Tag Archives: Hiking

Taiwan, part III

On my fifth day in Taiwan I woke up early and headed to the train station.  My destination was Ruifang, where I was to meet up with the Pingxi Branch Rail Line, a 12-kilometre segment of rail that has been kept open for tourism.  It was a public holiday in Taiwan so I was a bit concerned about how busy things might be; however, I was pleasantly surprised.

My first stop on the line was the tiny town of Pingxi. Pingxi put itself on the map with its famous Lantern Festival and the train station is appropriately decorated with beautiful lanterns, even outside of festival season.

In the off-season, the reason to go to Pingxi is hiking.  About five minutes from the train station there is a trail with a series of crags to climb. Fortunately, the crags require zero technical skill because they have stairways carved into the rock.

Have I mentioned how hot it was? Well, I was dripping sweat even before I started the hike. Still, I chose a crag and climbed up.  I won’t lie: it was a bit intimidating to climb. Unlike a normal mountain trail, where you can look around, the only thing I could see was a staircase leading straight up.  Still, it was worth it to get the view from the top.

If you squint then you can see the lady who climbed the other crag with an umbrella.

 

By the time I had climbed to the top of the first crag it was about midday.  I was running low on water and I was dripping sweat so I decided to leave Pingxi and head to my second destination of the day.

You should know that the centrepiece of the Pingxi railway is the Shifen waterfall. It is 40 meters wide and is said to be quite spectacular. However, it is also the biggest tourist draw and you have to pay to get into the park to see the waterfall. I decided to pass on Shifen and instead I got off the train at the deserted Sandiaoling station.

After about five minutes of walking along the train tracks I reached the trailhead for the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail.  The trail was not part of a park, so it was free, and I only saw a handful of people. (Although, keeping in the spirit of hiking, they were the nicest people I met in all of Taiwan — which says a lot.)  The main part of the trail takes a few hours to hike and takes you past three waterfalls. The first one is pretty magnificent, but you can’t get very close to it.

Sandiaoling Waterfall #1

 

After the first waterfall the trail changes from fairly flat and well groomed to a more challenging terrain.  About an hour into the trail I arrived at the second waterfall.  This waterfall was cool because you could walk almost right behind the waterfall. (I suspect that during the rainy season the waterfall does, in fact, fall right in front of the trail.)

Sandiaoling Waterfall #2

Again, the trail got even more difficult. There was a ladder carved into the side of a cliff at one point and some serious clambering to get up to the last waterfall. It was absolutely worth the effort.  The pictures don’t quite do it justice, but I felt like I had stumbled onto a waterfall movie set.

Sandiaoling Waterfall #3

By the time I reached the third waterfall the sun was started to get low in the sky. I hurried back along the trail so that I could catch the train back to Taipei. Sadly, I was at the end of my time in Taiwan.  However, Taiwan, as it turns out, is always thinking of its tourists. As I waited in the airport on day six I was feeling really sad to be leaving. I had such a great trip but I really wished I could have seen more. And then I saw this:

Hello Kitty waiting lounge in the Taipei International Airport.

Suddenly, I felt at peace with leaving. So thank you, Taiwan, for giving me so many reasons to love you, and one very good reason to leave.

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Taiwan, part 2

If you’ve read part one then you know that my trip to Taiwan had a bit of a rocky start.  If this had been a year ago then I would have been pretty upset that my trip’s plans had fallen apart. Fortunately, I have learned that travel is just like the rest of life and that plans fail.  So, I had read a lot and had some great sleeps, but by day four of my trip I was very ready to get out of the city.

Thankfully, after a few days of listening to the wind howling and seeing the grey  of the city against the grey backdrop of fog and cloud, I woke up on day four to sunshine and beautiful blue skies.

I headed to the bus station and caught a bus to Keelung, which is about 30 minutes Northeast of Taipei.  Keelung is a port city and it smells like ocean.  I headed to the information desk to ask which bus I needed to get to Bitou Cape. The staff at the information center were wonderful, even after I ended up going back two more times for clarifications. (The bus network in Taiwan is notoriously complicated.) Eventually I did make it onto the bus, one with a bus driver who –-miraculously–  spoke English.  I started to worry a little bit because my guidebook told me the bus trip would be about twenty minutes and after a half hour I still was not at my destination. My worry wasn’t too extreme though because the scenery was stunning.  I figured that no matter where I exited the bus I would find something awesome.  After about an hour the bus pulled over and the driver told me that this was where In wanted to be. He even gave me directions to the trailhead. I don’t think that I can describe how beautiful the hike was. Here are a few of the things I saw:

 

I was taking a break in one of the hilltop sun shelters, snaping some shots of the views, when I glanced down and froze. About a foot away from me was the biggest spider I had ever seen in my life. I know that this picture offers no frame of reference for size, but please believe me that it was significantly larger than my hand.  I decided to leave the shelter and upon exiting I saw that there were at least two more of these giant spiders residing in the shelter. Eeek! I didn’t know this at the time, but apparently my new spider friends were a type of Nephila Maculata. They are  among  the largest spiders in the world, but they are also relatively harmless to humans.

 

Nephila Maculata, AKA: AAAAH!

 

 

 

Bitou Cape views

 

The valleys were filled with butterflies. They were everywhere.  I did a little photoshoot with some of these black and white butterflies; however, it turns out that butterflies are about as cooperative as puppies when it comes to staying still for photos.  Oh well, here’s one shot:

 

Large Tree Nymph butterfly

 

After my hike I caught the bus back to Keelung. I wandered around the city for a bit. If my main complaint about Taipei was its greyness then Keelung was the perfect antidote.  I walked through Keelung Miaokou, which is a night market but still has plenty of activity during the day. I also climbed up to Chungcheng Park, which overlooks the city.

 

Keelung Miaokou

 

 

A temple on the outskirts of Chungcheng Park

 

It had been a hot day. The only thermometer that I saw was in the shade, but it read 33°C. I had been walking in the sun all day and I felt that I had earned a bit of time relaxing in the park. It was there, sitting in the park and overlooking the harbour at sunset, that I realized I was going to be the bus seat-mate whom I would normally avoid. I stank.  It was with this bit of self reflection that I decided to head back to Taipei to shower and sleep.  I still had one more day of adventure ahead of me and I wanted to be well rested.

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Insert Hiking Pun Here

Hiking is a favourite pastime in Korea.  Koreans of all ages love to don their hiking uniforms, thrown on a backpack, and head for the hills. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Bukhansan National Park, which spreads across the North of Seoul and into the surrounding Gyeonggi province, has been distinguished by the Guinness Book of Records as being the national park with the highest number of visitors per square foot.

So this past Sunday I was surprised when I went hiking in Bukansan, the busiest national park in the world, and found myself constantly reassuring other people that I was ok by myself. After all, you’re never really alone on a hiking path in Korea.  Still, all along the mountainside I met people who were shocked that I was hiking the trail by myself.  “Be careful!” they all cautioned.

My day started out pretty normally. I had purchased some new hiking boots the previous day and I wanted to break them in before I took them to Taiwan. I figured I would take a leisurely stroll, duplicating a hike that I took back in February.  Unfortunately, when I got to the park I learned that the trail I wanted to take was not open. So I looked at the map and I decided on another rout. The trail to Uisangbong peak was only 1.5 km, which seemed like a very do-able 3 km round trip.

The trail started out as a very easy walk through the woods with a moderate incline.  However, about one kilometre into the trail things got rockier and a bit more fun because there was scrambling and climbing involved. This was when I started seeing groups of people resting and started getting offers to sit and take a break with their various parties. I kept on hiking though. After a few hundred meters, the terrain became much more difficult. At one point I couldn’t figure out how to keep going up. I started to wonder if maybe I had left the trail by accident. So I did what I do when I’m unsure: I ate.  I pulled myself up on top of a big rock and I sat and ate an apple. While I perched on my rock,  some other hikers came by and after seeing their route I figured out the best way to continue on the trail.

The view from my perch.

The other view from my perch.

At some points the incline was so steep that I literally had to use the cables to pull myself up.  (Normally cables and ropes are intended for the descent.)  In other places I had to jump and pull and push myself up various rock faces. After a few bumps and scrapes, I did make it to the top — I think.  I’m not positive that I was at the peak, but I’m content to believe that I was. I had a nice few minutes at the top, enjoying the views of Seoul and Goyang, before heading back down the mountain.  About a quarter of the way down the trail I met yet another man who told me to be careful. I was about to issue the standard “thank you and I will be careful,” when he continued talking. He explained that this was one of the most difficult courses on the park.  Huh.  Go figure.

View from the top

The popularity of hiking in Korea means that hiking here is not the same as going for a hike in Canada.  The biggest difference, of course, is that you are almost guaranteed to see at least some people, no matter when you hit the trails.  There is also the fact that anywhere you go in Korea, even amongst the most remote rice paddies or mountains, you will have cell phone reception. There is no escaping society in that sense.  And yet, while those two things are my biggest complaints about hiking in the Land of the Morning Calm, they are also the things that let me safely hike by myself. Even if Koreans continue to think that I’m a total oddball for doing things like being a  woman and hiking by myself.

Look at the brilliant job I did focusing on the shrubs behind me!

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Adventuring

You might have been wondering why my posts have been so apartment-centric. I mean, I’ve been in Korea for a month now, haven’t I gotten out of my apartment to check things out? Well, not really. I went into survival mode a bit when I first got here, meaning I wanted to check out my neighbourhood and figure out how to, well, survive. So I finally figured out how the garbage and recycling system works. I found the best grocery store. I found an English bookstore (not in my neighbourhood, but worth the trek.)  And then once I was feeling settled and perhaps a bit more adventurous, I got sick. So I spent the first two weekends getting settled and the next two weekends getting healthy.  However, I finally got out of the apartment and out of the city today!

I decided to check out Bukhansan National Park, which is home to the Bukhansanseong Fortress. However, I made a wrong turn somewhere and I didn’t make it to the Fortress. Instead, I found a cool temple, although my remarkable Google skills have yet to lead me to a name for the temple. Anyhow, it was pretty gorgeous, so I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

This little guy greets us as we get closer to the temple.

In the end, my legs were happy that I saved the longer trek to the Fortress for another, perhaps less icy day.

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