Volunteer forest ranger Yang Tien-tsuan (楊天攢), 71, on June 28 set a national record after ascending Kavulungan (Beidawushan, 北大武山) for the 1,000th time.
Climbing Kavulungan is usually a two to three-day effort, but Yang climbed to the summit and descended on the same day, along with 25 members of the Taiwan 100 Club, of which he is vice president.
The club consists of a select number of mountaineers who have ascended the “100 Peaks of Taiwan,” or mountains that the Chinese Taipei Alpine Association deems remarkable, challenging and beautiful.
Photo courtesy of Yang Tien-tsuan
Among the list’s top five peaks, Kavulungan has an altitude of more than 3,000m, sits at the southern end of the Central Mountain Range and marks the boundary between Pingtung and Taitung counties.
Yang’s achievement is unprecedented and unlikely to be duplicated any time soon, a club member said, adding that climbing Kavulungan is an arduous physical and mental challenge.
Yang said that he has visited Kavulungan often over the past 25 years, although his latest ascent came less than a year after overcoming a serious injury.
Last year, returning from his 996th ascent of the mountain, he slipped and fractured a hip, although he did not know it at the time, he said, adding that he completed two subsequent ascents in great pain before having the injury diagnosed at Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.
“I was afraid that I would not be able to climb mountains anymore,” Yang said.
He started climbing as a form of exercise after being diagnosed with health problems, with Kaohsiung’s Shoushan (壽山) and Pingtung’s Lidingshan (笠頂山) being the first mountains he climbed, he said.
As mountaineering became a consuming passion, Yang first climbed to the summit of Kavulungan in 1994, was accepted into the Taiwan 100 Club in 2001 and became a volunteer on Kavulungan in 2004, he said, adding that he has been to the summit of Yushan (玉山) 20 times.
Kavulungan is a special place: It is sacred to the Rukai and Paiwan communities, a protective barrier against typhoons for southern Taiwan and the source of water for the plains in Kaohsiung and Pingtung, he said.
“The ridge of the mountain is also the county line, and standing with one foot in Pingtung County and the other in Taitung County always reminds me of the magnificence of nature,” he said.
Although beautiful, the trails on Kavulungan are strewn with loose rocks that could trip up the unwary, and he always tries to remove those hazards as he climbs, he added.
Yang said that there are many dangers in mountaineering that he has personally experienced, such as being chased toward a cliff by a swarm of hornets, escaping a severe typhoon by only a day, coming within 2m of a Formosan black bear and being knocked to the ground by lightning.
None of those experiences compare with returning to Kavulungan after Typhoon Morakot in 2009 and finding the trails and forests that he knew by heart obliterated, he said, adding that he was part of the volunteer effort that found new paths and built temporary rope bridges.
Over the past 25 years, Kavulungan has lost some of its wildness and the number of people hiking its trails has increased from 5,000 a year to 50,000 a year, he said.
“It used to be that you usually wouldn’t see another soul ... now some of the sections on the trail have heavy traffic,” he said.
“I am getting old and my body is less than accommodating these days, but I am still going to climb, and pester my mountaineering friends to not smoke and stay out of forbidden areas,” Yang said.
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