TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Scaling all of “Taiwan 100 Mountains” has been a goal in my life since I took up hiking about 20 years ago but, for several reasons, I hadn’t set foot on any of them until Nov. 10, when I climbed up the Hsuehshan East Peak, situated in the Heping District of Taichung, and having an altitude of 3,201 meters above sea level.
The peak is ranked No. 74 on the list of Taiwan's 100 most-popular mountains with heights above 3,000 meters.
I drove for hours from Taipei to Wuling Farm in Taichung City, via Yilan County on Nov. 9, and camped there on the same night. The sprawling farm is situated on a river valley with altitudes ranging from 1,740 to 2,200 meters above sea level, and the views of the farm are magnificent in any season.
The price for an ordinary berth at the Wuling Farm campsite is NT$1,000. The campsite is large, with hundreds of berths, and very well facilitated, with electricity, water faucets close by, and 24-hour hot water in the bathroom.
The Wuling Farm campsite
On the morning of Nov. 10, I drove roughly 1.5 kilometers or so from the campground to reach the Hsuehshan trailhead.
In fact, there are at least 10 peaks in the Shei-Pa National Park, which are members of “Taiwan 100 Mountains” and not far from Wuling Farm. Therefore, Wuling Farm is a popular starting point for many serious mountaineers.
I had two permits with me to hand over to the Shei-Pa National Park personnel at the trailhead office.
One is the permit to enter the national park, which I had applied for from the website accessing online application for Taiwan National Park Permits about 10 days before the date of entrance. The other permit is permission to enter certain mountain areas to which access is under the control of the government, and I had applied for it at the police station at Wuling Farm as soon as I got there on Nov. 9.
The Hsuehshan trailhead at Wuling Farm
I and my partner started hiking towards Hsuehshan East Peak around 8:45 a.m. A pond on one side of the trailhead office is an excellent spot to take pictures when the weather is sunny.
The distance from Hsuehshan Trailhead at Wuling Farm to Hsuehshan East Peak is 5 kilometers. To reach Hsuehshan Main Peak from the east peak is another 5.9 kilometers. However, making it there was not included on my Nov. 10 hiking plan.
Trees of Taiwan Red Pine and other needle-leaved forests flank most of the trail to the east peak, and across the Wuling Valley the peaks of Nanhu Mountain, Zhongyangjian Mountain, Hehuan Mountains, and Qilai Mountains, all well-known high mountains along the northern section of the Central Mountain Range, are visible between the twigs and pine needles.
At the 4K mark, the legendary Crying Slope, which is a slope of nearly 45 degrees and takes about 30 minutes to cross according to the national park, lay out ahead. However, my partner and I both agreed that the slope doesn’t live up to its name, as we felt it is not as difficult as it is portrayed to be, and not even more difficult than other stretches of the trail.
The Crying Slope
After walking past a couple of arrow bamboo forests, the spectacular Hsuehshan East Peak pops into view at the 5-kilometer mark.
Situated at 3,201 meters above sea level, the east peak stands out from its surroundings. On a sunny and clear day, the vista from the peak offers the red-roofed 369 Lodge and towering Hsuehshan Main Peak to the west, the Wuling Quadruple Mountains, and Nanhu Mountain to the east.
A veiw from the top of Hsuehshan East Peak
As we descended from the mountains, it was getting dark, and we had to use the flashlight from our cellphones to finish the last 1,000 meters of the hike. When we made it back to the trailhead, the national park personnel, who live in the office, were out to greet us, and they had a chat with us under an incredible starry night sky.
As a footnote to my travelogue, I wore slippers to climb the peak, attracting much attention and causing concern from other mountaineers along the way. I repeatedly told them that I had to wear the protective, soft-soled slippers, because parts of the skin on my feet were scraped off during a running trip a few days before the mountaineering trip.