Written by JT Titmus, (Middlebury College), Student Correspondent for CET Taiwan, Fall 2022
Our adventure for this weekend was to trek the tallest peak in Northeast Asia, the glorious 玉山 (yushan), which means jade mountain. The main peak stands at 3,952 meters, which is quite a contrast from where we sleep and study at sea level in Taipei. Not just anybody is allowed to hike the mountain on any given day. You must apply for a competitive permit in a complicated process. The most comfortable route is to complete the 24km long hike is to spend a night at the lodge closer to the summit, but we were unable to secure a spot there and were lucky enough to even get a regular day hiking permit. Thus, we needed to spend the previous night at a lodge near the trailhead and complete the 10 hour hike in one day.
The logistics of getting there can be a bit rough due to the remote location, so we planned this trip for a 3 day weekend, starting with a night in 嘉義 (chiayi), then taking a shuttle up to 阿里山 (alishan). This first picture is the view of 阿里山 directly from the bus station. It is a truly beautiful area which boasts a host of gigantic trees, which happen to be my favorite kind of tree. I chose to bring a roll of black and white film along because I feel it captures the mountain scenery better, especially with cloudy conditions.
We had a couple hours to kill before getting on our next bus, so we took a hike around the forest loop trail which took us through beautiful cloud forests where we found the stumps of many ancient trees that were cut down due to logging, as well as some that survived because they were deemed too rotten or ugly.
Here are John and Dan, who accompanied me for the first leg of the journey, sitting under a magical tree arch. One of my favorite pictures from the semester due to the otherworldly atmosphere. These trees truly reminded me of being back on the west coast of the US among the redwoods.
We also came across the famous 3 generation tree, which has 3 different trees from 3 time periods growing on top of each other. Not something you see every day. After our hike, we met up with our friend, Nelson, who was already in that area the previous night for another hike, and piled in the bus to our lodging for the night near the trailhead.
We woke up at 4 in the morning in order to start our hike with enough time to make it to the top lodge before the cut-off time. At first, we couldn’t find where to take our permit to be validated and were almost out of luck after going to the trailhead when a kind local helped us out and said there was no need to wait at the police station. This would have cost us our entire hike. The morning was crisp and fairly calm with no rain, but as we gradually ascended, the cloud layer came closer and started to envelop the jagged mountain tops on the other side of the valley.
We hiked around the front peak, pictured above, and continued our way along the trail that consisted of increasingly steep drop offs, bridges, platforms, and stairs. As our elevation increased, the plant life around us gradually changed and became more alpine and less sub-tropical.
We took a stop on a set of stairs and got our picture taken by some kind locals. Pretty much halfway up the mountain by this point! My flat-lander friends were already feeling the altitude, which is known to cause sickness for those who are not young or acclimated. Thankfully I was born in Utah and grew up in Idaho, so these heights do not bother me. Fast forward a couple hours, after passing the lodge near the summit, taking a lunch break, and continuing onward, a light rain began to fall and the wind started to pick up. Visibility quickly decreased and the plant life began to disappear.
We were really on the mountain now, trekking through what might have been terrifyingly treacherous terrain if we could see what was below us. We had to climb up slippery rocks with chains to pull us up, hoping that our shoes would retain their traction. Before we knew it, we had made it to the peak. The wind was torrential, and we couldn’t see a thing, but we knew in our hearts what we had done. Another hiker, dressed up as Captain America, joined us for some pictures.
We carefully made our way down the steep slopes and hurried down the trail to catch our shuttle back. The rain was on and off, but it felt nice as the temperature started to increase going down. Once we were near the trailhead, the sun started to peek out a bit and some clouds lifted, creating a beautiful final stretch that made me want to slow down a tad. Nevertheless, we had a shuttle to catch.
We made it to the trailhead right on time, caught our shuttle back to 阿里山, took the bus to 嘉義, then the high speed rail all the way back home. We didn’t have much to eat that weekend due to the remoteness of the journey but slept well that night. I may have even dreamed about snow. Until next time!