After the frustration of postponing the hikes for many weeks due to the crap weather, and finally climbing the Stone Bamboo Shoot in continuous, pouring rain, we finally got some beautiful weather over the last weekend in November to finish the Pingxi Three Peaks (平溪三尖). Height-wise all three are quite insignificant (at 622 meters the highest, Shulung Peak (薯榔尖) is only a little over half the height of Mt Qixing (Seven Star Mountain) in Yangmingshan, but as usual in Taiwan, a mountain’s height is no indicator of difficulty. After all, Yushan, the highest peak in Taiwan, is one of the easiest of the big Hundred Peaks to climb.
Taken as a trio, the Three Peaks would be a challenge for even fit hikers, not because of the distance involved or amount of ascent, but because the going is often so slow and very rough, and it’s necessary to concentrate a lot in many places to avoid a possible broken limb. True, the Stone Bamboo Shoot had most of the challenge taken out of it when the authorities meddled with it a decade ago, ‘improving’ the trails by carving channels out of the rock, large, step-like footholds and – I just can’t stand this – steps! Trails to the other two peaks however are narrow, run precariously along the brink of sheer cliffs for much of their way, and negotiate some tricky small sloping rocky faces that need to be taken with great care.
Pingxi Three Peaks will never be as popular as nearby Filial Son Mountain and its partners, but they make for a more challenging hike. Combine Fengtou Peak with one of the other two, across the Keelung River valley, and you’ll have a one of the most interesting full day’s hikes in the Taipei area. And one of the greatest workouts.
The Stone Bamboo Shoot (石筍尖) is by far the most popular peak: it’s not hard to climb, and has the most conspicuous summit, looking like a huge molar tooth on the skyline above Pingxi village, while it resembles a giant petrified bamboo shoot from beside the path below the summit. A signposted trail climbs the peak from Jingtung village, while the more interesting climb starts from the railway lines midway between Jingtung and Pingxi. Steps are the order of the day for much of the climb, although the trail starting closer to Pingxi does follow a beautiful little glen for some of the way. This path ends at the foot of the rocky hill, which was once pretty tricky to climb. Nowadays it’s simply fun, with some roped bits, and lots of large, easy-grip footholds carved out of the rock.
The summit is a huge sloping rock face, elevated well above the surrounding trees, giving perhaps the most rewarding and panoramic 360° view of any summit in the Pingxi area.
Shulung Peak has two main routes. The one from Jingtung was tampered with by the authorities on their path-building spree years ago, and is now laid under a never-ending flight of steps.
These make it the easiest of the Three Peaks to hike, but it’s a deadly-dull climb, only partially rewarded by another remarkable wrap-around view from the tiny summit. In good weather it’s far better to come up from the little hamlet of Yikeng (一坑) to the southwest. Within a minute or two the trail is balancing precariously on a very narrow ledge with more-or-less sheer drop-offs through the trees into a pair of small stream gorges, one on either side. This sets the tone for the hour-long climb, which is quite rough, passes a number of small, slippery rocky bits and sticks close to a long, sheer drop on the left for most of the way.
The best, most tricky rock faces and longest, sheerest drops of the three peaks however are on the descent from the third summit, Fengtou Peak. This one takes longer than either of the others (which can each be done in less than 3 hours). The ascent, from near Jingtung village at the end of the Pingxi Branch Line, is attractive and not especially hard. The peak is reached shortly after the trail climbs onto the summit ridge, and the real fun starts only after that. There’s no great view this time (the main attraction of hiking Fengtou Peak is the roughness and excitement of the terrain itself), and soon the trail is stuck on a knife-edge between the sheer or overhanging cliff of bare rock plunging down on the right, and a precipitously steep, tree-covered drop off on the left, which also occasionally turns into a sheer cliff face.
This is one place not to be in wet weather. It’s slippery enough at the best of times.
Getting There: All three peaks lie around the village of Jingtung, the terminus of the Pingxi Branch Railway Line, east of Taipei. Shulung Peak and Stone Bamboo Shoot are both well signposted and fairly easy to find. Signposting for Fengtou Peak is far less clear, and the trailhead can be tricky to find, although once on the trail there’s only one way to go. If you have a copy of Taipei Daytrips 2, all three peaks are described in there and apart from the difficult route up Shulung Peak (which is slightly different from the old trail described in the book), the routes are little changed.