It’s so long since I’ve done any serious hiking in Yangmingshan that I’d forgotten how fun it can be! Despite on-and-off light rain, heavy cloud and the occasional leech bite, the first in a series of trips to (hopefully) bag all the main summits in Yangingshan National park was great fun and – best of all – proof that walking in Yangmingshan doesn’t have to mean a dull plod up steep stone steps or along wide paths of stone slabs.
Setting off from the tiny village of Shanziding at about 7:30 am, it was a relief to see that although there was heavy cloud cover, it hadn’t started raining yet. Our first targets on today’s hike were the twin, domed summits of Mounts Xiangtian (947 meters) and Miantian (977 meters). There are several popular routes to the top of these shapely peaks, but since we were aiming to keep off the stone steps for as much of the morning as possible, I chose the little-walked Shanziding Trail, which approaches them from the north, behind Danshui. It’s a lot more strenuous than the usual approaches (from near Beitou to the southwest, and from the east, below Mount Datun). Starting at less than 200 meters above sea level, the trail climbs well over 700 vertical meters, which makes it one of the longest single climbs in Yangmingshan, but for hikers climbing these two peaks, it’s by far the most scenic and interesting way to go.
The Shanziding Trail takes a while to get started, with bits of path and stretches of narrow lane to negotiate, but once it gets going it makes a beeline straight up the steep wooded hillside. The first part is up a series of rough and sometimes very steep stone steps, but later the path turns to dirt and dives into one of the most secluded corners of this part of Yangmingshan: a quiet and unspoilt expanse of bamboo stands and thick forest.
In about two hours a short trail on the right leads down into the small but well-preserved volcanic crater known as Xiangtian Pond, but pressing on, we trooped along the overgrown dirt trail ahead, soon climbing steeply once more to emerge, at about 10 am, in the thick silver grass at the summit of Mount Xiangtian (947 meters).
It took awhile to fight our way through the shoulder-high grass, and eventually the traces of trail disappeared entirely, leaving us to force our way through a jungle of giant grass for the last few meters to the wide stone trail which crosses the summit, but even that was preferable to the hard, very slippery stone path, which we had no choice but to follow, down to a small saddle, then up the far side to the top of neighboring Mount Miantian (977 meters), crowned with a pair of large reflective boards used for aircraft navigation and a viewing platform, from where the Taipei Basin, the Danshui and Keelung Rivers, Beitou and the Danshui Estuary drifted in and out of view through the low cloud.
The descent from Mount Miantian to Miantianping was by far the least pleasant and most slippery stage of the day’s hike, which is saying something, considering the state of the some of the mud trails we later followed. Almost everyone in our eight-stong group slipped at some point on this nasty stone-step descent, and considering how hard a few of the party fell, it was lucky no one was injured.