Dunno if it’s the effects of global warming or just plain bad luck, but this year the elements seem to be throwing us the worst autumn weather I can remember in all my time in Taiwan! Last Sunday evening I saw my first sunset for several weeks while returning from hiking on the northeast coast (wet through, of course), and on Monday it was a real treat to see a couple of stars through the clouds in the night sky. And now another weekend has arrived and gone, and with it another spell of dreary, rainy weather.
But then who needs bright sun and dry trails? Taiwan’s hills have a beauty all their own in wet, misty weather, and a spot of rain does keep the crowds off more popular hikes – usually. Actually there were a surprising number of people out last Sunday morning as we arrived at the shores of Dream lake, the beautiful (and nowadays extremely popular) little lake in the hills north of Xizhi town, just a few kilometers east of Taipei City.
The local authorities have been active here, making sure the lake is accessible to everyone (although it never was hard to reach for anyone with their own wheels) and now a wide stone trail a couple of hundred meters long leads from the parking area at the end of the road to the lakeshore.
I haven’t been to Dream Lake for several years, and while it’s nice to see the lake is now full and undeniably beautiful (now that the trench once dug in the eastern bank that half-drained the lake for many years has been filled), it’s now afflicted by another menace: the ugly white-cloth canopies of Dream Lake Coffee Shop, set up right on the lakeshore. The lakeshore seems also to be a favorite spot for bridal photographs. Arriving at 9 am, we’d been beaten there by a happy couple-to-be, dressed all in white and cream, and watched with mild amusement as the bride was lowered into a rustic rope swing hanging from a tree that leaned over the blue-green water; the bottom of her dress was floating in the cold, algae-infested water while they took shots for the Wedding Album. By the time we returned from the summit of Mt Sin above an hour or two later, the number of soon-to-be-weds had multiplied to at least four couples.
Mt Sin is an almost perfect little climb (what a wonderful Romanisation of the Chinese! More accurate but far less fun would be Mt Xin) . It’s short and easy – you can be up and down in an hour or so – but it’s also great fun, with an impressively craggy eastern ridge which makes for a straightforward but exciting ascent.
The summit is just what a mountain peak should be: a flourish of sloping rock rising to a dramatic vertical drop of many, many meters into the dense forest below, commanding a fine 360 degree panorama over the surrounding countryside. It’s not quite so unspoilt these days: an intrusive and quite unnecessary info board stands on the crown of the rock, and the huge area of surrounding woodland, once almost unbroken, is now punctuated by the odd road, a residence, or (on the distant slopes on Five Finger Mountain to the northwest) the large expanse of the Military Cemetery, where Chiang Kai-shek may, one day, be laid permanently to rest.
Few are likely to complain though, Mt Sin and Dream Lake make for a great quick escape from Taipei; they’re both far enough westwards to escape the worst of the northeast monsoon rains which make hiking a little further east a damp experience for so many weekends of the year. Best of all, this thoroughly lovely patch of countryside sits right on Taipei City’s doorstep; if you have your own wheels, you could be up after breakfast, do a quick circuit of the lake and peak, head back to Taipei and still be home in time for an early lunch.
That’s one of the many things I love about living here.
Getting There: Dream lake and Mt Sin lie to the north of Xizhi Town, a couple of stops east of Taipei main station. A bus every hour or two from Xizhi station passes within about 3 kilometers of Dream lake (it’s a nice walk along the country lane from the bus stop to the Lake); with your own wheels it’s an easy and fairly quick jaunt out there from the city. Take care on the approach road to the lake, however, which is narrow, winding and quite steep in places. The walk is described in Taipei Day Trips one (page 61).