Xuě Shān 雪山, Snow Mountain, has been on my bucket list since before moving to Taiwan. At an elevation of 3,886 meters, it is Taiwan’s second largest peak. In the winter it has snow (obviously), in June it wasn’t nearly as cold, though that doesn’t mean you can go unprepared.
Xuě Shān is located in Shei-Pa National Park, 雪霸國家公園 Xuěbà Guójiā Gōngyuán. We drove from Taichung on mountain road 14, the same way we get to Hehuan, past Lishan village. You do need to apply for a permit about a month ahead of the time you intend to climb. The permit is not as difficult to obtain as Yushan, Jade Mountain, but because of the level of difficulty (or lackthereof ) it is popular with tourist groups, so the cabin does tend to fill up quickly. So if you have a date in mind, apply ASAP.
It was closed when arrived around eight in the morning, we stopped after finishing the hike and went to the Taiwan salmon preservation/information habitat center thing. The Formosan Salmon, is a subspecies of the West Pacific Cherry Salmon, it is a freshwater salmon that is landlocked in one area of Taiwan. When Taiwan went through a rapid industrial development in 70’s and 80’s much of their native habitat was destroyed. Today it’s only habitat is the high mountain rivers surrounding Shei-Pa. This, in addition to overfishing has lead to near extinction. They are considered a critically endangered species and expected to be extinct in the near future. They looked pretty delicious, no wonder they were over fished.
The trail head is on the far side of the park. At the entrance, there is a ranger station where you check in with your permit and watch an informational video. We got our things together and probably started actually hiking around 10 AM.
Starting a hike at 10 AM in June in Taiwan is like slowly walking in a sauna that gets hotter and hotter each minute, any other hike it would have been far from pleasant. However, the Xueshan hike is tremendously easy. It is a good trail for beginner mountaineers/hikers or someone who wants to try out a two (or three) day hike. We even saw runners coming back on our way out. Just make sure you have appropriate shoes. We saw several people in fashion sports sneakers, a girl wearing a pair of fashion shoes that were intended to resemble hiking boots(but they were suede and had no ankle support), and, maybe the worst thing you could wear on a hike (besides stilettos), one guy struggling on the last km near the peak in basketball shoes. Air Jordans have no place on the mountain. So, if he made it wearing basketball shoes, if you are in decent physical condition, have a decent pair of sneakers, and s decent amount of willpower, it won’t be difficult. I’m sure if I hiked it during the snow season I would have a much different opinion.
The first 2 kilometers to the Chica Cabin (hola Chica que pasa?) is pretty much a walking path for park visitors. It is a slight incline laden with wooden steps, in the shade of the trees. It took us maybe an hour to get to Chica. We took a short nap in the cabin and feasted on Lizi and were on our way again by noon.
After the cabin is a slew of switchbacks for a couple km, until reaching a viewing platform around the 4 km mark. This is where a lot of people stop and rest, and a lot of families and day hikers turn around and go back to the park.
Along the shaded part of the trail there are a lot of Taiwan Red Pine and Red Hairy Rotendendarum
After the viewing platform, is “crying slope” 1 km, of (relatively) steep incline just before arriving to East Peak. It’s nothing worth shedding a tear over, lots of sweat in the middle of the day for sure, but no tears required.
East Peak is at the 5 km point and stands at 3, 201 meters. East Peak was my 10th Taiwan 100 Mountain.
Saliujiu Cabin (369) lies at the 7km mark in the trail. We arrived a little before 4 PM and grabbed bunks away from the tourist group, but escaping a tourist group on Xueshan is nearly impossible. We boiled some coffee and enjoyed the music blasting from the kitchen. The porters were cooking dinner for the tourist groups, and jaming out to aboriginal songs intermingled with some Akon. It was fun to make dinner in the kitchen of such a happy environment.
Most hikers that want to reach the peak for sunrise retire shortly after dinner, between 5 and 7 pm. Then wake up around 1 or 2 to eat breakfast and get on their way to the peak. We took our time with dinner and after we watched the stars and drank tea for a few hours. As is our usual. The temperature dropped drastically as soon as the sun went down, but the night was clear enough to see the Polar Star and Jupiter (usually when you wake up around 2 or 3 am to start hiking, on a really clear night you can see the milky way, no such luck this time). We turned in around 9 and I was woken up by the tour group getting breakfast at 1:00, we actually got up at 2 and were on the trail on our way around 2:30. Before we left one of the porters offered us the mantou left over from the tour groups breakfast, they were still fresh, so we loaded up and spent the first Kilometer from Sanliujiu to the Black Forest stuffing our faces with hot mantou, perfect for a cold early morning start.
The Black Forest:
The Black Forest was eerily quiet, we made our way through quite quickly and caught up with and passed two of the groups on the way out. The trail through the Black Forest is slightly ascending at points, but for the most part pretty easy. Though the trail is easy, the “Black Forest” has it’s place in Taiwan hiking mythology. In the morning in the dark, especially if there is snow, it could be easy to wander off the trail, or to take the wrong junction at the entrance of the forest. Stories of hikers getting lost in the Black Forest are not uncommon, and it could happen to even the most experienced of hikers.
My partner has climbed Xueshan many many times. He has hiked through the Black Forest at night numerous times, and still a strange thing happened. After entering the forest his headlamp went out, so being ever prepared he took out his spare one, that one didn’t go out but dimmed almost immediately after turning it on. We stopped a few minutes later to change the battery and carried on. I noticed he was lagging behind farther than normal then when we got out of the forest went almost into a super speed until the summit. At the top he was uncontrollably shivering, and couldn’t get warm. For a native islander he has a higher tolerance for cold than most people I know, he knows the mountain conditions well, has climbed Xueshan in the snow, even taking an ice climbing course there. So I thought this was a little weird. After, he informed me that he hadn’t remembered anything from the point of changing the batteries in the headlamp to reaching the peak. Almost like dream walking. Strange.
After the Black Forest the summit is only about one km away. This is the steepest part of the hike. The tour groups graciously let us pass, and we were the first to reach the summit just in time for the sunrise around 5:20.
Xueshan is at the tail end of the Holy Ridge and offers a beautiful view of the range. You can see Kalayeshan (喀拉業山 )Taoshan (桃山) Chiyou (池有山) and Pintain (品田山). This is referred to as the “Quaduple Trail Hike” or “Wuling Siux”.
It is different seeing this range up close, rather than the first time I saw it from the distance of Nanhu mountain. When I saw it I knew that it must be in my future. Almost immediately we began to discuss plans of how we could possibly do the whole range in a weekend this coming fall (the average time for completion is 4-6 days).
Just Pintian alone is enough to convert any couch potato into an outdoor enthusiast.
You can see how Pintian was formed by the plates in earth’s crust pushing together and then later carved out by glacial ice.
Part of the beauty of Xueshan is the circque where 369 lies. I hope to see it covered in snow this coming winter.
In the distance you can see Daxueshan (大雪山).
And the unique shapes of Dabajianshan (大霸尖山) and Xiaobajianshan (小霸尖山) make them easy to identify. Dabajianshan peak is currently closed to climbers while it is (hopefully) under maintenance.
And of course you can see the Hehuan range, just in front of it, Nanhu, and behind it Qilai.
We made the short climb over to Beixueshan Not something I would have done in the snow.
It reminded me of a scene from Game of Thrones in the Eyrie.
I couldn’t help but think if we had an earthquake we would be so screwed.
We scrambled back to Xueshan peak where we made some coffee and took out the map to do some mountain shopping (which ones do we want next?). And I fell asleep in the warm sun. I love sleeping on mountain tops.
The descent back to the 369 cabin took exactly an hour at a steady pace.
We took our time and had yet another coffee break and packed our things slowly. It was only 7 km and all downhill. It took us two hours to reach our car, we were back by 2:30 in the afternoon. It was the earliest we had ever finished, after visiting the information center and learning about the Formosan salmon, we decided that one peak wasn’t nearly enough for a day. We had to pass Hehuan on the way back to Taichung, so we decided to bag a couple of the short hikes in the Hehuan range to cross them off our Taiwan 100 lists.
We made it to the top of Hehuanjianshan (合歡尖山) in less than 5 minutes. It is a trail of about 100 stairs. We parked the car in the small lot and ran up in our shorts and flip flops.
Across the street was the trail head for Shimenshan (石門山). This one was slightly longer at .7 km, and took us 20 minutes to do the “peak” and back.
And when we got back to the car we discovered wǒmen yǒu yīgè xiǎo wèntí, the car key is gone. We frantically searched all around the car, no luck. We went back up and down the stairs of Hehuanjian, also no luck. The weather was starting to turn for the evening and get foggy and windy as we were well aware from last weekends Hehuan adventure that it would. We were starting to regret changing after coming down from snow mountain. We had jackets on (lucky!) we had one cell phone (lucky!) and one wallet (lucky!) between the two of us (oh yeah and one native Chinese/Taiwanese speaker, if it was just me I would have been so screwed with my flat broken Chinese. Quing-wen, ni-ke-yi-bang-wo-ma?)
First we tried finding a locksmith, the closest was in Puli, almost a 90 minute drive away. Then we asked how much it would be for a cab: $3,500!! Out of the question, so we thought about other options, ask our friends to scooter here with the spare key, pay for someone to get a taxi to us from Taichung with the spare key, all the while looking over and over again for the key, no luck. I had exams to proctor the next morning I needed to get back to Taichung that night, we had no camping gear it was all locked in the car. We decided to do what any sensible person would; hitchhike.
We decided to ask around and just get as far as we could. If we could get to Chingjing farm, we could get another lift to Puli, and then from Puli to Taichung, or if we found someone going back to Taipei we could have them drop us off somewhere along the way. We would just get as far as we could and take it from there.
The first car we asked was staying to watch the stars, the second was full, the third brought us a couple km to the next parking lot where we could try again, I was mentally preparing myself for a long night. We looked awful, in shorts and flip flops, dirty and smelly with bags under our eyes. When we approached the fourth car, (a couple sitting in their car drinking tea and watching the sunset), and they rolled down their window a cautious 3 centimeters to talk to us, I thought to myself oh my god this is never going to work. We hastily explained our situation and tried to look as polite and proper as possible. They rolled the window back up and had a brief discussion. When they rolled it back down they said they would take us, they lived in Daya and were just about to leave, lucky number 4!
I was a little worried at first about their meticulously clean car in contrast to our dirty appearances. But they turned out to be soooooo nice. They apologized for being overly cautious at first, they were just in China and experienced organized gangs begging rings in the mountains, so they didn’t know what to think of us. Mrs. Lin is an artist and scholar of traditional Chinese painting and Mr. Lin, who is now retired, helps her in their studio.
We were exhausted but treated them to dinner in Dali, in order to thank them for the ride. (exhaustion + trying to speak Chinese = mentally challenged foreign friend). The next morning I had to work and my partner had to work on getting the car back on his own. It took a bus to Puli, then a bus to Chingjing farm, and another hitch from a stranger to get back up to Hehuan and finally drive the car and all our smelly gear back to Taichung.