Zhenxibao Ancient Tree Groves

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

Another Giant, in Grove B

Another Giant, in Grove B

Poison Dragon lake is small and reached only by an long, exhausting climb, but it's an atmospheric place

Getting to the little Poison Dragon Lake involves a long, exhausting climb, but it’s worth it – it’s an atmospheric place

It seems like everyone is going to Smangus (司馬庫斯) these days; why they don’t (also) head to nearby Zhenxibao (鎮西堡) in their droves is hard to understand – the road there is a bit easier and shorter, the village (Xingguang) before the trailhead is miles more attractive (and far less touristy than Smangus itself), there are more trees – of comparable hugeness – to see, and the walk (at least to the more popular of the two groves of ancient trees) is a little shorter.

One thing’s for sure though – it’s something to be grateful for that the crowds have yet to discover this beautiful place. Continue reading

Jiufenershan: A sobering reminder of the Power of the 921 Earthquake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The Grand Canyon at Zuolan

The Grand Canyon at Zhuolan

The Slanting House at Jiufenershan

The sloping house at Jiufenershan

 

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

At 1:47 am on September 21st, 1999, the most powerful earthquake to hit Taiwan in over a century (measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale) struck the center of the island, killing 2,415 people. Over 11,000 were seriously injured, and damage to property (many of the buildings that fell were shoddily constructed or designed to inadequate safety standards) was estimated at NT$300 billion.

The quake has become part of the national conscience (most people still usually refer to it as simply “921”, after the date on which it struck) and although the island has well and truly moved on, plenty of memories of that awful night remain to this day. Like Jiufenershan, a place guaranteed to bring home the primeval power of the catastrophe. Continue reading

More from Kaohsiung County

Badlands near Yanqiao

Badlands near Yanqiao

Meiya Waterfall, near Maolin

Meiya Waterfall, near Maolin

Crossing the Wanshan no. 1 Suspension Bridge (by scooter...), near Maolin

Crossing the Wanshan no. 1 Suspension Bridge (by scooter…), near Maolin

The Natural Cleft behind the 'Stone Breast' Temple near Tianliao

The Natural Cleft behind the ‘Stone Breast’ Temple near Tianliao

The 'Grand Canyon' near Nanhua

The ‘Grand Canyon’ near Nanhua

The main reason for our recent scooter weekend in Kaohsiung County was to explore a couple of new sights, and revisit the area’s mud volcanoes for a new project I’m working on, but we got to fit a lot more into those two jam-packed days.

First up came the wonderful Badlands landscapes: the magnificent ‘Grand Canyon’ (大峽谷) near Nanhua (南化), just across the border in Tainan County… Continue reading

Jiuhaocha: A Forgotten Aboriginal Village deep in the mountains of Pingdong County

4aa (2)

Approaching the Cliff Path (day one)

The abandoned aboriginal village of Juhaocha

The abandoned aboriginal village of Juhaocha

The long way back (day two)

The long way back (day two)

The vast majority of multi-day hikes in Taiwan seem to be in the high mountains, so it’s refreshing to come across a few places such as the Walami Trail in southern Hualien County where hikers can really get away from civilisation for two days without suffering headaches from the altitude, freezing each night, or – worst of all – having to beg for a precious permit from one of the not particularly foreigner-friendly National Park authorities.

To really get away from civilization for a weekend though, you’d be hard put to find a better  place than the abandoned aboriginal village of Jiuhaocha (舊好茶), high in the mountains of southern Pingdong County. This old Rukai settlement, abandoned over 30 years ago, is the only aboriginal village in Taiwan afforded Historic Monument status (and Grade Two, at that, which makes it pretty important). It forms the focal point of a remarkable 2-day hike in the magnificent mountain scenery of northern Pingdong County. Continue reading

Mount Sandiaoling (A Sandiaoling to Jiufen Ridge Walk)

The lovely Two Phoenix Waterfall is near the start of the hike

The lovely Two Phoenix Gorge Waterfall is near the start of the hike

The hike ends at Jiufen, in the shadow of shapely Mount Keelung

The hike ends at Jiufen, in the shadow of shapely Mount Keelung, which dominates the view on the trail descending from Mount Jingua

Some of the trails in the this book (but not the Mount Sandiaoling trail) are described in detail on pages 80-81 and 124 -137.

Some of the trails in our walk (but not the Mount Sandiaoling trail itself) are described in detail on pages 80-81 and 124 -137.

Add another wonderful trail to the plethora of wonderful trails in the upper Keelung River Valley. The Sandiao Dalun (三貂大崙) trail, which basically connects Sandiaoling station with Houtong along the fine ridge to the east of the Keelung River via the historic Golden Letters Tablet (金字碑) is neither one of the most strenuous nor the most beautiful of the trails in the area, but those are very relative qualifications, because in most other areas around Taipei this would be prime hiking territory. In the event, the trail seems known only to hiking groups, which can only be a big “plus”.

The trail forms the constant centrepiece of several interesting routes that connect Sandiaoling with Jiufen and Jinguashi. This makes for an interesting hike culturally as well as a very scenic one, connecting the coal mining areas (and relics) of the upper Keelung River Valley at Houtong with the gold and copper mining centers on the other side of the ridge, passing a couple of atmospheric, long abandoned miners’ villages on the way, now nearly reclaimed by the jungle. Continue reading

Stone Dream Valley Trail: one of Taiwan’s great day hikes

The wonderful Stone Dream Valley hangs suspended on the spectacular cliffs high over Fenghsan village

The wonderful Stone Dream Valley hangs suspended on the spectacular cliffs high over Fengshan village

Sunset near the Stone Dream Valley trailhead

Sunset near the Stone Dream Valley trailhead

The gorge near the trailhead is spanned by a fine suspension bridge

The gorge near the trailhead is spanned by a fine suspension bridge

I’m acutely aware that my enthusiastic, glowing descriptions of many of the places in Taiwan that I write about could all too easily read like the exaggerated ravings of an over-zealous soul who’s seen too little of the rest of the world, and in my defence I can only say that the reason is perhaps that Taiwan not only has an abundance of amazing landscapes to brag about, but that most of them are also accessible to a degree that is rarely found in other mountainous corners of the world.

And now I’m going to skate on really thin ice by saying that of all the places I’ve been on this island, the Stone Dream Valley (石夢谷; or rather the area around it) is one of the most magical places I’ve visited on all my ramblings around this fabulously scenic island. (Once again) my photos simply don’t do this almost other-worldly landscape justice. Whether it was my mood that day, the weather, the fine company of my hiking buddies, the fact that the location is far more spectacular than I was expecting, or a combination of all of these, the day we did the Stone Dream Valley walk was one of those rare conjunctions of moon and stars that made for a quite unforgettable hike. Continue reading

Mount Beichatian and White Veil Waterfall: Northern Taiwan at its Wildest

White Veil Waterfall (thanks to Nick E for the photo)

White Veil Waterfall (thanks to Nick E for the photo)

The Hewei Tree

The Hewei Tree

One of the many crude ladders on the final push to the summit of Mount Beichatian

One of the many crude ladders on the final push to the summit of Mount Beichatian

escape2 cover

The walk (including the trail to White Veil Waterfall) is described on pages 194-201).

Mount Beichatian (北插天山: 1,727 meters) is such a popular challenge hike (it’s the highest peak that can reasonably climbed as a day trip from Taipei) that I (and I’m sure many other weary, muddy hikers) fail to appreciate just how beautiful it is while panting up its steep, seemingly never-ending ridge. Good weather does of course make a great difference, so that’s probably why my third trip there, on a weekend in mid October that turned out unexpectedly nice, was the first time that I really noticed its extraordinary scenic merits.

The first time I climbed the mountain was as a day trip, coming in and out from Manyueyuan, near Sansia in Taipei County, and although we made it up and back in daylight, my main memory of that climb was how damned muddy the final section to the summit was. It was nearly a decade later when I climbed it again, 2 years ago (in 2011), with a group of Taipei Hikers. This time the trails were very much better, with wooden boardwalks in places on the trail up to the campsite, and log ladders up the steepest muddiest parts of the summit trail. For this trip we decided to split the trip into two days, camping the night in the idyllic wooded ‘spring’ (水源) campsite on the shoulder of the mountain, which worked great, because it gave us time to explore the nearby Yunei Stream Ancient Tree Grove on the second day before heading down. Continue reading

Youkeng Old Trail and The Thousand Step Ridge (Sandiaoling to Shifen, part Two)

A very brief walk on the tracks, between Sandiaoling and Dahua Stations

A very brief walk on the tracks, between Sandiaoling and Dahua Stations

Pretty (and little-visited) Youkang Waterfall

Pretty (and little-visited) Youkang Waterfall

The tough part of the hike - ninety-plus minutes from the Youkang Old Trail up to the ridge high above

The tough part of the hike – ninety-plus minutes from the Youkang Old Trail up to the ridge high above

Youkeng Old Trail (幼坑古道) runs parallel to the tracks of the Pingxi Branch Line (an hour’s train ride southeast of Taipei) between Sandiaoling and Dahua Stations, and not only provides a much easier alternative to the ridgewalk between the two stations over Mount Neipinglin (described in the last blog entry, below), but also makes for an attractive and interesting hike in its own right. Of course this being Taiwan, there are several options for turning this simple and pleasant walk into a (much) harder hike, and instead of descending to Dahua station at the end of the old trail, we went in the opposite direction, south, taking a trail over the steep little Mount Youkeng and a seemingly endless succession of similarly steep little peaks, to finally join the Mount Neipinglin ridge. A final descent to Shifen was by the Thousand Step ridge, which is a lot more attractive and worthwhile than the name might suggest! Continue reading

Mount Neipinglin: a magnificent alternative hiking route from Sandiaoling to Shifen

Arriving on the summit of Mount Neipinglin

Arriving on the summit of Mount Neipinglin

On the trail, about an hour out of Sandiaoling

On the trail, about an hour out of Sandiaoling

The Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk is without doubt one of Taiwan’s finest (half-) day hikes, and such is its popularity that most hikers (myself included) rarely get to try any of the other very fine hikes in the immediate area. In a determined attempt to start putting matters right a rather large group (17!) of us offloaded onto the platform at Sandiaoling Station one bright and sunny Sunday at the end of September with the intention of following an intriguing ‘new’ route that, like the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk,  connects the stations of Sandiaoling and Shifen on the scenic Pingxi Branch Railway Line. Instead of waterfalls, wide dirt trails and the occasional wooden rope ladder for company however, there’s some seriously dense and rough terrain, plus a succession of pointy little peaks, culminating in 502 meter-high Mount Neipinglin (內坪林山). Continue reading

A Few Photos

Husband and Wife Trees, New Central Cross-island Highway

Husband and Wife
Trees, New Central Cross-island Highway

Maliguang Waterfall, Hsinchu Conty

Maliguang Waterfall, Hsinchu Conty

Above the aboriginal village of Laiji, Chiayi County

Above the aboriginal village of Laiji, Chiayi County

It’s been so long since I’ve been hiking that I’ve started putting on weight and seem to be entering a mild depression.  The plum rains seem – hopefully – to be loosening their grip on the island and there are hopes that we might have a good weekend exploring coming up (our last attempt, a scooter trip around the mountains of Chiayi three weeks ago turned into a soggy disaster). Meanwhile, partly as a little self therapy, and to replace my last, angry, post from top position where its been for the last couple of weeks, here’s a couple of photos from recent and not-so-recent trips around the main island of Taiwan. Thanks to Oksana for the ancient tree photo – much better than any of the ones I took myself!

P1120894

On the road up to Luchang, an aboriginal village in magnificent countryside in Miaoli County

Continue reading