Fri, Sep 27, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Chewed up in the gorge

Ninety minutes is enough time for this easy walk from Kaohsiung’s Danantian Fude Temple, through Panlong Gorge, onto Sinliang Pavilion, and back to the temple

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

At the gorge’s narrowest points, hikers can just about touch both sides at once.

Photo: Steven Crook

First the bad news. If you hike through Kaohsiung’s Panlong Gorge (盤龍峽谷) at this time of year, brace yourself for bites. The resident mosquitoes are fast and hungry. Last week, whenever I stopped to snap a photo, I found myself trying to brush off the bloodsuckers before they could pierce the skin on my neck or my hands.

Unless it’s rained recently — in which case I’d advise you to wait several days so the hillside can dry out — there’s really nothing else to worry about. Even if you somehow got lost, you’d find your way back to a road quite soon. This isn’t the Central Mountain Range, but rather Dagang Mountain (大崗山), which straddles the boundary between Alian (阿蓮) and Tianliao districts (田寮). The mountain’s highest point is 312m above sea level, and nowhere are you more than 1km from the nearest homestead or temple.

I began my hike at Danantian Fude Temple (大南天福德祠), on the mountain’s northside. The shrine, dedicated to a land god, is at the junction of local roads 13 (高13) and 37 (高37). It has its own parking lot.

Around the temple, I didn’t see any signs mentioning Panlong Gorge, so I headed up some steps into the poorly-maintained Fude Park (福德公園). After passing a concrete pavilion, I came across three colorful yet lonely statues that seemed to be an incomplete depiction of key characters in the Chinese fantasy classic Journey to the West (西遊記).

Just beyond the statues, a pair of short red pillars pointed the way to the gorge, and listed the distance as 875m. The trail looked rough and a bit muddy, but finding firm footholds wasn’t difficult, because Dagang Mountain is largely composed of coral limestone. This type of rock is often quite jagged; you wouldn’t want to come crashing down on it, but the risk of slipping isn’t great.

After 465m of twisting and fairly steep forest trail, I came to a narrow road suitable only for 4x4s and the short-wheelbase trucks favored by Taiwanese farmers. A notice hand-painted on a section of bamboo told me to go left. Around 300m down the road, I followed another sign back into the forest.

FAULT LINES

The gorge, which is 247m long, is believed to have been created when a fault line shifted. It doesn’t vary much in width — at a few points, I could touch both sides at the same time — but in parts the walls are as high as a three-story house. This place deserves the other name it’s been given: A Thread of Sky (一線天).

The gorge gets its name from what English speakers call Strength vine or Burny vine, a rambling creeper that thrives within the defile. As the first of those names implies, the fiber of Panlong Mu (盤龍木, Malaisia scandens) can be turned into good rope.

The rock is dark, and trees overhang the gorge. For much of the way, I was tramping through gloom. In one spot, cinder blocks have been arranged like stepping stones so hikers can keep their feet out of the mud.

I didn’t see any of the snakes I’d been warned about, but there were frogs and long earthworms. Just as I was emerging from the far end of the gorge, I flushed a raptor. Was it hunting squirrels? I’d seen a few scampering along branches.

Ninety minutes is enough to walk from Danantian Fude Temple, through Panlong Gorge, onto Sinliang Pavilion (心涼亭), and back to the temple. From the pavilion, there are views westward over the lowlands. Conditions weren’t especially clear when I got there, but I could make out the twin smokestacks of the power station at Singdagang (興達港) on the coast.

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