NOTE (April 2017): River tracing is now officially banned on all streams in Yangmingshan National Park, although it continues unofficially. If you go, keep a low profile.
The Toucian Stream, rising between two of Yangmingshan’s finest yet least climbed peaks, Big Sharp Mountain and Mt Huangzui, has long been known as one of the Taipei area’s most popular river tracing destinations. Unfortunately it’s on the ‘wrong’ side of Yangmingshan National Park, which means that the only way to get there is with your own wheels. I know the area quite well, but only from walking a number of the excellent trails in this area, such as Lu Jue Ping, Da Ping, Lin Shih, Rui Quan and Fu Shih Old Trails, which crisscross these beautiful but unfrequented heights, and for all sorts of reasons I never managed to get my feet wet and explore the stream itself – until last weekend.
I’ve been long overdue then to check out this river tracing route, especially since some of my piano students have even done it, courtesy of nearby Camp Taiwan, which runs adventure trips out here for students at the American and European Schools in Taipei. But last Sunday, which dawned hot and sunny, eight of us piled into a rented minivan near Jiantan MRT Station and made the surprisingly long and complicated drive (about an hour) out to the start of the river trace, which is conveniently the same as the trailhead for Lu Jue Ping Old Trail, tucked away deep in the eastern heights of Yangmingshan. Despite its remoteness, this is a really popular place on sunny Sundays, and a veritable gaggle of others – both hikers and river tracers – had already parked (and also nicked the best parking spaces) when we arrived at about 9:45 am. Luckily there are plenty of parking spaces along the road after the small, mud parking area at the end of the road fills up.
It’s just a couple of minutes’walk along a path beside a concrete water irrigation channel to the stream, where our first impressions were disappointing: the water level was very low. Pulling on our river tracing gear and chucking all our other bits into brightly coloured waterproof packs, we soon set off upstream, stepping over large rounded boulders and through small pools that managed to get shin deep in a few places. Frankly, this stream is neither as big nor as scenic as the sublime Jiajiuliao Stream near Wulai (the Taipei area’s other really popular river tracing spot), but whereas it’s the pristine surroundings and sense of unspoilt nature at Jiajiuliao that attract streams of beginner river tracers, it’s the rocky obstacles (including a couple of climbable waterfalls) that draw the thrill-seekers to the Toucian Stream.
After a short stretch that’s basically level, the first waterfall is reached in less than half an hour – a small spout of water dropping clear into a deep little pool, forming a great natural shower. Climbing up the rocks to the right of the fall, it’s just a short, steep scramble up the rocky watercourse to the base of the second and biggest waterfall on the stream, tumbling about 15 meters over a jagged rocky cliff. This is where river tracers on this stream seem to spend most of their time, and several groups were milling around the base of the falls, eating an early lunch or watching while roped-in friends climbed the waterfall.
Climbing to the top of the waterfall via bits of dirt path round to the right, we soon thankfully left the crowd behind to enjoy the final short stretch up to the third and last waterfall, where the most interesting part of the river trace ends. This short stretch (which only takes 10-15 minutes) struck me as the most attractive and enjoyable stretch of the stream by quite a way, as the water carves an attractive small glen, falling over a sequence of small, easily climbable cascades. At the top the attractive third waterfall foams over rocks into a large and deep pool about 8 meters below. The rock has been eroded into numerous good footholds, and we climbed the waterfall easily without a rope, before clambering round the side back to the bottom again for a final dip.
Unless you bring ropes, and have experience in roped climbing (or have a teacher), the Toucian river trace is likely to be a very short affair. it’s less than half-an-hour back to the car if you take the Lu Jue Ping Old Trail, which passes close to the last waterfall, on the right bank. We did the loop in about two hours, including time spent mucking around in the various pools. Luckily there’s lots more nearby to fill out the day – any one of the nearby old trails (Fushi and Linshi Old Trails are especially scenic), or, best of all, spend the afternoon exploring the far more scenic (and rather more demanding) Masu Stream nearby.
GETTING THERE: Toucian Stream can only be reached with your own transport. The directions to the start of the river trace are given in detail in the Lu Jue Ping Old Trail walk (page 297-8) in my book Yangmingshan: the Guide. Alternatively Lu Jue Ping Old Trail is signposted from Zhishan Road beyond the National Palace Museum, although the signposts stop give out before the last couple of turnoffs; bring a good map.