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, August 09, 2009

Typhoon Morakot

In the eye of the storm

The island has been hit by the first proper Typhoon of the year; 'Morakot'. Well, I say hit, but this was a particularly impotent Typhoon by my standards, barely shaking the windows. The island did shut down on Friday, meaning I was working from home. This is okay, but I do tend to get a dose of cabin fever when stuck inside with the sound of rain outside - frustrating and greasy ... but I did manage to complete Mario Kart in Arcade Mode yesterday so all is not lost.

As ever, jumping on the mountain bike this morning managed to blow out the cobwebs and redeemed the weekend. Great feeling it is; riding in the rain when everyone else is indoors. Been off the wheels for a few weeks now, so it was well overdue.

Update: While it has been pretty safe in Taipei, the rest of the island has been pretty hard hit ... best wishes to all those down south who are facing some pretty tough conditions.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009


There I am, just about to get to sleep after fending off jet lag for two nights, and an earthquake comes along and wakes me up. How inconvenient!

6.3 on the Richter scale according the the USGS.

Hualien really gets it bad every time! Luckily, I was asleep for the two after shocks...

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Long Time No See

The phrase 'long time no see' is one of the rare exceptions where it seems that English has absorbed a little piece of Chinese. In this case, the grammar. The sentence structure of 好久不見 (hao 3 jiu4 bu4 jian4) is quite unlike anything else in the English language, and it has been posited that it actually came from China, although other people think it came from native Indians in North America.

Anyway, why am I writing this? I have been locked up indoors for two days, hiding from Typhoon Jangmi, slowly going crazy... and I decided to get back on the Chinese study horse, after a rest of a month or two. Need to work out some nice ways to get some decent study back in my programme, and the blog was the best approach - so, once again, I present Chinese Burn. Let's see if I can keep it up a bit better this time.

A map, showing the relative boredom levels of people stuck inside.

On its way to Japan - take me with you!

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Formoz Festival 2008

Markus, clearly pulling the wool over the eyes of his client in Seattle, chose the best weekend of live music on the island to return for a few days of business. It kicked off in fine style with an impromptu photo session with insane just-graduated Masters students in one of the local "Re Chao" restaurants, and ended with a ballistic scooter ride through Typhoon rain to return Markus back to his hotel.

In between? Another great Formoz Festival, underlined by 1976 in the final, main stage headliner slot - totally wonderful, since they were the first band I got into when I first landed here those four years ago. Is it really four years?

They, or rather the weather, got their timing perfect, with showers arriving on queue to launch the crowd into raucous displays of solidarity, under umbrellas and spot lights. My phone has only just recently switched back on, in fact, after it drank too much. Much like me, in fact. A super night - come back more often, Markus, and bring Michwel next time!

Not very impressed by local microbrewery slops

I managed to flex some contacts and blagged my way into the event for free, claiming I was a journalist for Taipei Times (it's true!), which I feel bad about and all - well, a bit. I did manage to get chucked off stage by security, though, which makes me feel cool and smooth.

Blurry night

1976 rule the roost

Clearly abusing my photography pass, I capture Markus back in his natural environment.

Antagonising the security staff, who were clearly not as enthused by the music as the crowd.

And the afterparty - held at one of the old cabaret clubs in Ximending, and just the coolest, coolest venue in Taipei. The crowd boogied their butts off to the grooves of Public Radio and the best dub band I have heard in years.

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Chance of Rain : 100%

Well, it's been raining for about two weeks now, and I tentatively opened the Taiwan Weather Bureau site to check for the upcoming weekend, and was met with a blank stare of more rain. Fantastic. Except for Friday, where it seems we simply have slightly less rain. For some reason, my memory has blanked any similar periods of such weather, but checking back through the 'Weather' tags I see I am wrong, and indeed Taiwan has endured similarly mind-numbingly dull periods of atmospheric activity.

If you ask me, someone should do something like this. It's effecting my mood, and I spend most of last week nursing a cold, which was inflated to epic proportions by the stress at the end of the week and another car crash of a WeiYa. I think I can cling on though - this time next week I will be in Thailand caressing Margaritas and raising a glass / middle finger to Taiwan. It can't come too soon.

Not so much a weather report, as just coloring in.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Typhoon Update

It was supposed to be the biggest Typhoon in a year, and apart from some plant pots being blown over I am rather disappointed. I say disappointed, and that is probably because I have picked up, somewhat, on the excitement of the locals to having a big Typhoon hit the island; "it's going to be a big one!".

It's probably what I needed though - to be locked inside all day with a pile of DVDs. Clearly, Domino's Pizza has far more accurate meteorological data than the government, because when we called up we had absolutely no problem ordering. I then bravely stepped out into the light drizzle lashing down and fought my way through the desolate streets, to the busy Dominos, picking up some more drinks and crisps on the way.

In all seriousness, I think it hit the centre/south of the island, so we in leafy Taipei were spared. It looks like China is battening down the hatched though, as even the mighty BBC is reporting it. You can check the news here: "South China bracing for typhoon"

Time to crack another Heineken.

That was a close one!

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Typhoon Sepat

I am in great need of a weekend, so it is a bit galling to have the largest Typhoon in a year careering towards the island. Typhoon Sepat, damn you!

Still, we have a pile of DVDs, biscuits flown in from the UK, and loads of cheese, so we should survive. Still a little annoying when we have had great weather this week!

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly in ... Taiwan

It has been raining non stop for about one and a half weeks now. Not 'shower'. None of your English 'drizzles'. And 'precipitation' seems a bit polite for what we are getting here. No, this is angry rain that seems to bounce when it hits the ground ensuring that everything gets wet, no matter what you wear. It's depressing, and wearing constantly damp clothes really gets you down.

Still, when the sun does eventually come out we can be sure that the humidity will go through the roof and I will begin complaining about the inability to breathe instead. Luckily, I suppose, there is little chance of that problem next week - just check the seven-day forecast!

Michael Fish would be proud...

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Weather Bureau

After returning (finally!) from Taidong, I thought I'd quickly check the Central Weather Bureau's web site to check out any geeky stats for what we had just experienced on Green Island and our return passage there.

So, some cool maps for your pleasure.

Satellite image from yesterday at 14:00

Radar map from yesterday too (or at least the most colourful map I could find)

Precipitation right now - the dark red splodge on the south-east coast of the island is where we just came from...


Friday, August 05, 2005


Well I made it back in one piece. One final last night in Bangkok was pleasant, and I spent the evening in the company of some great English medical students that really reminded me of some of my times back home. I have to say, most of the Brits I met abroad have been either dull or total idiots. These were smart, funny and witty and I was able to sharpen my humour blades!

Of course, the flight yesterday was slightly hung over, and the slight anxiety of re-entering the country between jobs made me wonder how my visa would work out. I was told to enter on a tourist entry, and it all worked out fine. Getting back to my apartment was nice - even if it is slightly strange and more like a hotel - so I popped out to meet the guys in Wendels for a beer ... and at that point it was announced it was another Typhoon holiday! Fantastic! My first day at work and I am on holiday. Cannae complain. It did make me think though, that if I had been caught in Bankok I would now be enjoying a couple of gratis days in a 5 star hotel.

So, overall, I liked Thailand. It was all too short, and perhaps the parts I saw were too touristy / back packy but overall it looks like a place worthy of more exploration.

For now, I need to sort some apartment things out, and eventually I will install internet in my place. For now, I am in a gaming cafe surrounded by people playing role-playing games. Worth talking about that some other time...

For now, another day off work.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Typhoon Holiday!

This was the typhoon's position yesterday - it is hard to appreciate from this picture, but it sharply veers from its course as it hits the Taiwanese coast.

The position today - you can see how the 'pond ripple' potential future position of the typhoon have become less broad.

Relaxing here in my local coffee shop, it is hard to imagine that one of the most violent typhoons in recent years has just hit the island. Yesterday, on its collision course with Taipei, Typhoon Haitung veered off course down the coast and hit land in Hualian. As a result, although we all got the day off work today (yay!) the weather is very pleasant. Indeed, Anke, Lars, Tanja and Michael have just arrived to enjoy some coffee and shelter from the warm sunshine outside.


Found a decent photo of the Typhoon's indecisive path now... the first 'loop' in 35 years. Okay, I made that up - but it is the first time a Typhoon's path has changed like that in ages and ages and ages.

For some previous Typhoon coverage, check these posts out:

August 2004
September 2004
October 2004

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