Taiwan: Trekking in Shei-Pa and Yushan National Parks (October-November 2015)
Few people outside Taiwan know that, except for a relatively narrow coastal plain on the west, most of Taiwan is a long mountain range between the southern and northern tips of the island (green area in the map on the left). This range contains 275 peaks (山, shan) above 3000m, the highest two being Yu Shan (or Jade Mountain, 3952m) in Yushan National Park and Xue Shan (or Snow Mountain, 3886m) in Shei-Pa National Park. See the list of mountains in Taiwan. These mountains offer excellent trekking opportunities, but the trails are often quite rough and steep, and occasionally dangerous. Below 3000m the terrain is usually covered by thick vegetation (typically mini-bamboos, 1 to 3 feet high). Hiking outside trails is then almost impossible. Weather is notoriously unstable. For non-residents, trekking in Taiwan is made even harder, as each trek requires obtaining both a trekking permit from the corresponding National Park and a police permit. Permits are delivered for specific dates that cannot be adjusted in case of bad weather. On the other hand, the NPs provide free, strategically distributed huts (also called cabins), so that trekking may not require carrying a tent. Despite high humidity and frequent rain, good water is relatively rare along the trails, but rain water is collected and filtered into tanks at each hut (nevertheless huts sometimes run out of water).
My goals for this trip were to do three treks in three different National Parks: Shei-Pa (6 days), Taroko (6 days), and Yushan (7 days). Unfortunately, due to an approaching typhoon and bad weather forecast, I had to shorten the Shei-Pa trek to 4 days and cancel the Taroko trek. However, I was able to do the Yushan trek as initially planned. I did each trek with a Taiwanese porter/guide. To see photos of the two treks and their detailed itineraries click the following links:
The low average speeds are a good indication of the trail difficulty. Except at the beginning and the end of the treks, I encountered no other hiker during the Shei-Pa trek and only two during the Yushan trek.
Excellent 25K topographic maps covering most of the mountain areas can be obtained from Sunriver. The NP websites (Shei-Pa and Yushan) provide updated information on the trails, but no detailed maps. Many of the trails have been built relatively recently and are maintained by volunteers, who have done a remarkable job in difficult terrain prone to landslides. Some other trails are old ancestral trails created by aboriginal people.
For this trip I received invaluable assistance from Professors Tsai-Yen Li (National Chengchi University) and Wen-Kai Tai (National Taiwan University of Science and Technology). Professor Tai, who has done much trekking in Taiwan, obtained the NP and police permits for me and arranged the guides/porters. Professor Li helped me make hotel, camping, and transportation arrangements during the entire trip. Without them, this trip would have not been possible. The two guides/porters (one for the Shei-Pa trek, the other for the Yushan trek) were arranged by Professor Tai through Mr. Chiang-ching Chuan (全蔣清, himself a famous mountaineer in Taiwan:
Both guides/porters were outstanding.
In addition to these two treks, I visited other places in Taiwan: Taipei, Penghu Islands, Taitung (and around), Puli, and Taichung. I added some photos of these places to my Taiwan travel webpage. During the period of time that I had scheduled for the Taroko trek, I left Taiwan‛s bad weather and flew to Java instead, where I spent a few days in and around Yogyakarta. See here for photos of this side-trip.