Stairways to the Sky: Filial Son Mountain


For two routes to this amazing place, see pages 172-177.

For two routes to this amazing place, see pages 172-177.

OK, Since my hands seem to be constantly aching from all the extra practice in the final run-up to the recital, and my mind is so chock full of music that I’m finding it hard to think of anything to write, I’ll keep the next few hike write-ups simple. Anyway, Filial Son Mountain is far too well-known these days among hikers to need any introduction. It’s one of the classic hikes of Taipei area, and one of the most fun ways  to spend a morning that I can think of around the capital.

   The usual route from Pingsi up to the three rocky pinnacles is pretty short, so to make a longer morning of it, we took a longer, steeper way in, via a couple of impressive, sheer cliff faces and another rocky little peak known as Dzumu Ling ( 慈母嶺). 

Going this way adds nearly two hours and a lot of scrambling up and down steep, rocky trails to the hike, but then scrambling up and down steep, rocky trails is what this walk is all about!!

Finally we reached the enchanted valley at the foot of the Filial Son, Loving Mother and Putuo Peaks, a trip of sharp ridges of bare rock thrusting out of the thick forest into the sky. The Filial Son, although the lowest of the three peaks, looks quite impossible to climb from the front side.

However, take the trail climbing round the foot of the pinnacle to the back, and its secret is revealed: a series of ladders and steps carved into the sandstone scale the summit of the needle safely, although it’s still quite an exciting climb!

After a quick look at the great view from the top, we climbed back down, and started the assault on the second of the peaks, the Loving Mother, via hundreds of steep steps carved into the bare spine of rock that forms its northern face.

The rocky spire is crisscrossed by no less than four trails, one clambering up each of its faces. The path down the far (southern) side is especially fun, and one of the steepest sections of the entire hike.

At the bottom, a trail bends back round to the left, climbs back up below the summit cliff face and reaches the summit once again via handy ‘ladder’ of tree roots (apologies for the photo; I definitely need a new camera).

The third and final peak, Mt Putuo is the highest of the trio, and although a mere 450 meters, it’s a far more fun climb (if you can find the trailhead, which is a little tricky to find) than many peaks in Yangmingshan that are more than twice its height. There’s a preview of the trail up this peak, seen in silhouette, on the rock-cut steps climbing to the top of the nearby Loving Mother peak.

There’s just one way precariously narrow up and down this one, but fabulous views from the top and it makes for a very interesting short climb.

I’m in awe of the people who risked their lives to cut the original steps up these three peaks, which must have entailed spending long hours in some extremely dangerous positions.

We should also be thankful to the souls who set about improving the safety of the trail up the peaks a few years ago. The first time I came here, well over a decade ago, the area was still quite little-known, which was probably just as well, as instead of the present solid cable hand rails and iron stakes there was nothing but fixed ropes, and it was pretty hairy climbing up there!  With the new safety measures, this has got to be one of Taipei area’s finest outdoor playgrounds….

Getting There: Filial Son Mountain (孝子山) is well known nowadays. Get yourself to Pingsi on the Pingsi Branch Line railway, an hour east of Taipei and it’s pretty well signposted. If you have Taipei Day trips 1, the ‘traditional’ route there is covered in detail. It’s hike no. 20 (for some reason in those days I called it ‘Dutiful Son Mountain’). A revised and expanded explanation of the route, including the much more interesting longer way from Pingsi to the base of the peaks, will be included in the new edition of the book, due out early 2011!

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