Appearances can be deceptive, and that’s definitely the case with Baigu Mountain (白姑大山), the 3,341-meter-high mountain that straddles the border between Taichung and Nantou County. One of Taiwan’s “Top Hundred Peaks” (it comes in at 45 on the list) it’s a surprisingly little-known trek, considering permission to climb it is easier to get than most of its brethren (only a police permit is required), and it’s an absolutely cracking climb.
Baigu Mountain is among the tougher peaks on the list that I’ve done to date (it’s on a level with Chilai North Peak and Nanhu Mountain), but it repays all that effort with its unexpectedly stunning beauty. Photos of the mountain published on blogs and elsewhere usually show only the deceptively gentle, wooded summit dome, which appears little more challenging than a Yangmingshan peak. It’s a tough two-day hike, and one that’ll long stick in the memory, with plenty of knee-breaking ups and downs, and absolutely stunning views over the surrounding wilderness.
The trailhead lies in the middle of nowhere, at the very end of a long, winding track that climbs up from the little Aboriginal village of Hongsiang (紅香), itself reached by a long mountain road (now thankfully paved) from the villages of Wushe (霧社) to the south, or Lishan (梨山) in the north. The road is so narrow that anything bigger than an eight-seater minibus like the one we used to get up there won’t make it. Vehicles stop at the highest farmhouse on the road, guarded by a lovely black pup, sadly kept permanently chained to a post on the veranda of the building, and rather shy of strangers.
Photo: Richard Saunders
Above the farmhouse, a track winds up to a red metal sign that rather sternly announces that Baigu Mountain is “…an advanced trek, potentially dangerous in parts and only suitable for experienced hiking groups.” Baigu Mountain has a certain reputation among hiking groups, mainly because in the past it was often climbed from near Deji (德基) on highway eight, to the north, an extremely steep and strenuous route. Since the stretch of the highway on which that trailhead lies was closed following the devastating 921 Earthquake of 1999, the present trail, from the south, has become the only way to climb the mountain. Tragically, it was while climbing Baigu Mountain in 2011 that solo hiker Chang Po-wei (張博崴) became lost and fell into a gorge not far from the start of the trail. He was only found after a seven-week search, and had died only a few days before his body was found. His mother, Sharon, later went on to found the Taiwan Mountain Association, which has since been fighting to improve education, safety and access to Taiwan’s mountains, holding an annual international conference, and among much else successfully campaigning for easier access by hikers to PLBs (personal locator beacons), the import and use of which at the time of Chang’s accident were strictly controlled and extremely hard to obtain.
It’s four hours from the trailhead to the rough campsite where most people spend the first night, beside the only reliable water source on the mountain: a cluster of three of four dirty-looking brown puddles collectively called Sihyan Pond (司晏池). The water looks disgusting, but tastes tolerable and is fine to drink after boiling or filtering.
Trekkers hoping to summit and get back down the mountain on day two must get up at 3 am on the second day, as it’s a long and tough day’s hike, even with light day packs. The trail ascends steeply through bamboo and dense forest to the southeast peak of Baigu Mountain (3,035 meters), then drops steeply in the first of a series of tiring ups and downs on the way to the final summit climb. On this second day of the trek alone there’s a gain of 1,100 vertical meters, and a descent of 2,000 meters.
Photo: Richard Saunders
After a couple of sweaty hours’ climb, the trail follows the edge of cliffs, and the next section follows a very narrow ridge with sheer drops on either side, some impressive crags, and lots of fairly easy but eventually tiring rocky pitches to scramble up. It’s slow going, but here the mountain finally reveals its real character, with stunning rock formations, beautifully weathered coniferous trees hanging over vertiginous precipices, and panoramas over a huge expanse of rugged, unpopulated wilderness.
The wooded summit dome of Baigu Mountain is visible for some time before the trail climbs through a small patch of grassy meadow and begins the tough final slog to the top, up a huge and very steep boulder slope. It’s an exhausting climb — the toughest part perhaps of the whole trek, and strongly reminiscent of the climb to Yushan Front Peak, but even longer and steeper.
At the top, the mountain falls away precipitously on the far side, and following the narrow blade of the ridge, it’s less than five minutes to the trig point and a sublime, almost 360-degree view. To the north is the huge gorge of the Dajia River (大甲溪). To the west, several mountains of the Seven Heroes of Guguan (谷關七雄) can be seen, and beyond, the huge sprawl of Taichung spreads over the plains in the distance. We even fancy that we can see the sea in the slightly different shade of blue on the horizon.
Photo: Richard Saunders
After a 3am start, trekkers should reach the summit between 7am and 8am. The day is still young, but don’t hang around if you hope to get back to the trailhead before dark — the return hike (including a few short rests, which you’ll definitely need) is a further 10 hours.
Richard Saunders is a classical pianist and writer who has lived in Taiwan since 1993. He’s the founder of a local hiking group, Taipei Hikers, and is the author of six books about Taiwan, including Taiwan 101 and Taipei Escapes. Visit his Web site at www.taiwanoffthebeatentrack.com.
“Long as I remember, the rain’s been coming down,” the song says. The last couple of weeks of wet certainly make it feel that way. The global media has recently observed the change of hitting a 1.5 Celsius degree rise in average temperatures in the next five years has risen to 50 percent. As many scientists have observed, once that level of warming is hit, the planet will reach a slew of tipping points. 1.5C is thus a major threshold. Nature has been sending us ever more urgent distress signals: murderous heatwaves across the Indian subcontinent, giant sandstorms in Iraq, collapsing
May 16 to May 22 Lin Wen-cha (林文察) and his “Taiwanese braves” (台灣勇) arrived in Fujian Province’s Jianyang District (建陽) on May 19, 1859, eager for their first action outside of Taiwan. The target was local bandit Guo Wanzong (郭萬淙), one of several ruffians who had taken advantage of ongoing Taiping Rebellion to establish strongholds in the area. A strongman leader of the notable Wufeng Lin Family (霧峰林家), Lin had impressed Qing Dynasty rulers five years earlier by helping expel the remnants of Small Knife Society (小刀會) rebels from Keelung. Lin’s forces routed Guo’s gang in just 11 days, earning a formal
A weekend getaway where you can escape the summer heat, commune with nature among trees that sprouted before the time of Christ or enjoy landscaped gardens and comfortable accommodations is within easy reach of northern Taiwan. Experience a traditional garden with Chinese and Japanese influences, birdwatching, ecological tours of old-growth cypress forest and one of Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) namesake villas set among orchards with a beautiful view of the Lanyang River (蘭陽溪) valley, all in the Makauy Ecological Park (馬告生態園區). The Northern Cross-Island Highway connects Taoyuan and Yilan counties, passing through misty conifer forests as it climbs over the Snow Mountain
In the world of Chinese-speaking media, “Sydney Daddy” is an Australian YouTube phenomenon: a kind of Alan Jones for Mandarin-speakers, who has found unexpected success, not just in Australia but throughout the diaspora. From his home in Sydney, Edgar Lu, 41, does a talk-back style program two or three times a week, interviewing politicians and local community figures or ranting on issues he cares about. “I think by Australian standards, I’m center-right,” he says. He says he’s not “anti-CCP [Chinese Communist Party], but at the same time, I don’t particularly care what they think.” YouTube offers a platform that is free from the censorship