Sat, Nov 03, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Down and out on Jade Mountain

A climb up Jade Mountain is an adventure that no visitor to Taiwan should miss — just be sure to get enough sleep so that you can summit

By Noah Buchan  /  Staff reporter

A view from Jade Mountain just before the Monroe Pavilion (2,792 meters).

Photo: Noah Buchan, Taipei Times

“Don’t linger,” two Taiwanese warn us as we stand in front of a shinto shrine, fog enveloping the emaciated Taiwan white fir. Mountain ghosts are everywhere and one may lead you off a cliff — a prophecy that seemingly came true three hours earlier when a woman plunged to her death, the victim’s blood staining the jacket of a rescuer we meet just before coming here to the West Peak (玉山西峰): On Jade Mountain (玉山), death is everywhere.

The reality, of course, is far more prosaic. Richard Saunders, a former Taipei Times travel columnist, had told me in June that a group hike up Jade Mountain is something that any outdoorsy person visiting Taiwan has to do at least once, especially the main peak where you can take a picture of yourself with the marker and receive a certificate of achievement (NT$300). The cost: NT$8,500, which includes the permit (mandatory for this part of Jade Mountain), transportation to and from the mountain, two nights accommodation, food and the guide. Having lived in Taiwan for almost two decades, I thought my Jade Mountain experience was long overdue.

Traveling with a group of strangers can be a crap shoot: you can get like-minded people who share interesting stories, or you could be stuck with a group who won’t keep quiet about opinions they think everyone needs to hear. For the most part, our group fell into the former.

The nine of us — our guide, a father and his 11-year old daughter, a South African couple, an Italian woman, a Taiwanese woman and one of my colleagues — meet at the Chiayi train station and drive up the mountain for two hours until we reach Dongpu Lodge (東埔山莊, 2,500 meters), where we will spend the night. When we arrive, most of the other climbers have gone to bed in expectation of waking up at 2am to get an early start on the mountain. Our group will leave at around 8am, climb at a leisurely pace and sleep at Paiyun Lodge (排雲山莊) so we can wake up early the following morning to catch the sunrise on the summit, or main peak (玉山主峰).


Our route up Jade Mountain to the main peak is considered an “intermediate trail,” which means you should be in good shape if you climb it. Stay hydrated; our guide recommends at least two liters of water from the trailhead to Paiyun Lodge. The Tataka (塔塔加) visitor center has a water machine and Paiyun Lodge has hot water and I’m told the tap water there is safe to drink.

What to bring:

Water; ear plugs (for sleeping); snacks for two days; phone charger; sleeping bags are available at Peiyun Lodge (NT$300)

As we enter, our guide shushes our excited voices because two of the three rooms, each accommodating 20 sleepers on bunk beds, are already occupied with slumbering climbers. We examine the facilities, which are spartan: squat toilets, makeshift tables, stools. Electrical outlets are in short supply and there is a pile of mobile phones on a table waiting to be recharged. After a few hour’s banter, we move into the sleeping rooms.

Three hours later, I’m still awake. The climbers facing us begin to stir, rise from their slumber and pack up. One person packs and repacks their gear, headlights dancing off the walls, the rustling of plastic mixed with murmuring: they seem to have lost something and are clearly agitated, a reflection of my own growing annoyance. What is the etiquette here? Can I tell the person to shut the hell up, turn off the light and pack outside, like our guide rightly told us to do? Or should I just hold my counsel in the knowledge that I can’t sleep and, anyway, they’ll probably be gone soon enough.

Another of their party comes into the sleeping quarters and starts asking what his partner is looking for; at that point I and another of our group tell them people are trying to sleep. We do this a second time before they leave. The person next to me soon falls asleep; I don’t get a wink.

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