Fri, Jun 08, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: Return of the ‘heroes’

Hiking in the mountains can be pleasant even in high summer, especially in places like the Seven Heroes in Taichung’s Kukuan, where relatively high altitudes and a waterfall keep hikers cool

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

The Butterfly Valley Waterfall, off the trail to Tangmadan Mountain in Taichung’s Kukuan, is a perfect spot to cool off after a hot climb.

Photo: Richard Saunders

Summer has kicked off early this year, so hiking (at least at lower altitudes), is definitely not the most comfortable way to spend a weekend. The high mountains are still cool — and having just returned from climbing Jade Mountain (玉山), I can confirm it’s chilly up on top — but intense competition for permits often makes getting into the alpine center of the country a real headache.

MID-RANGE MOUNTAINS

That’s where Taiwan’s countless mid-range mountains (中級山; summits between about 1,500m and 3,000m) become an attractive proposal. Although some require a permit weeks in advance from the Forestry Bureau, the majority can be climbed with just a police permit (issued on the spot at a nearby police station); sometimes a permit isn’t even required. Best of all, hardly any of them are popular, so a peaceful day out in nature can be almost guaranteed.

The fly in the ointment is that the vast majority of mid-range mountains are not widely climbed, and hiking conditions may be more strenuous than on many a higher but more popular mountain. However, one set of mid-range mountains that are accessible as day hikes to the average walker are Taichung’s Kukuan Seven Heroes (谷關七雄). This great septet of peaks is located in one of Taiwan’s three main Japanese-era logging regions, so there’s some historical interest as well, and looms over the magnificent Central Cross-island Highway (中部橫貫公路; Provincial Highway 8) in eastern Taichung. All seven trails are well signposted.

I already described two of the peaks, Baimao (白毛山, no. 6) and Dongmao (東卯山; no. 5) mountains, in this column on Nov. 10 last year, but the remaining five are also great climbs. A good and not-too-hard challenge when the weather cools off is to conquer all seven summits over four weekends.

IF YOU GO

The useful bus No. 153 runs from High Speed Rail Taichung Station (高鐵台中站) to KuKuan Village (谷關), and takes just under two hours. If you want to make a weekend of it, the cheapest place to stay is at Kukuan Monastery (谷關大道院), nine kilometers west of the hot springs resort area. Phone in advance, (04) 2594-3555, to book spaces in the dorm, and be sure to make a donation.


The airy heights of the two highest peaks — Maluan (馬崙山, 2,305 meters) and Basian (八仙山, 2,366 meters) mountains — remain cool on the hottest of days, and the lowest of the seven, Tangmadan Mountain (唐麻丹山, 1,305 meters), features a beautiful waterfall, a perfect place to cool off after the hike.

SCALING THE HEROES

The seventh and lowest of the seven Heroes, Tangmadan Mountain is the shortest hike of the seven (just over five kilometers return; allow 3 to 4 hours), and has the least vertical ascent. However, because the trail is so short it’s among the steepest and rockiest. The main trailhead is at Tongsin Bridge (同心橋), just south of Provincial Highway 8, eight kilometers west of Kukuan Village (谷關).

Right from the start it’s a steep, rocky climb as the trail threads a narrow ridge with precipitous drops on either side. Keep straight ahead at the junction and the trail continues steeply upwards to the summit, which offers partial but impressive views.

Follow the trail ahead down the other side and it descends to another junction. Here, before heading back down to the trailhead by following the trail on the left, you’ll probably want to fork right, dropping down to a stream, and the small but lovely Butterfly Valley Waterfall (蝴蝶谷瀑布), with a deep, cold pool at its base.

In Hoklo (more commonly known as Taiwanese), Pojinjia Mountain (波津加山; 1,772 meters, the fourth Hero) apparently means “really steep mountain,” and it’s a sustained slog to the summit (about 6 hours return) along a trail that starts beside the Siji Hot Spring Resort (四季溫泉會館). This is perhaps the most scenic of the seven Heroes, and there are awesome views from the summit, crowned with a distinctive overhanging rock formation.

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