The elusive ‘other’ swimming hole at Red River Gorge

In Beaches and swimming spots, New Taipei City, River Tracing, Waterfalls by Richard8 Comments

The magical swimming hole

 

UPDATE Fall 2015: The beautiful upper swimming hole on the Jiajiuliao Stream was destroyed by huge amounts of silt and rock brought down by a typhoon in the summer of 2015. The Jiajiuliao Stream is still traceable, but as very different place from what it was pre-August 2015. RiP much-missed swimming hole!

Just when I think I’ve found my favorite ever Taipei-area summer hideaway (and I have a couple;  my previous fave, Yuemeikang Waterfall, has sadly been well-and-truly discovered this year, although it’s still a marvellous sight), along comes a ‘new’ place that blows the competition away with its stunningly pristine, remote position. Tricky enough to reach to ensure it’s unlikely to become popular anytime soon,  this magnificent swimming hole is the biggest and certainly the  finest I know of in the Taipei area.

The bridge at Red River Gorge, the start of the hike up to the swimming hole

Red River Gorge, a popular summer spot, and just one of many excellent places for cooling off on a hot summer day…

On the way up to the swimming hole (but still well over two hours to go!)

Actually I’d heard rumors of another, much bigger swimming hole in the area a long time ago (the natural swimming hole and water slide above Red River Gorge has long been a favorite summer spot with swimmers, fishermen and river-tracers alike; it’s described in both Taipei Day Trips 2 (page 200) and Taipei Escapes 2 (page 156) in case you don’t know it yet!). It wasn’t however, until a boiling hot Saturday in late August, amid record-breaking temperatures in the Taipei area (37 degrees C!) that fourteen of us actually followed up on those rumors, armed with a description of how to get there (thanks Robert!).

Further upstream…

Getting closer

The pool is much trickier to reach than the famous natural swimming hole, involving a hike along a couple of trails followed by a lengthy but absolutely paradisiacal river-trace upstream to the pool. Unfortunately I discovered a bit too late to:

a). Never take a group on a trip I haven’t checked out by myself first (especially if it involves river tracing), and

b). Insist, if we do go river tracing, that everyone wears only proper river tracing shoes….

Including a pause following a nasty slip by one of the group’s youngest members (thankfully there wasn’t any lasting damage), many smaller, less serious slips and stumbles, and several breaks spent around and in idyllic lesser pools in the stream on the way up, it took us about three hours, after finally entering the stream, before we reached a narrow and rather impressive little gorge, water pouring in a thin curtain down the sheer rockface on the left, the river flowing still and quite deep through this, the narrowest part of its course.

By this point it was mid afternoon, and the risk of flash floods caused by summer afternoon storms in the hills upstream was beginning to be a worry. We decided to try just a little further upstream before turning back, and – lo and behold! –  just around the corner, the shapely cascade that drops into the deep, rounded pool came into view behind the rocks a couple of hundred meters upstream!

Made it!

The cold, clear, deep water of the pool is the perfect end to our hours of effort and occasional worrying drama during the journey up here, and it’s only the steady waning of the afternoon that prompts us to get out, dry off and start on the return to civilisation.

A natural ledge along the cliffs leads up to the head of the waterfall

We found this little chap at the top of the waterfall

If we’d had to retrace our way back downstream, we’d have probably have ended up spending the night in the gorge; instead, following a handy natural ledge carved from the low cliffs of the little amphitheater that forms the pool, we climbed to the head of the waterfall, to discover an equally idyllic scene: the water winding and cascading through a bare rocky channel towards the brink. More importantly, we also discovered (after a little anxious searching!) the promised tiny ribbon of trail which would take us out of the deep gorge. It’s a steep, crumbly and indisctinct trail clambering ever upwards,  with a sheer drop on the left in places that further tests our tired bodies. Ninety minutes later though we’re back at Red River Gorge, and ready to face the Wulai crowds on the bus back to Taipei.

As for how to get there – sorry, I’m not telling, not here! There’s little doubt the swimming hole, which seems to be quite a well kept secret so far will be ‘discovered’ one day, and if an easier access route is found, it’ll open the place up to the masses, and all the ill effects that come with popularity.

Let’s just hope that day doesn’t come anytime soon….

On the way back

Comments

  1. LOved the hike so much! It was challenging, a little scary but beyond all, very satisfying. Thank you Richard!

  2. Author

    Hi Ann, Prish,
    Really glad you both enjoyed it! It was a wonderful day for sure. Thanks for the link to the photos Ann: I wish mine were half as good!

  3. Dear Richard,

    That looks a little too tough for beginners like us. In November, I’ll be in Taiwan with a buddy for a couple of days. We wish to spend some time enjoying the outdoors. Unfortunately, there aren’t many English website for Adventure Tours. Any information you could provide us about River Tracing, River Rafting, Paragliding & Dirt Biking or any trips/tours this November would be great.
    We can speak mandarin but writing it down is another matter.

    Thanks.

    1. Author

      Hi Nez!
      Thanks for writing. Nowadays there are a number of blogs and clubs run by expats, organizing outdoor activities, so you might be able to join an activity during your stay, if anything coincides. They’re also a friendly bunch, and will probably give you a few pointers if you want to go your own way.
      For river tracing, there’s a famous spot near the one we did that’s easier, and very popular, with another (much smaller) natural pool at the top. I can give you a few directions if you want to try it out, but bring the right shoes! For other river tracing ideas, plus a lot else, try Stu Dawson’s blog, Hiking Taiwan (http://hikingtaiwan.wordpress.com/), which has bags of info on all kinds of places and activites. Stu and his mates also run a club on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/groups/TaiwanAdventures/), with day hikes and longer trips. They’ve also recently bought out an amazing on-line guide to Taiwan (Taiwan Adventures: the Online Guide) which will probably supply some good ideas for things to do.
      For snorkling, wind surfing, surfing and all kinds of other things, you could join Edouard Roquette’s club (also on Facebook), Hiking and Riding in Taipei (http://www.facebook.com/groups/44517786437/); they seem to do something most weekends, if you’re here over one.
      There’s a few ideas – hope that helps out a bit, and have a great stay!

  4. I wish I knew how to get here. I’m taking my first backpacking trip next week to Red Rover Gorge with my sister and two cousins!

    1. Author

      I’m sorry to say it’s no longer there (seriously!). Both this and the lower swimming hole were destroyed during a typhoon in August 2015. This upper pool (which was once about 2 hours’ river trace upstream from the popular lower pool) is completely gone I’m told by several different hikers (haven’t been back since, myself), while I heard the lower pool is still sort-of there, but much shallower than before. The whole area is in a bit of a mess, so be careful if you hike in – there have been reports that it’s hard or impossible to walk all the way from the Wulai Road to Xiongkong (south of Sanxia) in one day at present, because the destruction has made the going very slow.

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