Let me start by saying I’m no expert at hiking Taiwan’s high mountains! Of the Top 100 Peaks (a list of one-hundred mountain peaks from the 270-odd summits in Taiwan that exceed 3,000 meters in height), I’ve so far only done 29 – a lot less than some hiker friends of mine. However I’m acutely aware that starting out on the Top Hundred can be be a bit daunting – the difficulty of the peaks on the list varies hugely, and while two or three summits on the list are within the ability of all able-bodied people, and a further ten or twenty can be conquered by anyone that’s reasonably fit and has a few Taiwan day-hikes under their belt, after that the difficulty level quickly goes through the roof, and inexperienced hikers could easily find themselves in serious trouble if they pick the wrong trek. Continue reading
Mount Baiguda (3,341 meters, no 45 on the ‘Top Hundred’ list) on the border between Nantou County and Taichung City doesn’t seem to get nearly as much love as some of the other summits on Taiwan’s Hundred Peaks list. Permission to climb is easy to get (only a police permit is required), yet there were few other people up there this last weekend, despite the absolutely perfect weather. It’s among the tougher peaks on the list I’ve done to date, especially since we did it in 2 days (meaning a 14-to-16-hour second day of hiking!), but it amazed us all with its beauty. Photos I’ve seen on blogs and elsewhere are usually of the deceptively gentle, rounded, wooded summit dome, which looks boring as anything, but is in fact steep and very rocky, with a stellar 360-degree view from the top. Even more rewarding are the series of crags which the trail follows on the way to the final slog up to the summit peak – nothing technical or difficult, but plenty of tough, knee-breaking ups and downs, and absolutely stunning views over the surrounding wilderness. Definitely one of my top five high mountains so far, and among the tougher ones too! Continue reading
In Taiwan 101 western Taiwan is everything from the Hakka lands of Hsinchu and underrated Miaoli, through Taichung City, Changhua, Yunlin (another under-explored corner of the island), and beautiful Nantou County. This long swathe of the island comprises the flat and (for a nature lover) relatively uninteresting western plains, but these are dotted with some of Taiwan’s most historic (and interesting) towns, the majority of Taiwan’s Continue reading
Without a doubt, Taiwan’s finest hiking is in its astonishing high mountains, but with a very few exceptions (the peaks of Hohuanshan and the Southern Three Stars, which are still out-of-bounds over half a decade after Morakot destroyed the road leading to the trailheads) arranging the logistics of the trip (permits, transport, accommodation etc) is guaranteed to prove anything from a headache to a full-blown migraine.
However Taiwan (and especially the northern half!) has scores of outrageously good day hikes, most of which are free of such irritating hassles, and there are enough hikes of all grades to satisfy all but the most demanding of hikers. Continue reading
The great Jiji Earthquake, which rocked Taiwan on September 21st, 1999, caused both a huge loss of life and enormous devastation. However in several places the earthquake actually created new landscapes, some of great beauty, such as the lakes at Jiufenershan. None of these new landmarks, however, are quite as magical as Shuiyang Lake (水樣森林), which was born that night when a landslip blocked a stream running through a remote valley in central Nantou County, close to the epicentre of the earthquake. As the stream backed up behind the natural dam, creating a sizable lake, it also flooded a coniferous forest that once clothed the valley floor. The flooded trees, their roots deprived of oxygen, died, and over the following years the tree trunks were bleached white by the sun. The unique result now draws large numbers of hikers to one of Taiwan’s most arresting natural curiosities. Continue reading
In a blog entry several years ago, I wrote that the awesome Zhuilu Cliff Trail is the finest day walk in Taiwan. I haven’t changed my mind yet, but in it’s different way the Western end of the cross-island Batongguan Historic Trail is probably an equal partner. I walked this stretch (from Dongpu Hot Springs to Yinu (‘one girl’) Waterfall), permits are required to go further) once twenty years ago and it blew me away. Continue reading
On the edge of Shuili (水里) town in Nantou County, immediately below the busy road that connects the town with Sun Moon Lake to the north, Ningqing Gorge (寧靜谷) appears on quite a few local maps of the area, but I’ve never found any info on the Web or elsewhere, apart from a short description in a decades-old local guidebook to central Taiwan that I bought when I first arrived here, and have treasured ever since. That dog-eared, black-and-white book with its fuzzy pictures and rough, hand-drawn sketch maps lacks the full-color impact of today’s much more stylish guidebooks to Taiwan, but, while the maps nowadays are infinitely better and the info inside the best books (usually those that confine themselves to just one county or small area) is still amazing, they’re still not nearly as detailed as those old books on my shelves, which continue to provide me with the occasional wonderful new discovery after all this years.
Ningqing Gorge is very short and not especially deep, and it’s certainly no Ghost Ax Canyon, but in its small way it’s a fascinating place, and makes for a great, if brief adventure if you’re already in the Shuili area and the idea of scrambling, swimming and wading for an hour or two through a place few people know exists strikes a chord. Continue reading
With research on a new book well underway and a piano recital, it’s been all go recently. Hopefully soon I’ll get to write a bit about the latest favorites, but meantime here are three places in central Taiwan’s Nantou County that are definitely NOT off the beaten track, although none the worse for that (apart from the crowds of fellow visitors, high entrance fees, traffic jams on the way up and over-developed infrastructure). Shanlinsi, Sitou and the Heavenly Steps tend to look better in photos than they do in real life, but ignore the negative impact of mass tourism and they’re all well worth visiting – just start out early in the morning if you visit at the weekend to avoid the masses! Continue reading
Despite the fact that many locals have a certain affection for the place (which I actually share, since I lived there for 18 months in the early 1990s, just after arriving in Taiwan) the town of Puli, sitting at the geographical center of Taiwan, is a pretty nondescript kind of place, indistinguishable from many other provincial towns around the island. However what richly merits a visit to the town is its marvelous surroundings. There’s enough exploration and even adventure to be had around here to keep the most avid explorer busy for a week or more, from easy family friendly strolls (Guanyin Waterfall) to day-long adventures into surprisingly remote places (the tricky-to-reach Shicheng Gorge (石城谷). Even today I’m still finding new places (such as the wonderful Zhongkang Waterfall, which I discovered just two weeks ago!), so it doesn’t look as if the area has revealed all its secrets even now. Anyway, the subject at hand is waterfalls, so here’s a quick run-down of (most) of the waterfalls in the Puli area. And since these don’t appear in my new book (due out early next year), I’ve added basic getting-there info for each, too! Continue reading
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