It's Friday which means I'll be out again on the trails tomorrow. Time to sit down with a couple cans of Murphy's Irish Stout and get this hike from last weekend recorded before it slips from memory.
Not that it wasn’t memorable. In fact, it was one of the best times out in the woods I’ve had, which is of course what I said the week before. But we’re really hitting one top place after the other these days and my top ten day trips list is being rewritten all the time.
If you grew up on Tarzan legends like I did, it just doesn't get better than this. Dad, wish you were here.
So last weekend we returned to the Jiajiuliao Stream trail to begin this hike. The original plan was to hike to the top of the pass mentioned (and pictured) in last weeks post, and then head up to a nearby peak.
But in the comments, Jah Linnie, one of Taiwan’s foreign hiking gods, suggested the trail behind a cabin off the Jiaojiuliao Trail (near the second swimming hole) would make for a rewarding day trip. The trail is an old forestry bureau route and leads to the coolly named Ba Dao Er Shan (拔刀爾山; Pull Out Knife Mountain). At 1115m, this is the highest point in the Wulai area. The views are long and wide of rolling range upon range.
Unfortunately, as I was writing this, Kate posted elsewhere that Ba Dao Er Shan is just a tranliteration of the Japanese which means "hat made of vines." Oh well. We can pretend this was once the site of a "knife fight to passage" ritual so to speak.
So off we went. It was just Kate and me this time, and Kat, a Vancouver Islander, who turned out to be a great hiker and outdoors enthusiast. She was also a really fun person to spend an afternoon with and I truly hope she joins us on more outings.
Here she is chatting with Kate.
No, she's not being a granola freak here, but is smelling a camphor tree. I scrapped a section of bark off to mark a side trail and when an intoxicatign odor suddenly filled the air I realized what I had cut into. Camphors are a hardwood with a delicious scent and termite-resistant wood. The mountains around Sanyi used to be filled with camphor forests which is why the wood carving industry began there during the Japanese occupation.
There hasn't been much or any harvesting of the trees in recent decades so you find a lot of them in the forests again.
We reached the cabin in about 1.5 hours as usual. As Jah had described there was a trail up just behind the cabin. This was much more narrow than the path we’d been on. In fact it was only about a foot wide in most places with a dense underbrush coming up to our waists on either side.
It was jungly, just the way I like it. And steep.
It was easy enough to make our way up, and as the day was dry, not too hard on the lungs. A small stream ran down the slopes to the left, forming cascades and small waterfalls that looked perfect for a shower on a hot summer’s day.
Twice the trail disappeared under a thick growth of grasses, ferns and shrubs.
Twice we beat our way to the point where it became clear again. On the third try, we could not find it again. We’d reached a small creek but there was no sign of where the path began on the other side.
According to my GPS, we were only at about 700m. With 400m more ascent and the time reaching 1.30, we decided to head back.
Where we turned round was one of the most beautiful spots on the hike. There was the lulling sound of water tumbling down a steep slope over layers of disordered stones. There was an overflow of vegetation that spouted up even from the tips of bare rock.
There was a canopy of vines and thin acacias and common manchulus whose sides seemed to spit out bird nest ferns.
But there was no trail.
Coming down we actually found ourselves a couple times on the wrong path. Going up these paths were invisible but going down they often seemed the right way to go. Fortunately our psychology major, Kate, is studying memory and employed a cute Hansel and Gretel narrative to remember our every move.
We met a couple of hiking groups on the way down who confirmed that a side trail we had seen was the one we should have been on. Apparently most people hike this route from the other side, concluding where we began. There is less likelihood of missing the trails this way.
We all want to go back soon and climb Ba Dau Er Shan from the front side and finish off where we started this time. None of us cared that we didn’t make it this time. Just being out in that lush jungle all afternoon was reward in itself.
For me there was the extra reward of seeing a great part of a region’s hiking route come together in just one afternoon. Even after a decade hiking in Taiwan there are still, just 40 minutes from my house, long and complicated trail systems I am only just beginning to understand and explore.