Fri, Feb 02, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: On the Trail of the Four Beasts

The walk up Elephant Mountain may be one of the most popular in Taipei city, but within minutes of the trails are plenty of far less hackneyed hiking opportunities

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

The cliff-bound western face of Lion Mountain.

Photo: Richard Saunders

The stone-stepped path up Elephant Mountain (象山) in Taipei’s Xinyi District must be (along with the Pipeline Trail in Tianmu) Taipei’s most popular short hike. It’s definitely not the place to get away from the crowds, especially on weekends. Aside from that remarkable view of Taipei 101 from the top, however, it strikes me as a rather dull little walk, and hikers can do a lot better in the immediate area.

A popular choice, after scaling the Elephant, is to continue straight ahead and up onto the main ridge behind, to the little rocky flourish of Thumb Mountain (拇指山).

The steep final climb to the peak ensures this is a much less popular destination, but it’s still far from being off the beaten track. Surprisingly, though, just a few minutes’ walk from those very well-trudged routes are several trails and places that are off the radar.

THE BEASTS

The Four Beasts Mountains (四獸山) area consists of about nine rocky little sandstone peaks along two parallel ridges, rising directly above Taipei’s modern city center and Taipei 101.

The lower ridge at the front comprises the four beasts themselves: Elephant, Lion (獅山), Leopard (豹山) and Tiger (虎山) mountains. Behind is the rather higher main ridge of Thumb Mountain. The “thumb” is the rocky peak at the far southwestern end, while the ridge reaches its highest point at the twin peaks of Nangang Mountain (南港山, 374m) and Nine-Five Peak (九五峰, 375m) before slowly petering out as it extends northeast towards Taipei’s Nangang District.

For such a compact area, there’s a remarkable wealth of natural, scenic and cultural variety to discover. It’s also a good work out. Expect to climb nearly a thousand vertical meters on a loop hike covering the four beasts and the three main peaks on the main ridge behind.

The trailhead for Elephant Mountain is clearly signposted from Xiangshan MRT Station (the terminus of the red line), about 500m away, and this is the favored (read: most crowded) route in the whole area.

ALTERNATIVE TRAILHEAD

A more interesting and scenic alternative way into the hills starts from Fengtian Temple (奉天宮), a 10-minute walk from Houshanpi MRT Station on the blue line. The temple itself is quite grand and well worth a quick look, and the stepped path from the back of the complex leading up onto the mountainside, although steep, is short.

At the top of the first climb, Longshan Cave (龍山洞), artificially hollowed out of the sandstone, was once an air raid shelter, but now doubles, rather incongruously, as a cave temple and a karaoke parlor.

The trail follows the ridge, passing a series of rocky outcrops commanding fine views of Taipei 101 and the city, and the path eventually reaches a viewing platform atop the summit of Tiger Mountain. Follow the path past the summit, and when it comes out at a road, turn right. Pass a temple, and just after it turns right along a short dirt trail that leads past an aerial and ends at the edge of a cliff and a fine view — the rather dull summit of Lion Mountain.

The summits of the Elephant, Lion and Tiger are easy to reach and popular, but finding the remaining beast, the Leopard, is a harder proposition, as the trail lies in the least explored part of the ridge. Climb Elephant Mountain, and just before reaching the famed Six Giant Rocks (六巨石) viewpoint, turn left onto a level path contouring the wooded hillside.

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