At the peak for sunrise, above the clouds. Top of the world.
Eastern Asia’s highest peak is well worth the effort. In preparing for hiking the mountain this last December, I browsed the net and thought I had a handle on the hike. Still, there were a few things I wish I would have known prior to arriving at the trailhead. So, if you happen to stumble upon this, I hope it helps.
FYI- My friend and I applied for the permit ourselves, online. The two of us hiked the Paiyun trial, starting at the Tataka (Anbu?) trailhead, on December 29-29th.
1. Tataka (塔塔加, really pronounced tǎtǎjiā) is not a township or any type of village. We had read that there was a “hiker’s hostel” in “town.” Well, there is, but it isn’t easy to find. So, yes, just know that Tataka basically consists of a hiker’s information center at the top of a long road. That’s it. Although, I have to say, the people there were awesome when we rolled up well after hours with a bunch of questions. They made some calls for us and got us all sorted out. Keep your eyes out, the guesthouse is right after the helipad on the left as you climb the hill from Alishan. There’s a small little one-lane road that looks like it just drops off the side of the mountain. Follow it down about 300 meters and you’ll come to a building that doesn’t look too special. Boom, you’re there. (If you speak Chinese, call 東埔山莊(宿) 0932832077 or 049-2702213, and you should be able to sort yourself out.)
2. About the hostel: we walked in, and lucky enough, there was basically no one hiking the mountain. It is super simple. There’s a dorm with two long bunks that sleep about 20 per side. There’s a kitchen and bathrooms. The owner doesn’t speak any English, so be prepared for that, too. She’s very kind though, and a straight shooter. She’ll cook you a meal, if she has any food from the market (she didn’t when we were there). It’s pricey, like $150nt for a plate. Otherwise, she has some instant noodles for sale. And no beer. So…
3. Best bet for a hot meal is in Alishan township. I recommend the 姜母鸭 (jiāngmǔyā) restaurant with the purple sign, on the left after 7-11 and just before the sharp corner out of town (sorry, my buddy took the pic and the business card). If you don’t know, 姜母鸭 is a special kind of duck hotpot. Great meal to warm you up. Plus, the owners will likely invite you to share some local wulong tea with them after. They’ve been tea farmers their whole lives, but their village was wiped out during Typhoon Morakot in 2009. They miraculously survived, and have since relocated in an effort to start a new life. They’re also the only place in town open late, til 11.
(UPDATE) Buddy sent me the pic. Didn't do a great job getting the phone number in there, but keep an eye out on the left.
4. For anything else, stock up at the 7-11 in Alishan township. We didn’t, and we ended up driving all the way back, through dense clouds. Luckily, it was well worth it, since we found that restaurant and had a great time with that family.
5. If you don’t stay at the “hiker house,” keep an eye out for the road that says “Do not enter– restricted” on the right just past the helipad. That’s where you enter. If you hike up that hill about 200m, you’ll come to two buildings– one where the police officer checks your permit, and the second where the park ranger sort of double checks it. Whatever.
6. Make sure to arrange a van to take you from the gate by those buildings to the actual trail head. We heard the guys at the gate weren’t very helpful in getting you one, saying you had to “book” one the day before. Just call the same number for the hostel. It seems like they run the whole regime up there, and they have a few guys who drive up every 30 minutes or so (if called). If not, have fun walking 3km uphill on some crappy paved road with no views! That’d be a great way to tire yourself out before even actually beginning the “real” hike.
7. Paiyun Lodge (8.5km in) is still closed. So, the hike is a bit more arduous. You can do it in one day. We met a guy who left at 6:30am and was back at the hiker house by 6:30pm. Personally, I think that’s a total waste. You miss sunrise and sunset, the epic reward for this unbelievable hike!
8. If you don’t do the one-day up-and-back, which, again, I don’t recommend, as of right now you will have to stay in this little A-frame hut at Yuanfong. It’s basic. It’s cold (now). But the real issue is that you have to hike an additional 2.7km to the hut. And it’s a constant ascent. You actually hike almost as high in elevation as the main peak, so it’s similar to doing the entire up in one day. The next day, you will need to hike about 2km back to the fork in the trail, and then another 1.7km straight up to the main peak.
9. We left Yuanfong at about 3:45am and made it to the top of the summit at around 5:15, which was just in time for the sky to show it’s first hint of blue on the black horizon. It was perfect timing. We got to see the entire sunrise, and hiking in the pitch black darkness was a serious rush. It’s a pretty simple cutback trail until about the last 200m when it gets a bit hairy. I couldn’t imagine doing it in snow or ice, even with cramp-ons (which makes some of Mark A. Joy’s videos that much more intense).
10. Even without snow on the ground, it was still freezing at the summit. It felt below zero to me, although I am sure it was just right around there. Taking off my glove to take a picture had to be awful quick. Even with Goretex gloves and handwarmers my fingers weren’t 100% until we were about 400m back down the mountain. Now, we were hiking in December, so keep that in mind. The trail will close down pretty soon, and I think that’s wise. But even if you want to hike it in March, be prepared for some chilly weather. Bring a good sleeping bag, and you’ll want some sort of cooking kit for some hot food. Also, keep in mind you don’t really need the big gaudy hiking boots for this climb. There’s a lot of loose shale, and in my opinion, a good pair of hiking sneakers of cross-trainers will do ya. That said, we had brilliant weather, and I was prepared for a freak rain storm. So keep in mind you probably want waterproof shoes and some snap on gaiters just in case. You’ll see plenty of Taiwanese hiking up there like they are on Everest, even on a clear sunny sky. Damn, they love to gear up.
Anyways, comment if you have questions. Best of luck on your hike, and hope you have blue skies all the way!