The Taipei area is blessed with some absolutely cracking hill walking, and in particular the ‘classic six’ ridgewalks of the area more-or-less guarantee a great day out. Mount Bijia (the easiest), Wuliaojian (maybe the most exciting), Huangdidian (which has the most options for different lengths and difficulties of hikes), the Mounts Banping/Teapot/Canguangliao circuit above the Gold Ecological museum at Jinguashi (which with the Mount Nanzihlin hike below is – hands down – the most scenically inspiring, but only if you manage to catch one of those rare crystal-clear days there), and the Mounts Nanzilin/Shitikeng Ridgewalk (a great workout, also near Jinguashi, in the most scenically stunning corner of New Taipei City).
None of these five, however are quite as adventurous or sheerly rewarding as the magnificent walk along the length of the Fengtou Peak ridge starting above Jingtong and Pingxi villages near the source of the Keelung River. Apart from a couple of dramatic views (which are all the more memorable for the way they suddenly appear without warning after long stretches of hard slog through stunted woodland) this hike is no competition for the great views you’ll get for long stretches along several of the hikes above. However for the wildness of the country, degree of challenge and great sense of reward at the end, the Fengtou Peak ridge in my view has no serious competition.
There are several ways to attempt the ridge. In Taipei Escapes 1 the ridge walk is chopped into two slightly more manageable parts (see hikes 10 and 11) each one bagging one of the two main peaks on the route, but these two hikes miss a lengthy stretch of the ridge, and its highest (curiously unnamed) peak.
Although you might doubt it halfway through the never-ending climb up steep, steep Fengtou Peak that begins the ridge hike, walking the entire length of the ridge is certainly within the range of fairly fit walkers armed with a bit of stamina and a clear day, but absolutely don’t come up here in wet weather, and avoid windy wather as well – you’ll see why once you’re up there.
That first couple of hours, to the summit of Fengtou Peak (582 meters) is the toughest part of the hike, and the walk would probably be a little easier (with less vertical ascent) if started at the opposite (east) end of the ridge, but then you’d spoil the main reasons for doing this route – stumbling upon the amazing view (and there’s only one, brief glimpse) of the hidden pinnacle of Fengtou Peak, and those several breathtaking, abrupt panoramas of the much later crags of Fengtou East Peak and the imposing Zhongyang Peak behind.
To enjoy this magnificent hike at its best, start at Yongding Bridge (永定橋), leaving route 106 (which connects Muzha and Pingxi) and take the back road south along the valley that separates Huangdidian from the Fengtou Peak ridge. Keep left at the junction in 20 minutes’ walk up a narrower lane, and the trailhead is on the left in another minute or two, just after a tiny cultivated area. It’s hard to find, so look out carefully for the small sign fastened to the end of a concrete retaining wall.
Detours at the beginning of a long, hard hike are never a great idea, but walk along the road another ten to fifteen minutes and one of the loveliest stone bridges in the Taipei area spans the brook beside the road – a beautiful arched construction which is quite old.
The trail is rough but relatively gentle at first, but after a fork (take either trail) the route starts climbing. The trail on the left (which we took simply because we missed the easier trail straight ahead) is very steep, climbing to an electricity pylon. The first bit after the pylon (bear right up the bank beside it) is unclear and we almost turned back, but recent trail ribbons kind-of show the way, and before long the trail clambers to the top of the ridge, and a brief, distant view of Fengtou Peak some way further along the ridge. The trail descends to meet the other trail (which continued straight on at the fork at the bottom of the long climb, and climbs a bit more gently). Now there’s only one way to go, as the trail sticks on or close to the top of the precarious ridge all the way to the next peak, with a cliff of bare rock dropping sheer (or even overhanging) on the left, and a precipitous, wooded hillside on the right. It’s extremely steep in parts, with fixed ropes, and is just as taxing on the arms as the legs in places. Just after rounding the next peak the solitary good view of the steep little pyramid of Fengtou Peak appears ever-so-briefly between the trees, and after a short descent to another saddle, a final exhausting, very steep clamber along the narrow ridge leads to the summit.
Les than ten minutes after the summit of Fengtou Peak a path on the left descends to Jingtong Station (at the end of the Pingxi Line). This is much the easiest way to the summit of Fengtou Peak, although unclear in places (the route is described in Taipei Escapes 1, page 155). The trail ahead sticks to the top of the ridge, immediately opening out to give one of the best views so far on the hike. The next section climbs over the highest point of the ridge, an unnamed peak 609 meters high, and although very steep in places, this stretch of the path is the easiest part of the route along the ridge. Perhaps an hour later another trail on the left drops down the precipitous side of the ridge to Mt Jiulong and the wonderful Stone Candle rock formation (also described in Taipei Escapes 1, page 161). The trail is now very rough once again, with a few awkward obstacles to negotiate, but shortly the views really begin to materialize out of the stunted forest, including several sudden and impressive views of pointy Fengtou East Peak, with the much larger pyramid of Zhongyang Peak rising behind.
The final stretch to the summit of Fengtou East Peak is exhilaratingly placed right on the edge of the sheer cliff, and the view from the rocky top is a 360-degree panorama, although dominated by the dramatic upthrust of Zhongyang Peak, now quite close.
The way is now down, and the first part is really steep, with a couple of tricky rock faces to negotiate (with fixed ropes of course). Later the trail is gentler, following a (usually) dry watercourse. After a finally tricky rocky clamber, the trail suddenly emerges at a neat wooden finger sign post, and the loveliest section of the short but scenic Dongshige Trail, at this point lying beside a crystal-clear stream through a little glen of sylvan beauty.
Turn left and half an hour later (after an unusual shrine to the Good Brothers – ghosts of miners who died nearby – a mine shaft, and a small waterfall, the path emerges back onto route 106 on the edge of Pingxi village, about seven tiring but exhilarating hours after it was left!
If you have a copy of Taipei Escapes book 1, this route is marked on the maps on pages 154 and 160, and much of the route (divided into two hikes) is described in detail in the two accompanying walks (page 155-169 and pages 161-165). Alternatively the route is marked on the Tawan Jaotung Publishing Company hiking map of the area (a series of hiking maps easily available in Taipei hiking shops, in clear plastic sleeves; you need no. 12). Only part of the route is shown on the corresponding Sun River map.
Get an early start, and there should be time to finish the hike off with an ascent of the imposing Zhongyang Peak itself – add another 2 hours and a generous extra reserve of energy for this extention.