What a way to close off 2014. The trek was from 13-December 2014 to 20-December 2014. Over a period of 5 days we scaled two of the highest peaks in Taiwan – Xueshan and Yushan. The third was the East Peak of Xueshan which is on the way to the main peak. I will cover Yushan in a seperate post. But, first is Xueshan and it’s East Peak.
Xueshan, also called the “Snow Mountain” is the second highest mountain in Taiwan standing at 3,886m above sea level. Although not that high, it is notorious for it’s strong winds and chill.
This entire trek was a group trek comprising of 16 people from Singapore. So, i was not really alone unlike other treks. We had our briefing sessions with the tour guide prior to departure and were very well informed about the nature of the trek, what to expect as well as the gear/packing list.
Xueshan at 3,886m is not one of the higher peaks that i have climbed. But the view and the trek was amazing. The breathtaking scenery and the panoramic view of the Xueshan mountain range is spell-binding to say the least.
We arrive at Taipei, the capital of Taiwan and board the tour bus that takes us to a villa at Wulin Farm for an overnight rest. The drive to the villa took about 6-7 hours taking into consideration stops for breaks, lunch and a waterfall visit. The villa was very well maintained with basic amenities required. As a climber and a trekker, you cannot expect 3-star facilities. So, what was provided was quite a good facility. Being a vegetarian, i am quite surprised by the variety of Chinese vegetarian dishes that were prepared specifically for me. The food was amazing and i really indulged myself.
After dinner we were asked to separate the gear that we shall be taking up to the lodge and summit from the rest of the items. So, with some re-shuffling, i got my gear together and hit the bed after some small talk with my room mates.
We board the bus to the starting point of the trek (the trailhead), which is about 2 hours from the villa. The excitement was high and everyone was pumped up. Our guide was a wonderful lady who has scaled the peaks so many times that she cant remember. I must say that a lady guide is much better than a man guide in terms of patience, compassion as well as understanding. She made sure that the group stuck together and also adjusted her speed to match ours compared to the other way around.
We reach the starting point of the trek, where we are registered with our passports and a short video introduction of the peak and the trek is shown to us. This is where we meet with the porter who says a short prayer before we commence on the trek.
We commence on the trek at 10 am and being a 6.7km trail to the lodge, the expected duration was about 8-9 hours. The initial trek seemed quite fine with a gentle climb upto about 3 km. There are sufficent rest spots at approximately 1-2 km intervals. However, the group soon started to have problems with altitude, leg cramps and knee injuries. This made the trek a lot slower as we had to re-group at each rest spot before we proceeded onwards.
Towards, the middle, we come across a steep section that can be quite challenging for a first-timer. Aparantly, the taiwanese call this section the “crying slope” as many find it hard. For me, it was not that difficult and most of the physically fit in the group managed to get through the slope pretty fast. A few of them however did suffer from knee injury at this stage.
Following the slope is where we come to the East Peak of Xueshan which stands at 3,201m. We stopped at this point where we waited for the rest to re-group. It was coming close to sunset and we were well behind schedule. However, the positive side is that we managed to take as many pictures of the beautiful surroundings and also see the sunset.
Standing on top of the peak with the clouds below you was surreal. A sea of white with peaks poking out.
At sunset, the clouds covered most of the peaks except for those that were above 3,200m.
Soon after everyone joined, we sped up to reach the lodge, better known as “369 hut”. Apparently, the name “369” came from the initial assumption that the hut was at 3,690m. However, the real height at this location is more like 3,100m.
The facilities at the hut were just bare minimum with a military bunker style double-level flooring. The cabin in the picture is where food is served. Again, vegetarian food was prepared for me. However, i did not do justice to the amount that was prepared as i normally do not eat much on the mountains. So after some vegetables, rice and ginger tea later, we went to our respective places in the bunk to sort out the gear to take to the summit.
The surprising thing is that there is cellphone signal available at the lodge allowing you to make a call or send an SMS. However, there is no WiFi.
All during the trek, the weather held out pretty well and we were expecting the same on the summit day. The weather did not disappoint.
This was the summit day. We started out late at around 6.30am. Initially we were to start out in the night at around 2-3am but given the condition of some of the trekkers, we decided to take sufficient rest and hit the trail when the sun was up. After a quick breakfast we started the trek and came to the “black forest”.
The name comes from the fact that the trees are tall and dense and covers the sunlight completely giving the forest a dark gloomy appeal. The picture above shows the starting point of the forest. Although it was not so dangerous during this time of the year (december), it is considered to be quite so during the months of Jan-March when it snows. The pathway is quite narrows and when covered with snow and there is a high possibility of getting lost.
The trek through the forest lasts for about 2 hours after which we come out to the open space. We walk into a circular valley from where we can see the summit.
The winds are quite strong at this point and we are asked to take extreme caution when walking. Some paths were covered with ice and were quiet slippery.
After another hour of relatively steep climbing we reach the summit. And what a view it was. Amazing panoramic view of the entire Xueshan range.
A few of us had reached the summit quite early and had to wait there for the rest of the folks to drop in before we could take a group picture. It was a 100% success and all, even those fighting their individual demons, had made it to the top.
At the distance, we could see the Yushan peak, Taiwan’s highest peak, sticking out in the picture below. That was our next challenge. In the next 2 days, we will be standing on top of Yushan.
A full 360 degree video from the summit of Xueshan is shown below.
After the group photos and the congratulations and the high-fives, we came back to the “369 hut” where we spent the rest of the day lazing around. We spent that night at “369 hut”.
We woke up quite early at 2.30am and had a quick breakfast and headed down to the Trailhead. The trek in the dark would have been easy were it not for the strong winds that were blowing. We had to maintain a brisk pace to make sure that we quickly moved past the open space and into the the cover of the forest. We reached the trailhead at around 9am. Without wasting much time, we got onto the bus and were on our way to the next challenge – Yushan Mountain.
Throughout the trek, we were lucky to have good weather and sunshine. The weather from the mountain forecast website also provided accurate estimates. On an average the temperature was somewhere between 7-8 degrees at the “369 hut” and fell to between 0 and 2 degrees at the summit. Several paths were covered in ice which was quite slippery. Other than that, it was a pretty safe climb.