Or as I prefer, the ‘West-East’ Vertical Traverse! This is THE mountain challenge for all those looking for a day out from Taipei – a 10-hour hike over the 10 mountains in the Yang-ming Shan range that lie just above Taipei City. It’s 25 km, almost 1,700 m of ascent and about 45,000 steps in total. And totally worth it!
This is my account of my trip last Saturday, October 26. Spring or autumn is the best time to do this hike, because summer is too hot (and it rains nearly every afternoon) and winter is too wet. You need a number of dry days before the actual day, otherwise the paths are slippery, especially the roped ones! The only other time I’ve done this hike all in one day was in May 2018 (see that account here) but the route has slightly changed since then, with one of the summits (Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 ) now closed to the public – to avoid the cattle, which are actually a mix of water buffalo and Tajima cattle, after someone was killed by one last year. The summit marker post has also been moved to the highest point on the Lengqing Path, and renamed Jixinlun 雞心崙.
Fortunately the whole hike can be done in more manageable and smaller sections – it divides nicely into 4, which can be done over 4 days or 2. That’s what I was doing on free days during the summer, and I would get home before the thunderstorms rolled in during the afternoons. If you take the harder option, and do it all on one day, be prepared for aching limbs for 3 days afterwards – it’s hard work!
On each of the summits, there is a marker post, and on the top of each post is a Chinese character in metal ~ use a pencil and paper to do like a brass rubbing (or just take a photo!) Put together in order and these characters make a phrase. The 10 Chinese characters are: Mt. Ding (“陽”), Mt. Shiti (“明”), Jixinlun (“山”), Mt. Qixing East Peak (“東”), Mt. Qixing Main Peak (“西”), Mt. Datun Main Peak (“大”), Mt. Datun South Peak (“縱”), Mt. Datun West Peak (“走”), Mt. Miantian (“活”), and Mt. Xiangtian (“動”). The whole phrase, 陽明山東西大縱走活動 translates as the ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse Activity’. These are the 10 posts (left to right in the order I did them) and 10 Chinese characters (kind of left to right in the correct reading order) below….
Although it is titled the East-West Traverse, and the marker posts are numbered in that direction, actually it is easier to do it from west-east, mainly because of the times of the buses. The east end of the hike is a place called Fengguikou 風櫃口. The bus stop is about 1 km down the road from there, at a place called Fengguizui 風櫃嘴. The bus is the small city bus M1 (市民小巴1) from Jiantan MRT Station, and there’s not many of them! Every morning, the first bus leaves Jiantan MRT Station at 6:10 am going up to Fengguizui, taking about 30 minutes. The next bus after that is 10:10 am, so don’t miss it! The Taipei MRT opens at 6:00 am each day, so for those of us further away, it’s impossible to get to Jiantan MRT Station so early.
You also need to know that the final M1 bus of the day from Fengguizui down to Jiantan MRT goes at about 6:10 pm. That is the one to get! If you miss it, you have to walk down much further to Shengren Waterfall Bus Stop where there are many buses, but the road is long and winding, and the short-cut paths are steep – plus by then it’ll be dark, so timing is everything!
The other reason for finishing at Fengguikou rather than starting from there is that the final part of the hike may be be long (6 km from Qingtiangang 擎天崗) but it is the least steep part of the whole hike, and after a long day going up and down, it’s nice to take things a bit more easily!
So all in all, I think it’s better to start at the west end of the hike, which is at Qingtian Temple 清天宮登山口 and walk eastwards. The bus you need is the S6 (小6) bus from Beitou MRT, and there are lots of buses all day long. Also lots of people on a weekend all queuing for the early buses! Get there early. The earliest I could get to Qingtian Temple on Saturday was at 7:20 am. Qingtian Temple village has a temple or two, a public toilet and a large noticeboard with a map. The whole trail is very well-signposted as long as you know the order of the mountains. The trails on Yang-ming Shan were mostly built in the Japanese Era, and they were built to last forever, mostly of stone. This is the view from Qingtian Temple Trail-head over towards Guanyinshan…
The trail from Qingtian Temple to the first summit of Mt. Xiangtian 向天山 takes just over an hour, going via the usually-water-less Xiangtian Pond. I was on the grassy summit (949 m) at about 8:30 am and 20 minutes later, reached Summit 2, Mt. Miantian 面天山 (977 m) at 8:50 am. There’s a viewpoint and raised rest area there, 2 huge microwave reflectors and views down to St. John’s University and the whole northern coast. But as it was alternating cloudy and sunny all day, so views were limited. That was a relief in a way, I didn’t have to keep taking photos! This is the silver-grass, at its best in the autumn….
Taking the path straight down from Mt. Miantian leads back to the main path. Turn right for about 10 minutes heading to Miantianping 面天坪, where there’s a pavilion always full of people enjoying a day out. The path up to Mt. Datun West and South Peaks (and eventually to Mt. Datun Main Peak) starts here, on the left. The Datun Mountain range 大屯山 lies ahead. This is the steepest part of the whole hike coming up. Bring some cheap gloves to cling onto the fixed ropes that are provided to help you haul yourself up and down. Be prepared for aching arms and shoulders the next day!
The ascent of Mt. Datun West Peak 大屯西峰 is steep and exhilarating, with lots of large rocks to get over. The top (985 m) is mostly rocks too, and the descent is equally steep, so it’s better to go down backwards. At the bottom, head on to Mt. Datun South Peak 大屯南峰, which is a shorter but even steeper climb than West Peak. However once you get to the summit (959 m), that’s it with the ropes (and the gloves), they won’t be needed any more on this hike. The descent is much easier. Berries en route to attract the birds….
The path brings you out ready to hike up to Mt. Datun Main Peak 大屯主峰, which is a bit of a slog up endless stone steps. The summit (1076 m) is high up above the path, there’s a viewpoint, and it’s the top of the road for the cyclists who like to come up on their bikes from Taipei. On Saturday, it was mostly foggy, so no views, but on a clear day the views of Taipei are great. By then it was almost 11:00 am. 5 mountains down, 5 to go. We’re half way – yes!
Then follows a long walk down from Mt. Datun Main Peak, either by road, or by path to the Anbu Entrance. I took the path, it comes out at the road, and there you turn right. Heading to the next big mountain, Mt. Qixing ~ and it is easier (but definitely not so pleasant) to walk along the main road. There are buses, cars and cyclists coming from all directions, but following the trail along down below the road is mossy and often slippery, and takes ages. I walked along the road – to the junction, then cross over and turn left, walk up to the car-park and up over the small grassy hill – spurred on by the call of the coffee shop at Xiaoyoukeng!
At Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑遊客服務站, the fumaroles were spouting forth tons of yellow and white sulphur gases, stinking the place out. They are fun to check out. There’s also a visitor’s center (with maps, displays, water machines to refill water bottles, and friendly National Park people to answer all your questions), toilets and coffee shop.
Now, spurred on by coffee, it’s time to launch forth up the highest mountain of the day, Mt. Qixing 七星主峰. The newly-restored path is beautiful. This is always the place with the most people. And yes, it was heaving, but it’s not a difficult climb, in fact it’s fairly manageable even for people more used to walking in high heels on city streets, hence the vast numbers of people going up at the weekends. I got to the top (1120 m) at about 1:00 pm, and there was a line of about 30 people queuing to take photos at the big summit post. Fortunately for me, nobody was interested in the small marker at the side, which is the one what I needed to take a photo of. About 20 minutes later, I got to the top of the Mt. Qixing East Peak七星東峰 (1107 m), where there was a line of about 10 people all trying take photos of the only summit marker. I joined the queue – but I was the only one not wanting myself in the photo!
The descent is long – and usually crowded with people. I got to the Lengshuikeng Visitor’s Center 冷水坑遊客服務站 at about 2:00 pm, time to refill the water bottles, drink hot chocolate, eat snacks and chat with all the many visitors. It was at the visitor’s center that the guides told me that the Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 summit marker had now been moved, due to the path closure, and is now renamed as Jixinlun 雞心崙, the highest point on the Lengqing Path. You walk eastwards from the visitor’s center on the path, cross the bridge and turn right towards the pond. At the pond, turn left up the steep steps. At the top of the steps, turn right, and about 5 minutes later is a viewpoint, and the marker is positioned there.
By 3:00 pm, I had arrived at Qingtiangang Visitor’s Center 擎天崗遊客服務站 which was also full of people. Everyone was there to relax on the grass, and see the cattle. There were plenty of big fat buffalo, all lazing around, and all very smelly. 8 summits down, 2 to go. At this point many people give up and go home by bus. The next section and challenge is to cover 6 km (plus a further 1 km by path / road to the bus stop) to get to the eastern end of the trail at Fengguikou. But this is also the nicest part in many ways. The trail alternates between forest and grassland, finally getting to the summit of Mt. Shiti / Shitiling 石梯嶺 (863 m). I got there about 4:00 pm. The fog had lifted, and there were good views. The sun was beginning to go down and the light was special. But I didn’t want to hang around. I had a bus to catch and the light was fading ahead…
By 4:30 pm I was at the final summit, Mt. Ding 頂山 (768 m), and from there, on down to Fengguikou Trail Head 風櫃口登山口. At the car-park, there’s a path immediately to the right that goes from the trail head to cut off the winding road, but it’s steep, and it was dusk, so I took the long winding road, also to the right, heading towards Shilin, which took ages. But the sun was setting, it was lovely!
I arrived at the Fengguizui Bus Stop at about 5:30 pm, and waited for the bus at 6:10 pm, in the dark with a group of students and other walkers coming down from Yang-ming Shan. The phone signal is very poor in that area, so you have to move around a bit. This is the altitude diagram of the hike…
And guess what? As I was standing at that bus-stop, in the dark, on a remote mountainous road in a far corner of the Yang-ming Shan mountains, one of those students waiting with me suddenly asked me if I was Teacher Catherine from St. James’s Kindergarten in Taichung. I was and I am! It turned out she had been in my class when she was 5. She’s now at university, and this is the first time we’ve met since. Amazed that she should recognize me after all these years. But Taiwan is that kind of place, you never know who and where you might meet some lovely person who knows you!
This is a highly-recommended, but a bit-of-a-killer hike! Two days later and I am still aching all over, especially going up stairs. Grateful for cool weather, not much sun, no mud, dry paths, friendly people, hot coffee and hot chocolate, easy access, good and cheap public transport, friendly and knowledgeable National Park staff, clear signposts, lots of silver grass, energy, free time and strength – and unexpected reunions at bus-stops!
Thanks be to God!
PS Updated on April 20, 2020: a more recent account of this same hike is posted here, with all 10 summits now fully open.