With so many favorite routes in the upper Keelung River valley (Pingxi/Shifen/Sandiaoling) it’s hard to believe there are still great hikes yet to discover, but the Dishui Guanyun – Mt Wanggu – Mt Wufen ridge walk, although it looks nothing special on the map, is yet another classic – just long and wild enough to be really fun, and with some really magnificent views (especially around Mount Wanggu).
The hike starts at Lingjiao Station, but first it’s worth a very brief detour to nearby Lingjiao Waterfall, especially when the water level is relatively high, as it was on our visit. This place was once a popular cooling-off spot in summer, but someone drowned there a few years after I first arrived in Taiwan, and maybe it’s because of this that the place isn’t popular anymore. In any event it’s a beautiful fall, second only in width and impressiveness to Shifen Waterfall a couple of kilometers downstream, and spectacular after a typhoon.
A 30 minute walk up the road beside the station leads to the trailhead for Dripping Water (Dishui) Guanyun Cave, which now languishes behind an ugly wall (which makes seeing the stalagmite after which the place is named difficult) and a large temple. At least the view from the temple terrace is great!
The trail starts as a narrow rock-cut ledge in the rockface leading from the temple to its large water tank. From here, a short climb leads to a short tiptoe along the top of the rockface above the ‘cave’ (actually just a shallow overhang) itself. The rocky spine offers some impressive views to the over (northwest) side as well at first as it climbs steeply along the narrow line of the ridge.
Eventually the trail climbs to the top of a pointy small peak and there’s a junction. Take the trail on the left here, steeply down, and eventually, after a few fun small rocky pitches it reaches the insignificant summit of Zhong xxx Jian (中窯尖), a good two hours after leaving the Dripping Water Guanyin.
From here it’s about another ninety minutes to Mount Wanggu (忘古山) along a network of trails (look out for the little tin signs in Chinese that point the way). The first part of the hike is through the woods, but after a very steep climb and passing right through a thicket of screw pine, whose tangled branches make a small arch, the view opens up, and the remainder of the trail to Mount Wanggu offers some spectacular and very airy views.
The summit of Mount Wanggu itself offers magnificent views, and beyond it the scenery remains very scenic as the trail clambers steeply down the far side, disappears into a large bamboo grove, and contours the steep hillside before eventually emerging on the wide, stone-faced steps of the main path up Mount Wufen.
The Mount Wufen path (described in more detail here) is famously scenic and simple too, and after the initial monotonous climb (a bit hard on the legs after 5 hours of walking without a real break) the views open up and the final march along the ridge to the twin summits is glorious, especially in the soft late afternoon light of the day we passed through.
To finish the ridge walk, the favorite would probably be to drop down the north side of the ridge on a narrow trail a few hundred meters before the summit, pass over little Mount Longmen (龍門山) and down to Sijiaoting or Nuannuan stations, near Keelung. On our hike though we’d been keeping up a slightly slower pace than usual, and with only an hour or so of daylight left (you really need nearly two hours to take this route and get out), we retraced our steps along the stone path down to Shifen. Shifen was absolutely jam-packed this Saturday evening, and because of sheer numbers of passengers, there was no chance of getting out by train at a reasonable hour. In the end we crossed the river by the suspension bridge to the road opposite and hitched a lift back to Taipei. If ending up a hike in the hugely popular Shifen area on a weekend these days , it’s certainly well worth trying to get down EARLY to avoid similar problems!
You’ll definitely need a hiking map to follow this one, even though not all the trails (such as the one atop the small pointy peak 90 minutes above Dripping Water Cave) are marked. The one to go for is the Mount Wufen Ridge map published by Sunriver. If you have the maps published by Taiwan Transport Press, the route is on sheet 11, which covers the Ruifang and Jiufen area.