Written by Jonathan Morales (Colgate University) Student Correspondent CET Taiwan, Summer 2017
Every year, the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) sends students off on various “language missions,” which vary from cooking food to playing board games in Chinese. Luckily, I chose the hiking trip, and although it took three days to hike to an altitude of 12,500 feet, it was definitely worth it. We hiked Xueshan, or Snow Mountain, which is the second highest mountain in Taiwan (as I heard rumors that the hike up the mountain was tougher and with better views than that of the tallest mountain). I wasn’t sure what I signed up, but I knew it would be a journey.
After a 4 and half hour bus ride, a 10 minute safety video, and a 1 hour hike through a dark forest at the base of Xueshan, we arrived at our cabin. As you can see in the first image, we arrived around 1:30 am with only our headlamps to show us where our hands were. It was such a unique experience hiking in the dark. We were given sleeping bags and slept on some very hard surfaces! It wasn’t too bad, and besides, I once heard that sleeping on flat surfaces every once in awhile can help your back. It wasn’t until the next morning that I saw that where we all slept were essentially very large planks of wood, which looked like bunk beds, but were definitely not beds. Basically, just wooden bunks.
Breakfast the next morning was an interesting one. It consisted of noodles, lettuce, a slice of ham, and peanuts. Two people forgot to pack a bowl with their hiking gear, so they had to use these really large metal bowls. The bowls were bigger than their heads with only a single serving of food inside! Afterwards, we hiked 4 km! The hike was slow, we took our time, but near the end of it we emerged out of the forest to really begin to see the view of all the surrounding verdant mountains.
The steepest part of the hike was called “crying slope.” Glancing at it from afar, I could definitely tell why it had its name. However, despite the name, it didn’t make any of us cry! We arrived at the east peak of Xueshan which wasn’t the highest peak but definitely had amazing views. At this point, we were surrounded by clouds! Fortunately, the wind would help us out by moving them, letting us enjoy the scenery.
As soon as we arrived to the next cabin, a bunch of us took naps. Waking up early to then go on a tough hike really allows for more quality naptime. The cabin was larger, and the dining area for dinner overlooked a valley filled with clouds. I don’t think a dinner in a highrise overlooking a city can compare to watching clouds seep into a verdant valley. Above the valley there was a very unique cloud formation, resembling a tornado from the base and a bird from above. Within the formation was a rainbow, of product of the recent sprinkle of rain that only happened for 5 minutes. I could look at the view for hours, and that’s exactly what I did.
I spent the rest of the day hanging out with other students from ICLP, and I got to know some of them very well. We played cards in the cabin until other hikers wanted the lights off to go to bed, then we played Mafia outside until it got dark, and then we watched the stars until it got too cold. Being on mountain without any cities nearby meant there was no light pollution; I’ve never seen so many stars in the sky at once. I saw a satellite or two, and even some shooting stars. The night sky was vivid.
The follow day was the big day; we hiked to the very top! The first place we arrived to on the hike was called the “Black Forest.” It got its name from being really dense and not letting much sun in. It was very chilly because it was a boreal forest, which is very unique to find in Taiwan. I’ve spent the whole summer in humid Taipei where you can see palm trees everywhere, so this was a refreshing change of scenery. If i wasn’t climbing tree roots, I was jumping over rocks to not get my feet in streams. The forest was reminiscent of the rural areas surrounding my school in upstate New York. Before arriving to the top, the hiking trail was arduous, lacking firm ground and only having loose rocks.
We didn’t hike all the way down until the next day, so the trip was four days long. It was a really great experience, allowing me to interact with Taiwanese hikers and get to know my classmates a little bit more. When I signed up, all I knew was that this trip was a 4-day hike; I never expected to make several friendships while hiking to altitudes above the clouds.
After many interesting meals and conversations, a midnight hike, sleeping on wood, listening to my Chinese music playlist on repeat, and more, I made it to the top of Xueshan and back to Taipei without even a scratch. Everyone was required to sign up for a “language mission,” and I’m very glad I signed up to hike up Xueshan, because if I hadn’t, I would have spent the whole weekend sleeping!