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.
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!).
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!
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.
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….