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

Lin Tsong-sheng, another old hand from the mountain trekking fraternity, followed a slightly different road in developing river tracing, focusing more on the exploratory and scientific aspects of the activity.

Lin is the director of the Taiwan Mountaineering Institute (台灣登山研究所), established in 1990, and the founder of the Four Seasons River Tracing Club (四季溯溪俱樂部), the organization currently most active in promoting river tracing at a practical level. "There is so much more you can learn from river tracing," Lin said, referring to the way Taiwan's rivers cut deep into otherwise inaccessible regions of the island.

"It was while following rivers upstream that I discovered many ancient trails that had been lost," Lin said, recalling how the sport has taken him toward compiling detailed information on aspects of Taiwan's history, especially logging and mining, that had been reclaimed by the forest. These include old logging trails, hunting trails used by Aboriginal tribes and even abandoned settlements.

"I established Four Seasons to ensure a continuity of skilled practitioners," Lin said. The club has an almost weekly program of activities including training days for enthusiasts of different levels and two-day expeditions. Some of its activities for novices have recently begun attracting as many as 100 people, according to Four Season's executive officer Lu Chiu-lun (呂秀鑾). It is a very different situation from when river tracing was the exclusive preserve of a few dedicated enthusiasts, and this too has brought criticism.


"You might almost say that among river tracing people there is a kind of master-disciple relationship," said Chang Kui-chiu (張桂秋), an experienced mountain guide who has been closely involved in river tracing for nearly 10 years. Chuang, a strong supporter of this type of relationship, said that as a high-risk activity, river tracing requires a high degree of coordination between participants. "You get 30 people you don't know in a river gorge together, and anything could happen," he said.

On the other hand, the Taipei River Tracing Club has been criticized for its lack of openness to outside participation. But according to Chang Kui-chiu, this has been true of the whole river tracing fraternity until quite recently. "It was always the same old faces," she said, hastening to add that this is an inherent part of any high-risk activity.

"[For technical river tracing], you need close cooperation among team members, so the number of novices you can take with you is strictly limited." she said. It is common in Taiwan for mountain trekking groups to have 30 or more members, many of whom may be relatively inexperienced.

"In river tracing, you don't have that luxury. A river tracing expedition usually consists of six or seven people at most," Chang said, "and there is usually a clear division of labor. You have your lead climber, your belayer and so on, and in breaking through an obstacle, everyone has a job to do. There is little time to take care of novices."

Specialization is a big part of the complex business of river tracing, for the sport demands expertise in rock climbing, swimming, technical mountaineering and outdoor survival. There is also less possibility of comfort, for in Taiwan's narrow upland river gorges, pitching tents is difficult.

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