Fri, Aug 10, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Beating the heat in the mountains

A walk along the Tefuye Historic Trail from Zihjhong to Dabang Village rewards with its shaded paths and temperate woodlands

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

My stomach was delighted to see the blue farmer’s truck that is often parked here. From the back of this vehicle, a Hakka lady from Alishan sells hot snacks ideal for people about to set off on a calorie-burning hike.

THE TRAILHEAD

Fortified by turnip-and-mushroom soup and “rice sausage” (糯米腸), I set off down the trail. Very soon, I was walking alongside narrow-gauge railway tracks. Just before World War II, Alishan’s logging railway was extended deep into the mountains to better exploit the area’s cypress stands. By hiking-path standards, the first 3.7km of the Tefuye Historic Trail is broad, straight and fairly flat, because it was cut for trains rather than humans. This railroad, a spur of the Shueishan Branch Line (水山線), operated until the late 1970s.

Despite decades of logging, the forest here looks very healthy. Hikers are seldom exposed to direct sunshine, but at only a few locations is it possible to see across the valley, let alone down to the plains.

Approaching the halfway point, I ran into a group of outdoorsmen who told me they had hiked down to the western trailhead, rested there and were now returning to Zihjhong. When I told them I would be continuing on to Dabang, one said: “That’s more than nine kilometers!”

Seeking clarification, I asked: “From here?”

“No, from the western entrance.”

“I’m a fast walker,” I replied. Because I had gotten on the trail earlier than expected, and the environment was so profoundly restful, I had actually been moving quite slowly. Deciding to speed up, I soon reached the spot where the trail veers off from the rail route and begins to follow an ancient Tsou tribe (鄒族) hunters’ trail. This is why the path is called “historic.”

Over the final 2.6km, I descended 500m. Rough stone steps brought me to western trailhead, where an information board confirmed what I had been told. The village of Tefuye (特富野) was 6.3km away, and Dabang was 3km beyond that community.

The road was like many in Taiwan’s hills: just one vehicle wide, surfaced with concrete rather than asphalt and punctuated with corners so sharp and cambered I was glad I had not driven my Nissan up here.

Anxiety about the distance I still had to cover was outweighed by the energizing joy I always feel in the mountains. I passed vegetable patches and carefully-cultivated bamboo groves, but did not see another human until I was almost in Tefuye. There, reckoning it would be more scenic and more direct than the road, I decided to follow Tefuye Trail (特富野步道, entirely separate to Tefuye Historic Trail). It saved me 1km or more, and I reached Dabang with enough time for a bowl of noodles before catching the 7:10pm bus.

It had been a long day and a long trek (about 22km).

Steven Crook has been writing about travel, culture, and business in Taiwan since 1996. Having recently co-authored A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai, he is now updating Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide.

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