable hugeness – to see, and the walk (at least to the more popular of the two groves of ancient trees) is a little shorter.

One thing’s for sure though – it’s something to be grateful for that the crowds have yet to discover this beautiful place. Continue reading ‘Zhenxibao Ancient Tree Groves’

Short and sweet: Ningqing Gorge in Nantou County

The mouth of the short but atmospheric Ningqing ('peaceful') Gorge near Shuili in Nantou County

The mouth of the short but atmospheric Ningqing (‘peaceful’) Gorge near Shuili in Nantou County

Getting upstream to the gorge involves getting past 5 or 6 small dams - luckily it's also possible to climb ROUND them (much easier)!

Getting upstream to the gorge involves getting past 5 or 6 small dams – luckily it’s also possible to climb ROUND them (much easier)!

 

On the edge of Shuili (水里) town in Nantou County, immediately below the busy road that connects the town with Sun Moon Lake to the north, Ningqing Gorge (寧靜谷) appears on quite a few local maps of the area, but I’ve never found any info on the Web or elsewhere, apart from a short description in a decades-old local guidebook to central Taiwan that I bought when I first arrived here, and have treasured ever since. That dog-eared, black-and-white book with its fuzzy pictures and rough, hand-drawn sketch maps lacks the full-color impact of today’s much more stylish guidebooks to Taiwan, but, while the maps nowadays are infinitely better and the info inside the best books (usually those that confine themselves to just one county or small area) is still amazing, they’re still not nearly as detailed as those old books on my shelves, which continue to provide me with the occasional wonderful new discovery after all this years.

Ningqing Gorge is very short and not especially deep, and it’s certainly no Ghost Ax Canyon, but in its small way it’s a fascinating place, and makes for a great, if brief adventure if you’re already in the Shuili area and the idea of scrambling, swimming and wading for an hour or two through a place few people know exists strikes a chord. Continue reading ‘Short and sweet: Ningqing Gorge in Nantou County’

Some recent Pics…

A quiet corner of Shanlinsi

A quiet corner of Shanlinsi

The Heavenly Steps

The Heavenly Steps

The beautiful coniferous forest at Sitou

The beautiful coniferous forest at Sitou

With research on a new book well underway and a piano recital, it’s been all go recently. Hopefully soon I’ll get to write a bit about the latest favorites, but meantime here are three places in central Taiwan’s Nantou County that are definitely NOT off the beaten track, although none the worse for that (apart from the crowds of fellow visitors, high entrance fees, traffic jams on the way up and over-developed infrastructure). Shanlinsi, Sitou and the Heavenly Steps tend to look better in photos than they do in real life, but ignore the negative impact of mass tourism and they’re all well worth visiting – just start out early in the morning if you visit at the weekend to avoid the masses! Continue reading ‘Some recent Pics…’

The Wonderful Waterfalls of Puli, Nantou County

Shuishang Waterfall

Shuishang Waterfall

 

Zhongkang Waterfall

Zhongkeng Waterfall

Yumenguan

Yumenguan

 

Despite the fact that many locals have a certain affection for the place (which I actually share, since I lived there for 18 months in the early 1990s, just after arriving in Taiwan) the town of Puli, sitting at the geographical center of Taiwan, is a pretty nondescript kind of place, indistinguishable from many other provincial towns around the island. However what richly merits a visit to the town is its marvelous surroundings. There’s enough exploration and even adventure to be had around here to keep the most avid explorer busy for a week or more, from easy family friendly strolls (Guanyin Waterfall) to day-long adventures into surprisingly remote places (the tricky-to-reach Shicheng Gorge (石城谷). Even today I’m still finding new places (such as the wonderful Zhongkang Waterfall, which I discovered just two weeks ago!), so it doesn’t look as if the area has revealed all its secrets even now. Anyway, the subject at hand is waterfalls, so here’s a quick run-down of (most) of the waterfalls in the Puli area. And since these don’t appear in my new book (due out early next year), I’ve added basic getting-there info for each, too! Continue reading ‘The Wonderful Waterfalls of Puli, Nantou County’


Hi and thanks for visiting!

I'm a musician (a pianist) and writer who's been living in Taiwan since 1993. This blog is a new attempt to document my travels all over Taiwan and the outlying islands. I have written six books (Taipei Day Trips I and II, Yangmingshan: the Guide, Taipei Escapes I and II, and The Islands of Taiwan). Most of my post-April 2010 trips will hopefully appear here, along with some favorite past explorations, many of which are based on articles from a column I wrote (called 'Off the Beaten Track') for the China Post newspaper, here in Taiwan.

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