Saturday, November 28, 2009

Climbing Yushan

Yushan National Park, Taiwan

It's easy to get stuck in Taipei, and not make it out to see the rest of the island. Since I am regularly mountain biking in the hills around Taipei, I do make a better job than most at getting into nature; but I have not done a good job at getting into the high mountains of Taiwan.

Yushan is the highest peak in East Asia, but is obviously beaten out by peaks in the Himalayas and several in SE Asia (see Wikipedia for some more info). In the last few years, I have signed up on a couple of different climbing trips, but was never successful at getting a place in the hut at the base of the final climb, subject as it is to lottery. Luckily (or unluckily) a Scottish friend was leaving Taiwan, and she decided to apply for climbing access, with success. Good news, and a perfect excuse for me to go and buy more hiking equipment.

Rather than rush straight up on Friday, and begin the hike the next day, we opted to leave a day early and buy some time kicking around the Alishan Town area. At 2274m, it is already at a respectable altitude, and indeed some people on the team did not deal especially well with the lack of air. I could certainly sympathise, but was at least aware of the effects from previous skiing holidays; Val Thorens in France is located at about 2300m altitude.

Forested Alishan was quiet - no doubt because the train was knocked out by Typhoon Morakot.


Team Chris & Co.

With an early-ish start the next day, we bussed it up to the start of the hike at 2595m. The mountains in that part of Taiwan are stunning, and beginning the hike was pure pleasure in the cool air and warm sunlight. Slowly gaining altitude, we passed bamboo forests, thickets of ancient trees (the ones that Japanese didn't cut down in WWII) and stopped to gaze at ever more dramatic views of pristine forested valleys stretching into the distance.

Due in no small part to our large ruck-sacks, concerns about how much water and food we needed, and plenty of extra dry clothes and insulation, we probably did over-pack a touch, and it was pretty slow going. We decided to keep it steady, however, and redistribute some of the extra weight between the stronger members of the group. None-the-less, we reached the point where daylight was beginning to fade and decided that an 'avant-garde' group should make it to the lodge and return to collect the other members - it was a decision I was not completely happy with, so I was delighted when the final pair of head-torches came bobbing up the hill through the darkness, 10km west of the starting point and 900-odd metres higher, at Paiyun Lodge (3402m).

Shadows of my former-self.

Views across the valleys were splendid.

Granny gearing it up the hill.

As clouds rolled in, everywhere looked like a scene from a traditional Chinese painting ... and frankly the Taiwan I was expecting to see when I arrived a few years ago!

Old-growth trees were pretty spiritually-uplifting.

One or two moments of more extreme climbing, but nothing too hazardous.

More paintings.

More sunsets.

You'll have to check the Flickr feed to get the full effect I think.

After a not especially hearty meal of instant noodles, freeze-dried rice curry, and chunks of dried fruit, washed down with ginger tea, it was time to hit the sack at about 8:30pm. I had certainly never slept at such elevation before, and sadly spent the night tossing and turning, tormented by an epic headache, mild nausea, a dry throat, and subsequent trips to the toilet to try and expel the water that I was knocking back to counteract it. Altitude sickness.

Just to see the sunrise, waking at 2:30am therefore seemed like a bad joke. Beginning the hike, my heavy head and bags / luggage under my eyes were slightly relieved by Chris' thoughtful packing of Diamox to counteract the effects (reading the Wikipedia entry now explains why I was peeing every ten minutes after taking it). It helped, but the pounding returned every time my heart rate went up, and as such climbing was an exercise in restraint, as my legs felt so much stronger than what my pounding head could handle.

All-in-all, it felt like the final approach to Mordor, surrounded by near-darkness and staring up at pin-pricks of light coming from the head torches of teams of people that had managed to get up a little earlier than us. I was by far the coldest I have ever been in Taiwan; but was wearing just about enough clothes to fend off the shivers.

Coming up to the final few hundred metres of the peak (sadly lacking a huge, burning, all-seeing eye), we again split up, and I left Tasha and Chris behind to make the final ascent. The rocks surrounding the peak require a bit of a scramble, but I felt pretty confident after the training session in Wales earlier in the year, up Snowdon, which is the highest mountain in Wales, and a lofty 1085m (Ben Nevis in Scotland is 1344m, which puts the whole endeavour in perspective).

After several hours of climbing in the dark, it was a relief to make it to the top, and the sun duly emerged from behind the clouds to allow some respite from the frosty and sub-zero temperatures - the first encounter in Taiwan, bizarrely. I was expecting to be more 'in the mood' to compose more considered pictures, but the cold, blurry head and mild desire to get back down meant I rattled off a bunch of shots; and with the extremely high-contrast between light and dark up there it was not that easy to nail shots I was really happy with.

Sunrise - finally! - we were immensely lucky with the weather, considering it is mid-November.



Tasha - yay!

Tasha and Chris - our heroines of the day.

In the mist.

Descending down the initial track was not that straightforward.

The views were magnificent.

Beginning the descent, I was delighted to see the purple hood of Tasha and Chris slowly winching themselves up the final climb. Accompanying them to the top, I retraced my steps to the top, and I was glowing with pride to see them reach the top together. Very satisfying.

Heading back down was harder on the knees, but it did not load the lungs in the same way, so we avoided the nausea and headaches. Noodles, drinks, dried fruit were doled out back at the lodge, and with a mild spring in our step we headed back down the hill, cutting about two hours from the ascent time. Getting back into Taipei, the only thing I could think of was sleep ... deserved, I do believe.

So, I broke my duck on the high mountains, and I am extremely keen to make it back down there at some point to bag some more hills and trails.

Winding roads.

More atmospheric forests.

And one last one.

Big mountains. Bigger skies.

Almost there ...

The bus to the final meeting point ... and looking a little bedraggled.

Inexplicably, this was our ride back to the train station in Jiayi - a San Francisco-style tourist bus. We got some strange looks!


Google Maps

View Yushan in a larger map

A few links if you want to do it yourself:

Wikitravel - Yushan
Yushan National Park Protected Area - Application Site
Everytrail - Yushan - Some GPS maps and tech wizardry

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jiufen Tea Ceremony

Company team-building activities are a fairly regular activity on the Dell calendar. One of the more community-spirited activities is the annual Jinshan beach clear-up operation at one of the surf hot spots on the other side of northen Taiwan. As a result of Typhoon Morakot, the area was in severe need of some affection, and we were glad to help. Rubbish and driftwood were dispatched in double-quick time and arranged in a relatively neat pile at the head of the beach, and we were so efficient that we were told to 'stop' lest we ruin the beach cleanup effort of subsequent companies doing similar initiatives - irony.

Once we had that done and dusted, we took the opportunity not to squander our time on that side of the island, and made a beeline for the Gold Ecological Park, where my ex-Chinese teacher works. A pretty nice place, and worth a trip up the amazingly meandering road.

Highlight of the day, though, was an evening spent in Jiufen - a place I have inexplicably never been to. What a mistake - the place was magical, and we spent a happy few hours spiriting away time in a tea shop watching the sun set over the hills towards Taipei, and subsequent glide down quite the most charming street of hanging lanterns. All in all, a fantastic little adventure.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Wulai - Sanxia Hike

Suited and booted

After finding the rather great hiking blog, Pashan, we were inspired to go and trek pastures new around Wulai. It's Labour Day weekend here, and the weather has just been impeccable for the whole time, so no excuses could be found not to strap on the boots and get motoring.

Indian Jones-style bridges.

Abe illustrates his bike-handling skills.

The hike was well graded, and punctuated by groups of improbably old Taiwanese hikers coming the other way. It's a sad fact, but hikers that we bump into tend to be old, and complain that the youth today are not interested in Hiking. Although I usually take these types of comments with a grain of salt ('in my day...'), I have to say I agree. However, I do hold out hope that in the grand rollercoaster of Taiwanese trends, hiking will follow folding bikes in rising popularity - perhaps it will be some local tech GPS gadget that kicks it off - who knows.

After reading the Pashan article, detailing the Sanxia-Wulai Trail, we did manage to get one minor detail wrong... the starting point. As a result, the fantsatic diving pools 'in the first third of the trail' were not quite where we expected them to be, but no matter; we'll be back soon to do it properly. Here is a map of the starting point / ending point:

View Wulai - Sanxia Hike in a larger map

Team Taipei

Air conditioning for whom?

After the hike, we headed straight for the smoked chicken roadside restaurant, and devoured all manner of vegetables and delicious bird. It then did not take an enormous amount of persuasion from Tasha to head to Gonguan and rather a special chocolate shop, where we each ordered a brownie large enough for 12 people. Food coma. Bed.

Link to my Flickr set for Wulai-Sanxia

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hiking Yangmingshan in the Rain

It's been a great couple of weeks of visitors, with Gerhard & Klara in town, touching down in Taipei as part of the Onizou world tour. Do take some time to check their web site at to see the things they are up to, and the places they plan to go.

We hiked up into the clouds below the peak of Yangming Mountain to sample the sights of the volcano and smells of the hot springs on the other side. Super good fun, and great to get into nature on foot rather than wheels.

Village on a hillside looks Italian (from a few miles away, at least)

Cooling off after hot spring action

The team waiting to get back to Taipei, and eat Pizza!

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Sunday, April 19, 2009


While I recover from another weekend, I thought I would post the most appropriate photo taken by Michael while waiting at traffic lights, that sums up the weekend ... like he says, in Taipei, you don't need to go looking for crazy things, the crazy things come to you.

More photos on the way soon.

Doggles. My new word. And happy birthday to me!

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Friday, April 03, 2009

A.L.L. (Anke, Lars & Linnéa)

Hi guys!

It has been a really busy, really brilliant couple of weeks of having friends and family converging on the region. By luck / design, Markus has been here (need to work out what photos I have of that ... seems so long ago now!), Anke & Lars have brought Linnéa on her first world tour, and even my parents have been traveling through HK on the way back from New Zealand. The fun hasn't stopped though - fear not - Gerhard and Klara will be trucking through in just a matter of weeks.

But first, Anke & Lars, and their little bundle of ice-cool baby style, Linnéa.

Wulai ho! The river has been narrrowed, I think. The hot springs remain, and the diving board is removed much of the time (like all areas of water in Taiwan, people tend to throw themselves and die at alarmingly regular intervals).

Since the guys left the island, the amount of hiking I have done has dropped significantly. I can't be too worried as I am in the mountains most weekends on my wheels, but none the less it was great fun to jump into Mattieu's car (pretty much the only forriner that I know that has one) and jaunt down to Wulai; world capital of the crazy hot spring.

It was more or less impossible to stop taking photos of Linnéa, but for that I am not sorry; she was an utter delight for the whole time. Great work, guys.

Back on the trails - feels good.

Linnéa - stop it!


Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.

It was amazing to see her at this age - prodding, probing, testing, fondling ... and just occasionally falling over (usually when Anke walked over to Lars and I).

Okay, I'll stop for a while.

We stayed overnight in a sweet little hotel, and the next day considered what to do. Somewhat as a joke over breakfast, I suggested we ride the cable car at the waterfall, and see what was up there. No foreigner I have ever met has been up there; most of us avoiding it, assuming it was a Taiwanese tourist trap. Everyone I know just rides past it on the way to waterfalls / hiking / camping.

We were correct about the tourist trap; stuffed toys, haunted houses, boating lakes, cross-bow firing ranges etc. But it really was a bit of a magical feeling up there: completely absurd, but set in a wonderful environment above the valley. So, I hate to say it, but it comes recommended!

The Waterfall.

Boating lake at the top of the waterfall.

Bye bye guys! (see you in Hong Kong)

Now, I need to get posting the other stuff, and exporting the photos of Linnéa ... A.L.L. have been chasing me!

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Down With the Kids - Mountain Biking in Taipei


We struck it lucky with the yesterday, and penned in an afternoon ride to make room for the previous night's activities (Japanese Rockabilly Punk, anyone?). As ever, Mark and I winched up for the climb and met the taxi crew at the top. Just before we got there, we passed a group of really rather young mountain bikers riding alone, and on quite decent wheels. This, quite simply, does not happen in Taiwan, so we were delighted to meet some young ones getting out into the hills, and jumped at the chance to guide them down some of our trails. These, dearest industrialists, are the future of Taiwan's chance of becoming a real force in sport and culture, and the best way it can maintain a lead in Bicycle technology. Take note.

It was quite clear that the kids were going to comprehensively smoke us on the descents after about five minutes of practice - indeed, they grabbed Georg's new super rig and schooled him in wheelies and bunny hops to his dismay / delight. We descended for over an hour together, managed to avoid getting any of them killed, but left them with Mark to take the easy route home after seeing them begin to get exhausted before the final section.

I have to show super respect to them - we were especially impressed with their flip-flop / body armour combo, and the non-stop hair-combing of one them when we stopped. I hope - really hope - that is is a trend. Really great day of riding again, and hopefully we bump into those kids again soon.

Latest aprés-slope style

Irony, in shoe form... thanks for the photos Georg!

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