Fri, Nov 08, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways & Byways: Exploring Nantou’s 99 peaks

Jioujiou Peaks Nature Reserve, created after the massive destruction of the 921 Earthquake, immerses hikers in nature

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

The well-maintained 99 Peaks Forest Trail includes sections of wooden stairs.

Photo: Steven Crook

Last week, I went to Jioujiou Peaks Nature Reserve (九 九峰自然保留區) in Nantou County’s Caotun Township (草屯鎮). At least, I think I did. I can’t be sure, because I haven’t been able to find a sufficiently detailed map of the reserve, and during the morning I spent in the area, I didn’t see any unambigious boundary markers.

Not knowing precisely where the reserve begins wouldn’t matter so much, but for the warning I saw on a bilingual signboard. Those who enter without authorization may be fined between NT$30,000 and NT$150,000, while those who “damage or alter natural conditions” or collect specimens face an additional fine of NT$200,000 to NT$1 million.

So even if I was positive I’d been inside, I’d be wise not to admit to the fact in a newspaper article. Or perhaps it wouldn’t matter in the slightest. I’ve browsed several Chinese-language blog posts about this corner of Nantou, and none mentions getting a permit.

I approached the area from the southwest by bicycle. Avoiding the busier roads in the center of Caotun, I joined Highway 14 where it points directly at the distinctively steep hills of Jioujiou Peaks. The Chinese toponym implies there are 99 peaks; there are certainly more pinnacles than I could count.

Highway 14 crosses the Wu River (烏溪), runs parallel with Freeway 6 for just under 2km on its northbank, then crosses back over to the southbank. Just east of Shuangdong Police Station (雙冬派出所), I found the turnoff to Shihjhuo Bridge (石灼橋). Crossing the river once again, I followed the signs for the Caotun Bike Trail Jioujiou Peaks Branch (草屯自行車道九九峰支線) and made my way north up a rough, steep and narrow road called Jhongsin Lane (中心巷).

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE

>> If you’re not driving or riding, the #6670 bus from Taichung High-Speed Railway Station is one of the more convenient ways of getting to Shuangdong Elementary School (雙冬國小), a few hundred meters from Shihjhuo Bridge, or to Siapinglin (下坪林), a 20-minute walk from the start of the 99 Peaks Forest Trail. Travel time is around 45 minutes. When boarding the bus, make sure it’ll take Highway 14, as some #6670 services use Freeway 6 and bypass these stops.


There was a dry-as-dust creekbed to my left. To my right, some of the land was used to grow fruit. I stopped to examine a pile of sawdust-like matter dumped beside the road. When I spotted a few mushrooms mixed in with it, I realized that it was spent substrate from a mushroom farm, a concoction that usually includes rice bran, and which some farmers use to improve soil texture.

Some 1.6km beyond Shihjhuo Bridge, I came to the signboard and another bridge. By crossing the bridge, was I entering the nature reserve? A sign said the biking route ended here, but there was no gate or barrier. I kept going on a concrete track that stayed very close to the creek, slowing often to avoid small rocks, distracted by the sheer number and variety of butterflies.

I felt immersed in nature. I couldn’t see another soul, and I couldn’t hear a single motor vehicle. But the garbage made me think I hadn’t yet reached the nature reserve — or, if I had, that it isn’t well maintained or policed. Later, when I was leaving, I took with me more than a dozen plastic bottles, plus several coffee cans.

After another 1.7km, the road began to climb away from the creek. I parked my bike and proceeded on foot. In darker corners of the forest, I found a variety of ferns and several fine specimens of Elephant Ear. According to a Forestry Bureau Web page, the canopy here includes longan and lychee trees, Trema orientalis (a relative of the hemp sometimes called the Indian charcoal-tree), Taiwan copperleaf (Acalypha angatensis) and bamboo.

AFTER DARK

If you were to explore the reserve at night, you might spot a Taiwan ferret badger (Melogale moschata subaurantiaca). Some years back, researchers were surprised to find here the goat-like Taiwan Serow (Capricornis swinhoei), which usually lives at higher altitudes and further from humanity. I didn’t see any Formosan rock macaques (Macaca cyclopis), but I heard them crashing through the canopy, and I saw their feces on the road.

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