As we edge our way through the darkness, a flash of black and white suddenly appears on the trail in front of us. “Isn’t that snake venomous?” one of our party exclaims.
Moments after encountering the krait, we happen upon a common mock viper settling down to sleep. Our team of amateur explorers moves in for a close look: “There, that vine-like thing in the tree.”
This is no ordinary hike. We are scaling up one part of the Taipei Grand Trail, navigating its 14km in darkness surrounded by a forest crawling with critters.
Photo: James Osborne
TAIPEI GRAND TRAIL — PART I
The 93km Taipei Grand Trail (台北大縱走) incorporates a vast network of existing walkways divided into seven sections, each varying from 11km to 18km. The trail passes through Yangmingshan National Park’s (陽明山國家公園) mountain peaks in the north, along the forest paths of the Four Beasts Hills (四獸山) in the east, all the way down to its completion in Maokong (貓空) in the south.
This year the trail is being promoted, with prizes for completing the entire trail by the end of the year. This got me thinking about all the snakes, mammals and other creatures that might be found after the sun sets. I live to explore Taiwan’s unique and abundant biodiversity, so I knew that I had to get out and explore with camera in hand the Taipei Grand Trail … at night.
Photo: James Osborne
Night hikes, especially in Taiwan, are perfect for those wanting to catch a glimpse of wildlife that only rarely appears during the day. But be careful: hiking at night requires those on the path to be vigilant because you never know when you are going to disturb a deadly pit viper.
The section we are going to tackle runs from Guandu MRT station (關渡站) along forested walkways via Xiaopingding (小坪頂) to Qingtian Temple (清天宮), then continues up steep paths through Yangmingshan (陽明山) to the Erziping Visitors’ Center (二子坪遊客服務站).
We follow a dark labyrinth of forest trails to a chorus of insects, owls and other creatures. Even with such a fierce reputation, our first snake of the night, the krait, is in fact very docile. They are more afraid of us than we are of them. As we approach, it quickly slithers away.
Photo: James Osborne
Further up, a pathside canal runs along a section of trail through Xiaopingding (小坪頂). Not only does it bring water to nearby agricultural areas, but it also attracts an abundance of animals — such as a large king rat snake.
More excitement and more concerns as it crawls up out of the canal and past our party. It then languidly slips back into the water enabling everyone to take a few photos.
MORE THAN JUST SNAKES
Photo: James Osborne
Some creatures, such as frogs, come to make the canal home, some just want a drink, while others like snakes and spiders are on the hunt. Someone spots a large Pingtung Huntsman spider sitting on the edge of the water munching away on a moth.
Above us, we catch a glimpse of a pair of giant flying squirrels nibbling on fruit, their long tails hanging down.
Old abandoned tunnels behind rusty iron gates are bustling with life. Peering into the gloom reveals hundreds of bats darting around.
Lurking nearby are a number of deadly Taiwan habus, lying in wait to feast on passing bats. One emerges pathside and our party marvels at its tortoise-shell patterns.
The habus coil into a striking position. By now the group are growing accustomed to our serpent friends. At every sighting, everyone is learning to respect and appreciate the wildlife, rather than fear it.
Unlike a day hike, when snapping photos of scenery can slow progress, nocturnal treks are often slower due to the abundance of wildlife that emerge. Our party counted at least twelve snakes, three flying squirrels, frogs of various species. Bats and owls flew by, not to mention hundreds of unfamiliar bugs and insects.
Consequently only two of us were able to complete the full first stage of the hike. We continue up into the forests of Yangmingshan National Park. At first the trail is steep, an endless staircase going up and up to around 800m. The trail then levels off and widens for the remainder of the hike. The muddy bed of a seasonal pool sits along the flat section of Miantianping (面天坪), its surface covered with wild boar and deer footprints.
James Osborne has lived in Taiwan for over two years and is hooked on its biodiversity, especially of the nocturnal variety. Visit his YouTube channel (James Osborne) for videos of his nighttime adventures.
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