Hiking in Taiwan is definitely do-able for solo hiker. It’s completely a different situation compared to the volcanoes in Indonesia. As a mountain-junkie, I wouldn’t miss the chance to hike the highest peak in Taiwan, the Jade Mountain or Yushan (3952 masl). Hiking Jade Mountain is memorable to me, the effort of getting the permit, unexpected twist to hitchhike, and the whole experience.
Getting the Permit to Hike Jade Mountain or Yushan
Yushan National Park or Jade Mountain is extremely popular among hikers. Like any other high mountains in Taiwan, two permits are required to allow you do the hike. The park entry permit can be obtained through the official website, while the mountain entry permit can be arranged in the local police station. Having this permit also means that you secure your bed in the lodge.
It wasn’t easy at all for me to get the permit. For foreigners, we have the advantage to apply up to 4 months in advance. I was totally aware about this and had prepared the application 3 months in advance. I applied through the official website, followed the procedure, and filled up the application form. I had to summit my photo on the top of a mountain higher than 3000 meters above sea level, took e-learning course, and had to pass the test. It’s the most complicated procedure I’ve ever had so far to climb a mountain!
I first applied for two persons for the hike and they replied that they only had one spot for the foreign application for my chosen date. I had to consider removing a member, otherwise my application was going to be registered for the drawing/lottery. The lottery is conducted 1 month prior to the intended park entry date to decide which teams are allotted for the beds in Paiyun Lodge. I chose to go for the lottery, unfortunately my team was not lucky enough to get the bed, so I had to change my whole plan and applied for another date.
Second try and I still failed, until the third time I applied just for myself, begged them that I would fly out soon, that I really wished to climb the Jade Mountain. Finally I got allotted to a bed in the dates that I proposed just few days before my flight out of the country. Later I realized that I actually made a mistake by not checking the beds availability on the website. However, thinking about it now, I’m happy that I was so persistent at that time and didn’t give up cause I wanted to hike Jade Mountain so much! I had to appreciate the Yushan National Park Service Unit for responding all my emails very quick, providing clear information, even helped me out to book a bed in Dongpu Lodge. Here’s a quick overview or timeline for my application:
- Submitting application : 22 September 2017
- For entry date : 15 – 16 November 2017
- Received email that only one space were available: 26 September 2017
- Received email that my team was not allotted: 16 October 2017
- Submitting application : 18 October 2017
- For entry date : 23 – 24 November 2017
- Received email that my team was not allotted: 24 October 2017
- Submitting application : 25 October 2017
- For entry date: 4-5 December 2017
- Received email that my application has met the requirement for foreign advanced application: 26 October 2017
- Received email that my team was allotted to a space in Paiyun Lodge : 6 November 2017
How to go to Yushan National Park or Jade Mountain?
There are two options, first from Chiayi/Alishan and second from Sun Moon Lake. Since I came from the south-west coast, it’d be a time-saver for me to go to Chiayi first, however I had arranged my accommodation in Sun Moon Lake before, so I had to make a detour because my last destination was Taipei. The shuttle bus (route 6739) runs daily from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan passes through Tataka or Tatajia which is the starting point to hike Jade Mountain. Here’s the schedule and the approximate arrival time so prepare to hop on the bus couple minutes before.
Sun Moon Lake 8 a.m. -> Tataka 10.30 a.m. -> Alishan 12 p.m.
Sun Moon Lake 9 a.m. -> Tataka 11.30 a.m. -> Alishan 1 p.m.
Alishan 1 p.m. -> Tataka 1.40 p.m. ~ 2 p.m. -> Sun Moon Lake 4.30 p.m.
Alishan 2 p.m. -> Tataka 2.40 p.m. ~ 3 p.m. -> Sun Moon Lake 5.30 p.m.
I knew I could take the bus but I decided to hitchhike instead. Checking the maps, I found that it’s pretty much going on the same main road or highway from Sun Moon Lake to Tataka. It’s only two hours and I had the whole day before checking in to Dongpu Lodge. So, I stood on the road side, put a thumb up, and hoped for my luck. I didn’t have much experience in hitchhiking yet, I felt insecure. 15 minutes had passed and the cars just passing over me, nobody stopped. I regretted my choice, “I should’ve just taken the bus!”.
Then a sedan car pulled over and the guy inside asked me where I wanted to go. I told him where I wanted to go, that I would just follow him until anywhere he drove to and I could just find another car on the way if he’s not going to Tataka. He said he’d take me there, so I jumped in. We had chit-chat in the car, he spoke pretty good English. He was just driving around this area because it’s his day off. I asked about his plan and I told him that Dongpu Lodge is far away, he didn’t have to drive me there. He’d visit a friend who had a grape farm, near to Dongpu. Apparently he mistakenly thought another Dongpu area, finally he realized it’s too far away and gave me a huge bag of grapes. I thanked him for that.
So, I was stranded again at the side road side, not many cars passing by this time. I lifted my arm out whenever a car passed by, meanwhile I savored the grapes. After a while, I saw a fancy car from a distance, I put my thumb up without any expectation. Surprisingly, the car stopped! It was an expensive SUV, a middle-age man on the driver seat rolled the window down. I asked him in my poor Chinese, where he wanted to go and he said Tatajia. It’s funny how we both were not convinced that we’re heading to the same destination. After several questions to make sure that we’re going to the same place, he agreed on taking me there.
We had a good conversation in the car. I tried my best to speak Chinese since he couldn’t speak any. He’s about to do short hike in Tataka just for training because he’s going to hike Yushan a few months after. I joined him for a short trail and he dropped me in Dongpu Lodge later on. What a long long day! I checked in to Dongpu Lodge, paid the lodging fee (NTD 300), and ordered my breakfast for the next morning (NTD 150). It’s a dormitory-style room and most of hikers spend a night before hiking Jade Mountain. I made friends with another group and decided to hike together.
First day hike, on our way to Paiyun Lodge
I started the day with typical Taiwanese breakfast; congee, scrambled egg, diced tofu, pickles, and pork floss. After double checking the things that I needed, I left my big backpack in Dongpu Lodge and took the small one for the hike. First things first, getting the mountain or police permit and paid Paiyun Lodge Fee (NTD 480). From the checking point to Tataka Saddle is 2 km far, we took the shuttle bus (NTD 100) to the trail head.
The weather was nice. I was with three other hikers; a man who we called “da-ge” which means big brother in Chinese. He took the lead for the hike since he’s the oldest and the only man. A sweet lady, very kind-hearted who treated me so well, and another joyful and youthful lady who loved to play around. They’re the same generation as my parent yet they’re still have energy to climb a mountain! I respect that.
The distance from Tataka Saddle to Paiyun Lodge is 8.5 k.m. The trail was not so bad, I found it enjoyable. We took it slow, getting know each other better, joking around, taking pictures, no rush at all. I saw some bags were left on the side of the trail, there was a wooden sign saying Yushan Front Peak (0.8 km) directing to an narrow uphill path. I was actually tempted to do this, although it’s not a long distance but the climbing looks insane, with the elevation about 1000 meters, sounds so challenging. But since I was with their group, I prefer to stick with them.
Taiwanese are very friendly, we met another group of people and it felt like everyone was a good friend. Half way to Paiyun Lodge, one of the lady felt unwell, she’s showing a sign of altitude sickness but slowly we all made it to Paiyun Lodge (3402 masl). I was astonished by how massive the lodge was, how well-built and organized it was. I showed my permit to the ranger and he took me to the room with few bunk-beds in it. I learned from my previous experience in the Snow Mountain that it can get very cold in the night so I rented a sleeping bag (NTD 200). You can pre-book your meals; breakfast (NTD 150), Lunch (NTD 300), and dinner (NTD 300) before hand since the supplies need to be carried by porter. I brought some cup noodles and onigiri from mini market, they’re enough for me.
The night before my team mates had warned me that I needed more jackets as it’s gonna be very cold up there. The sweet lady insisted me to take her wind breaker, beanie, and a pair of gloves. I miss-calculated that I’d be hiking Jade Mountain on winter cause my initial plan was on November so I wasn’t prepared for it. Another 2.4 k.m. from Paiyun Lodge to the main peak. We started early to catch the sunrise. We were all together in the beginning but unfortunately the youthful lady was getting slower, the altitude sickness hit her. Da-ge instructed me and the sweet lady to keep going, they would slowly catch up.
I was feeling okay in the first place but as we climbed higher, the wind grew stronger. Sometimes, we stopped for a while waiting for da-ge and the youthful lady. My fingers were numb and I had runny nose. I was completely freezing. The sweet lady noticed that and gave me one of her hot pack, I refused cause I felt bad, but she said she’s okay, she had enough warm jackets.
We arrived in a built-shelter that looked like a cage where we decided to wait for them again. It’s getting brighter but all we could see was the fog, icy rocks and the steep slope. I walked back and forth to warm myself up. We waited so long but they didn’t show up. Some people had come back from the summit and told us that it’s frosting up there and no view at all. Some said that there’s a long line up there so we waited till more people coming down until we finally kicked off to the summit.
It was only few hundred meters up but when I looked up, holy crap, the scree on the sheer cliff were covered in ice. The wind was so strong, it’s so cold, I wish I could speed up but I had to keep focus on my step. I prayed for no rock falls would happen. With all the hardship, we made it to the highest point of Taiwan. Even though there’s nothing we could see up there, I was happy enough to make it.
After a quick documentation up there, we headed back down to Paiyun Lodge. The frost was something new for me, the plants were beautifully covered with the white ice. We all reunited again in Paiyun Lodge, thankfully the youthful lady felt better and we descended down back to the trail head. They offered me to come with them to Alishan then back to Taipei after. After all the trouble with permits, hitchhiking, and freezing up there, it’s a good way to end my one month travel in Taiwan!
Traveled in 3-5 December 2017
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