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Autumn Colours, Mountain Views! 台灣聖公會2017年蒙恩得福家庭生活營 Taiwan Episcopal Church Fall Trip 2017

Beautiful red maple leaves against a blue sky ~ now how’s that for a perfect picture of autumn?!

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And the best place in Taiwan to see maples in autumn is at the high elevations, up in the central mountain range.  So off we all went, all 60 or so of us, in a total of 9 (yes, nine!) minibuses, all in a long line.  Almost processional – well, after all, churches like ours are good at processions!  Large coaches cannot travel so far in the high mountains, so minibuses are ideal. The trip was 3 days and 2 nights, Tuesday – Thursday, and all were invited ~ and here we all are!

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The Taiwan Episcopal Church has organized many trips over the years, usually in the spring or autumn, to interesting places ~ like in November 2015, when we went to the Matsu Islands.  That was my first church trip.  And now this is my second.  I had managed to rearrange some classes, and most of the members of my Thursday afternoon class at St. John’s Cathedral actually came on this trip too ~ so I signed up – thanks to Bishop Lai and all my students!

Church members, their relatives and friends came from a wide range of the churches that make up the Taiwan Episcopal Church ~ we had 3 clergy, 3 clergy spouses, many energetic seniors, some couples, some younger working people and one lovely 3-year-old boy, who came along with his grandmother and her sister, and he only fell asleep once!

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We all met on Tuesday morning in Taichung, gathered from all corners of the country – and set off eastwards, up into the mountains.

The Central Cross-Island Highway from Taichung to Hualien was constructed in the late 1950’s, about the same time as President Chiang Kai-Shek and his government were establishing farms up in the mountains to provide employment for retired servicemen.  These days, the farms are still managed by the Veterans Affairs Council – together with the Tourism Bureau and some private companies – mainly for the benefit of visitors.  Visitors like us ~ and thousands of others who travel there every year.  We visited two of the famous farms, Wuling Farm 武陵農場 and Fushoushan Farm 福壽山農場, both places packed out with people enjoying the scenery.

When I left Sanzhi on Tuesday morning, it was, as always, raining.  It had already rained for 4 days, and so it continued, for all the 3 days we were away.  Cold too.  Miserable, in fact!  It is still drizzling today.  And cold.  But up in the mountains, there was blue sky every morning, all morning ~ and the clouds came rolling in beneath us in a sea of clouds every afternoon.  It did rain a little at night, but we never saw it.  Ah, it was wonderful!

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The highest point on the Central Cross-Island Highway is just below the very famous mountain, Hehuanshan 合歡山 (3,416 m).  Just nearby is Mt. Shimen 石門山 (3,237 m), well-known as supposedly being the easiest of the ‘100 Peaks of Taiwan‘ 百岳 to climb.  So up we went!  There was a biting wind, and it was 6ºC at the top – that’s very cold for us subtropical coastal dwellers!  Maybe a third of us managed to get to the top, where breaks in the clouds gave us great views down below.

The road has been badly damaged due to typhoons and landslides and earthquakes and everything else, and is still under repair in many places.  But our minibus procession got us through and down the other side to Lishan and then Wuling….

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We stayed the night at a hotel in the Wuling Farm area 武陵農場, about 2,000 m above sea-level….

And we woke up the next day to beautiful blue skies and autumn colours…

The nearby river is famous for its Formosan Landlocked Salmon (yes, we saw some, but they’re impossible to photograph!) and further upstream is the Taoshan Waterfall 桃山瀑布, known as the ‘Sound of the Mist’ Waterfall.  The walk there is 4.3 km each way – through the forest, and takes about 3 hours in total there and back.  It was my first visit ~ and we had a wonderful morning.  It is really beautiful!

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Nearby is Taiwan’s second highest peak, Xueshan / Syueshan 雪山 (Snow Mountain), which I went up in 2011 ~ this time we went up to the trail entrance to look at the view. The view is spectacular. And so are all the lovely people in our group!

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And then down to visit some of the Wuling Farm tea-growing area, and a small museum dedicated to what the farm was like in the old days….

We left Wuling and headed back to Lishan 梨山, where we’d passed through only the day before.  Lishan (literally means Pear Mountain) is home to the Atayal People 泰雅族, many of whom are Christians.  The area is also about 2,000 m above sea level, so lots of fruit and vegetables can be grown here that normally only grow in cold countries – like dear old England.  The steep mountainsides in Lishan are no longer covered in big forests of beautiful trees but instead are covered in fruit trees, and at this time of year there’s no leaves, and the fruits in season are covered in paper bags to protect them – so the mountains look bare – but covered in white flowers, which turn out to be paper bags.  They’re mostly apples, pears and peaches.  It’s amazing – and yet devastating – all at once, to think what amazing things man has done to produce all that fruit, and yet at what cost to the environment.  Reminds me a bit of the UK Lake District really – but just replace fruit with sheep!

Anyway, we went to buy some of the apples – oh, and cabbages….

Incredible clouds nearby….

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And no, it didn’t rain, eventually the blue sky came through!

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Oh yes, and a very regal line of trees….

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Fushoushan Farm 福壽山農場 is one of the Veterans’ Farms, very high up in altitude, and before it got dark, we just had time to visit Tianchi ‘Heavenly Lake’ 天池, where President Chiang Kai-Shek liked to visit when he was at the farm.  Check out his green house….

We stayed at the most amazing Lishan Guest House, just down the mountainside from the farm, and designed in the same style (and by the same architect, Yang Cho-cheng 楊卓成) as the Grand Hotel, Taipei. This was where President Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife stayed when they were in the area – but the building was badly damaged in the 1999 earthquake, and reopened in 2012 – as a hotel.  It is very very popular, and certainly scores 100% for atmosphere ~ all that red colour, and all those lanterns!  There are no lifts / elevators, and we were assigned the top floor – 3rd floor.  So me and Ah-Guan, good friend from St. James’ Church, Taichung, struggled up to the third floor – to find that we had been assigned the room next to the Presidential Suite.  It was a ‘hit the jackpot, won the lottery, gob-smacking moment’ lol!

We were clearly in the room that originally would have been used by the presidential bodyguard, and the most amazing thing was that we had access to the presidential balcony.  This was the balcony with THE VIEW!  And so we spent a happy hour or two welcoming all our friends to come and have a look!  The presidential suite, as far as we could see (from peering in the windows!) has been left much as it was when President Chiang and his wife stayed there – we could see into a tea room, and into the mahjong room at the end….

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That evening, after dinner, and after the Atayal Concert, we had a short service in the hotel dining room for our group.  Ah, what a happy evening, and what a wonderful group of people!

Next morning, Thursday, yesterday in fact, and I was up bright and early (well not very bright, but certainly very early!) to see THE view across the mountains…..

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See the Taiwan flag? From directly outside the presidential suite, it’s positioned exactly right in the centre of the ‘V’ in the mountains…. how’s this for a view?!

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The hotel and the whole area is very atmospheric.  Ambiance, man, it’s all about ambiance!

And so after breakfast, and more tours of our presidential balcony, we packed up, checked out and spent the morning at the Fushoushan Farm.  What a place, and what a history!  It is famous for a huge pine tree with an interesting story…

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And even more famous for its Apple King Tree, with over 40 different kinds of apple grafted into one tree…

We had a tour of the farm….

And finished with the maple trees area near the main entrance, where a zillion people were taking a zillion photos, ah, it was photo-heaven!

And so it was reluctantly time to say goodbye to the farm and head back over the big mountains, westwards… but first a photo-stop near Hehuanshan, at the Central Cross-Island Highway summit (3,275m) – the highest point on the highest main road that crosses northern Taiwan, and a major destination for cyclists!

Follow my finger and in that direction is Nanhu Big Mountain, (the one on the left of the pointed one!) which we climbed in 2012…

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This is a gathering of all from Advent Church, plus Mr. Di, our tour leader (third left)….

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And finally to lunch, and back to Taichung High-Speed Rail Station to return to our separate destinations…. and I got home at 7:30 pm.  And guess what, it was still raining in Sanzhi, in fact it hadn’t stopped all the time I’d been away!

A big thank you to our leader, Mr. Di Yun-Hung ‎(狄運亨) for planning and managing the whole trip, along with a tour company team who drove us in their minibuses, and organized all the routes and meals and everything. It was a wonderful trip – the highlights being the waterfall, the maple leaves and of course the presidential balcony views…..

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But it was also wonderful to be together with such a lovely group of people, renewing old friendships, making new ones, enjoying time together, taking lots of photos of everyone in different groups, and having a lot of fun!

And finally, thanks be to God for His amazingly stunning creation ~ and the colours (and miracle) that is the season of autumn ~ YES!

On Top of the World! Yushan / Jade Mountain 玉山 ~ Taiwan’s Highest Mountain 3,952 m 12,966 ft!

Occasionally, just very occasionally, so many good things happen all at once to make an event so amazing and unexpectedly awesome, that even the hardest of sceptics are won over.  Such was our ascent of Taiwan’s highest mountain, Yushan / Jade Mountain 玉山 these past few days.  Incredible!

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last month, you’ll see I’ve braved the intense heat and humidity of Taipei to climb a few mountains.  Endurance, resilience, stamina all put to good use.  But without telling you why.   Just in case.  Don’t want to say too much. Well, it was all because of Yushan.  Because after years of applying for a permit to stay at the Paiyun Cabin / Lodge (2.4 km below the Yushan Main Peak – and the place to stay in order to make an early final ascent to the summit), we finally got THE permit.  YES! And for 12 people no less.  No mean feat, I can assure you. And what’s more, we got permits for two nights!

My good friend, Jasmine Yu, who has kindly included me on her mountain expeditions with her extended family over the past few years, also invited me to join them this time. Their dream has long been for a trip to Yushan, really ever since Jasmine climbed Yushan for the first time in 2010 with a group of her colleagues. And so, nearly every summer she spends hours and hours applying for the chance to get a permit.  But there’s only bunk spaces for less than 100 people at Paiyun, and summer is a popular time. Two years ago, we did actually get the Paiyun permit, but then a typhoon came and we had to cancel the whole trip.   This time, Jasmine started applying about 6 weeks ago, and applied every day for 2 weeks.  The applications have to be made one month in advance. But every day, the answer was ‘no’.  Then suddenly on the last day, we got news.  Yes!  12 permits for Paiyun, and not just for Thursday July 27 only, but it turned out for the previous night too.  2 nights?  At Paiyun? Are you sure?  How did that happen?  Well, we were first on the waiting list for Wednesday night, but still eligible to apply for Thursday night.  We hit the jackpot on Thursday night – then 12 people in different groups cancelled for Wednesday, so we had permits for both nights.

But we were still a little nervous.  Anxiously watching the weather forecast…..

Last weekend, it seemed like the whole of the western Pacific was roaring with typhoons and tropical storms blowing this way and that.  Three were up near Japan. One was down near Vietnam.  And a low pressure area east of the Philippines might possibly strengthen into a typhoon and be coming this way.

But by Monday, the weather forecasters were announcing that it wasn’t coming after all. Phew. We could go!

So on Tuesday we breathed a huge sigh of relief, packed our rucksacks and set off.   Our group included Jasmine’s husband, their 2 children, her 76-year-old mother and 2 of her sisters, one husband, one nephew, one friend, and of course our guide and leader, Lai San 賴桑 ~ who did an amazing job leading the way, carrying 30 kg of luggage too. We had applied for our permit using our new group name, Edelweiss – the flower grows all over the high mountains of Taiwan – including Yushan, and the song was performed by Jasmine’s son at a recent musical event.  So we were the Edelweiss Group!

On Tuesday night, we stayed at a small guest house in the Bunun Tribe’s Wangxiang Village (望鄉部落) in Xinyi Township, Nantou, where many of the men work as porters or guides for people climbing in the high mountains.  We had already met two of them on previous trips. The villagers are mostly all members of the Presbyterian Church.   From the place where we stayed, we got our first view of Yushan early the next morning…. excited YAH!

By 9:00 am on Wednesday morning, we were at Yushan trail-head (at 2,600 m above sea-level) ready to start our 8.5 km climb to Paiyun.  The sun was out, the skies were blue, the clouds were white, the path was clear, the weather was cool, and we were smiling away ~ and all in yellow!

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The trail is well-marked and has very helpful signboards all along it explaining things.  It also has a few rest places with eco-toilets ~ and of course lots of people going up and down. Our ascent to Paiyun Lodge took us about 6 hours.  Most amazing of all the people who we met on the trail were the guys who work at Paiyun, they have to carry everything up on their backs – 35 kg at a time.  Respect.

Most afternoons in summer, the mists come rolling in and it rains.  We got to Paiyun just in time.  We watched the rain from our sleeping bags!

Paiyun provides meals, sleeping bags, toilets, hot water (for drinking, not bathing) and shelter from the cold.  It was 15°C when we arrived – and falling.

Paiyun is 3,402m in altitude – that’s High with a capital ‘H’!  At that altitude ~ and on the wooden boards that we laid our sleeping bags on, sleep is difficult and headaches are common, and all the people around on each side are busy snoring away (ha ha, actually my neighbours were quite quiet!) Anyway, it really means that nobody can expect a 5 star night’s sleep. Plus, at 1:00 am, we were all getting up.  Yes, 1:00 am! Breakfast was at 1:30 am and by 2:30 am we were all ready, with our headlights on, for a day on the Yushan mountain tops.

The idea is to do the final push (2.4 km) to the summit in the darkness, and arrive on the top to see the sunrise. Most people are then descending all the way down back to the trail-head and going home.  But we had 2 nights at Paiyun, so we had a whole day.  Yes a whole day!  Jasmine’s mother stayed at Paiyun all day, resting and talking to everyone (she’s very friendly!) but she got up to see us off.   It was 10°C at 2:30 am and cold ~ but the slopes are steep, and soon we were removing layers.

The stars were bright, amazingly beautiful. But we had to focus on the trail ahead of us. It’s not easy to climb a mountain by headlight only!  Up and up the trail went, on and on. All 100 (seemed like it anyway) of us, on the route upwards.  A long line of headlights moving slowly upwards.  Some going faster than us – and we let them pass.  It was possibly the only place in Taiwan where there was a serious traffic jam at 3:00 am on an early Thursday morning.  We passed along – and up – steep scree slopes, where metal chains are provided to haul ourselves up – gloves came in handy.  Edelweiss came into view. My only photo in the total darkness.

Relieved that actually we couldn’t see much.  It was very steep!

And so we arrived at the top of the ridge, Fengkou (‘Wind Mouth’) at 4:30 am. Glimpses of orange in the sky were appearing in the far distance.  Everyone else was turning right for the final 200 m to the summit.  But with zillions of people up there, we had already decided to head instead to the Yushan North Peak first.  For us, this meant a STEEP Descent.  Unbelievably steep.  Felt like it was vertical.  All scree and rocks.  A fence with metal chains guided us down.  By the time we were down there, it was daylight. Headlights off.  A sigh of relief!

And we headed up to the North Peak.  Didn’t get too far till we turned round and saw the early morning sun hitting the main peak. THE view!

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People and websites in Taiwan will tell you that Yushan is nothing special.  In fact, they say that nobody would bother to climb it at all if it wasn’t the highest peak in the country. It’s not particularly difficult or beautiful or dramatic.  So I have heard a million times. How wrong they are!  That’s because people who say such things have only gone to the top of the main peak and back down again. They can’t have seen the view of the Yushan Main Peak from the north.  In the early morning sun.  Because this is the view to surpass all views.  In fact it is so beautiful, that the NT$ 1,000 note has this view on it.

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We spent ages just admiring the view and taking a zillion photos. And enjoying the fact that we were not with the masses of people on the main summit having to take turns for photos on the summit market.  Piccadilly Circus right there.  Instead, this is us!

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Celebrated with everyone by eating my huge Mauritius chocolate bar which my good friend, Alice had kindly brought and which was still in one whole piece even after all those hours in my rucksack – this is me holding it!

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And then up and on we went, heading to the North Peak….

On the top there’s a weather station ~ apparently the highest permanently manned (didn’t see any women, so ‘manned’ is the word) weather station in the country.

Three men stay there for a month at a time.  Year round.  They walk there and they walk back. Occasionally a helicopter comes and delivers things. They are there through snow, rain, hail, sun and even throughout typhoons.  We had heard that the tropical storm had finally decided to spring into action and was on its way – but not expected until Saturday. The weathermen assured us that we’d be fine. Very heavy rain expected. But not until late Friday.  Y’know what? Usually 2-3 days before a typhoon, the weather is fantastic. The views are always so clear.  Blue skies and crystal clear views. You can see for miles and miles.  Well, it was like that on Thursday.   Isn’t that amazing?  That an approaching typhoon should bring such amazing weather beforehand ~ and that we should be on Yushan to experience it. Anyway, the men kindly gave us coffee and let us make some of our own.  How’s this for a coffee location?!

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They’ve planted white daisies around the place and a few vegetables too.  Isn’t this beautiful?!

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And they send their weather reports to Taipei to the Central Weather Bureau (check here). Just look at this location ~ it’s just got to be the weather station with THE view!

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Just behind it is the North Peak summit at 3,858 m….

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By then it was 8:30 am and if we wanted to get to the main summit before the clouds came rolling in, then we needed to move on…. so back down the slope and up that nightmare of a scree slope that we had slithered down in the darkness earlier that morning.  The final 200 m is so steep that the metal chains are constantly in use.  It’s more like scrambling than walking.  But oh the views.  Just don’t look down!

Got to the very top just before 11:00 am, and just before the clouds, fast rolling in!

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Yes we had done it.  At last.  After all these years of waiting in great expectation, we had done it.  YES YES YES!  Yushan, Jade Mountain, 玉山 3,952 m, 12,966 ft.  Mission accomplished.  Thanks be to Almighty God!

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And so we slowly returned back to Paiyun, back down the same trail we had come up in the darkness…. past tons of Taiwan Edelweiss too  (玉山薄雪草 Leontopodium microphyllum, endemic to Taiwan, related to European Edelweiss) ~ the views were stunning!

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Arrived back at Paiyun at 1:30 pm, after 11 hours on the go.  Time for a nap.  We was, all of us, totally exhausted!

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And then after dinner, a little walk to a viewpoint to see the North Peak and a bit of Main Peak, where we’d been earlier in the day. The clouds rolled away and the sun came out ~ YES!

This is Paiyun from just above….

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Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. So they say.  On Thursday night, we were in bed soon after 7:00 pm, and up with the alarm yesterday morning, Friday, at 3:00 am. But none the healthier, wealthier or wiser.  Sorry about that. At such altitude, sleep is not easy to come by, and anyway, an early start gets us to see the views – and the sunrise!  So 8 of us from our group set off before 4:00 am to the West Peak, 3,518m, a 3-hour round trip. West Peak is all covered in forest, but through the gaps in the trees, there were some amazing views.

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From the summit we looked down on a sea of clouds above Xinyi Township….

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The wind was strong, and I was wearing 4 layers of clothes!  But well worth it for the views ~ and the achievement of our third mountain summit of the trip!

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And so back for breakfast and packing up.  By then, the Central Weather Bureau had declared a sea warning for the typhoon, so after 8:30 am nobody could set off to climb to the summit.  A few people came rushing up to Paiyun just in time to set off for the summit before the deadline came. They were trying to do the whole trek in one day rather than cancel altogether. No wonder they looked exhausted.  And they would have had no views at the top, it was already clouding over as we started our descent.

We had a group photo taken outside Paiyun Lodge.  Y’know, this is a great achievement for Jasmine’s mum, after all, she’s 76!  Our greatest cheerleader ~ even if she couldn’t come all the way to the summits, she was up each day to see us off on our way.  Hope I’m like her at that age!

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So bye bye to Paiyun.  Farewell.  We started our descent, and down we went.  The clouds were behind us.  Mostly.  A typical pre-typhoon day.  Usually immediately before a typhoon, we have alternating rain and sunny spells.  That is what we had yesterday.   A few minutes of drizzle then the sun came out.  Repeat.  All day.  Fortunately we had sufficient rain to make it worthwhile getting into our rainproof over-trousers.  Even for 5 minutes, it was worth it.  After all, I do not like to carry something all the way up to a huge mountain and not use it, ha ha!

There were flowers growing everywhere.  Not easy to photograph ~ partly cos they are small, also because I had to bend down and it’s not easy with a rucksack – balance, man, balance!

By 1:00 pm we were back at the trail-head, just ahead of the clouds. Relieved.  Happy.  Ah yes, time for a photo!

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And so to the carpark and off to find a place for lunch / dinner combined.  Yummy!  And then back to Taipei.  Got home about 8:30 pm.

Today, we have alternating heavy rain and sun all day in Sanzhi.  The typhoon is well on its way.  Due to pass over central Taiwan overnight tonight.  Hoping it’s not too bad.

Much appreciation to those who made this trip possible, and those who made this trip fun. To Jasmine for her hard work in applying, planning, organizing and leading us.  To her husband, Kenny for being the official chief photographer. To Lai San for his calmness and professional leadership.  To Jasmine’s extended family for their ongoing cheerfulness, amiability, friendliness and warm welcome. To the children for their enthusiasm to take part in a family event with relatives of all ages.  Not every teenager would be so keen!

I am forever grateful to be able to live in Taiwan and to have had this amazing opportunity to climb Yushan.  It is without doubt an extraordinary mountain.  Just climbing to the top in itself is an incredible achievement.  But it is easy to dismiss it as just something everyone does – once in a lifetime, a kind of rite of passage.  To appreciate the mountain and its grandeur, it’s massiveness, its presence, you have to see it from its northern side, from the slopes of the North Peak. From there, you can truly appreciate it in all its glory ~ and magnificence and beauty.

We spent much of our trip in awesome wonder at how everything had all worked out. The Paiyun permits for 2 nights ~ and the timing of the typhoon and the timing of our visit.  All was just so perfect.  If we had had only the one night at Paiyun, we’d have been trying to do it all in 24 hours, so we would have been on the summit on Friday morning, as the typhoon was approaching, and the views already obscured, and everyone a little concerned.  And the wonderful weather on Thursday was so perfect – possibly because there was, in fact, a typhoon coming!

Grateful thanks to Almighty God.   Truly an awe-inspiring experience.  We saw so much. Experienced so much.  Wondered in amazement at so much beauty.   Truly humbled by God’s mercy and grace shown towards us.   Privileged to have seen what others can only dream of.  Honoured to have known God’s guiding hand, protection and safe-keeping throughout.  To God be the glory.

And one last photo ~ a stone in the shape of Taiwan found by Jasmine’s daughter on the North Peak!

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Beautiful eh?!

PS Monday July 31: an update on the typhoon ~ turned out to be 2 weather events, Typhoon Nesat and Tropical Storm Haitang both came sweeping through Taiwan over this weekend. One person missing, over 100 injured, lots of damage to buildings, crops and power lines, and severe flooding particularly in Pingtung.

Article in the Taipei Times here: Storms deal damage, injure 111 – Taipei Times

Yang-Ming Shan Mountains 陽明山 ~ before the storm….

It’s summer, well and truly summer!  Schools finished yesterday, the last day of June ~ so the summer holidays have officially started ~ and everyone is making the most of it!

Summer weather in Taipei this past week has meant fine and sunny weather every morning, up to the mid-30’s in temps, then soon after lunch, it clouds over and a storm comes rolling in, sometimes just torrential rain, sometimes with thunder and lightning too.  So today everyone was up early to the Yang-Ming Shan Mountains, just above Taipei, and back down again by early afternoon.  By 8:00 am I was already at Xiaoyoukeng, where the fumaroles were busy pouring forth their stinky sulphur.  The smell was incredible!  The noticeboard said 29°C, and that was before 8:00 am. It was gonna be a hot hot day!

Over Dragon Boat Weekend at the end of May, I was up in Yang-Ming Shan doing the ‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ over 2 days, the second day completely in the mist.  (Check out that blog post here). Parts of the eastern range were new to me, so I’ve been determined to go back and do the new sections in the sun.  So today was THE day!

Check out the flowers – the big purple flowers are Common Melastoma (Melastoma candidum) – which has a high tolerance of acidic, sulphurous and infertile soils.  Also some beautiful lichens…..

First to Qixingshan (Mt. Qixing or Mt. Cising), the highest peak, at 1120 m.  One of my lovely students, Calvin from Malaysia was up there a few days ago, with photo to prove it, and I always tell him I’ve gotta keep up with him, so this is in his honour!

The views of Mt. Datun were amazing…

And down to Taipei….

By 10:00 am, I was down the other side, in Lengshuikeng, drinking coffee and looking at the weather. It was already clouding over back where I’d come from, but ahead was clear – so on I went. First to check out the Milk Lake, which “turns white due to the sulfurous fumes vented from the lake bed which turns the water murky. After gradually precipitating, the sulfur forms whitish-yellow or pale grey layers on the lake bed. The temperature of the lake is around 40 °C.”

Then to Qingtiangang, “a lava terrace formed when the lava from Mt. Zhugao flowed north after its eruption. Because of its flat terrain, a ranch was established and the area was used as a pasture for grazing cattle during the Japanese occupation.” The smell there is no longer of sulphur.  It is very distinctly cow.  Very smelly.  Very stinky cows.  Never saw any, but there’s lots of evidence.  These are the grassy areas, completely different from the western end of Yang-Ming Shan….

This is one of the old ranch buildings, now a rest area….

And there’s lots of historic pillboxes, including one on Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山at 830 m, the highest pillbox, used for defence ….

This mountain has spectacular views of Qixingshan, where I’d just come from – though it was getting quite overcast over there…..

There’s an ancient historic trail, the Jinbaoli Trail that goes over the mountains from the sea at Jinshan to Shilin in Taipei and was used to transport fish, tea and sulphur right up to the 1950’s, this is one of the old gates….

Lots of people in the area today ~ it’s THE place where couples and families and friends all come for picnics, to brew tea, play Frisbee with the kids, and even take wedding photos!

And finally I ended up at the old home of Lin Yu-Tang 林語堂 (1895-1976) on the lower slopes of Yang-Ming Shan. He lived there for the last 10 years of his life and wrote lots of things, mostly in bed.  Not because he was confined to bed, but because he thought it was the best place to think and write and invent.  That’s what the notices around his house said anyway.  Am sure thousands would agree with him. Wikipedia describes him as “a Chinese writer, translator, linguist and inventor. His informal but polished style in both Chinese and English made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, and his compilations and translations of classic Chinese texts into English were bestsellers in the West.”  He is buried there in the garden, and his home is open to the public….

By then it was 2:30 pm and home I went, arriving back in Sanzhi just before the thunder started!  Yang-Ming Shan by then was looking very dark indeed, but for me the rain held off – yippee!

Thought you’d like to see one of the lovely signs, love the ‘desire path’….

Ah yes, I love Yang-Ming Shan, such a great range of mountains, and so close and so convenient for Taipei!

PS: It’s now nearly 7:00 pm and absolutely pouring down with rain here in Sanzhi!

Queen Crape Myrtle in Flower at St. John’s University!

‘Just living is not enough, one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower’, so said the butterfly in the Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales…..

So today is a wonderful day to see the flowering Queen Crape Myrtle (紫薇花) otherwise known as Pride Of India, Banaba or Lagerstroemia Speciosa outside the multi-coloured Mechanical Engineering Building here at St. John’s University…

Beautiful flower, beautiful day!

Sanzhi 三芝 in Bloom!

Sanzhi 三芝 is blooming – currently full of fields of lotus flowers…

And if you’re up really early, you’ll get to see the flowering dragon fruits (pitahaya), which bloom overnight and wilt when the sun comes up. The flowers are huge, and attract bees…

Taiwan’s countryside is looking great at this time of the year ~ come and visit and see it all for yourselves!

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2017!

It’s Dragon Boat Festival weekend, so we have 2 extra days off – yippee!  So far I’ve spent 2 days up on the Yang-Ming Shan Mountains above Taipei doing the East-West Traverse (Chinese version is here), a 25 km route, which I did in 2 halves – it takes in 10 peaks in total. Each of the 10 peaks has a marker post with a Chinese character on the top, and using a pencil, you make like a brass rubbing in a special book. Together the characters spell out the phrase ‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ meaning ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse Activity’.  So there you have it.

A new challenge. And I always like a new challenge. My good friend, Shiao Chien, who also volunteers at Yang-Ming Shan, gave me the book as a gift many months ago.  It’s taken until now to find some free time to do it!

The weather was wonderful.  Well, for ducks, that is.  And frogs.  Also wonderful for mountain walkers who want to keep cool.  Day one on Saturday started off clear and with a strong wind, but by lunchtime, the mist had rolled in and the drizzle had started.  Day Two was today. Down in Taipei, it was beautiful, all sunshine; but up in Yang-Ming Shan it was dense fog and drizzle virtually all day.  Ah, yes, quite fun!

So 2 days, each with 5 peaks, and each day about 5-6 hours of walking.  This is Saturday’s opening view from Mt Datun …. that’s Sanzhi down there in the distance, yes I could sort of see my house!

And the view from Mt Datun Main Peak… those green mountains are the next destination on the trail, south and west peaks, and Mt Miantian at the end.

Here I am with Taipei down below and my book ready for the first brass rubbing.  If only I knew what to do, and if only I had brought a pencil!  I had assumed it would be stamps with an ink-pad, that’s kinda normal in Taiwan.  But no sign of any stamps and ink-pads. The first man I met had no idea what to do, the second one said I needed to get a pencil. He offered me his chopstick as an alternative, but it didn’t work.  So here I am waiting for something to happen, otherwise I can’t fill in the Chinese character ha ha!  Wait and see….

Anyway, Mt Datun South Peak and West Peak climbs are short but very steep, and have ropes to help everyone get up and down over the mud and slippery rocks!

And so to Mt. Miantian where the large microwave reflector things are visible for miles around.  Just below it is Mt. Xiangtian…

On the way down, came across this stone…. erected in honour of the wedding of Crown Prince Hirohito in 1924…

And down through the bamboo forest….

To the trail head at Qingtian Temple….

This is the trail-head at the western end ~ yes, I’m half done!

Legs ached all weekend.  Arms too, from all those ropes.  Could hardly get down any stairs, it was agony on the old legs.  Serves me right for trying to do 5 peaks in one day.  But still, I was up bright and early to start today’s walk at Xiaoyoukeng where the fumaroles were very busy, spewing out sulphur.  Stinking the place out.  Even though it was 100% fog , we could all smell them!

This is the start of Qixing Main Peak and East Peak Trail, ah yes, all in the fog and drizzle!

The top is the highest point on the ridge… 1120m

And down to Lengshuikeng where the visitor centre is hidden in the mist.  Cue: coffee on sale here!

My destination was Fengguikou trail-head, still about 6 km away, with 3 more peaks en route.   The first time I’ve ever been along on that ridge.  It’s mostly grassland.  Cows too. Never saw any cows, but plenty of cowpats.  Really amazing ridge walk.  In the fog.  And y’know, it was so cool!   Usually grassland means no shade, and hot hot hot.  But today was great!  This is the Lengshuikeng Pond…

Passed through pines and cedars, remnants of forestry plantations planted by the Japanese in the 1920’s….

And so to my last peak, Mt Ding, yes I was so happy!

And so down to the trailhead…. more mud!

Lots of Nature with a capital ‘N’ – pink and purple thistles, the white-flowers of the ‘Narrow-Petaled Hydrangea’ 狹瓣八仙 (Hydrangea angustipetala) there in abundance, fungi growing on the cowpats and 2 pairs of Chinese Bamboo Partridge 竹雞 which seemed very tame – well, you can see how close I got!

So 10 peaks later, and in case you’re wondering how I got on without a pencil, well, guess what?  There I was waiting for something to happen at my first peak of the 10, and along came one of my colleagues from our university, with her family – these guys turned up completely unexpectedly on Saturday morning at Mt Datun Main Peak while I was there, and they showed me how to make the brass rubbing with their pencil – which they then donated to me to take on the trip. How’s that for a bit of divine intervention eh?!  🙂  🙂

From Fengguikou trail-head, I had to walk down another 2 km to the bus at ShengRen Bridge – the road above the National Palace Museum…. the descent got brighter and nicer and sunnier the lower I went ~ this was it!

And this was the scene at Tamsui MRT Station.  Just look at that blue sky!

Met loads and loads of people over these 2 days.  Most interesting of all, was the 2 men on Saturday who had parked at Fengguikou trail-head at 6:00 am and were doing the whole traverse, all 25 km and all 10 peaks down to Qingtian Temple, and then back again along exactly the same route.  All in one day!  When I met them, they had done the first 25 km in about 6 hours, so hopefully they got back in one piece!

An amazing route, great fun, beautiful scenery, good exercise, lots of nature and yes, now plenty of aching muscles – but hey, worth every penny and every ache!

PS Thought you may like to see a sign that I saw on Yang-Ming Shan on Saturday….

It’s good news for all Climbing Violators ~ none of them will be reported to the police, ha ha!

Ah yes, punctuation is everything!