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

Jiangziliao Cliff: a little-known gem

Below the Waterfall at Jiangziliao Cliff

Below the Waterfall at Jiangziliao Cliff

Jiangziliao Waterfall

Jiangziliao Waterfall

This last week I’ve been looking through thousands of digital photos from trips and hikes over the last decade, in search of waterfalls for my new website (a guide to the waterfalls of Taiwan, which will be up and running soon!). In the midst of my search I came across this beautiful place that we found, more or less by accident, a few years ago, on the outskirts of Keelung city. With summer over and the cooler, hiking-friendly days of autumn well on their way, it’s time to (more-or-less) call a halt to the season’s river tracing (an activity that we’ve really got into this last summer) so to bid a fond farewell to magical days spent in magnificent scenery, knee-deep in fast-flowing, crystal clear, cold water, here’s one last place that’s perfect for boiling hot summer days, and, unlike most of the rivers we’ve traced this season, dog friendly too! Continue reading

Gone, but Definitely Not Forgotten

The remarkable Lost Soul Valley at Caoling, now buried beneath millions of tons of earth dislodged during the great earthquake of 1999. (Photo taken in 1993).

The remarkable Lost Soul Valley at Caoling, now buried beneath millions of tons of earth dislodged during the great earthquake of 1999. (Photos all taken in 1993)

The Ferris wheel and rocket ride at the abandoned theme park above Pitan, Xidian (photo taken around 1995)

The Ferris wheel and rocket ride at the abandoned theme park above Pitan, Xindian (photos taken around 1995)

Last Christmas, while clearing out heaps of junk in my bedroom back in the UK, I came across several boxes of old print photos from my various world travels in the early 1990s, along with some photos from my earliest years in Taiwan, almost two decades ago.  Among the tourist must-sees such as Wulai Waterfall, Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge and Yehliu, however I found photos of two places which will be far less familiar to the majority of Taiwanese expats, for the simple reason that (for completely different reasons) neither of them exist anymore! Continue reading

The Masu Stream (瑪鋉溪)

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We’ve been doing quite a bit of river tracing recently (and will hopefully do a little more before the weather turns chilly), and the photos of our various destinations are gonna start looking rather similar, but one thing that’s pretty clear about river tracing: while you’re there at least, every river is quite different, and every one has its own special character and its own pleasures.

Few we’ve done so far though are quite as memorable as the Masu Stream on the eastern slopes of Big Sharp Mountain in the eastern wilds of Yangmingshan National Park.

Xidi No. 2 Bridge, the start of the fantastic river trace up the Masu River

Xidi No. 2 Bridge, the start of the fantastic river trace up the Masu River

The trip starts when the stream passes under Xidi no. 2 Bridge, on the Taipei – Wanli road, at the bottom of the long hill that drops down from Fengguikou pass. Clambering down to the riverbank, the distinctive wide, flat, shale river bed and the many-layered strata exposed in the rocks on either side (which are a feature of this stream) are immediately apparent. Just a short distance upstream is a large and deep pool, although amazingly we had this idyllic spot to ourselves on a hot, sunny Sunday in mid August –  thankfully it appears that the Masu Stream is still known mainly to river tracers alone. Continue reading

The Toucian Stream (頭前溪)

Between the second and third waterfalls

Between the second and third waterfalls

The third and last waterfall (photo by Tony Foster Brown)

The third and last waterfall (photo by Tony Foster Brown)

Toucian Stream and the parallel Lu Jue PIng Trail are on page 297.

Toucian Stream and the parallel Lu Jue Ping Trail are on page 297.

The Toucian Stream, rising between two of Yangmingshan’s finest yet least climbed peaks, Big Sharp Mountain and Mt Huangzui, has long been known as one of the Taipei area’s most popular river tracing destinations. Unfortunately it’s on the ‘wrong’ side of Yangmingshan National Park, which means that the only way to get there is with your own wheels. I know the area quite well, but only from walking a number of the excellent trails in this area, such as Lu Jue Ping, Da Ping, Lin Shih, Rui Quan and Fu Shih Old Trails, which crisscross these beautiful but unfrequented heights, and for all sorts of reasons I never managed to get my feet wet and explore the stream itself – until last weekend.

In many places the Toucian Stream flows between and over large boulders

In many places the Toucian Stream flows between and over large boulders

I’ve been long overdue then to check out this river tracing route, especially since some of my piano students have even done it, courtesy of nearby Camp Taiwan, which runs adventure trips out here for students at the American and European Schools in Taipei. But last Sunday, which dawned hot and sunny, eight of us piled into a rented minivan near Jiantan MRT Station and made the surprisingly long and complicated drive (about an hour) out to the start of the river trace, which is conveniently the same as the trailhead for Lu Jue Ping Old Trail, tucked away deep in the eastern heights of Yangmingshan. Despite its remoteness, this is a really popular place on sunny Sundays, and a veritable gaggle of others – both hikers and river tracers – had already parked (and also nicked the best parking spaces) when we arrived at about 9:45 am. Luckily there are plenty of parking  spaces along the road after the small, mud parking area at the end of the road fills up.

Near the first waterfall

Near the first waterfall

Continue reading

A great ‘new’ Rivertracing Spot near Taipei: Sisters’ Falls

The beautiful Sisters' Falls

The beautiful Sisters’ Falls

Pool downstream from the Sisters' Falls

Pool downstream from the Sisters’ Falls

The much more famous Cloud Forest Falls, one of the Taipei area's most beautiful waterfalls, is an hour or two upstream

The much more famous Cloud Forest Falls, one of the Taipei area’s most beautiful waterfalls, is an hour or two upstream

The route to both waterfalls is described on page 187.

The route to both waterfalls is described on page 187.

With summer well and truly arrived, serious hikes start taking a back seat, and it’s time once again to brainstorm ways to keep (relatively) cool in the big heat. I’ve long known of Sisters’ Falls, near the tiny settlement of Xiongkong, southeast  of Sanxia, and river traced several times up to it since the trail that once led there was washed away by a typhoon many years ago, but that’s always been in the winter, when the water was low, and it never seemed like an especially promising summer rivertracing trip.

Wrong! 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!

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

Continue reading

Mount Dadao (Big Knife) and the Neidong Forest Road, Wulai

On the Neidong Forest Road

On the Neidong Forest Road

The peaceful Neidong Forest Road offers easy, scenic walking and a few great views

The peaceful Neidong Forest Road

The route to Mount Dadao and the connection to the Forest Road  is described on page 149.

The route to Mount Dadao and the connection to the Forest Road is described on page 149.

I’m slowly finding out that there’s a lot more to Wulai than the waterfalls, hot springs, and a couple of good but shortish hikes, such as the Big Knife Mountain walk, which is a popular favorite these days. Starting at the main village, the trail (the first bit  was ‘improved by the authorities – curse them! – a few years back and has lost the mildly wild quality it once had) climbs to a domed little peak (the ‘big knife’) perched on the edge of the great river gorge, and then descends through the jungle to the head of Wulai Waterfall, to finish with a cable car ride back down. Sadly this is no longer free, since the park owners have long got wind that the cable car is no longer the only way up here, but if you can take the steep NT$150 fare for a ride lasting a couple of minutes, it still makes a very enjoyable (and unique) end to a half-day hike!

Near the summit of Mount Dadao

Near the summit of Mount Dadao

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On the forest road

Continue reading

The Mount Wanggu – Mount Wufen Ridge

Lingjiao Waterfall, at the start of the walk

Lingjiao Waterfall, at the start of the walk

The temple in front of Guanyin Dripping Water Cave, the trailhead of the walk

The temple in front of Guanyin Dripping Water Cave, the trailhead of the walk

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. Continue reading

Matsu Fields and the Monkey Cave

The gate below Puan Temple at the start of the hike

The gate below Puan Temple at the start of the hike

Yuanheng Temple

Yuanheng Temple

It turns out there’s a good reason that I don’t go hiking in the Tucheng area (just west of Taipei City) so often. It’s not that there aren’t lots of trails there, or that there isn’t so much to see, but simply because the meddling local authorities have ‘improved’ so many of the area’s trails, which are now under wide bands of stone (well at least it’s not cement for the most part). Local residents have added their own deft touches – makeshift shelters of iron, tarpaulin and other fine materials, which become an impromptu karaoke parlour on fine weekends, a series of kitchen gardens (which seem to be multiplying) stocked with cabbages, onions and the like, and rustic outdoor ‘gyms’ with bars, swings and (of course) giant hula hoops for getting that waist in trim! Walking along the once lovely wooded ridge between Zhonghe and Sanxia  is these days best considered an interesting introduction to Taiwanese culture rather than a walk in the bosom of nature. Continue reading