Tag Archives: Flowers

Alishan 阿里山 Sunrise and Cherry Blossom ~ Happy Easter 2018!

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Alishan, ah Alishan!  Famous for its sunrises, tea, cherry blossom, ‘sacred’ trees, sea of clouds and its mountain railway.   The place everyone goes once in their lifetime.  Visitors from all over the world, and especially from the Chinese-speaking world are there in their thousands.  Me too ~ and I was there on Saturday, Easter Eve ~ as dawn was breaking….

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Taiwan’s most famous sunrise location is there at Alishan ~ just look at all these people waiting to see the sun come up!

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That ridge over there in the distance is Yushan, Jade Mountain, 玉山 at 3,952 m, 12,966 ft ~ Taiwan’s No. 1 highest mountain. To the left of the Main Peak is the North Peak, with Taiwan’s highest permanently-manned weather station. We were up on the top of Yushan Main Peak and North Peak last July, and it was one amazing experience!

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When the sun does come up, there’s a big cheer – at this exact moment!

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2 minutes later, and it looks like this…

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After the sun comes up, there’s the sea of clouds below….

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And then, everyone spends the rest of the day enjoying the cherry blossom…

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But say the name ‘Alishan’ to older people in Taiwan and they burst into song.  This is the famous song, ‘Alishan Girl 阿里山的姑娘‘ sung by Teresa Teng 鄧麗君 in 1971.  Check it out, it’s very famous!

Alishan is high up in the mountains of Chiayi County, in Taiwan’s central mountain range.  The Chushan Train Station, near the sunrise viewing platform, is 2,451 m above sea level, the highest point of the Taiwan Railway System.  The hotels and cherry blossom area are all above 2,000 m, so it’s a especially pleasant place to visit in summer – when temperatures down in Chiayi are 30-35°C.  On Saturday very early morning it was 5°C, while lowland Taiwan was 20°….

So what of the history of Alishan?  Briefly it runs as follows:

“The Alishan area was originally settled by the Tsou tribe of the Taiwanese aborigines; the name derives from the aboriginal word Jarissang…. Following the cession of Taiwan to Japan at the end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Japanese expeditions to the area found large quantities of cypress (檜木, or hinoki in Japanese). This led to the development of the logging industry in the area and the export of local cypress and Taiwania wood. A series of narrow-gauge railways were built in the area during this time to facilitate the transportation of lumber from the mountains to the plains below, part of which continues to operate as the Alishan Forest Railway.”

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So how to go?  This was my third trip from Taipei to Alishan by direct bus, and after my last 2 reports, in 2016 and 2017, I’ve had lots of interest from visitors who want to know all the details. Of course, from Chiayi there’s plenty of buses to Alishan, but this bus is special.  For those of us in Taipei with not much time, and not wanting to spend much money, this is the way to do it.  So this is an update on those details – all you need to know!

THE bus, ‘King Bus’ 國光客運 (known as ‘Guo-Guang-Hao’) goes only twice a week, and leaves from Taipei Bus Station, next to the Taipei Main Train Station in central Taipei.  Departure time from Taipei is 20:45 pm on Friday and Saturday nights, the return trip leaves Alishan on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11:30 am, and gets back to Taipei about 5:00 pm.  Cost for the return tickets is now NT$ 645 each way, and tickets can be booked 2 weeks in advance in person at the ticket office. No online bookings.  Yes, you can book one way only, but it may be a bit more expensive for a single ticket.  You write down your name and tel. no. when you book, just in case they need to cancel the bus (like in snow, landslides or typhoons).  Ideally of course, I would love to go to Alishan on a Friday night, spend Saturday night there, and come back to Taipei on the Sunday afternoon. But so far that hasn’t happened. I have never yet spent a night in Alishan.  Nor seen the Alishan sunsets.  But hey, I’ve seen so much else!

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In the cherry blossom season in spring, tickets get sold out very quickly.  In fact, the only reason why I could go this Easter weekend was because Saturday was actually a work and school day in Taiwan, except at St. John’s University, which took the day off to make up for graduation day in June. For everyone else, Saturday’s work and school day was making up for a day off later this week as part of the annual Tomb-Sweeping Festival.  So there were far far fewer people than would normally be expected on a spring Saturday.

The 2018 Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 15 to April 10, and after that, most of the cherry blossom will be over.  But, y’know, it would be great to go there in other seasons too, and much quieter!

The bus journey takes about 5 hours from Taipei to Alishan, but on the outward trip, it’s extended to 6 hours, with a 45-minute rest at the small town of Chukou, the gateway to Alishan – and famous for its 2 suspension bridges.  We got to Chukou at 12:15 am, then rested until 1:00 am.  There’s a 24-hour convenience store, Family Mart, that’s open, and the bridge to walk across, but, well, it’s the middle of the night – and very quiet!

After leaving Chukou, the road starts to climb steeply upwards, round and round, up and up, on and on for the next 90 minutes or more.  If you get travel sick, don’t eat anything at Chukou Family Mart!  We arrived at the Alishan Main Entrance / Bus Station at about 2:45 am.  Last year, the bus would drive into the Alishan area and drop everyone off.  But now buses stay outside, and the new bus station area is there with its own 7-Eleven convenience store, which was open.  YES!  We all love a good 7-Eleven, especially one like this which has a large waiting area with benches to sit on.  It’s cold out there, so bring warm clothes.  Gloves, hat, scarf and coat.  And make the most of the hot chocolate at the 7-Eleven.  It’s hot and sweet and I love it.  And the coffee too – cos there’s not much sleep to be had on that bus once it leaves Chukou and starts heading up the mountain!  And there’s not much to do at Alishan at that time in the morning, until the ticket office opens to buy the train ticket to see the sunrise.  So make the most of the 7-Eleven!

If you don’t want to go on the train and prefer to go by minibus to see the sunrise from a different viewpoint, then there’s minibuses at the bus station offering this service, recommended by (but independently of) the bus company. I did it once and it was good, costs about the same, but hey, I like the train.  It kinda adds to the whole Alishan experience!

First you have to get your Alishan Entrance Ticket at the Alishan Main Gate.  With a bus ticket stub, it’s NT$ 150 (otherwise it’s NT$ 300).

We headed to the train station to wait there.  It’s warm (er) and hey, get in line, cos once all the people turn up, there’ll be hundreds lining up to get a ticket.  As the time of the sunrise varies through the year, so the time of the sunrise trains also vary, and the ticket office opens 30 minutes before the first train leaves.  The number of trains running depends on the season and the number of visitors too.  On Saturday, the sunrise was at 6:06 am, the first train left at 4:50 am and so the ticket office opened at 4:20 am.  At that point, the notice went up to say that there were 509 tickets available that morning….

Train tickets are NT$ 150 each way.  The train takes about 30 minutes and it is packed out with people.  So is Chushan, where the viewing of the sunrise happens.

Fortunately, there’s plenty to see and do, including a line of stalls selling bowls of hot soup, breakfast, coffee and tea – and well worth it.  After all, it’s not the warmest place in the world at 5:30 am!  It’s a very sociable place, and we’re all trying to get a good place to see the sunrise…

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Stand to the right of the viewing area near the solitary tree – yep, that tree may be the most photographed tree in the world!

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By 6:00 am, everyone was in place with cameras raised.  At 6:06 – exactly on time, the first glimpse of the sun appeared and a loud cheer went up from all the hundreds of people gathered there.  Kinda moving to hear!

For the next 10 minutes we all clicked and clicked away.  And within 10 minutes, the sun was up and it was too bright to stand there any longer, so we turned our attention to the cherry tree – which was very old and very big and completely covered in blossom.  The beauty of Alishan Cherry Trees, unlike those down here at lower elevations, is that the cherry trees there are so old.  And so big.  All so twisted and gnarled and full of character.  And covered in lichens – it’s all that fresh clean air.  And they were all looking splendid in the early morning sun.  Most of the Alishan cherry blossom in flower at the moment seems to be white.  Most of the pink ones, but not all, have finished flowering.  The white ones are beautiful ~ and of course, most appropriate for Easter weekend!

On previous visits, I have taken the train back to the main Alishan station, but this time I walked back.  If you have enough energy, then make the most of it and walk back.  It’s well worth it.  And it’ll save you NT$ 150.  But first I visited Mt Ogasawara / Xiaoliyuan 小笠原山(2488m above sea level), 500m away up a very steep hill – the views are incredible, really amazing.  If you go back by train, you will not really be able to get up there and back in time.

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There’s also a small exhibition area half way there with an interesting display of art taking the outline of Taiwan….

The path from the sunrise area back to Alishan is downhill all the way, and there’s a footpath down through the trees.  Usually takes 40 minutes, but I wandered off on some other paths, and took much longer.  It’s such a great area for wandering!

And once you’re down there back at the main Alishan area, well there’s loads of places to visit.  I wandered all over the place.  Trails lead everywhere.  So much to see.  The sacred trees area is the furthest away, and with lots of steep steps up and down.  But you don’t need to go far to see all the colours of Alishan.

It’s the first time I’ve visited Alishan’s most famous hotel, the Alishan House Hotel 阿里山賓館 when the cherry blossom at the main entrance was out.  Those trees are so old and falling down that they are held up and supported by metal poles.

Cherry blossom galore…

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Magnolias….

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and calla lilies…

Plus plenty more, check out this tree stump that looks like a pigs’ head…

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And there’s also Taiwan’s most beautiful (and highest) post office….

I had a spare hour at the end, and had done hours and hours of walking (after hardly any sleep!) and the weather was turning cloudy, so I bought coffee and sandwich and went off to visit the Sacred Tree Station by train – and returned 45 minutes later.  One-way ticket is NT$ 100.  Had my coffee break on the platform surrounded by huge trees.  In previous years I had walked there, but this year there was no time, so I went by the train.  It’s fun!

By the time I got back to Alishan Main Station, the sun had completely disappeared and the mist and fog had arrived.  Wow!  I passed the RC Church and hostel down below the main road – it’s apparently the best place to stay for those on a budget, but booking is not easy, mostly done by telephone.

And so back to the bus station in time to catch the 11:30 am bus back to Taipei.  We stopped once on the return journey, for 10 minutes at the Chiayi Bus Station. Most of us were so exhausted from having virtually no sleep the night before and having walked around all day, that we slept most of the way home.  Got back to Taipei Main Station at about 5:00 pm.  The driver was the same for the outward and return journeys – really excellent!

Alishan is well worth visiting, it really is special.  It’s true that the crowds might get to you at the peak times, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s beautiful!

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I just love Alishan!

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So Happy Easter 2018 @ Alishan ~ ah, what wonderful memories!

THE place to see Cherry Blossoms 櫻花 @ Tianyuan Temple 天元宮, Tamsui, Taiwan!

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Cherry Blossoms (sakura 櫻花 ying-hua) are out big-time.  Spring is finally here!  Currently flowering all over everywhere, but possibly the most famous place and most accessible for Taipei people is at Tianyuan Temple, just outside Tamsui.  Just happens to be not far from here, and there are huge traffic jams – ah, yes, we all love to see cherry blossom!

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Tianyuan Temple Cherry Blossom is all Yoshino Cherry (吉野櫻) and, hey, they are looking spectacular.   You must go – and soon!

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Tianyuan Temple is a Taoist Temple worshiping the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang Dadi 玉皇大帝), and the main attraction is the 5-story pagoda, with deities on each floor, and all surrounded by cherry blossom.

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I’ve been waiting for a sunny day, and today was it!  So I went there late this afternoon, about 4:30 pm, and this was the scene….

And having the most fun taking photos were a group of very athletic students, who managed to perfect their pose after a few tries!

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Getting to Tianyuan Temple is easy if you come by shuttle bus from Tamsui MRT Station, they’re currently running all day, but there’s also a long wait at weekends – I saw hundreds waiting in line last Saturday!  Traffic is very slow, and parking is not free, so come by shuttle bus.  For me it’s easy, just hop on the regular #876 bus that runs from Sanzhi to Tamsui over the mountain road, and it stops at the temple – only takes about 20 minutes.  And I caught the same bus back again about an hour later.  Yes, so easy!  Ah, the endless weekend traffic jams are well compensated for by having beautiful cherry blossoms within easy reach!

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Do make the most of the cherry blossom season, it’ll be over before long ~ so get here quick ~ YES!

Now’s the Time! Cherry Blossom Season in Full Swing @ Sanzhi 三芝!

Yes, it’s peak time for the Cherry Blossom (Sakura) Season here in northern Taiwan, and Sanzhi is THE place to come!  It’s warm and sunny too – so get here quick!  Lots of people are here every day walking along the mountain roads or along the San-Sheng Trail 三生步道 by the river to enjoy all the variations of pink blooms on offer, and not just cherry blossom but also tons of flowering azaleas. The local government has planted 15,000 cherry blossom trees in recent years, and they are all in flower now.  In fact, the dark pink cherry blossom are nearly over, but the light pink ones, the sakura, are out all over.  And they’re out much earlier than last year (see last year’s report here – written at the end of March 2017, 2 weeks later than this year).  So come and see!  Come and see that Sanzhi is not just famous (sorry, infamous) for it’s miserable non-stop rain all winter, but also for it’s beautiful flowers!

It’s also planting time in the fields and local people are busy.  Water oats / Water bamboo (茭白筍 Jiao bai sun) are especially grown in Sanzhi, and the farmers have a particularly muddy job!

This was the San-Sheng Trail this afternoon…

Beautiful eh?  Yes, Sanzhi is a great place in spring  ~ and especially now.  So do put it on your itinerary to come and see for yourselves!

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