Friday, August 22, 2008
Twenty km east of my home in Muzha rests the town of Pingxi, a former coal mining settlement along the Pingxi Small Rail Line. The rail line, one of several small gauge lines kept open for tourism, runs through a lovely wooded gorge and one day Pashan and co plan to walk the 16km of track after the last train has left for Taipei around 6.40pm.
Meanwhile, I spend a lot of time doing day hikes in this lush, hilly, craggy landscape. It's appeal is obvious, and in any other country, being so close to a major city, it would be prime real estate. If I ever find a place to rent, in particular an old Japanese era house, I will move in a second.
A few of my favorite trails in the area include Shuliang Jian (you can see Taipei 101 in the distance from the top); the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail, with its dozen or so falls; and the scary ridge along Fengtou Jian which we climbed last year.
And then there are the Pingxi Crags.
Yep, you can climb to the top of this beauty on metal stairs. It's not technical in any sense, just a lot of fun if you aren't scared of heights.
One of the best day hikes starts near Pingxi Elementary School. You begin along an old coal train line which soon reaches a cool old mining station with deep water-filled tunnels: we call the area Gollum's Lair. From here follow the maps to do a great easy loop through a broad leaf forest. Keep an eye out for the native kiwi fruit trees.
Recently, I have been returning to the ridge, which begins about 10 minutes along the coal train path. Look for the stairs to the left with signs to Cimu Feng, Shaozi Shan and Jhongyang Jian.
The trail heads straight up from here for 30 minutes or so running alongside, and then atop, a gorgeous grey cliff face, probably limestone, and pitted with small pockets. The stairs are carved directly into the stone.
There's a flat section about 30-40 minutes along at the top of the ridge, with great views over the surrounding hills.
The first pic shows Fengtou Ridge. The second Jingtong, the tiny village at the end of the rail line.
As you start to descend the trail is rather narrow in a few places. Most people, like my friend Chris, sit down to get past the trickiest part. It doesn't help that the rope line is loose at this, and only this, point.
Here's a nice pic back when the club used to attract a dozen or more people for a hike. Sigh. Living overseas you see so many great people come and go too quickly.
After the narrow section, the trail rejoins a cement staircase that leads to a small road. You can follow the road down and then head up the main road to reach the elementary school where you started.
More fun though is to tackle the Pingxi Crags which begin just off the cement stairs. These crags are fairly well known though you see far fewer people on them than a few years ago. Reportedly, the stairs up to the crags were hand carved by a retired body guard of Chiang Kai Shek, which explains why two crags are known as Cimu and Shaozi Shan: Loving Mother and Dutiful Son, respectively.
In any case, it's a pretty crazy trail.
At the top of Putuo Shan you'll find the Buddhas of the Three Families and at the back a statue to one of the Eight Immortals. A nice example of multi-denominational worship in Taiwan.
The steps up and down Cimu Feng can be seen clearly from the back of the flat on Putou Shan.
Stairway to heaven:
Shaozi Shan is the shortest of the crags, but the most dramatic. I have to post a few pics of this as the day I took these the light conditions were perfect, a rarity in this region. The air was dry, the sun was low in the west and I was at the perfect angle.
Pingxi is easily reached from southern Taipei by heading toward Shenkeng and staying on the 106 toward the east coast. The trails start across from the obvious red brick elementary school just before the main street in Pingxi. Buses 15 and 16 run from Muzha Road just across from Muzha MRT station. Or you can catch the Pingxi Small Rail Line, which begins at Rueili on the coast.
For the Dutch, KLM has specials to Taipei now. From the airport take a shuttle bus to the city and then transfer to the brown MRT line. Get off the bus at Muzha MRT station and follow the instructions above.
After a hike we used to hang out in this cozy, deep swimming hole. Unfortunately there's a small house and farm just upstream and they added a chicken coop. I've still been in the pool but it's just not the same now standing under the falls in the back and wondering if a piece of shit is about to plop down on your head.
More Pingxi pic here.