Climbing/Trail Running/Motorbiking in Taiwan, June 2012

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, Hehuan, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Snow Mountain, Taiwan, Taroko, Travel



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The Planning
They say that the US Military operation to kill Osama Bin Laden involved extremely sophisticated planning, immense coordination, tireless training and impeccable execution. Apparently, in a special operation codenamed “Geronimo”, Blackhawk helicopters carrying a team of highly trained US Navy SEALS were sent in the middle of the night into a walled compound in Pakistan. These SEALS bravely accomplished their mission and disappeared just as swiftly as they arrived.

I know what you’re thinking – what an incredible feat involving such meticulous planning, right? Well, big deal! My grandma could have planned that Osama attack. Talk about organizing a trip to Taiwan that involves motorbiking, mountain biking, hiking, running, chilling and climbing. Now, THAT’S real planning.
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Bustin’ my ass in Taiwan – Vacation, August 2011 (Hike & Bike)

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, Hehuan, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Taiwan, Taroko, Travel, Words of wisdom



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Stock markets worldwide were crashing. Consumer confidence was diving. The two most boring and overused words in the English language were once again being heard – “Financial Tsunami”. In such situations, there are only two things one can and should do – hike and bike!

The 1st week of August, 2011
And so, I made plans with Romain Riche to once again revisit the beautiful Taroko Gorge. The last time we were there, we took a car up to Wuling (3000m) from our host Jeff’s place near Taroko Station (ground level). We did some high altitude hiking in Wuling but missed summiting Qilai North Peak (3600m) because of physical exhaustion and poor visibility.

This time the plan was to go back up with a vengeance. But slowly. Very slowly. That’s because the plan called for biking up to Wuling (90km distance and 3000m elevation) instead of driving up there in the comfort of a car. And yes, I do mean bicycle, not a motorbike. After reaching Wuling, the plan was to summit Qilai North Peak and other neighbouring peaks the next day before riding back down to Jeff’s house in Taroko station the following day.

The plan
11th August 2011: Reach Taipei and take the train to Taroko Station. Meet Jeff there
12th August 2011: Ride the bike up to Wuling (90km distance and 3000m elevation)
13th August 2011: Summit Qilai North Peak (3600m) and its cousins
14th August 2011: Ride back down to Jeff’s place near Taroko Station
15th August 2011: Do some hiking near Taroko Gorge and return to the world of work, emails and stocks

11th August 2011
As both of us were late in getting to the airport, our biking and hiking trip had to be preceded by some running to the airport gate. Like VIPs, we arrived just slightly late at the boarding gate.

We reached Rihang Su aka Jeff’s house at 1.30am on Friday.

12th August 2011
The big day was finally here. The plan was to do a 90km long bike ride from an elevation of 0m to 3000m in one day.

Contrary to the advice I usually give to fellow backpackers, I was travelling with a HEAVY backpack. I had everything including a Netbook and Garmin equipment in my bag. At that point, it all seemed important enough to warrant the pain of transporting all of it all the way up to 3000m elevation on a bicycle.

We had about 5 hours of sleep and left Jeff’s place at 8.45am.

Getting ready for some serious biking!

Soon enough, I learnt how to use the gears on the bicycle. First stop was Tiansiang which was 25km away from Taroko, at an elevation of 500m. As we were riding our bikes, the gorgeous Taroko Gorge appeared beautifully – sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right – as the mountainous road meandered through dimly lit tunnels. It was a surreal feeling.

The beautiful Taroko Gorge

We stopped for noodles at Tiansiang (400m) and continued pedalling up, up and away. And then I heard a voice. It wasn’t a hidden ghost or a secret inner-voice. But, it was accompanied by pangs of pain. I finally realized what it was. It was my butt. My butt was complaining big time. Carrying 15kilos on my back and pedalling up steep roads on a bicycle had its toll on my butt. I wanted to ask the famous Jennifer Lopez a question: “How do you insure your butt?”

Lunch at Tiansiang

The butt-breaking journey showed no mercy. After every 500m climb or the passage of 30 minutes (whichever came first), there was a signal from my butt to my brain to stop for a butt-break. I heeded the warning signals. Every butt stop was accompanied by the same question: “We have sent men to moon, build kick-ass (pardon the pun) missile defence systems, built ultra-fast super computers, so why in the name of the King of Butts can we NOT build a bicycle seat that doesn’t kill the butt?”

Putting on a brave (and artificial smile) withstanding butt-pain

Unfortunately though, there was no one to answer that question. Just me, myself and the mountains. And also Romain. But, even he shared the same misery. Slowly, steadily and painfully, meter by meter, we pedalled away through the misery and continued our never-ending climb.

By the time we reached 2000m, that’s all my butt could take and my butt could take no more. It demanded an end to the ordeal. And so, we stopped by what seemed like an old Taiwanese restaurant and I asked the lady there in my sympathetic voice and broken Mandarin whether she could please let the two of us stay the night at her place.

“500 bucks per person”, came the reply in a very business-like fashion. My butt would have paid anything for a stop then. I accepted the offer spontaneously and soon enough, the lady’s son escorted us to some basement floor where she had some excellent beds and toilets. Okay, “excellent” might be an exaggeration but anything that didn’t involve the word “ride” and “bicycle” on this day was indeed an excellent choice.

Butt relief for the day

The Taiwanese restaurant/accommodation place

Enjoying “Taiwan beer” hoping it will cure all butt problems

We slept at about 8pm and work up at a leisurely 8am the following day. Our butts needed that sleep to recuperate.

13th August 2011
We left the lady’s place at about 8.30am after having some much needed breakfast to reenergize.

Leaving in the morning

Reluctantly, I gently placed my fragile butt on the bike seat again. It felt like a hot iron rod was making contact with a recent wound that has far from healed. Cussing once again at the lack of man’s imagination in building an injury-proof bike seat, I continued pedalling. The altitude was 2000m and I was overjoyed at the fact that there was only 800m to go. Then Murphy’s law kicked in. “When things appear to be on track, you don’t know what the hell is going on”. How true. We were sweating and huffing and puffing all the way up to 2500m when suddenly, a 10-minute downhill stretch wiped off a cool 200m elevation gain. The downhill stretch felt great but I knew deep inside that this was going to be one of those things that you temporarily enjoy but end up paying for later.

Feeling my ass

Yet another unpleasant surprise for the day was our mistake with the altitude. We realized after we pedalled our way up to 2800m that there was not just 200m left but 400m more to go! That bit of disturbing news made my butt plan a coup on my mind. I was forced to be a wuss, get off the bike and push it upwards on all the hard uphill climbs. I felt like a loser each time tourists passed by in their fancy vehicles yelling “Ga Yau” (“add oil” – sign of encouragement) as I was pushing my bike upwards. All the macho man feeling inside me disappeared with the altitude!

Finally, as the clock ticked by, my perseverance paid off. We were 3100m above sea level at Wuling (Hehuan San). The sense of accomplishment was big, very big! I had never ridden a bike longer than 25km before and never had I pedalled up more than 500m in altitude!

After our high fives and mini celebration, the next stop of the day was Chengkong Cabin which was on the way to Qilai North Peak (3600m). We could see the Qilai North Peak summit from Wuling; it rose majestically high. The sharp ridge leading to the summit looked quite scary from where we were.

Celebrating after covering over 3000m in altitude on a bicycle

This is Qilai North Peak (3605m)

We started the hike to Chengkong cabin at about 2.30pm and reached a first no-name cabin, 4km away, in about an hour. Chengkong Cabin was about 2.5km further from this cabin. This was where climbers to Qilai North Peak were supposed to spend the night before climbing to the summit the next day.

Trail on the way to Chengkong Cabin

When we reached the Cabin, we were pointed to a small structure shaped like a Mongolian yurt. We weren’t expecting much in the hut – just some mattresses and quilts would have made us very happy. Unfortunately, the cabin didn’t even have that! We gazed at the bare floor as we recollected the surprisingly great accommodation we had the previous day.

The Cabin

Fellow Taiwanese tourists were puzzled when we told them that we didn’t have sleeping bags or yoga mats. They told us we were going to freeze without them and even asked us to head back to Wuling to be on the safe side! Then it struck us – we had heavy backpacks, a Netbook, Garmin equipment and yet we didn’t have the basic necessities needed to survive in the wilderness!

The latest Vivienne Tam high altitude sleeping attire

The Taiwanese tourists couldn’t bare the thought of us dying in their presence. So, they hatched up a plan for us. One of them lent us two yoga mats and the other gave us tent covers which we were told to use instead of blankets. We gladly accepted their offer with gratitude.

Dinner was dry instant noodles as there was no provision for hot water! Although, we did have the opportunity to “cook” instant noodles with natural and very cold stream water. Romain seized that opportunity but I went with the eat-raw-noodles-right-out-of-the-box version. I think both versions were equally terrible.

Our “dinner” – dry noodles

Wearing everything I had and eating dry noodles

The night was cold, very cold! We had to get up every now and then for two main reasons: (1) it was so cold that we had to get up and shake the body around to generate some heat (2) our fellow hikers were keen to impress us with their powerful snoring abilities. In fact, we could hear human “snore” versions of various species of animals sleeping in their natural habitats. For example, we had the “bear” version. This version was a loud snore with some double/triple bass that ended with a high sustained note. Then we had the “wild cat” version. This started off on a very high note, almost like a shrill and did not show any signs of abating.

There was so much loud and constant snoring that sleeping for most part of the night was ruled out. I was thinking to myself that human snoring was as unique as a fingerprint. It felt as though a snoring competition was being held in that cabin that night.

A constant gaze at the watch finally revealed the magic number I wanted to see. “04:00” – that was our cue for let’s-get-the-heck-out-of-here-and-climb-Qilai-North-Peak.

Leaving at 4am

14th August 2011
The snoring in the cabin could have almost started an earthquake! Eager to get away from the noise, we refilled our water bottles with cold stream water and set off on the climb to the summit. The distance seemed short – only 2.7km long but this was no ordinary climb. We had to hurl ourselves up through 700m of high altitude and negotiate very steep ridges that went up and down. Ropes were installed in some of the difficult parts of the climb. We were lucky with the weather – it was a bright, sunny day and the views were simply majestic. We could see the summit of Qilai peak as we headed closer and closer to the top and it looked threateningly scary. The last part was a very, very steep ascent to the summit which reminded me of the final climb to Mt. KK in Malaysia.

We were at the summit in 2 hours – about 6am. The views were among the best I had ever seen before. Simply spectacular. Undulating ridges, greenery, tall peaks, rolling mountains, grasslands – it was like a perfect picture painted by nature.

Finally!

Views from the summit

After enjoying the views from the summit, we headed back to Chengkong Cabin where we said our goodbyes and thank you to the tourists and made our way back to Wuling.

Then came the highlight for the day. Riding back down to 0m elevation from 3100m on a bicycle! That thrill ride started at 9.30am. My butt was wondering why I was back on the bike but at that time, given the thrill of what was coming, my mind took over and all complaints stopped. There was some initial torment as the road went up to 3200m before a rapid drop but I somehow managed to get over that climb in my new not-so-heroic way – I pushed the bike uphill! Romain was a true macho man and didn’t get off the bike at all.

Then came the adrenalin rush. What a feeling that was. The bike accelerated from 0kmh to 45kmh in something like 10 seconds without any effort at all. Pedalling was the last thing on my mind – so I only used the brakes where I really had to. All the effort and butt pain from the previous day paid off. Even my butt was enjoying the thrill of the downhill ride! That adrenalin rush even gave way to some clever thinking. I thought of coining my own proverb then. “Like elevation on a bike ride, money is hard to gain and easy to lose!” (It still needs some fine tuning).

In less than 4 hours of mostly downhill riding, we were at Jeff’s place again. 4 hours – that’s all it took! Riding up took close to 15 hours! This gave us another idea. We had biked up and down on a bicycle but what about doing the whole thing again on a motorbike?

Upon reaching Jeff’s place, that idea took shape. We ended up renting scooters to ride up to Wuling again the next day. I even had a theme for the day – “All altitude gain and no butt pain!”

After we rented the scooters, we did a test drive to the Pacific Ocean and back before returning to Jeff’s house for a fine and truly deserved dinner and beer.

Touching the ocean

15th August 2011
We got up nice and early at 5.30am to begin our ride to Wuling. At 6.15am, we were on our scooters riding away to glory. I was reminiscing the time I had to pedal up that distance. I felt like looking at that steep road and yelling “in your face road!” I saw a couple of other insane bicyclists riding up to Wuling and yelled “Ga Yau”. It was my turn to encourage this time. The riders on the steep climbs could only muster a nod, much like me 2 days back!

Riding back up to Wuling on a scooter

All it took was 2.5 hours to cover the 3200m climb and 90km distance on a scooter! Riding back down took only 1.5 hours! Man has certainly advanced in the field of high-speed transport but is yet to advance in the field of designing proper bicycle seats!

In the afternoon, we said our goodbye to Jeff and left for Taipei. Romain got an upgrade to business class on the flight back to Hong Kong while I remained in the cattle class. I donated all my change to charity hoping I would get lucky with the upgrade the next time around!

Conclusion
Busting my ass in Taiwan was definitely a memorable experience – an experience I am sure to repeat BUT without a heavy backpack and with a custom made seat for the bicycle (with lots of cushion).

Special thanks to Rihang Su (Jeff) and Richard Foster for all the help and information about Taiwan.

And, of course, to lightening fast Romain for waiting for me at various junctions while I struggled on the bike!



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Biking, Hiking, Trail Running and Kicking Ass in Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, Hehuan, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Hiking in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Taroko, Travel



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Taroko Gorge, Hualien City, Taiwan

All pictures are here.

Richard Foster of Barking Deer is here.

The original plan was to visit Mount Yushan in Taiwan and do a couple of kick ass hikes there. Unfortunately though, our last minute planning meant that we weren’t able to secure permits on time. So, Richard Foster of http://barking-deer.com/ aka “the barking deer guy”, who was helping us with the Yushan permits, told us that we could instead visit Taroko Gorge near Hualien. We were initially disappointed to learn that our dream hike in Yushan ended up being reduced to something sounding like “Tomato Gorge” near Hualien but a quick Google on the name lifted our spirits. The images of Taroko Gorge on Google were stunning! Apparently, the place was occupied by the Japanese several years back, hence the Japanese sounding name.

Apr 28th 2011

Armed with a US visa and a sense of adventure, Romain and I set off to Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Well, actually, I was the one who was armed with the US visa, which apparently is a good enough substitute for a Taiwan visa but Romain, who is a French national, didn’t need a visa to visit Taiwan. Anyway, the plan was to land in Kaohsiung, then take the subway to Kaohsiung Main Station in order to find the train time table to Hualien for the next day. We were then supposed to find a place to stay the night in Kaohsiung.

However, China Airlines didn’t quite appreciate the subway timings in Kaohsiung and we ended up arriving 1 hour late at the airport at around 12am. So, we had to instead take a cab to Kaohsiung Main Station. But then again, the Main Station was also shut! Some cabbies outside the station were flocking around, waiting eagerly to drive us to some hotel. Unfortunately though, there was a big barrier between us and the cabbies. Not a physical barrier but a big LANGUAGE barrier! My Putonghua was sadly limited to “Bu Ji Tao Putonghua” (can’t speak Mandarin) which worked great but unfortunately wasn’t a problem-solver by any means. So, the cabbie then called some Taiwan Tourist Translation hotline (can you believe that?!) and bingo! We were communicating! I asked the translator to ask the cabbie when the morning train to Hualien would depart. 0712 came the answer! With that, we decided to go to a hostel to catch some ZZs for a few hours. We ended up choosing the same hostel where Romain stayed the first time he was in Kaohsiung.

This hostel was called Cozy Planet. I called the owner, a guy called Sam who speaks flawless English and he volunteered to pick us up from the station and drive us to his hostel. He even upgraded us to some special room which included a TV, a computer and … a lady who’d make just ANY man do the dishes.

Ok, fine.. a POSTER of the lady.. but it certainly had the same affect!

After sleeping for a mere 4 hours, we were up nice and early the next day, all set to board the 0712 train to Hualien. We took a morning walk to the station at 6am and bought tickets to Hualien City station which cost about 1400 bucks for two.

Apr 29th 2011

Riyang or Jeff?

After a 5-hour long journey, we were all set to meet with The Barking Deer guy’s contact in Hualien station. A guy named Riyang Su who lives in Taroko.
We got off the train and soon saw Riyang waiting in his white van and waving towards us. He seemed like a very friendly guy, more like a long lost friend than just a tour guide. He drove us to his house in Taroko in about 20 minutes.

The house was nice and big! We had two bathrooms and the first floor all to ourselves. I saw Riyang’s name cards everywhere. However, one version of it read “Riyang Su” (the guy we knew) and the other read “Jeff”. We suspected that there could be a fellow guide living in the same house or maybe it was Riyang’s son who was called Jeff. We were inquisitive enough to ask Riyang who Jeff was. “In Taiwan, this guy, that guy, every guy is Jeff” came the response! Ok, so it was a fake English name and quite a popular one in Taiwan! Well, Riyang aka Jeff speaks passable English but you’ve got to speak slowly, very slowly! Otherwise conversations will last longer than you originally intended!

Jeff’s house!

Romain and Jeff

We weren’t really sure what kind of adventure was awaiting us in the next couple of days but we soon realized that Riyang had everything set for us! He drove us to the Taroko Information Center on the same afternoon for our first glimpse of the gorge. It was beautiful! Truly, a geographical wonder!

Taroko has many, many beautiful trails. Hard ones and easy ones. At the tourist center, you can get a map of the place with the common trails on it. However, the timings on the trails are written more for grandmas and grandpas. If it says you need 4 hours to complete a trail, simply divide that by two! We did our first little walk/trail run that afternoon. A trail called the Shakadang trail.

Shakadang Trail

Shakadang Trail – along the gorge. Water is in a beautiful green color

We did a little something extra as well. We went up from about 100m to 850m hoping to find something special but only found a bunch of red flags before we ran out of time and had to return.

Gimme a minute – I am off to the Pacific Ocean

Once we were back at Jeff’s house, he gave us some surprising news. “My house only 5 minutes from Pacific Ocean”, he said. That gave us an idea. We knew he had some great bikes, so we rented two of them and off we went riding to the Pacific Ocean!

Gimme 5 minutes – will ride to the Pacific Ocean and back!

Swimming there was not an option though, as the ocean is over 100m deep, even in the parts closest to shore! But, riding a bicycle on a pavement right next to the ocean was an option and we did exactly that! It was truly an awesome feeling!

After riding for a while, we returned to Jeff’s home for a nutritious and sumptuous dinner in the evening, topped with Taiwan Beer. We were looking forward to more adventure in the following day.

Apr 30th 2011

Biking ain’t easy

We weren’t really sure what we were going to do until the very last minute. Not because there wasn’t sufficient planning but because we didn’t quite understand what Jeff was telling us! But, things became crystal clear when he got our bikes out in the morning, took a picture of us and said ‘bye bye’. Our adventure for the day began shortly thereafter! We had two awesome bikes, a map of Toroko Gorge with the names of several trails on it and plenty of energy and a sense of adventure!

Taroko Gorge stretches a long, long way. From Taroko station, the altitude gradually rises from 100m to 3000m (Wu Ling). At the 23km mark from Taroko station, there is a place called Tiansiang which is at about 450m in elevation. Many beautiful tunnels adorn the road to Tiansiang from Taroko town. Biking on this road is a surreal experience! And, I realized soon, that it can also be a very difficult experience!

Getting ready for a 50Km bike ride!

Biking along the road that hugs the coast of the gorge


Not sure how the Tour De France guys do it but my little elevation gain from 100m to 400m was far from easy! Romain was up ahead speeding away and I was struggling a good 100m behind! Also, my use of the bicycle gears weren’t exactly right. I learnt on the trip that the gear controls on the left side of the handle bar are different from the controls on the right!

Riding in the dark tunnels was especially a thrilling experience! Some of the tunnels were dimly lit and we felt like we were riding bicycles in some caves! There was also a section called Swallow Grotto where they were lending free helmets to everyone crossing that area as it was prone to falling rocks! Not sure how a helmet would really help when a boulder makes a hard landing on your head!

After a thrilling experience (and a lot of pain for me), we reached Tiansiang some two hours later after some hardcore pedaling for 23kms. From there the trail running began! Armed with a map, we attacked as many trails as possible in about half the time it said it would take on the map!

Baiyang Trail – we took an extended path to get there

Baiyang Trail – Picture Perfect! On the way to the waterfalls

Chilling on a suspension bridge

By 4pm, we had biked 50km, hiked/ran close to 20km and were still going strong! We returned to Jeff’s place after that for our next mini adventure. This was a van trip to the Pacific Ocean again. It was actually a viewpoint from where we could see a steep cliff precariously dropping straight into the Pacific Ocean.

Steep Cliff descending straight into the ocean

50Km of biking, 20km of hiking/running and now enjoying the Pacific Ocean!

When we were at the Pacific Ocean, we were watching a crane dumping a speedboat onto the water. This speedboat was then driven to a trawler for bringing back the catch of fish for the day.

Crane picking up the boat and placing it near the ocean

Boat bringing back the catch of fish for the day

This fish called Ma Yiu (or something similar) weighed over 50Kgs

The day ended with another great dinner and left us tired but longing for more adventure!

May 1st 2011

Time for the high altitude stuff!

We had covered a lot of the relatively low altitude terrain (<900m) and so it was time to climb! Jeff drove us to a place called Wu Ling in the morning. Wu Ling is over 80km away from Taroko town and about 3000m in height. It took us 3 hours to reach the place. The temperature plummeted from 27 degrees to 6 degrees in a span of two hours. It was also drizzling which made it feel even colder.

Our plan for the day was to summit Hehuan Shan (3158m) and after that to climb Cilan North Peak (3600m). There was one big catch though - we didn't have the required permits to climb either mountain! But then, as they say, "where there's a will, there's a way!"

“Korea First, Hong Kong Next”

Jeff’s plan was to have us sneak behind a group that had the permits! This was a group from Korea and Jeff warned us to maintain radio silence and follow the Koreans. “Korea first, Hong Kong next”, he emphasized. So, if the permit guys were to check the Korean group, we were to pretend to be a part of that group. This group was 100% Korean. Romain and I were clearly the odd ones out! Unless we had a face mask on, there was no real point in maintaining any radio silence!! The Korean guys were dressed in multiple layers of clothing heavy enough to cause a crater in the ground. Contrastingly, Romain and I were wearing shorts!

As we started making our way to Hehuan Shan, we discovered that “Korea first, Hong Kong next” meant we wouldn’t reach the peak for several hours! And this was a climb from 3000m (Wu Ling) to the summit (3158m!) What would have taken Romain and I a mere 45 minutes looked like it would end up taking a couple of hours! So, we decided to shed our temporary Korean looks and return to trail running! In 40 minutes, we were at the summit!

Wu Ling – 3000m

The path to Hehuan Shan – 3158m

The heavily dressed and super slow Korean bunch

On the peak of Hehuan Shan

Luckily, we didn’t have any permit issues. Our plan then was to descend to the start of the trail (near Wu Ling) and take another trail to Cilan North Peak (3600m). On the way back down, we saw the Korean bunch still struggling to climb up to Hehuan Shan. We wished them luck and started heading towards the second trail for Cilan North Peak!

Our initial impression was that it would be an easy climb as we were to start at 3000m and climb up to 3600m (only a 600m difference) but this was far from reality!! What we didn’t know was that we were heading for a mammoth knee-and-calf-busting hike covering close to 1500m in total elevation through all kinds of slippery slopes!

The trail from Wu Ling to Cilan North Peak passed through three cabins (these were tents for temporary stops). The first cabin was at 2500m! So, the trail went down from Wu Ling (3000m) to 2500m (the first cabin). The descent was gradual and easy. This didn’t take us much time to cover.

The trail was also immensely beautiful. The colors on either side of the trail were spectacular and the vegetation and feel were typical of high altitude places. Tall trees, unpredictable weather, mist rising from the clouds and that fragrance of fresh mountain air! I felt couple of years younger by just taking a deep breath and admiring the landscape!

On the way to Cilan North Peak, from Wu Ling to the first cabin

After reaching the first cabin at 2500m, there was a 300m climb to the next cabin which was at 2800m. This was no ordinary climb, there were ropes, ladders and some big boulders in places that we had to negotiate.

At the 2800m cabin, they checked for entry permits that were needed to climb to Cilan North Peak. We didn’t have them! After some innocent pleading and reassurance that we were experienced mountain climbers, they let us continue. We took photos with the permit guys – a family that lived in this cabin. The guy there spoke great English.

Second cabin, these guys live here and check for permits!

Then came a climb that I won’t forget for a long, long time! This was by far the hardest climb I have done in quite some time. The altitude went up from 2800 to 3530 and it was one hell of a steep climb. 90 degree climbs using ropes while battling fatigue generated by a combination of hard exercise and breathlessness caused by the relatively higher altitude. Because of recent rains, the slope at several parts were so wet and slippery that it felt like the legs weren’t moving at all, despite all the effort pumped into making them move. We eventually reached another rocky slope amidst inclement weather and bad visibility. We had to take a break to refuel.

Taking a much needed break at 3500m

We could not see much beyond a certain point and it seemed like we had missed some turn at the 3530m mark which was to lead to the summit of Cilan North Peak. We were supposed to reach 3600m but instead we ended up seeing a huge drop ahead. It looked like we had missed the turn to the summit. Realizing that visibility was low and that we were running out of time (Jeff was waiting for us in Wu Ling), we had to turn back.

The peak to the left is at 3600m, that’s Cilan North Peak

We reached Wu Ling at about 4.30pm. Jeff was worried. The Korean bunch made it down from Hehuan Shan in a couple of hours and told him that we had taken off without them! They asked him to call the police! He breathed a sigh of relief after seeing us and congratulated us on summiting two difficult peaks within a span of a couple of hours!

Returning after summiting Cilan Peak (well, almost!)

In hindsight, we did feel a little bad because, in truth, we were 70m short of the summit! But, we decided that this would count nonetheless!

Wu Ling

After taking more pictures, we headed back to Taroko town. I was freezing as it was raining and my tee shirt was wet from a combination of both sweat and rain. My socks were also wet and the body had taken quite a beating from all that climbing.

The descent to Taroko town took us to a spot at 1500m where we quite literally were just above the clouds!

Above the clouds! Is this Cloud 9?

We returned to Jeff’s place late at night for some much needed rest!

May 2nd 2011

This awesome adventure looked liked it would soon come to an end as it was time to head back to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong.

However, before that, we had one more 3-hour trail run left in the morning! This one was from a point called Swallow Grotto (before Tiansiang) to almost the start of Taroko Gorge. The beauty of this trail was that it rested precariously at about 700m above the gorge and followed the path of the gorge for the most part. One slip and we would have fallen all the way down to the gorge (and would have broken a couple of bones in the process). This is probably why this trail also required a special permit.

Hi Hamish, Hi Corby

Jeff didn’t know our official names. So, he decided to use some random names for the permits. So, today, I was called Corby Ganesh and Romain was called Hamish Black!

Hamish Black and Corby Ganesh!

Start of the trail

Trail runs at an elevation of about 700m above the gorge

You slip and you faaaaaaaaaaaaaaall!

View of the gorge from the trail

The trail finished at a suspension bridge which connected the mountain to the road.

Suspension bridge

As we were taking photos on this bridge, we saw dozens of tourists walking out of big Volvo buses. It looked like their biggest exercise for the day was to negotiate the steep stairs on their way down from the bus! Romain and I were wishing that we would never end up like them!

Well, all good things eventually come to an end and so did that trail and the trip to Taiwan! We returned to Jeff’s place after this for a shower before boarding the 5-hour train back to Kaohsiung.

In the night, we flew back to Hong Kong.

Summary

This was an A+ trip! 50km of biking, 60km of hiking/running and an altitude climb at 3560m! Couldn’t have asked for more! Riyang Su aka Jeff was a fantastic guide and it felt like we were visiting some friend who knew exactly what we liked and was facilitating that.

Taroko is a place to revisit! We have plans of doing a longish trek from Wu Ling (3000m) to all the way to Toroko Gorge (300m) next time around! Maybe preceded by a nice and long bike ride from Taroko town to Wu Ling (100m to 3000m).

Nature is beautiful!



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