build it (a trail and a cabin) then they (eager hikers) will come. At least that’s what officials
at Yushan National Park in central
Taiwan are hoping, after constructing a two-storey steel-framed solar-powered lodge
on a narrow bluff below the park's eponymous mountain, the 3,952m
to park deputy-director Wu Hsiang-Chien, Paiyun Lodge will open in April 2013, replacing
the aging structure that was last refurbished in the 1970s. The first cabin hosted
more than a million (largely uncomfortable) overnight visitors before they headed
off for the summit, and the park is hoping for equal success with the latest iteration.
like a reasonable goal, but on an island that suffers a near legendary
vulnerability to natural disasters, the mere mortal park officials have limited
is in a unique geological and climatic setting," said Dave Petley, a
landslide researcher from Durham University in England, who spent more than 14
years studying Taiwan’s mountains. "Geologically [the country] is on one
of the most complex and active tectonic collision zones on Earth.
Simultaneously, it is also affected by some of the world’s largest rainstorms.
Typhoon Morakot [in 2009], for example, delivered what in the UK would be about
three years worth of rainfall over a long weekend."
of tectonic uplift, weak rocks, steep slopes, frequent earthquakes and extreme
rainfall, all translate into a place Petley calls the "landslide capital
of the world". And if you think building and maintaining trails in such an
environment is tough, you would be right.
It is something
Yushan National Park head ranger Fang You-shui knows well. A stocky aboriginal
from Taiwan's Bunun tribe, Fang is the man who goes out after every typhoon,
earthquake or monsoon rain and determines the state of the trails. He has seen
an "entire mountainside collapse" deep in the park. When he closes a
trail for repairs, it is closed until he gives the okay to reopen it.
Fang, the steep 10.8km trail to Yushan’s Main Peak has never been shut for more than 10 days, but other routes have not
been so lucky. The Batonguan
Historic Trail, a 90km path across the heart of the national park, suffered
so much destruction after a massive 7.2 degree earthquake in 1999 that it was
closed until 2006. Three years later, Typhoon Morakot bashed the park even
harder and the trail was once more declared off-limits to hikers; it will not
likely reopen until late 2013.
Earthquakes, typhoons and monsoon rains cause yearly damage, and not
just in Yushan National Park. The east coast's 118km-long Su-hua Highway, which
runs along some of the world's highest and steepest seacliffs, is in
such awful shape that Taiwanese authorities are forced to close it multiple
times each year, sometimes for weeks at a time. Roads into the island’s many forest reserves are
wiped out so frequently the reserves seem to open and close with whack-a-mole
like consistency. And the Nenggao
Cross-Island Trail, which cuts into the rugged mountains of Nantou County
in central Taiwan, was closed when access was cut off by a landslide, just as a beautiful new wooden lodge
on the trail was
hazards, Taiwan is still an excellent hiking destination, whether in the
country’s high treeless mountains or in the lush sub-tropical lowlands. In general, trails
are well-maintained and signed, and almost always give a palpable sense that
you are in the heart of something rugged and wild.
After Yushan, the most popular high mountain trail is to the summit of 3,886m
Snow Mountain, the second highest peak in Taiwan. It is a relatively
straightforward 10.9km hike, taking around three days round trip, but there
is a great range of scenery to enjoy, from dense forests of dark fir to mustard
coloured grassy slopes to sheer cliff walls with crinkled boxfold rock
formations. The trail extends, for the adventurous, into a five-day circuit along
Ridge, a narrow craggy ridgeline with sheer drops of 1,000m on both sides.
At lower elevations the choices of trails are near endless. Around
Wulai, a mountain township about 35km south of Taipei, ancient paths used by
the area’s Atayal aboriginals for hunting and trade extend in every direction. The
dense forest cover teems with birds and butterflies, and natural swimming holes
in the rivers are not hard to find. Or the moody, misty 18km-long marble-walled Taroko Gorge on the country’s
east coast offers
an abundance of low altitude trails; one of the most popular trails, the
Trail, is carved into a 500m high cliff wall and is so narrow that hikers
are only permitted to travel in one direction.
need a permit for most high elevation hikes. You can download
applications from the relevant national park websites and should apply at least
a week in advance.
season is from April to May and typhoon season is from June to October, but
heavy rains or earthquakes can hit at any time. If you have applied for a hike
in a national park and the park is closed, you will lose your permit and have
and respect officials’ decisions to close trails. Despite the appeal of heading
into closed areas, it is exceptionally risky to do so and if a rescue is
necessary you will be charged for the full monetary amount.
It is best
to always have a backup hike, especially a trail that only requires a police
permit, which can be granted on the spot. Lower elevation trails are also good
option as they rarely close.