Wed, Mar 20, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Mountain lore

Miasan is a small trekking operation that aims to leaven the thrill of mountain climbing with the deep knowledge of what makes Taiwan’s high places unique

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff reporter

“My association with Taiwan’s aborigines has had a huge influence on me,” Lin said, “It has had a profound impact on the way I teach climbers and lead climbing groups. I have spent a lot of time with Aboriginal hunters up in the mountains, and I have absorbed their style of oral transmission, which is different from a formal type of teaching… It’s kind of difficult to express, but I feel that chatting, demonstrations and interaction is a much more effective way of passing on knowledge to climbers.”

Lin’s association with Taiwan’s Aborigines has also led him to include a course titled Aboriginal Hunting School, in which he turns back the clock and teaches climbers basic skills that constitute an important part of an Aboriginal hunters knowledge. It includes everything from making an impromptu shelter to basic tracking.

“This knowledge allows climbers to appreciate the mountain environment in a more intimate fashion. Most climbers at most will look at the scenery, but there is plenty more to see: the marks and tracks of various animals and insects. Often, even if they notice them, they can’t identify them,” he said. “Taiwan does not actually have many mountains that require advanced technical skills [to climb],” Lin said. “Climbing here is more about appreciating a new environment, so I have designed a number of activities to make the most of this.”

Although mountain climbing has grown in popularity in Taiwan, Lin does not believe that either knowledge or respect of the mountains is trickling down to the wider public.

“I don’t think there has been much change in the culture of mountain climbing in Taiwan,” Lin said. “There are an increasing number of small groups, but another trend over the last 10 years has been the increase in purely commercial climbing groups… Climbing has become a form of tourism… There is nothing inherently wrong with such groups, but often, in catering to their customers, travel companies ignore some environmental details, such as dumping kitchen waste on the mountain. They are also disinclined to correct or instruct their paying customers about proper behavior on the mountain, so people do not learn the best way to interact with this environment.”

Whether climbing associations or travel companies, large groups remain the norm, and there is inevitably an impact on the environment and on safety. “Many commercial companies have a 1:10 or 1:12 ratio of guides to climbers, and when many of these are inexperienced, this has safety repercussions,” Lin said.

“One of the features of climbs with Miasan is that the groups themselves are quite small, but we get a lot of repeat customers. There are some who [have learned enough] that they don’t really need to take part in the classes, but they sign up for new courses anyway.”

Lin emphasizes the use of modern equipment that allows climbers to travel relatively light, or which reduce the physical impact of climbing — the use of climbing sticks and head straps — lowering the entry level of physical fitness required for novices, as well as instruction in simple techniques, such as correct breathing and walking style. With smaller groups and programs that emphasize specific learning goals, Lin believes that he is able to provide something more to the exploration of Taiwan’s mountain environment.

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