Climbing the holy mountain of Taiwan in the rainy season

Jade mountain and “queen mother of the west”

Very few western tourists are choosing Taiwan as their holiday destination. And even fewer are trying to summit the highest mountain of this island. The remoteness, but also a complicated permit system which only allows a total of 90 persons to summit are the main contributing factors. In ancient mythology Yushan had many different names and functions, and once you see the impressive, almost 4000m high, massive mountain range, you understand why it inspired many generations’ mythical fantasy.

The journey is the destination

We solved the permit issue by booking an organized tour with TAIWAN round, and although we decided to climb Yushan on a short notice, they managed to get an empty slot for us. Our guide Chase picked us up at the fashionable Grand Hotel Taipei and after a couple of hours on the coastal motorway we headed east onto small roads towards our first planned overnight stay at Dongpu. But Chase had a different, much better plan, which included dinner at the Mal-u restaurant in the village of Xinyi. What a breathtaking excellent fusion kitchen with local ingredients, what a surprise and what an excellent host! A rollercoaster of new tastes too strong to be described with appropriate words – being mountaineers and not poets…

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Alpine style hut climb

What a fantastic mountain! From my balcony at the Daba Kai Garden hotel in Xinyi the summit rocks of Mount Yushan were painted in all colors of the sunrise. The impressive headwall covered most of my viewing angle, rising some 3000m above the valley.  To start with the trail was an easy walk, and the weather was nice and calm. But as it happened to be rainy season, this soon changed, the trail steepened, and on the last hundred meters to the Pajun-lodge we got some heavy rain showers. Wet and cold we entered the hut, learning that there is no real room to dry all the wet clothes and shoes. We were missing the atmosphere and the food of the Austrian huts, the Taiwanese hosts could greatly profit from some consulting here.

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Into the rising sun

As usual on these type of mountains, we had to make an early start, but since we were only a small group, we waited until everybody had left the hut before we set off into the night. Unfortunately we had to leave Mum behind, she did not feel well after sleeping a night at 3400m. In the light of the headlamps we made good progress, overtaking all the groups in front of us. The terrain was getting steeper, and at the “tunnel” (a sheltered part of the trail) we decided to wait so that we would be at the summit at sunrise. Not a nice place to be, very windy, very cold.. but the summit would be even more exposed. The last 100 meters were quite interesting, but chains secured all the dangerous passages to the summit. A spectacular view expected us at the summit. Slowly the sun was rising in the east, in clear skies, with the clouds well below down in the valleys. But not for long, soon they started climbing up the mountain slopes to deliver their contribution to the rainy season. Absolutely magic!

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Wooden bathtubs

I was very cold, and was allowed to go on my own down to the Pajun Lodge as fast as I could. Some quick bites, repacking the gear, and then there were “only” 8,5km to the trailhead left. As expected, we got some showers, on and off with the rain gear and umbrellas – but fortunately below 3000m it was much warmer and the dense vegetation protected us from the wind. Mum was in really good shape despite of last night’s troubles and we made it to the trailhead two hours before scheduled time. And Chase had another surprise for us: rather than dropping us off at the airport right away, we diverted to the Dongpu hot springs, where we rented a spa for two hours. Not exactly western style, with tiny wooden bathtubs and corroded pipes – but the sulphur saturated spring water made sure we stayed safe and healthy, warm and clean!

Slowly we started to think about our next challenge, Mount Kinabalu, which was only two days away…