Island Strong; The Journey to West Peak

Living on a subtropical island such as Taiwan comes with a certain pretense. It can make you soft or it can make you strong. Taiwan is very convenient and that also makes it very comfortable. If you like to be comfortable this is a great place for you, (especially as a foreigner). If you like to visit night markets and watch movies in air conditioned department store theaters in the summer time, and your idea of “exercise” is a game of badminton, then Taiwan is the place for you. Your soul can grow fat and soft and you can enjoy your comfort to the fullest. If you have a lust for adventure, and you find that buying insignificant things is profoundly unsatisfying, and you are willing to get dirty and smelly and oh so stinky in the summer heat, then Taiwan is also the place for you. There is no in-between. It is your choice; soft or strong.

Though I have been to Hehuan Shan four times this spring, it took until the fourth time to make it to West Peak. The Hehuan Range (North, Main, East, and West Peaks) are all part of the Taiwan 100. East and Main are little more than 15 minute walks up an extremely steep hill. Unless you are trying to bag as many peaks as possible from the list, not really worth it for an outdoor enthusiast to waste their time with. North Peak, is an easy day hike and provides a spectacular view of the central and xueshan mountain ranges.

Time Lapse over Hehuan Shan

Xueshan (雪山主峰Snow Mountain) from North Peak (xueshan)

Qilai from north peak 奇萊山 (central)

Central Range point 中央尖山 (central)

Guan shan 關山 (central) and Nanhu  南湖大山 (central)

And on a clear day even Yushan 玉山 (Yushan range)

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

To west peak is another 5 km from north peak. At about the 6.7 km mark. It can be done as a day hike, we discovered a pretty tough day hike. We began our journey at 8 am from the campground near north peak and arrived at west peak around 11:30. The view from west peak was not as spectacular and since it was nearing afternoon we did not get a clear view for very long.

We took a rest as the fog rolled in and made our way back to north peak around 1:00 pm, getting us back to the campsite around 5. The way there from north peak is not as challenging as the way back. There are about 5 small peaks to climb over to get back to the north peak. There is a campsite at west peak, but there is no water source, so as it can be done as an overnight hike, you would have to bring your water with you.

When we arrived it was getting a little too late for comfort. On Hehuan, it is very humid and there is no cover on the peak. When the fog comes in you are pretty much screwed. We packed as quickly as possible and planned on meeting our slower moving companions back on the trail so we could get down before dark. Two people carrying four peoples worth of camping gear wandering around in the fog. We could not see more than a meter or two in each direction. And I thought we were lost for sure. I have never been so grateful for that large mysterious billboard next to the trail in my life. We met our friends and exchanged gear right in time for it to start raining. Now it is about 6 pm and we are waiting for darkness to come at any minute. We still had about 1.3km left to go. Luckily the rain cleared up some of the fog, so on the main trail we were able to see where we were going. Unluckily, the rain brought a storm. We heard the crackle of thunder in the distance and kept moving hoping that it would stay away long enough for us to get down. It didn’t.

It was upon us fast and before I knew it I was on an exposed mountain top in a lightning storm with two metal hiking poles strapped to my backpack. This is when life gets a little uncomfortable. I felt the tingling in my hands after a flash was a little too close for comfort. I only had one kilometer to go and was trying to make it to the tree line without losing sight of my friends behind me. One more big flash set me over the edge. I ran. I missed trail running and that was the most exciting trail run I’ve ever done. I have done the trail several times so I had a general idea of what terrain to expect at which point. I reached the treeline within 5 minutes of starting to run, but in my panicked state didn’t stop. Around the .6km mark I knew I was almost there, the stairs were starting to appear and I knew I was going to make it. I hoped down the last stair in a staircase and turned a corner and wham! Tripped and fell face first onto a tree root. I got up, collected myself for a moment, wiped the blood out of my eye and continued running the .3km I had left. When I got down I iced my eye with my water bladder and waited for my companions. When they arrived about 45 minutes later, everyone was exhausted but in good spirits and laughing at me for panicking like an idiot.

Whatever conditions you face in life or on the mountain, it could always be so much worse. I am so so so grateful that the worst of it was being bloody and cold for about 30 minutes. No one was struck by lightning, we didn’t lose any gear, no car trouble, plenty of water. We were very lucky that the thunderstorm came at the very end of our hike and not somewhere in the middle. The next morning I was happy to feel that familiar mountain soreness in my quads and biked to work with my black eye.

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