As autumn finally starts to surface and typhoon season has just about died off, exploration season has finally begun. One of the things I love about Taiwan is that it is so accessible, yet there are parts of it that are still untouched, parts that remain wild, calling to be discovered. All it takes is the desire, a little bit of know-how, and a car is always helpful. Lucky me, I have all three. This weekend we got a taste of both sides of Taiwan, the wild and the tamed.
On Saturday I took the train from Taichung to Taoyuan. I lived in Taoyuan (Nankan) for a year previously and never found anything too exciting, but after moving I realized Taoyuan county has so much beauty to offer. Last year I ran my first half-marathon at the Shimen Resevoir, one of the best, most scenic runs I have done in Taiwan. I also made a failed attempt to go bungee jumping (Website) whom we passed this time on our destination.
Following route 3 (check the road) from the train station, it took about two hours to reach our destination. At km marker 58.5 we reached a hidden trail head, marked with a few tattered hikers ribbons. It is a steep and slippery two hour descent to the river, we had poles and boots to assist us, there are ropes along the way that are sturdy enough to hold the average body weight. The trail was discovered by the parks department and rediscovered by some hikers and shared on-line within the Taiwan outdoors community, whom it seems have as much enthusiasm for sharing information as they do for the outdoors which is absolutely fantastic.
There are two campsites along the trail, the second one being quite large. When the trail meets the river is when you can see what it was all for. Across the river is a natural limestone algae streaked wall spouting steam. Indicating a natural hot spring.
The trick is getting across the river. The river has a strong current and the recent rain made the water level higher than waist deep at its deepest point. Anything past the thighs in a strong current is dangerous. But as always we were prepared. When we got down to the river there is a small rock patch we stopped and had lunch and changed from hiking gear to river tracing. We set up the ropes for crossing after lunch. While we were eating we were joined by three college-aged kids also hoping to get to the hot spring. They were ill prepared. Sports shoes with a frayed rope for crossing. We told them just to use ours and watched carefully as the first one crossed over. We let them be and went back to our lunch, a few moments later I happened to look up and see the last of the three companions clutching to the rope struggling to hold on while she was getting pushed off the edge of the small waterfall by the strong current.. Her two cohorts were trying to pull the rope from the other side to help her fight the current. It was a good thing we saw her, none of them were calling for help, or maybe they were and we couldn’t hear over the river, but they all seemed to just be holding on to the rope not paralyzed out of fear. My partner jumped in the water and was able to steadily walk himself over to her while I was pulling on the rope from our side, and pull her back on her feet. He walked her past the strong current over to the hot spring, but a few more seconds or minutes, she would have been smashed into a rocky whirlpool, all three looked pretty shaken, and though we didn’t talk to them much, left us a sincere thank-you when they headed back up the trail before us.
After lunch and our rescue duties were over, we got our chance to relax in the hot spring. The current was quite strong when crossing but with the proper shoes it was no problem. The pool was filled by two main streams of hot water. One to the left had a stone wall someone assembled under the water to help keep the cold river water out, and there wasn’t a place to sit without getting freezing, but standing up it was like a steaming hot outdoor shower. On the right-hand side the other main stream provided a little place to sit comfortably. Nature’s own jacuzzi.
We had to get back to the road before the sun set so we left around 4PM, the ascent to the car was a lot faster, partially because it had dried a bit and we didn’t have to be as cautious or maybe our muscles were properly refreshed from the long soak.
The next day we chose what we thought was a much more relaxed activity, some sailing in Yilan. We took our turns trying to sail and intermittently almost dunking each other overboard.
We found out quickly it looks easier than it actually is.
However “easy” an activity seems, it is important to be prepared, especially in a country as wild and unpredictable as Taiwan.