I dunno if it’s because I’m possibly getting fitter, or if ‘strenuous’ hiking routes nearly always seem a bit easier after doing them a couple of times, but several times recently I’ve been in the slightly embarrassing position of harping on to other hikers about how ‘difficult’ the hike we’re going to do is, and then finding that in reality it’s really not that hard at all. The Huangdidian Bat Cave is one such paper tiger, and now I can add the beautiful (and not so difficult) Shitikeng (it’s pronounced Shr-tee-keng!) Old Trail to the growing list.
This particular trail has had a colorful history in my experience. Several partial attempts at the trail met with failure for a variety of reasons: after getting lost, after getting stung by a tiger’s head hornet (excruciating!), and once after (rather stupidly) bringing my dog, Gem, along. The first successful complete loop was on a boiling hot June day two years ago, and I already wrote about the experience in an early blog (here), so I can keep it short this time.
The trick with enjoying this magnificent trail at its best is getting just the right weather for it. It lies on the northeast coast, which more often than not is either shrouded in mist or being rained on. Even when the weather is dry, low cloud often seems to hang on these coastal hills, shrouding the tops from view and wiping out the spectacular view.
Riding the very useful 8:20 bus (no 1811) from Taipei West Bus station ‘A’ Terminal out to the northeast coast on the second Sunday in October, things were looking very promising as we left the tunnel at the end of Freeway One and entered Keelung City: the sky was blue, the sun not too hot – perfect weather conditions! The same blue sky continued as we followed the coast road, with perfect views over to Keelung Island, but as luck would have it, as we approached Keelung Mountain, the edge of a thick, white mass of cloud coming in from the sea had reached just far enough north to cover the area we would be walking through. It wouldn’t bring rain (just as well, as the trail isn’t a good place to be if it’s wet), but it did take the edge off the view, obscuring the pointy higher peaks that make the Jinguashi area perhaps the most impressive slice of mountain scenery in the entire Taipei area.
In the cooler temperatures of autumn, we made relatively short and easy work of the long and steep ascent up the knobbly set of little ridges that separate Mount Nanzihlin and the forgettable ‘summit’ of Mt Shitikeng, doing the climb in around two hours. It’s steep and hard in parts, for sure, but above all great fun.
After lunch at the short tunnel near the top, we all had so much remaining energy that instead of turning left, downhill, to take the Shitikeng Trail itself to close the loop and return to Nanya (where we’d begun the hike) we decided to turn right, climb to the track at the base of Mount Cao (the second highest peak in the Mt Keelung group), and bag the wonderful (and relatively easy) Mounts Banping and Teapot before taking advantage of the more regular buses from Jinguashi back to Taipei.
It’s a great route on paper, but the higher parts of the Shitikeng Old Trail are pretty…er… shitty: very overgrown in parts. It’s a tad tricky to find the route of the trail in a few places, although we always found the ubiquitous trail-marking ribbons eventually. The Jinhe Old Road (金和舊道) marked on the map, when finally reached, turns out to be so overgrown with silver grass that it’s even harder-going than the old trail below, although everyone (except me) seemed to find pushing a way through the head-high blades quite a fun experience!
The Jinhe Road finally meets the wide and clear track servicing the radar station atop Mount Cao, and turning right, it’s just a short walk to the trailheads of magnificent Mt Canguanliao (the highest and perhaps the most interesting of all the Mount Keelung group of peaks to climb) and Mount Banping. Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated so much since lunchtime that we were already walking in the middle of the clouds, and the marvellous heights of grass and rock were all but invisible.
In the event we took the steps down past the ruined Japanese shrine to the spirits of metallurgy, to join the crowds milling around the streets of the Gold Ecological Museum, got a bite to eat, and after waiting just a few minutes, took the bus back to Taipei.
Next time though, if the weather is clear, combining the fun rigors of the trail behind Mount Nanzihlin with the rocky peaks of Canguanliao, Banling and Teapot is definitely the way I’ll be going. It’s hard to imagine a finer day walk in the Taipei area.