Monday April 1
"I’m not getting up at 2am and hiking for 14 hours. No way."
Richard and the others want to spend the second day climbing Yushan by a back route. Since it will involve about 12-14 hours of hiking we need to start at 3am so we can return before nightfall. But the way I look at it, we have to walk in the dark either way, so why not get a good night’s sleep and start out at dawn? 2am is just a little too shy of my usual bedtime of 1am for me to even consider it.
I lose out on the planning, though Richard grants me a 3am wakeup. I sleep little that night, as the snores of fellow hikers eat away at my brain. When 3am rolls round I’ve slept about an hour and tell Richard he and the others can go on without me. I’ll leave at a reasonable hour and either catch up or hang out in the Batongguan Meadows.
When I wake in the morning I find it is much chillier than the day before. The fog lifts and reveals blue patches here and there but overall it is a damp, windy, somewhat biting morning. I head out on the trail about 6.30am.
As I leave I meet one of the schoolteachers from the second cabin. He is leading a group of high school kids from Taichung on a trek up Batongguan Mountain. He’s concerned that I am heading up to Yushan by myself, especially with the weather so changeable. I assure him I have a map, proper waterproof gear, and lots of food and water. But I do take his warning seriously.
I feel like crap for the first hour or so of uphill walking, until I reach Batongguan Meadows (elevation 2800-2900m). The meadows are a glorious sight: a wide expanse of rolling mustard yellow terrain covered in short Yushan cane. The trail cuts through the lowest part of the meadows, which appears flat but is really terraced and furrowed. Rolling high hills hem in the meadows on the sides, and smaller rounded hillocks lip the edges where the ridge drops off.
I watch the fog roll in and out of the valley for a long time. It moves so fast that visibility goes from 1km to 10m in a minute. It’s especially fascinating to watch the fog break on the hillocks as it rolls in and then reform as it sweeps down and across the low meadows.
I’m amazed at how quickly the trail has gone from feeling like a walk in a warm grove to this rather blunt and forbidding environment. I head up a thin side trail on the slopes above a steep valley. My side of the valley is covered in Yushan cane, and white rhododendrons bloom everywhere. Across the rift is dark pine forest, and layers of rugged mountains can be seen receding in the distance when the fog clears.
On a warm, sunny day it must make you want to sing up here, but today I kept asking myself if it was wise to continue on my own, on a trail I don’t know, in dense fog. When it starts to rain heavily as I proceed up a rough side valley toward a cloud-obscured Yushan, I turn back.
I spend the rest of the morning and afternoon resting at the cabin and chatting with the school kids who are preparing for their GEPT tests (General English Proficiency Test). Around 5pm I go out for a walk to see if I can intercept the others. I spot them just up from Guanggaoping. They are cold, miserably wet, and grumpy. They had made it to the top of Yushan, slogging through snow at the end, but visibility was down to a few metres. They might as well have been in a parking lot.
That night we have to switch cabins and sleep with the school kids in the second cabin (which does not improve the mood of my grumpy companions). The kids should have been out already but had decided to spend another night at Guanggao waiting for the weather to turn better. Such are the vagaries of life on the trail.
The kids are quite well behaved considering, and as some compensation we get to eavesdrop on the teacher’s lecture on the high mountains of Taiwan. In case you didn’t know (and I didn’t) there are five mountain ranges on the island: the Yushan, the Central Mountain, the Syue, the Coastal and the Alishan Ranges.
The Batongguan Meadows are a gap of sorts at the intersection of the Yushan and Central Mountain Ranges.
Click here for Day Three.
If you do decide to climb Yushan from here, give yourself 12-14 hours. You can leave your pack at the cabin but prepare plenty of food and warm weather gear. Water sources are far between so carry 3-4 litres and top up when you can.