Mount Wudang (武当山): Taiqiquan, Daoist Temples, and Magnificent Scenery

A foggy day near the summit

For some reason Mount Wudang (武當山), a couple of hundred kilometers northwest of Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, doesn’t make it into the list of five sacred Daoist mountains, and yet it’s sometimes regarded as the most important Daoist Mountain in the kingdom. Figure that one out.

The ‘Hanging’ Monastery at South Cliff

Mt Wudang owes its historic significance to the fact that it was here that Taiqiquan  was ‘invented’ around a thousand years ago: the familiar story – a monk being inspired by a battle between a bird and a snake – happened right here, in this deliriously lovely spot that now attracts fit hikers and lazy tourists alike with its winning combination of ancient and very atmospheric temple architecture and magnificent natural beauty. Continue reading

Mount Heng (衡山): The Softer Side of China

The temple on top of Mount Heng, at dawn

Of all the six mountains and scenic areas we visited on our summer hiking trip around China this year, Mount Heng (衡山; the southern peak of China’s five sacred Daoist mountains, and not to be confused with the other Mount Heng, near Datong in Shanxi Province) gave us perhaps the biggest surprise.

The summit of Mount Heng

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Hua Shan and Huangshan: China’s Mystical Mountain Scenery at its Best

On Hua Shan South Peak, just above the notorious Plank Path (sometimes dubbed ‘the World’s Most Dangerous Trail’!)

I’m off to China this summer for the first time in four years to pay a return visit to a few of my (many, many) favorite destinations in this vast, vastly frustrating, but incomparably wondrous country, and planning for the trip has led me to think about the many fantastic hiking spots that I’ve explored in the country. I thought I’d briefly describe the peaks and other hiking destinations I’ve visited so far in the hope that it convinces someone to look further than the standard tourist sites and explore more of the riches that China has to offer the active tourist.  I’ll write in more detail about the main peaks I plan to revisit after my return, but in the meantime, here’s an appetizer of what you’re missing out on if you’ve never hiked in China beyond the tourist stretches of the Great Wall. And there’s so much more out there as well….  Continue reading

Taiwan’s Top Ten Day Trips

I’ve just written this piece for a Korean magazine, and while most of the places here have already been put on the Blog, it’s probably worth putting the whole thing up here  – Taiwan really is an extraordinary place!

This list is only a start, and on another day I might have come up with a completely different ‘top 10,’ but these are wonderful places, and all are great personal favorites. I’ve uploaded new photos and expanded the write-up on the spectacular Taiji Canyon, which is not covered elsewhere here.


The secret’s finally out: more and more tourists are discovering that Taiwan is an island of quite extraordinary natural beauty. But whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to the big tourist draw cards such as Sun Moon Lake, Alishan and Kenting. The island’s popular sights are great of course, but be sure to make time for at least a couple of the countless little-known gems that lie scattered around the island and on the outlying islets.

There are enough enchanting spots to keep a weekend explorer going for decades, and any ‘top ten’ list is bound to be highly subjective, but here’s a personal list of ten places – all feasible day trips from one or other of the island’s big cities – that may well prove to leave more lasting memories than lying on the beach in Kenting or zooming through Taroko Gorge in a bus.

1.  Loyal Son Mountain and

2. Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk, Taipei County

Descending Loving Mother Mountain

See pages 172-177 and 138-143 for detailed descriptions of how to get to both places.

See pages 172-177 and 138-143 for detailed descriptions of how to get to both places.

The 12 kilometer-long Pingxi Branch Railway Line, an hour’s ride from Taipei city center, is one of the most beautiful train rides in northern Taiwan, but the real attraction of coming here is the host of natural and cultural attractions easily accessible from the tracks. The area is dotted with atmospheric reminders of the area’s coal mining past, and the valley (which boasts the wettest place in Taiwan) features well over twenty waterfalls. The most famous (and touristy) of these is forty meter-broad Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), the widest waterfall in Taiwan, but waterfall lovers can’t do better than take the stunningly scenic, 3-hour Sandiaoling Waterfall (三貂嶺瀑布) Walk nearby. Named for an impressive 30-meter high fall which plunges over a huge overhang behind which hikers can stand, the walk also features a further two beautiful waterfalls, and several exciting but safe climbs up cliff faces on chunky rope ladders.

Niya Waterfall, on the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk

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Silver Stream Cave and Four Beasts Mountains: Two Fantastic Walks in the City

Climbing the easiest (!) of the five routes up the Nangang Cliff

The natural cleft known as ‘A Thread of Sky’

Despite the horrible weather, there have been a few breaks in the rain, and since I’ve had an unusual amount of free time (few piano students over the Christmas hols, and no way to practice my own piano, since my right little finger is still too tender to play) there have been a couple of chances to get out hiking – if only in the area around the city. Continue reading

Bhutan: the Land of the Thunder Dragon

I’ve been back from Bhutan four weeks, but work on the two books has kept me for writing about my adventures there. Now the first book is sent off for layout, I’m awarding myself a day off to get other matters a bit more up-to-date before turning my attention to the second book….

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Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a few Hike Plans for 2011

The wonderful Cloud Forest Waterfall, Full Moon Mountain, Sanxia (TDT book 1, walk 30)

At the highest point of the Caoling Trail (with few other walkers on the trail – a rare and wonderful phenomenon at this over-popular place!)

I’m off to England tomorrow (26th) first thing to see my family (which will be great, but it’ll be a sedentary two or three weeks, with few chances to get out except a trip or two up to London for the Sales.)  At least I can pick up a new camera there (bought cheap on Amazon), to replace my poor present one which has suffered from many months of knocks and wettings and now refuses to focus properly in anything less than full sunlight. I’ll be back mid January (maybe a little earlier, if I can change my flight ), and look forward to getting out again regularly, if the weather allows.

Strange shrine in natural rocky outcrop above Xinbeitou (TDT book 1, walk 2)

View from the summit of White Chicken Mountain (TDT book 2, walk 17)

On the trail to Cloud Forest Waterfall, Sanxia (TDT book 1, walk 30)

I’ve been hiking nearly every day this last week or two (since most of my piano students left for Christmas about 10 days ago, these photos are from those trips and the last two weekend hikes), and the two books are well on their way towards revision. Hoping then to change my focus towards multi-day trips to the offshore islands in the early summer.

Between Mount Jhan and Guanyin Mountain (new hike for next edition)

The scenery along the branch path between Caoling Historic Trail and Taoyuan (Paradise) Valley is far more impressive than anything seen along the much more popular Caoling Trail nearby

There are still six or seven choice hikes being reserved for the group on Saturdays and Sundays in the New Year, before we go back to the usual one or two a month from April or so.

Lovers’ Temple, Xinbeitou (TDT book 1, walk 2)

On a bike, about to be run over by a crazy cycle gang going in the opposite direction, on the ridiculously popular Caoling Tunnel bike path – a far more dangerous place than any of the craggy trails I’ve hiked in recent months

Forest Mountain Waterfall, near Full Moon Mountain, Sanxia (TDT book 1, walk 30)

Definitely hikes planned for January 22nd and 23rd, and maybe two for 15th and 16th as well if the jet lag and weather permit.  More details about them later….

Carp Mountain from Dahu (TDT book 1, walk 4)

Dragon Boat Rock, above Neihu (TDT book 1, walk 4)

On top of Guanyin Mountain: fantastic weather!

Gem, perhaps the most energetic and insatiably curious dog I’ve ever known

Here’s hoping for more great weather in 2011;meanwhile wishing everyone best wishes for Christmas and  a Happy New year!

Hikes this weekend: December 18th, 19th

Climbing one of the Eighteen Arhats Rocks, on the Mazu Fields and Sun Moon Cave walk last Saturday

Just a short blurb this time (the photos are from last weekend’s hikes): for Saturday’s hike we’ll retry the Full Moon Mountain hike postponed from last weekend. All the info and photos are in the blog below, but to recap, we meet at street level, exit 2, Yongning MRT station (western end of the blue line) at 7:40am. Continue reading

The Xindian Ferry

The little boat that constantly ferries people across the Xindian River is a rare reminder of a largely vanished way of life in Taipei

Hemei Mountain has no business being so-named, being only 152 meters high, but it commands a fine view (far nicer than many far higher summits) and is a landmark on a very attractive short loop walk that I discovered on a free morning today, before work.   Continue reading

Lion’s Head Mountain, Miaoli County

Futian Temple on Lion’s Head Mountain

If El Nina is really to blame for all this horrendous weather that’s been making any serious hiking anywhere east of Taipei city difficult or impossible for the last two months (the rocks and steep slopes are too slippery!), it looks like I’ll be looking westwards most weekends for the forseeable future. Certainly the weather did its very worst last Saturday (November 20th), and our Pingxi Three Peak ‘Challenge’ hike turned into a muddy, slippery, and very short hike up the easiest of the three summits. Continue reading