Sun, Aug 19, 2001 - Page 17 News List

Taiwan's rivers offer vast potential for adventure

Tracing the sources of rivers has a long history. This activity has recently begun to establish itself as an adventure sport in Taiwan. However, despite an ideal natural environment, organizational issues hinder the sport's development

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan's deep river gorges offer great natural beauty for explorers, but also present risks and technical challenges.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHUANG CHAI-CHUAN

The town of Wulai (烏來), with its tawdry souvenir stores and overcrowded hot springs, its specialty restaurants and Aboriginal dance shows, would seem to be the absolute antithesis of sport and adventure. However, once the crowds have been left behind, the many tributaries of the Nanshih River (南勢溪) provide huge potential for exploration.

Such exploration can range from a little rock hopping at one end of the spectrum to one of the most technically demanding of outdoor sports -- that of river tracing.

River tracing differs from the better known sport of canyoning in that its purpose, as the name suggests, is to trace the source of rivers. This means working upstream rather than following the current downstream. The sport, which is commonly held to have originated in Italy, is particularly popular in Japan, Korea and Hawaii.

Suitable terrain for river tracing in Taiwan is not restricted to Wulai. Chang Shiu-su (張秀姝), vice chairman of Taiwan Mountain Magazine (台灣山岳), which runs a regular feature on river tracing, says that Taiwan has one of the best environments for the sport but agrees at the same time that compared to mountain trekking, the sport is very much in its infancy in terms of development. It has been a long infancy for men like Lin Tsung-sheng (林宗聖) and Chuang Chai-chuan (莊再傳) started building the sport's foundations nearly 30 years ago.

FOUNDING FATHERS

Chuang, who runs an import-export business, has a cheerily irreverent attitude to the sport he has dedicated much of his life to promoting. He is currently secretary general of the Chinese Taipei Stream Association (中華民國溯溪協會), established last September, which is the first attempt to raise the profile of river tracing as a sport independent of trekking or mountain climbing.

"In establishing the Association we want to raise the profile of river tracing," Chuang said, "so that river tracing has the same kind of organizational clout as mountain climbing, [whose highest body is the ROC Alpine Association]." Chuang said it had been extremely difficult to give river tracing the kind of recognition it deserved, saying that the Alpine Association has been around too long and is too set in its ways to accept new ideas.

"Some people [in the Alpine Association] got quite mad at me for setting up the Stream Association," he said. Chuang is a long-time member of the Alpine Association and the managing editor of its monthly journal. He and others in the mountain climbing fraternity suggested that the older generation that now holds most of the influential positions in related organizations are unwilling to move on from traditional ideas of mountain trekking.

Back in 1985, Chuang established the Taipei River Tracing Club (台北溯溪俱樂部), bringing together members of the trekking community who were interested in pushing new frontiers. The Changhua River Tracing Club (彰化溯溪俱樂部), the first of its kind, had been established two years earlier in 1983.

The inspiration, for Chuang, came from Japan, where he studied, and where the sport was already popular. "The Japanese came to Taiwan because the environment here was even more challenging," he said. Following in the footsteps of the Japanese, Chuang and the Taipei River Tracing Club began to explore the island along its intricate network of rivers, seeking out challenging terrain on which to hone their skills.

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