Thu, Jun 11, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Seven peaks in 10 hours

Skip the day-tripper and tourist hotspots and head to the Yangmingshan east-west vertical traverse for some serious hiking

By Edward Jones  /  Staff reporter

Descent from Qixing Mountain.

Photo: Edward Jones, Taipei Times

It may surprise some readers, as did me, to know that Yangmingshan (陽明山) is more than just a place for a leisurely stroll amongst the cherry blossoms in spring, or a soak at a hot spring during the colder months. There’s some leg-busting hiking to be done among the verdant green hills of the famous national park; and best of all it’s right on Taipei’s doorstep. Aside from staggeringly-beautiful scenery, the park is also home to an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna, as well as many other unexpected surprises.

The Yangmingshan east-west vertical traverse (陽明山東西大縱走) is an approximately 24km route that takes in seven peaks and can be completed in approximately 10 hours if you decide to tackle the whole stretch in one go. The route is used by many hikers as a training session in preparation for climbing Taiwan’s high altitude peaks such as Jade Mountain (玉山). Alternatively, you can split the route in two to make it more manageable, as I did on a recent trip with three hiking companions.

THE FIRST FIVE PEAKS

The trail starts at Qingtian Temple (清天宮), a small Buddhist shrine, which can be reached by taking a No. 6 minibus from outside Beitou MRT station. There is an initial climb up stone steps, with ample shade provided by a mixture of bamboo and trees that flank the path on either side. We came across a small group of middle-aged men and women, wearing traditional Chinese collarless shirts and I was astonished to see most of their party were walking barefoot. Overtaking them, we headed for Xiangtian Pond (向天池).

Turning a corner along the forest path, a low droning noise suddenly filled my ears until I realized with a shock that I was standing less than a meter away from a large bee hive. “Just walk slowly past. If they swarm at you, then run; and twirl your hat above your head to fend them off,” came sage advice from my companion Wei Chung (唯中), who grew up among the mountains.

Bugs and creepy-crawlies abound within the park. At one point a twig-like insect with camouflage skin and two beady-black eyes poking out from behind a shaggy beard, fell from the branch of a tree onto the hat of one of my companions.

A while later we arrived at Xiangtian Pond, a vast, bone-dry grassy crater. The parched lake, concealed within dense forest, had a mysterious otherworldly feel to it and the tranquility of the place was further heightened by the occasional melodic burst from a bird soaring high above us. On to the first peak of the day, Xiangtian Mountain (向天山), a windswept mound, covered entirely in hardy silver grass. Descending the peak, we were greeted with the dramatic sight of Miantian Mountain (面天山) unexpectedly rising into view, cloaked in mist and blanketed in a dense patchwork of broadleaf forest.

PRAYING TO THE MOUNTAIN GOD

Once we had scaled Miantian Mountain, we caught up again with the barefooted group, who joined us on a wooden lookout platform. Brandishing a fistful of smoking incense sticks, one of their party started to perform a ceremony. It belatedly dawned on me: they must be a group of Taoists praying to the mountain spirits. The incense-wielding priest was handed a bottle of rice wine, which he preceded to sprinkle liberally over the mountainside. Next, each member of the group was blessed: a hand was placed on each breast — one at a time, followed by two shakes of the incense sticks — then finally, a further two wafts to the forehead. The whole ceremony was conducted in complete silence.

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