Shuiyang Forest: a remarkable reminder of the 921 Earthquake

In Ancient trees, Chiayi County, Geological curiosities, Nantou County, Treks and long walks by Richard12 Comments

Shuiyang Forest

Shuiyang Forest

The stream just above the lake

The stream just above the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour's walk beyond the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour’s walk beyond the lake

Shuiyang Lake is described in detail in Taiwan 101: volume 2, which is available either direct from me by mail-order, or from English language-bookshops in Taiwan.

The great Jiji Earthquake, which rocked Taiwan on September 21st, 1999, caused both a huge loss of life and enormous devastation. However in several places the earthquake actually created new landscapes, some of great beauty, such as the lakes at Jiufenershan. None of these new landmarks, however, are quite as magical as Shuiyang Lake (水樣森林), which was born that night when a landslip blocked a stream running through a remote valley in central Nantou County, close to the epicentre of the earthquake. As the stream backed up behind the natural dam, creating a sizable lake, it also flooded a coniferous forest that once clothed the valley floor. The flooded trees, their roots deprived of oxygen, died, and over the following years the tree trunks were bleached white by the sun. The unique result now draws large numbers of hikers to one of Taiwan’s most arresting natural curiosities.

Our campsite beside the trailhead a Shanlinsi

Our campsite beside the trailhead a Shanlinsi

On the trail

On the trail

We never worked out what this ruin once was...

We never worked out what this ruin once was…

By chance, Shuiyang Forest was created right on a popular and long established hiking route that once connected the forest parks of Shanlinxi  and Alishan. The earthquake that created the lake seriously damaged parts of the trail, and successive typhoons in the following years have caused further damage, so it’s no longer possible to walk all the way to Alishan, but the section of the route between Shanlinxi and Shuiyang is in good condition, and not too tough. In any event, the sight of hundreds of ghostly, ashen-white tree trunks, reflected in the still, clear water from which they rise, is absolutely magical, whether in the early morning when the trees shine silvery white in the sun, or when the afternoon mists sweep in and the place takes on an almost surreal, slightly ghostly character.

The higher route is much the more scenic of the two routes from Shanlinsi to the lake

The higher route is much the more scenic of the two routes from Shanlinsi to the lake

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On the higher route

On the higher route

Nowadays the trail from Shanlinxi is the only way to get to Shuiyang Forest (a second route, from Fengshan in Chiayi County, is currently impassable following damage by successive typhoons). The trail divides into higher and lower trails for a spell in the middle, joining up again for the final descent to the lake. The more interesting but strenuous option (the total hike takes about 6 hours each way) passes over the summit of Mount Lujhu (鹿屈山; 2,288 meters), and features several fine panoramas over the surrounding mountains (including the Yushan range) in clear weather. The easier, lower route (4-5 hours each way) follows the route of the abandoned forest road and is longer in distance but largely level.

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The final descent

The final descent

First glimpse of Shuiyang Forest

First glimpse of Shuiyang Forest

Reasonably fast hikers can cover the lower route from Shanlinxi to the lake in about 4 hours or less, so it’s certainly possible to visit it in a long day hike, but it’s better to plan on making it a 2-day camping trip, both to see the lake in the early morning, when the weather is often at its clearest, and to explore a couple of interesting places beyond the lake itself. Unless it’s in flood, a very large bank of dirt and stones is uncovered at the upstream end of the lake. It’s a rather bumpy campsite (bring a thick sleeping pad) but a convenient one; the water in the twin streams that feed the lake is pure enough to drink after boiling or treating, and it’s right at the end of the trail.

Shuiyang Forest is a magnificent sight in good weather

Shuiyang Forest is a magnificent site in good weather

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Our campsite beside the lake

Our campsite beside the lake

The outflow from the lake

The outflow from the lake

The sight of Shuiyang Lake and its ghostly, denuded trees emerging from the afternoon mists, or standing against a bright blue, early morning sky is ample reason in itself to make the long hike out here, but if staying overnight, try to make the 2-hour return hike up to the Mianyue Ancient Tree (眠月神木), one of the largest in Taiwan. The trail starts just upstream from the camping place at the head of the lake.

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A quick swim before starting back

A quick swim before starting back

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The gang, at Mianyue Ancient Tree

The gang, at Mianyue Ancient Tree

Comments

  1. Interesting place! I have never heard of it before.
    The photo of the flooded forest in fog (the one that’s almost black and white) is really beautiful. It looks almost magical.

    1. Author

      Thanks! It’s a wonderful place – it actually became pretty popular among hikers a few years ago, but somehow I never made it there until September. It’s a great place!

      1. I haven’t had chance to do any real hikes here yet (if you don’t count in a shorter one at Pingxi), our teachers do a great job to keep us busy studying. But now we just handed in some permits applications for a real snow hike … Let’s wait and see!

  2. Thanks. Very nice photos and write-up. One small correction. The route to AliShan is still viable. I did it earlier this year. The forestry road remnant has a landslide further on, so there is a tagged path which turns off and goes down to a dry stream bed, follows that for a while then climbs up, crosses the road remnant again and then follows the ridge line to the peak of SongShan. The path then follows the ridge line before descending down to the Monkey Rock extension and the remains of the station. Some of the walls are blown out, but the roof makes it a nice shelter from the rain. There is no water from the lake all the way until near AliShan itself, and it takes a full day to get to the station. Also, on the next day there are about a dozen trestle bridges to cross on the line plus several tunnels before reaching AliShan. The last tunnel (actually a rockfall shelter that they built about 10 years ago when they planned to revive the line before morakot put paid to that) has a big landslide in the middle of it, but a detour goes around it. This is the kind of hike you don’t want to do in poor weather!

    1. Author

      Hey that’s great news Lyndon – one of the group looked along the trail a bit and I though he said he couldn’t get through – i’ll have to check my facts! Have you made it through to Fenghsna past Thousand People Cave recently – that’s another trail I’d love to do, although apparently a landslide in 2012 wiped out a section of trail and our group couldn’t find a way past the landslide (I didn’t go as I was too tired – still suffering from not sleeping properly for over a week with jetlag!).

  3. I did 1000 People Cave to FengShan about 4 years ago, so I don’t know what condition it is in nowadays.

  4. Hi Richard,

    Looks like you had great weather.
    However, I would like to ask how you got to the trailhead from Taipei?
    I’ve been trawling through the various websites trying to find this info but have only found vague references.
    Please could you share the logistical details?
    Thanks

    1. Author

      Hi Peter! There are a couple of buses (number 6871) in the morning from Taichung to Shanlinxi with Yuanlin Bus Company (員林客運台中站; phone number: 04-2225-6293); there’s a schedule up on the web here: http://www.ylbus.com.tw/ie/p03.php#, although you should probably check the times direct with the company! It would take between 2 and 3 hours because it takes local roads, so you’d probably be best taking the quicker lower route out there once you arrive. It’s only 20 minutes’ walk from the hotel in Shanlinxi Scenic Area (asumming the bus stops there) to the trailhead beside the rest pavilion. Enjoy your trip!

  5. The small brick house might be an over for making charcoal. They’ve got something like that on one of the little Alishan trails.

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