Each new place in Taiwan I fall in love with this country more and more. Nanhu Mountain is not only the most beautiful place I have seen in Taiwan, but maybe the most breathtaking landscape I have ever seen for my own eyes, anywhere, ever. Nanhu is included in the Taiwan 100, in the western side of Taroko National Park, locating it in Taiwan’s central mountain range. Like Yushan, you must apply for a permit ahead of time, however camping is allowed so if you do not get a spot in the limited space available you are still able to go. After hearing some mountain cabin ghost stories a personal tent might be preferred. The main peak is 3,742 meters above sea level making it the eighth highest peak in Taiwan’s top 100. Since it was a holiday weekend, we did not get cabin spots, but carried our own tent along. We made the trip to the main peak and back in 4 days, three nights, it could have been done in 2-3 days for the really fit and ambitious or longer 5-6 days for those who want to take their time and explore the surrounding area, which I would love to do if I ever have a chance to go back, because there is much to see and it would be hard to tire of the beauty of the central mountain range.
We camped in Nantou County Thursday night in order to be close to the trail head to get an early start Friday morning. We drove about an hour to the trail head where we readjusted our bags one last time, parked the car, and met the rest of our hiking party. There were two large tour buses at the start both bearing about fifteen people, plus our group of seven made for about forty people starting out all at once. It was a holiday weekend and we knew we didn’t get a spot in the cabin so we were prepared that it was going to be crowded.
The beginning of the trail is a paved farmers road, winding switchbacks through what I believe are peach tree orchards about 1km or so until you get into the forest. From there, every .1km is marked by a wooden post. It was hot, I was getting over being sick, and we were ascending quickly. I’m not going to lie, I passed the first 6km of our hike almost in complete misery. We stopped at one point on an incline and let one of the hiking groups pass, when I saw the relaxed faces of the tour group hikers I told myself to get my act together if I was going to let anyone on a hiking tour outdo me I would be ashamed. Though it is a steady incline the first 6 km are pleasant.
It takes you through forest, through a valley of tall silver grass and finally the trail narrows until it plateaus at the 6.8km mark, where we, and everyone else, stopped for lunch.
After food, some coffee, and an hour long nap, I woke up a different person. It is amazing what a quick break can do. Good thing too because the next 5km to the campsite were tough. After the plateu there was 1.1km of switchbacks almost straight uphill.
It flattened out briefly before going uphill again. We stopped frequently due to some altitude sickness with some of our fellow hikers, but finally arrived at the campsite around 5PM. At the sight, there is a single lodge that holds maybe thirty people, and a small flat space for tents, which was crowded. We set up our tent along the trail about .1 before the lodge, refilled our water, made dinner and slept.
The next morning we woke up at 6 in order to pack everything and be ready to hike at 7 AM. We ended up starting around 7:30, but made it to the Nanhu valley campsite at the 21 km mark around 3pm.
As we ascended the view got increasingly dramatic.
We started in a beautiful hemlock forest with a steep incline.
Then it opened up into a valley around the 16 km mark, where there was a smaller campsite. When it opened up we got our first real view of the mountains.
In the middle of the central mountain range is “Central-Sharp Mountain” I’m not sure of the correct Chinese or English name but that is what it translates to, in the distance it looks like a more pleasant version of Mt. Doom.
To the east is a small plateau just above the campsite. You can see a shiny metal object in the distance. I thought it was some kind of weather station at first, but someone in our hiking party explained that it was a Japanese plane from WWII (when Japan still occupied Taiwan) that crashed in the mountains. A search party composed of Japanese soldiers and Taiwanese natives was sent to rescue the pilot. However, that day the weather was disagreeable and they all died in the search. I’m sure there are superstitions regarding the ghosts of this search party, that they still roam in the mountains and try to lure hikers astray but I wasn’t told any about this particular story. I did learn however, that most cabins on mountain campsites have a special room to house dead bodies of hikers before they can be flown back to civilization, and many superstitious hikers have had experiences with haunted lodges in the woods. Luckily, we did not have any spiritual encounters on this journey.
To the west is “Five Rock Mountain” blocking Nanhu from view from the trail because you have to go over the Five Rock mountain before you can actually get a view of Nanhu.
We took a lunch break and then crossed the valley to Five-Rock mountain. On the way to Nanhu Shan we took several smaller peaks (I think technically we did 5 peaks in 4 days).
The one, right before we started the ascent through Five-Rock, was the most significant because it was the tallest one aside from Nanhu we did at a height of 3,536 meters.
The path through Five-Rock was my favorite part, and perhaps the toughest of the whole journey.
We had to go over all five small peaks on the mountain which meant constantly ascending and descending, the ascents getting steeper each time. It was well past the tree line so we were exposed to the wind, the rocks were smooth and a bit unstable making them slippery.
It was lined with ropes for assistance…
And at the end was a resting spot that offered a spectacular view before making the final 500 meter descent into Nanhu Valley.
The view from the peak was amazing. It was a clear evening so we could see a huge portion of the central mountain range (including YuanZuei where we were only a few days before) peaking up through the “sea of clouds” that Taiwan is so famous for.
The tip of the peak faced west so it was a perfect place for viewing sunset. While the sun was setting, on the eastern side the moon was rising.
We hiked down with our headlamps on in the dark. We had a small incident when cooking our pasta dinner. We were too lazy to get out of the tent all the way so we were cooking right outside the doorway in a small cramped space and tipped our stove over when it was filled with pasta. We didn’t want to waste food, and really wanted pasta over instant noodles, so we rinsed it the best we could and threw it back on the stove to finish cooking. I’m pretty sure we ate more than a couple rocks along with it, but we took extra care with the pasta sauce in order to cover up any dirt or gravel we picked up.
The next day we got a late start due to some stomach trouble I was having (not related to the ground pasta) and heard that the first campsite 12 km from the trail head had no water, so we stayed in the 16km campsite and hiked the rest of the 16 back to the car the following day.
The last day we started hiking around 5:30 with the moon setting and sun rising.
The return journey was significantly easier, though harder on the knees because of the rapid decline. I had some lovely tan lines on my legs from the knee braces I was wearing.
This is what happens when you buy boots with eco-friendly soles.
We hiked from the 16km camp to the 12km camp and took a break for breakfast. Our next break was at the plateau where we stopped to have lunch the first day. From there it only took us about another hour to get back to the car. It was hard returning to the city after being in the mountains for four days. My eyes were so happy being surrounded by so much green when I returned to Taichung I was immediately upset. A crashing comedown from my mountain high.
Nanhu Shan is the most beautiful part of Taiwan I have seen before. I would recommend it to anyone in moderate condition that doesn’t mind skipping a shower for a few days. It requires a little planning, but is well worth it.
I had some trouble finding logistical information in English, lucky me gets to explore with the help of Taiwanese friends. If you are visiting Taiwan there are tour groups you can join or luck out and tap into the small hiking community that exists here on the island. There is some information on the Taroko National Park website regarding location and permits; http://www.taroko.gov.tw/English/?mm=6&sm=4&page=3
Trying to coordinate meals for two people for four days took a bit of planning and basic hiking knowledge (aka logic). We brought; two bags of trail mix per person, oats, instant coffee, tea, homemade bread, 6 hard boiled eggs,3 apples per person, 2 fun size snickers per person, dehydrated rice, rice noodles, instant soup mix, dehydrated cabbage, mushrooms, and seaweed, and onion some broccoli type vegetable, dehydrated tomato sauce and pasta noodles (more about those later), and two packages of instant noodles for absolute backup. And we started with about 3 liters of potable water per person. The first two campsites along the trail had water tanks, and the last one was right next to the Nanhu river.
Obviously, carrying heavy things like produce is not a good idea. Things that are perishable are not a good idea or should be eaten right away, we ate all of our eggs by the second morning. You want to chose food that has nutritional value and will fill you after a long day of hiking, typically oats and rice are good for long trips. It is always nice to have tea and coffee, for several reasons. For cold nights or mornings you have to boil your water in order to be able to drink it anyway, so it is nice to have some flavor, I am addicted to coffee and the only thing that will get me up early besides coffee is mountains, so put them both together and you have made my day. Another reason it is good to have coffee or tea; if you are running low on water and you can use what little you have to cook, then wash out your dishes and instead of tossing it out boil it and make a tea to cover up the taste.
Instant noodles are not advisable to bring on a long hiking trip, they carry no nutritional value and are full of sodium and chemicals that dehydrate the body.
Other supplies; jet boil camp stove, 3 person Big Agnes tent, camping pad, down sleeping bag, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, gloves, fleece pants and jacket for nighttime wear, rain/wind layer, gas, wool socks, quick dry shirts, zip off hiking pants, map, compass, knife, first aid kit, sturdy hiking boots, whistle, and of course, a camera.