A new threat to access to Taiwan’s greatest asset – its countryside

UPDATE: The proposed law has since thankfully been withdrawn (at least temporarily).
A piece was printed in Taiwan’s China Post newspaper this morning. Here’s the main thrust of the story:
China Post September 8th, 2016
Nantou’s county council passed a statute Wednesday that requires mountain hikers to equip themselves with GPS and basic communication devices, and to buy insurance before going hiking in the mountainous county in Central Taiwan. […]
Fair enough so far… most of this is what any sensible hiker would do on a trip into the deep mountains. But then it continues…
Under the new law, which will go into effect after being sent to the central government, people planning to engage in mountain activities must present their proposals in advance, including routes and destinations.
This looks bad – routes and proposals will now need to be sent to (and approved by??) the authorities before we can enjoy a hike in the mountains. It gets worse, though. The last part of the law, as reported by the newspaper, is the real knockout blow to responsible adult hikers everywhere:
Once in the mountains, they [the hikers] are required to stick to the planned routes, carry location and communication devices, and to hire professional guide with emergency rescue abilities, according to the text of the law.
What? When hiking in the mountains of Nantou County we’ll now have to engage a professional guide, just to hike??

If only the new law (passed by Taiwan’s central Nantou County yesterday after being rumored for many months) limited itself to the perfectly reasonable demand that hikers take responsibility for themselves while out in the wilds, it would have been be perfect. Yet again, however, local authorities seem to be treating hikers like kids. Not only must hikers in Nantou now present routes and destinations in advance (any good hiker would immediately do this – leaving details with a trusted friend), but they also need to bring GPS (which is useless unless the user knows how to use it properly). Furthermore, they now need to take a professional guide with them! The full text of the law stipulates that it will apply to all places where permits are currently required. In this case hikers will need a guide for the easy North Peak of Hehuanshan, and to follow the not-so-easy but very clear route to Hohuan West Peak. They’d also need a professional guide to follow the old Taiwan Electricity road out to Qilai South Peak. For any experienced hiker this would be a complete waste of time and money as all those routes are perfectly easy and clear to follow.
The point is the law, as reported, appears to be just another half-baked attempt to protect authorities from blame when they should instead be doing their part to educate Taiwanese and foreign hikers in how be a responsible adult in the great outdoors. Safe hiking practice really isn’t rocket science. It’s simple, common-or-garden common sense, including such simple concepts as:
– Check the weather forecast before heading out.
– Bring plenty of food (and energy snacks) & water.
– Leave details of where you’re going with a trusted friend.
– Bring a map and know how to read it.
– Stick to marked trails of a difficulty you’re OK with; if unsure of the way ahead, or if conditions become too difficult to follow in reasonable safety, go back.
– Bring adequate clothing and footwear for the conditions you expect to face.
This is all second nature to most hikers I know. But maybe not to the authorities in Taiwan, who have already imposed some ridiculous rules and stipulations. They’re going to have to man up and ask themselves if it’s reasonable to:
– Patronizingly tell foreigners they “don’t know Taiwan’s mountains” and present it as a reasonable argument for not allowing them to hike into the mountains unless they bring a token local (it can be any local adult) along for the hike.
– Consider if frankly embarrassing kiddy stuff like the animated quiz questions (below, which a hiking group of adults I lead a couple of years ago were obligated to answer before being granted entry permits to Yushan National Park) is actually of any use, or if it simply makes Yushan National Park authority look ridiculous in the eyes of foreign hikers.
– Review their demand that an adult, who would be accompanying his own son on a trek, sign and send back to Yushan National Park authority an ORIGINAL signed letter of consent (a scanned copy of the document with the signature was not permitted). This was recently made to a member of a group of which I’m a member, on threat of cancelling everyone’s permits if not promptly done.
If the authorities that be continue to think this is all good, solid practice, I suggest a complete change of leadership should happen immediately. Taiwan’s greatest tourist asset isn’t the National Palace Museum; it’s not Taipei 101, nor is it the island’s night markets. It’s the island’s incredible countryside as a whole (and not just Taroko Gorge, Alishan and Sun Moon Lake, but ALL those vast, glorious mountainsides and wilderness areas that cover much of the island). If the present trend continues of restricting access to Taiwan’s greatest asset on the naive and frankly unreasonable assumption that the average adult hiker can’t be trusted to take responsibility for themselves, then Taiwan has a very gloomy future, both for foreign tourists and for the life education of its own people.
This new law is just a symptom of a much larger and more serious problem, and a tragic one, especially for a country like Taiwan and it’s people, both of which I love dearly. The new restrictions strike me as reinforcing an institutionalized feeling that people can’t be expected to fend for themselves without guidance. In Taiwan there’s very little life-learning of the school-of-hard-knocks kind that’s common in the West, and while I don’t for a minute say that our Western way is the best (after all, kids die and are injured every day in the West because they learn the hard way that some things just shouldn’t be done), but because sometimes you simply have to let people learn the hard way for themselves. For example, if a group goes into the mountains ill-prepared, stays the night there and has to get rescued, they take  responsibility for their actions, pay the costs for being rescued, learn from the experience, and don’t do it again. We learn from our mistakes. However in Taiwan I often feel that I’m being treated almost like a child, maybe because in some senses many local adults do retain aspects of childlike naivety. Kids here aren’t learning life skills in school – they’re too busy cramming for a never-ending succession of exams – so they urgently need to start learning them after they leave school. The Great Outdoors, just like travel in a wider sense, is probably the world’s best life teacher, and is the perfect place to learn self-reliance, independence, and a host of crucial life skills. These can’t be quantified in words or figures, or represented by a degree certificate, but they’re a necessity for leading a successful, productive adult life. I might also add that most of the finest, most interesting people I’ve met have all been travelers.
Go out, do it, make mistakes, find a way to survive. There’s no better education anywhere, yet the Taiwanese authorities appear to think they’re doing the best thing for their people by stopping them from encountering these confrontational and potentially dangerous experiences. It’s exactly the worst thing to do. New laws like the one signed in Nantou County (Hualien County is apparently following suit with its own similar law) indicate that the authorities are keen to restrict the activities of its citizens, thus giving them even less opportunity to learn fundamental life skills that many of us in the West take for granted.
Original China Post article is here: 

8 thoughts on “A new threat to access to Taiwan’s greatest asset – its countryside

  1. Hi, First off I’m not trying to be confrontational at all.

    I understand the issues you are raising infringe on your freedoms to enjoy nature. And I agree with you. And the spirit of the laws are to protect hikers who are too immature for Taiwan’s mountains while not costing public tax payers. (Just look at the Pokeman Go epidemic.) The way I see it is the laws should say something like, “If you proceed beyond this point you consent to be responsible for any rescue costs.” I.e. put the rescue costs on the hiker without the hiker having to pay for “insurance” beforehand. Would that work? There are probably many countries example with this issue that Taiwan could copy from.

    Personally I don’t use a gps bc if it can fail why use it as a primary? I use a map and compass as a primary bc they don’t fail. The gps as a secondary. That said, I’m looking for an app I can use in an emergency. Do you know of any? (And I realize I will have to pay for the rescue. 😉 I’m thinking of that story where a Taiwanese man fell into a gorge, broke his leg, and called for help a while back.

    BTW I also carry a Sawyer suction pump for hornet or snake bite in my first-aid kit.

    Any thoughts on these ideas? TIA


    • Thanks for the comments – I didn’t find you confrontational at all – actually I think we seem to feel feel pretty much the same on most points! Yeah, I think the laws are made to protect people who might get in serious trouble if they were allowed to wander in unrestricted, but I think the money and energy would be much better spent in simple education – it’s really not hard to grasp the basics, and surely gauging our own limits, not only in physical activities, but in work and many other aspects of life, is a fundamental skill which should naturally prevent the majority of serious mountain incidents happening.
      Completely agreed about GPS – great backup in case of fog or whatever but it’s no magic wand that will keep any hiker safe. In the end the message should be simple – enjoy the mountains, but be sensible, and if there is an accident, understand it’s the hiker’s own problem – get private insurance or be prepared to pay from your own pocket.

  2. This rule is indeed a farce. It is making visiting Taiwan’s beautiful mountains harder and ajar a door for rejection whatever the reason may apply.
    For a hiker, especially a foreign visitor, to visit Taiwan’s secluded mountains, it requires advance planning. You would need to apply for permit and hopefully the permit dates fall into the short visit you schedule. This requires planning months ahead and for the hiker to execute his plan on the precise date (don’t get sick or engaged otherwise). Hiring a guide is absurd, those are mountains with trails, not like those virgin jungles in Amazon.

    This rule is indeed heading backward of what a progression should be and came out of officials of no common sense and of no deep thinking.

    With thus many senseless doing from the new government, here are my jokes:
    – With the publicities of previous president’s effort in challenging Taiwan’s mountains, officials wants to put a control.
    – with the down trend of tourism in Taiwan, this rule creates few job opportunities.

  3. I think the guide associations lobby the government for these kinds of stipulations. Recently river associations have been lobbying the Hualien Government to not allow people in rivers unless there is a river guide present.

      • I’m very pro “take responsibility for your actions”. “No lifeguard on duty, swim at your own risk”. Hiring a guide is basically just paying someone to take that responsibility for you. I’m not sure that it’s worth it though. I stay out of the mountains when it looks like rain, but thoughts of returning deposits often clouds tour-company judgement.

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