Sun, Jul 20, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Taking the high road

A 50-day trek over Taiwan's central mountain ranges is intended to help establish a national trail network

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO COURTESY OF WUI YUAN-HO AND TAIWAN FORESTRY BUREAU

Yesterday saw the beginning of a 50-day trek along the foothills of Taiwan's mountain ranges in a project involving 100s of people that aims to promote the establishment of a national trails network across the island. The team, led by freelance guide and writer Wu Yuan-ho (伍元和), will be walking from Pingtung up to Ilan along a network of old trails and a diversity of natural and cultural environments.

The Taiwan Green Trails Trek (台灣綠色山徑縱走活動), as the project is being called this year, is taking place as a cooperative venture between the Taiwan Forestry Bureau (林務局), the main agency behind the promotion of the national trails network, and Sun River Culture (上河文化), a publishing house specializing in hiking maps and other nature-related books. The trek took place for the first time last year with funding from the Forestry Bureau, but this year the government has decided to take a greater role in the organization of the project.

"This year it fitted in very well with our plans to promote a National Trails Network," said Weng Li-hsin (翁儷芯) of the Forest and Conservation Branch of the Forestry Bureau. "So, we decided to take a larger role. A high-profile hike such as this is an ideal way of sparking interest in Taiwan's recreation resources. While a small number of staff and four other participants will be walking the full 50 days from south to north, most will be walking particular sections, ranging from three days to 17 days."

National trails network

The Forestry Bureau envisages something similar to the Appalachian Trail in the US or the Milford Sound Trail in New Zealand that are accessible for families and others who wish to enjoy the beauty of nature without kitting up for survival in the wild.

Long treks along the Central Mountain Range have long been one of the endurance events of Taiwan's mountaineering community, with arduous and often dangerous ridge walks garnering much publicity.

"The high mountains get all the publicity, but they are inherently not that interesting. They are devoid of cultural relics and their natural environment is much less rich than mountains at lower elevations," Wu said.

"These trails, at lower elevations, are rich with reminders of Taiwan's Aboriginal history and also the Japanese occupation," Wu said, referring to the extensive exploitation of mines and forest resources during the colonial period. "There is simply much, much more to see. The flora and fauna is also much more plentiful and diverse. Walking these trails you might even get the chance to see some of Taiwan's wild animals," Wu said, "A rare treat in over-crowded Taiwan."

The conquest of Taiwan's peaks that are over 3,000m has long been a priority with the local mountain climbing community and, ironically, the trails that serve these peaks are now relatively well developed. The trail up Jade Mountain is a case in point, carrying as it does hundreds of people every week, so many in fact that quotas of 90 to 150 people have been imposed to reduce environmental impact.

During the peak season, these quotas are generally full, said a spokesperson for the Yushan National Park, adding that for the month of June, 3,380 people registered at the Tatachia check point in preparation for climbing Yushan. Yushan will be one of the highest points reached along the route.

Trails in the foothills of big mountains such as Yushan are often less well maintained and vegetation at lower altitudes means that after only a year or so, a trail may become unrecognizable to anyone but professional outdoorsmen armed with maps and other written sources. This is also part of the allure of such a trip and highlights the dilemma of opening up the trails.

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