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

"We rarely even carry tents," said Chen Hsiao-mo (陳孝模), a rock climbing specialist with Four Seasons, saying that even on multi-day expeditions, they are protected by nothing more than their bivvy bags.

None of these circumstances are helpful in attracting new blood to the sport. "In the past, in a whole year, we might have four or five people who will go from their first taste of river tracing into the more technical disciplines," Chen said.

But the payoff is considerable on a number of levels. "The great thing about river tracing is that the river is always changing. Not just the scenery, but the terrain you must negotiate. One time you might just rock hop over a place, but the next time you go, maybe you'll have to swim it [because the water level is higher]," said Chang.

"For many people, its breaking through terrain obstacles that is the real challenge," Chang added. For others, there is flora, fauna and even a few historical relics to discover. And for those who reach a high level of technical skill, there is reaching the source of a river in the mountains high above 3,000 meters.

"It's an incredible sense of achievement," said Arthur Mai (麥覺明), a keen river tracer and producer of nature programs.

A NEW GENERATION

"Back in the old days [in the early 70s] we didn't care about anything but getting to the top," Chuang said. "There were the `100 peaks' [all over 3,000 meters] and we just wanted to climb them all." He said there was little by way of equipment or training, and that climbers relied simply on physical toughness.

Conquering the "100 peaks" continues to be a benchmark for outdoors enthusiasts in Taiwan, and a requesite number of attested ascents has long been sufficient qualification for certification as a mountain guide. "It is a complete joke. Taiwan has over 5,500 `guides,' but perhaps only 500 of these are really qualified ... many `guides' cannot even read a map."

Chang of Taiwan Mountain Magazine concurred, saying, "The era of the `100 peaks' is over." The magazine reflects the diversification of mountain sports to encompass a much wider range of specialist disciplines such as rock climbing, wilderness survival and the systematic documentation of the environment.

River tracing in Taiwan was first practiced on a systematic and technically demanding level by the Japanese during the occupation period in their efforts to exhaustively study their first overseas colony. Japanese explorers are still regarded as leading figures within Taiwan's river tracing fraternity, bringing with them new equipment and expertise.

It is possible to see 1982 as the beginning of river tracing in Taiwan, the year a team from the Japanese Osaka Grassshoes Society (大阪草鞋會) visited Taiwan, successfully tracing the Nantsi River (楠梓溪) to the top of the main peak of Jade Mountain (玉山). Chuang Chai-chuan was a member of this expedition and it was a major factor in the creation of the Changhua and Taipei river tracing clubs.

Japanese river tracing enthusiasts have been frequent visitors to Taiwan, relishing the greater challenge of the terrain and the opportunity to venture into virtually virgin territory. This is also part of the excitement for Taiwanese river tracers today, who are still able to discover new parts of this seemingly overcrowded island.

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