To anyone who has never climbed a mountain I don’t think any combination of the right words in any language can adequately describe that feeling that you get on top of a summit. Those first three steps off the trail and onto the peak, when you get your first glimpse of what you worked so hard to accomplish, is impossible to explain to someone who has never felt it. Its like seeing your soul in the eyes of the person you love, so light your heart might float right out of your body and blow over the mountain tops with the passing wind and you could collapse in a peaceful heap of nothing and just die in pure bliss, but your heart is so happy you want to jump or scream with enthusiasm, like you have too many endorphins for your body to handle all at one time.
That’s my best description of mountain high. And I’m addicted.
On Mt. QiLai A.K.A “Black Mountain” this feeling was overwhelmingly strong.
Mount QiLai is located in the central mountain range. Very close to Hehuan Shan. It can be reached from the same mountain road (14) used to get to Hehuan. The trail head is directly across the street from the tourist rest stop. We camped at an elementary school in Wushe and drove up the mountain road early in the morning. You can also camp at the Hehuan rest station the night before starting the hike. Follow the sign pointing in the direction of “Ski Resort” down a cement road and in about 300 meters the trail head is marked. There is a wooden box to submit a copy of your permit, you do need a permit for climbing Quilai which you can apply for on-line.
Qilai is not a hike for beginners, so it is advisable to have some hiking and mountaineering experience before-hand and a partner.
There are four different cabins along the trail. Camping is also permitted, we camped at the last site closest to the peaks about 500 meters from the ridge cabin. The cabin was full (and a bit to near the toilet) and there were quite a few people camping so it would be advisable to bring a tent and plan on camping. You can reserve a cabin space on-line where you apply for the permit. It does get quite cold at night and it was humid which made it colder so bring warm sleepwear.
The first four kilometers is a downhill slope into a valley. Which is great for the start, if you are unaware of the treacherous climb that is ahead it feels like a nice stroll in a really pretty valley. The season for mountain flowers (red-haired rhododendrons) is just about ending, but there are still patches of the pink flowers along the slopes, and the little bright blue,purple ones that are shaped like a star, scattered along the trail. You can see Qilai North Peak in the distance, it is very picturesque.
If you turn around you can see Hehuan North peak behind you across the street.
After 4k the fun starts. What makes Qilai dangerous is its areas that are prone to rock slides. Qilai is not a hike I would agree to do in the rain. We got really lucky (again) and it did not rain until we made it back to the car on Sunday late afternoon.
At the Chengong Cabin we learned from the porters (whom we recognized from other hikes we’ve done) that the water source at the last cabin was a 40 minute round trip trek to down and back up a steep valley to a small stream. We carried about 2 liters of water each and had plenty to last us to our camping spot. But if you do not, or do not want to make the climb to the water source, then Chengong is the last place to either fill up, or post up for the night before continuing on. We did come across one older gentleman on our way out who was completing the summit to main peak in one day, so it is possible, he said he began at 5:30 in the morning, we passed him maybe sometime between 12 and 1 in the afternoon.
The trail is lined with ropes, and though until getting to the summit trails, they are mostly just a precaution, there are a few spots I would not pass through without the support of a rope.
You do not get to the ridgeline until about 6km, so those 2k after the easy stroll in the valley took us around 2 hours. After reaching the ridgeline, the cabin is another .5km along the trail and you and find the signs for access to the north peak and main peak, about 1.5 and 3k from the cabin respectively.
Currently the trail to south peak and east peak are closed this season due to rock slides.
There are a few flat spots along the trail to main peak not far beyond the cabin. We aired out our feet (hen cho!) and set up our tent. The top was very exposed so the only shade we had was the fly from our tent. We took a nap before heading to main peak. The plan was to make it to main peak before sunset and make the journey to the water source before night fall, then we could cook our dinner and pass out. Then the next morning we would pack up our things, go to north peak, come back pack the tent and return to reality.
When we woke up after a half hour rest, the mountain was covered in mist. Like many of the mountains in the central range, the weather changes rapidly, and it can have two different conditions on each side of the mountain. The northern side was sunny and clear, while the southern side was billowing clouds of cool mist looking gray and ominous.
Because it was so humid and misty we tied the sides of the fly as far from our tent as possible, but it still collected a lot of moisture at night, so we let it dry out the next morning while climbing north peak instead of packing it up right away.
Most of the trail to main peak was flat, the last .5k was a straight incline.
At the trail marker, we had some company.
Here the ropes along the trail were put to good use. We were the last ones crazy enough to attempt the summit that close to sunset so we had it all to ourselves when we finally arrived.
The view was spectacular.
The sharp mountain Ta Luo Lo (which is REALLY difficult to say, so I started calling it Ta Yolo) made for a picture perfect mountain-scape.
The climb down was a little scary, but once we got to flat ground we had a nice downhill jog back to the campsite.
The trek to the water source was not particularly enjoyable, but absolutely necessary. Light was fading fast and gone by the time we got to the stream, it was steep and I slid more than I wanted to going down. We made the climb back up in the dark (with headlamps!) with our water for the rest of the trip in tow.
Back at the tent the stars were out and we got our sleeping layers on and started to cook dinner. We saw some lightening in the distance and the weather forecast called for rain so we were watching the cloud movements carefully, if it was coming our way we would have to move. Just in case, we tied two hiking poles together and made a lightning rod a few meters away from our tent, hoping it wouldn’t be needed, and it wasn’t. It looked quite silly in the morning when we woke up, and I’m pretty sure some passing hikers commented on it on their way to main peak, but hey, better safe than sorry.
In the midst of cooking and fashioning a lightening rod, I heard something large walking around our tent and I thought to myself what idiot is walking around without a headlamp. Suddenly we heard a brief high pitched squeak. I almost kicked over the stove I was so startled I looked up to see a pair of bright glowing eyes only about a meter away. Surrounding our tent were four Formosan Sambars, two bucks and two fawns. Not too far off there were two more fawns sniffing around others campsites. I’ve been close to north american deer before, but these were much bigger. They looked a bit furry and had muscle mass compared to what I have known as deer my whole life.
Apparently, these deer like to drink hikers pee, for the salt. Having giant deer watching you pee is quite awkward.
They came back in the morning when they knew there would be a fresh batch…
QiLai has the nickname “black mountain” because of it’s dark green pines. I’ve seen QiLai from Hehuan North peak a few times, It’s always easy to pick out, the big black rock that looks very close by, but the real beauty of QiLai cannot be seen from a distance. It’s dark green forests and gray stone give it a classic high mountain look, the low hanging clouds and mountain flowers only add to it’s beauty.
The next morning we made the 1.5 k journey to north peak before returning.
The path was similar to that of main peak, easy until you get to the steep part. From the top though there were some great views of the central mountain range, and you can see Xueshan and the very end of the Holy Ridge Line. We stayed there for quite some time.
Neither of us wanted to leave, and spent much of the trail back reflecting on what we just saw and discussing if it could possibly be the most beautiful mountain in Taiwan.
Well, we loved it so much we are going back tonight. Maybe this time we just won’t come down.