Shifen’s Mysterious Bat Cave

In Day hikes, Geological curiosities, New Taipei City by Richard8 Comments

The Bat Cave at Nanshanping, near Shifen on the Pingxi Line, is one of the area’s most mysterious places

The way to the cave is explained on pages 83-84.

The way to the cave is explained on pages 83-84, but take care! For Dongshige Old Trail, see pages 166-170.

Update 2017: The trail to Shifen Bat Cave was improved greatly by hikers in summer 2016, with a new trail cut right up to the mouth of the lower bat cave (pictured here), and a steep but good dirt trail up the hillside to the deeper upper cave, so happily this place is far easier to reach now than it was when this blog entry came out!

The Pingxi Branch Line has been a favorite stamping ground of mine for years, providing many days of happy exploring. Until a couple of weeks ago, though, one place (marked prominently, but inaccurately on several hiking maps of the area) remained stubbornly hidden: the Nanshanping Bat Cave (南山坪蝙蝠洞). However thanks to a solitary  reference to the place on a local hiking blog on the Web (the only one source I’ve ever found with any info about the cave), I discovered how to find the trailhead, at the end of a track nearly a kilometer east of the position marked on both my maps. No wonder I’d never found it before…!

Last Sunday’s hike began with a short excursion along the shortish but quite lovely Dongshige Old Trail (東勢格古道). Beginning at Pingxi village, this route (like many others hereabouts) has been ‘opened up’ by the local authorities, yet here they’ve managed to preserve the natural beauty of the scene and not found it necessary to put in intrusively man-made  conveniences such as the endless flight of stone steps that now sweep straight  up one side of nearby Shulung Point, turning what was once a very fine hike into little more than a long Stairmaster session.

It’s an attractive and moderately easy walk, past a yawning mine entrance, and then up through a picturesque wooded glen beside a cascading stream, but the finest moment of the hike comes at the trails’ modest highest point, as the view suddenly opens out and the grassy southern slopes appear suddenly laid out  below.

It’s a lovely area, with a stream winding through the terraced fields, and views up to shapely peaks high above. Below the footbridge the stream (and path) dive back into the woods, and the second beautiful wooded glen of the hike.

On the way back (it’s a there-and-back walk), we climbed over the strangely named Stinking Head Mountain (臭頭山), whose wooded heights are bizarrely and uniquely overrun with a kind of climbing screwpine, whose spiky foliage gives the area a look unlike any other trail I know. From there, we took on the breathlessly steep thirty-minute scramble to the top of Zhongyang Point (中央尖). This is the most dramatic peak in the whole Pingxi area when seen from the west, when it resembles a steep-sided pyramid, thrusting out of the forest into the sky.  It’s a bit of an anticlimax finally standing at the summit, as while nearly sheer cliffs drop away on both sides, there’s no feeling (unlike at the much smaller but more  airy Filial Son Mountain nearby) of being exhilarating exposed, but the view from the top is pretty good.

The knife-edge ridge atop Zhongyang Point

By the time we emerged back on the tarmac road at Pingxi after the hike, it was nearly 3 pm; here I and remainder of the party went our separate ways, as while they returned to their homes in Taipei and Hsinchu, I decided to find, once and for all, that mysterious Cave.

The trailhead is easy enough to find, although you could be forgiven for walking straight past it if you didn’t know where to look. First cross the suspension bridge across the Keelung River near Shifen railway station. Walk through to the main (Taipei-Ruifang) road at the other side, and turn right through the small settlement of Nanshanping (南山坪).

In less than five minutes, there’s a colorful Land God shrine to the left of the road, slightly set back from it. Walk through the metal temple gate and along the tarmac road next to the shrine.

In a couple of minutes the narrow road bends round to the right to end at an old brick farmhouse. On the left at the bend is a stream, culverted through an overgrown concrete channel with faux bamboo handrails. Follow the right bank of the channel and after a few meters a dirt trail appears, winding gently upwards into an attractive grove of conifers.

The unmarked trail for Nanshiping Bat Cave begins by following the right-hand wall of this green shed

The path soon follows an attractive small stream through the woods. At the junction, keep to the path alongside the stream. The way now becomes harder to find, but keep to the stream, and look out carefully for the plastic trail ribbons. At a couple of tiny metal signs fixed to a tree beside the stream, there are two ways to the cave; either continue following the line of stream (which is often dry this far up, yet rocky and very hard going) or follow traces of path up the bank on the right then contouring the wooded hillside just above the stream for about a hundred meters before dropping to cross it.

Now (about a hundred meters above the metal signs) start veering gradually away from the stream, up the bank to the left. There’s no trail at all now, and the going is rocky, through thick undergrowth so take great care. Head for a solitary white-bark tree, which is a good landmark, and for any plastic ribbons. Your next landmark is a narrow, steep-sided ravine opening up in the wooded hillside and veering off to the left. Once this is found, the going is easier. Clamber a short distance up this side ravine, and the cave (actually a very large, deep overhang) emerges from the gloom at the head of the short gorge, in front.

   According to a local I met near the trailhead when I emerged after my exploration (covered in dirt and probably looking distinctly relieved to have made it out in one piece) this yawning,  cavern hollowed out of the side of Mt. Nanshanping, the rocky ridge that looms over Shifen to the south, was used  during the Second World War as an air raid shelter, complete with two-story structure (now gone) inside to accommodate the villagers.  Access must have been relatively easy in those days, but today, even though it lies just a few hundred meters from the nearest road, the great cave is well hidden in the dense jungle, and getting there is a short but difficult adventure only suitable for experienced hikers. Very few people come here these days and this is prime ankle-sprain country, so definitely don’t try to find the cave alone.

It’s a remarkable sight, looming out of the thick jungle, and much more impressive  in the flesh than my sorry photos make it look, but it’s also a pretty wild place to get to. There’s even a second, smaller bat cave further up the mountainside, and the trail apparently continues on up to the knife-edge ridges of Mt  Nanshanping, so there’s still plenty to explore, but I certainly won’t be going back there without a couple of companions – for safety’s sake.

Comments

  1. I am from the US, living here in Taipei. I like to hike and explore. Let me know if some of you are going again, I would like to go and see it!!

    1. Author

      Thanks for writing Dan! Not sure when I’ll go back to the Bat Cave: it’s a short way, but extremely rough and overgrown, although I do want to return, if only to get a better photo! You are however very welcome to join our group, Taipei Hikers, on Facebook if you like, so you receive details of all upcoming hikes. Hope to see you on one one day!

  2. Thanks for your response. btw how deep is the cave? did you guys actually go in? I read this blog and was trying to get my bearings. From Taipei, how would I get there, and then find the most ‘direct’ route to the cave. I see you guys hiked quite a bit before you made it there. Is there a more direct route upon arriving? My son loves to study WW2 and so has a lot of interest for us to hike there to see the cave as well. thanks!! Dan

  3. Author

    The ‘cave’ is actually just a deep overhang, perhaps 25 meters deep, and it’s an interesting place, but not necessarily worth making a special trip to see – you might be disappointed! It’s quite near the road as the crow flies, but very tricky to reach because the ground below is extremely rough and overgrown, so be careful – it’s easy to get hurt in there. There’s no visible remains of the air raid structure there now. IF you still want to go, it’s close to Shifen station, on the Pingxi Line. Cross the river by the pedestrian suspension bridge next to the station, turn right on the road at the far side, and you’ll see the temple entrance across the road to the trailhead in a couple of hundred meters on the left. Good luck if you go!

  4. ok, thanks, one last question. When you say that “it is quite near the road,” are you referring to the cave itself? How far a walk is it after I enter the trail?

  5. Author

    Yep, it’s only a few hundred meters from the road leading to the little farm house, it’s just slow going and it’s easy to get lost because you won’t see the overhang until you’re quite close. You should be there in 20 minutes or so if you go the right way! The directions on the blog should be enough to find it easily. I didn’t know exactly where it was and took a lot longer stumbling around that damn undergrowth-covered boulder field before I found the way to it by accident!

  6. Author

    The only real cave that I know of in the Taipei area is the Qufu Immortals Cave which is said to be pretty deep, but you’ll need ropes etc to get down it, because it’s vertical, at least at first. It’s fairly easy to reach by MRT and bus, but a bit tricky to find. There’s also a gate over the entrance for safety reasons, although we managed to jiggle it open when we went! I can give you basic details on how to get there if you like, or the route is descbed in my book Taipei Escapes 2, on page 21. Otherwise the only real cave in northern Taiwan is the Bat Cave at Guanxi, in a small pocket of limestone in Hsinchu County. This is quite exciting to explore and apparently quite long (we headed back when it got too iffy – several rope ladders are fixed in there on the (short) vertical chimneys, but other parts really need your own ropes). You need your own transport to get there unfortunately.

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