Until recently Hualien meant little more to me than Taroko Gorge (of course), those crazy rafting trips on the Hsiuguluan River, rhodonite and the awesome Golden Grotto , so it was a real treat to get to spend a hot, sunny Saturday at the end of August with Canadian Matt Hopkins, who runs Hualien Outdoors, an outfit that introduces Hualien’s other amazing sights to foreigners and locals alike. Matt, who knows this area just about better than anyone else, invited us down for a day of river tracing, choosing a route that would be passable and safe following Typhoon Trami, which had pummelled the island a few days before, yet interesting enough to provide an adrenaline rush and a few fun challenges.
This summer river tracing has become a favorite activity (you probably noticed…) for the hiking group, so we soon got chatting about river tracing in the Hualien area. Matt is clearly the expert on the local streams, starting with an impressive repertoire of about twenty (!) stream traces on which he takes clients. Tales of several fantastic-sounding traces up to remote hot springs get us in the mood. He’s also a dab hand at first aid, dealing quickly and efficiently with the results of a fluke accident when one of our members got cut badly on a sharp sliver of submerged rock while exploring one of the pools in the gorge.
For today’s river trace, Matt’s chosen something a bit easier and more leisurely than some of the tantalising places he’s scribed – several kilometres wading up a boulder-strewn river through an impressive gorge known locally as ‘Little Taroko’ (we soon understood why) to a chain of three deep pools connected by waterfalls.
Driving off to the start of the river trace, a couple of kilometres inland from the coastal highway about midway between Hualien city and the mouth of Taroko Gorge, we were travelling light. Apart from six of us, our dry bags, and a tasty lunch of various fresh fruits, veg, cheese, crusty bread and butter, the only gear loaded in the back of Matt’s company van is a length of buoyant rope and some bright red helmets, strung together on a piece of string – a refreshing change from the mountains of paraphernalia that certain groups we’ve seen on river traces recently seem to think necessary: wet suits, life jackets, knee pads, carabiners…. River tracing naturally requires a quite different set of skills from hiking in the mountains, but the most important factors (besides learning by experience and a wearing a proper pair of river tracing booties) are good old common sense, and the ability to know when to stop and turn back or find a different way through. Unfortunately my befuddled brain’s self-preservation system seems to be calibrated much too low, and while the others cheerfully climbed rock faces above the water’s edge and high-dived off them into the deep, incredibly clear, emerald-green pools in the stream as we traced upwards, my nerves refused to let me climb higher than three or four meters before calling a halt. Glad to report though that this disabling fear of heights seems – to an extent – to be probably curable, and one day I hope to be able to jump with the best of them.
After a couple of leisurely hours wading upstream, swimming in the deep pools of cool, sparklingly pure water, and pool jumping, we reached the first of the three larger pools in the stream, linked by small waterfalls. An easy clamber up a boulder choke beside the first led to the glorious, much larger second pool, fed by an attractive cascade foaming into a huge, deep pool of a glorious deep green-blue hue, and a short, tricky scramble up to the final pool above, lunch, and an extended swim/waterfall-climb/pool-jumping break before starting the journey back.
I’ll be back here again some time for sure.
Hualien Outdoors (Matt Hopkins)
Matt’s video from the day is up on Youtube here …
…and videos from some of his other guided river traces etc. are here