Just as the first hike in our attempt to conquer all the peaks in Yangmingshan in a series of hikes this month reminded me just how fun and rewarding hiking Taipei’s National Park can be, our second installment hammered home the two main reasons I don’t often venture up there any more – the often miserably overcrowed buses up there (and down again), and the bloody awful weather!
Getting off the MRT at 6:45 am, I made the stupid mistake of chosing Jiantan station instead of Beitou. Assuming that at that early hour the school kids would still be eating breakfast, we approached the line of bus stops to see a sea of youthful humanity, all queuing for buses up Yangmingshan! We gave up on trying to catch a R5 or 260 – the queue was about seventy meters long (I’m serious!) but managed to grab a Huangjia bus (the one that goes over the mountain to Jinshan). This company operates very nice coach-like buses with large, comfy seats, only there wasn’t a single one free when we piled on – they were all occupied by students, most fast asleep and quite oblivious to the passengers packing the aisles. For this uncomfortable standing ride there was of course no discount – a pity since Huangjia buses are much more expensive than the city bus route (108) that also serves Xiaoyukeng. At least we didn’t have to change buses, and after a mini traffic jam on the way up the hill, we arrived at Xiaoyukeng around 8 am.
As soon as we passed the main Yangmingshan visitor center and Zhuzihu on the way up to the pass and the start of today’s route, we were lost in the clouds, and we saw no more the sun or anything else more than about fifty meters away from us until our descent back into the city in the early afternoon (on another miserably packed vehicle, this time a mini bus with barely enough headroom to stand upright) .
The climb to the summit of Seven Star Mountain (Mt Cising, 1,120 meters) is always a pleasant experience from Xiaoyukeng, although it’s much nicer when there’s a bit of a view. This route is easier (with about 300 meters of vertical ascent, verses nearly twice that if climbing from the popular miaopu trailhead, near the main Visitor Center), and more scenic too, with plenty of hot rocks and steaming volcanic vents to examine on the way up.
The cloud was so thick though that the humid air constantly condensed on my glasses and in the end I found it easier to take them off and walk without them.
The twin summits of Seven Star were predictably a white-out, and on the way down the east face towards Lengshuikeng, the wind began to get up, while it also started raining lightly. Any hopes that the weather might improve were beginning to look like wishful thinking.
After snacking on a tea egg and a soft drink at Lengshuikeng, we set off of to climb a more intriguing and little-known peak nearby, Mount Chigu (899 meters), a thickly wooded summit just north of Lengshuikeng. This one is so little climbed that the route I took when I first climbed it four or five years ago now seems to have been abandoned and is impassable . A trail to the top still begins however at a small, recently rebuilt temple a few hundred meters along the Qingtiangang road from Lengshuikeng, and is a fairly strenuous but fun clamber up some very steep and rough wooded slopes, at first beside a rocky stream with a couple of small waterfalls. After about half an hour, the trail emerges into silver grass on the large, flat summit, and disappears into the grassy wilderness. There’s no summit trig point to give the hike a little closure, and certainly no view to be had (even if the weather had been clear); the reward here is simply in hiking a corner of Yangmingshan that clearly very few people visit.
Coming back down Mount Chigu (and climbing up it for that matter) it’s essential to look out carefully for the regular trail ribbons. The peak is crisscrossed with countless trails, probably made by buffalo, and it’s very easy to get lost here. We tried to head down the mountain by a second trail, by which I’d climbed the peak several years ago, but the ribbons were eventually swallowed up by the thick sea of silver grass which covers the eastern slopes of the summit – a miserable place to get lost.
In any event by now the light rain of the morning had become a lot heavier; we were all soaked, I was caked with mud from sliding down the steep, muddy trail, and my feet were sloshing around in my boots. My three companions had already decided to throw in the towel and headed to the nearest bus stop. I started plodding along the road to Qingtiangang trying to convince myself it was worth continuing, but it was no use. After less than two hundred meters I turned back, squelched to the nearest bus stop and 10 minutes later stood crammed like a sardine into a tightly packed S15 minibus speeding down to Shilin. Down in the city the ground was dry, the sun was shining, and it was a balmy 25 or 26 degrees.
The only good reason to put up with Yangmingshan in the pouring rain is if there’s a big waterfall (such as Fenglin or Alipang) at the end of the trail. Otherwise it’s a miserable place. Those who insist on walking here after the weather turns bad are surely either masochist, or downright stupid.
But then deciding to do a series of hikes in Yangmingshan during the six-month period when it’s regularly assailed by the drenching northeast monsoon winds wasn’t one of my brighter ideas ….
Here’s hoping for a climatic miracle for the next hike – the much wilder slopes of Mount Huangzui.