The Yangmingshan Project III: Mount Huangzui

The summit of Mount Huangzui

The main purpose of our series of ‘Yangmingshan Project’ hikes (of which only three of the six planned actually took place so far, due to some unseasonably crap weather) was  simply to get fittened up for a pair of challenging hikes in the high mountains in the center of Taiwan later the same month, but it’s also been a great opportunity to remind myself just what wonderful walking country Yangmingshan has, especially off those well-tramped and widely despised stone trails.   It’s also good to discover that two of the National Park’s wildest regions – the strict nature reserves of Mount Huangzui and Lujiaokeng – seem to be much more accessible to general hikers nowadays than in the past, when it seemed only hiking groups led by registered mountain guides  could get the requisite permits to enter.   Actually these days the trickiest part of arranging a trip – at least to Mount Huangzui – is in determining (or rather guessing) when to go. The weather up here on the northeasternmost of Yangmingshan’s high volcanic peaks is even more useless than elsewhere in the park, and with the need to get permits a week or two before, it’s a case of taking a chance, and if the weather is nasty (as it usually is) deciding whether to make the most of it and go anyway, or wait the requisite month before making another application and hoping for better luck next time. It’s officially possible to apply for the permit as close as three days before the trip, when it’s easier to predict what the conditions will be like, but over the weekends all the available permits often get snapped up several weeks in advance.

Predictably the weather dawned pretty dire on the day of our hike in November, but we went anyway, and since we were prepared to get wet, it was a surprisingly fun day out.   I started us out on the wrong foot (so to speak) by deciding to take the bus up to Yangmingshan from Jiantan MRT station – on a weekend! Anyone who knows YMS knows this is a stupid thing to do (it’s usually much better to go from the Beitou, to avoid the worst of the crowds), but the decision was made on the spur of the moment, and I naively thought that at not long after 7 in the morning, it wouldn’t be too bad. I was so wrong, and we were greeted with a mammoth line of students waiting for the R5 bus; the queue went down the road and around the corner and must have been nearly a hundred meters long.   Luckily just as we were about to give up on the R5,  a Royal Bus Company coach pulled up, and (since it’s a lot more expensive than the regular bus) there was little competition for standing space. Unfortunately we were far from the start of the line for this bus, and we spent the twenty minutes up to the bus station on Yangmingshan crammed in the aisles as exhausted students dozed in the comfy, padded seats on either side.   A quick change to bus 108, which does a circle around Seven Star Mountain in the center of the park (and we got seats this time!), and we were dropped off at Buffalo Meadow (Qingtiangang), the start of the trail.

It’s about twenty minutes’walk from the bus along the edge of the grassy expanse (along the popular and very scenic tourist trail to Fengguikou) to the trailhead for Mount Huangzui, marked by a large red sign and a short length of rather pointless fence with a locked gate. Posting our permit in the little box here, I realised we didn’t have the code to unlock the gate, and while the first, over-zealous members of the party began heaving themselves up and over the fence, the rest of us simply walked round it, and along a short trail which rejoins the main route on the other side of the gate….   From here on the stone path is swapped for a mercifully unsurfaced, if rather muddy trail, wonderfully quiet and peaceful, meandering though the forest to finally emerge at a mountain emergency shelter (the only one on Yangmingshan); not as out of place as it seems at first, considering the truely evil weather that can quickly descend on these mountains. Today’s conditions were nothing.