Friday, August 22, 2008

Pingxi Trails

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.

Going up.

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.


Inger said...

Looking absolutely freakin' fantastic! I'll be looking into these special flights to Taipei soon...

minqi (: said...

Hey! I came across your blog through googling for a trip to Taiwan that I'm planning with a group of friends. The Pingxi Crags seem interesting! May I know how long it takes to complete the entire Pingxi trail, including the crags?

Ed en Vadrouille said...

Hey, I've been a couple of times to Pingxi and really love the place.
We are looking to go to the disused tunnels this weekend, and wondered if it is actually possible to get in.
Also, where exactly is that small pool you show on one of the pictures? It looks gorgeous, but i really can't figure out where it is.
And btw, the bus 15 does not exist, or no longer runs. I think it is a mistake propagated by the book "Taipei Day Trips 1" (which is sometime imprecise).

Ed en Vadrouille said...

One of the issues I've had with hiking around this place is that it is sometime hard to find where these trails go from. For example, we have been looking to climb Shaozi shan, but just couldnt find the way in, walking back and forth from the Puyan Guanyin temple to the intersection going to Haozi shan and Cimu peak (see map:
Also we just noticed that a small trail branches out of the left hand trail when you are at the top of Cimu peak and after a few meters is continued by a knotted rope before entering the jungle. It looks quite cool (here is a picture: and branches out of the trail that leads to what you call the stairway to heaven.

Mary Lou said...

Thank you so much for posting these. I don't speak chinese yet, but spend 3 weeks out of 4 in Taiwan and am so much trying to find a quiet place in nature on the weekend to take some exercise and see some nature. Do you ever go out with groups - and if so - how do I get on the mailing list. Am happy to host the group for dinner afterwards as a small token of appreciation.

Robert Scott Kelly said...

Hi everyone,

Sorry for answering questions so late. Blogger doesn't notify you of messages unless you have also posted so I just saw these.

Okay, Minqi, doing the crags can take a couple hours or all day if you do all the routes and some of the rest of the trail system. It's a big system but with lots of branches and exit points though it can be confusing as Ed points out.

Ed, you can't go in these disused tunnels though there are a few in Shifen on the way up Wufenshan that you can if you are brave enough. We think we have found one that goes right under the mountain though whether it is passable now is doubtful.

Bus 15 doesn't exist? Are you sure? I recal seeing it not that long ago. It certainly did exist. TT Day Trips was written a couple years ago so of course some things are going to be out of date. Taiwan changes fast.

To get to the pool walk up the stairs that begin across from the elementary school and keep going level instead of up the next set of stairs. Walk about 30 metres and look down into the ravine on the right. The pool is just down there. There are usually ropes down.

Mary Lou, I post about hikes on in the Travel Section (under "The Hiking Thread). We go out most weekends and anyone is free to join us.

Trent said...

Bus 15 still exists, or at least is listed on one of the new bus signs. It's on the side facing the road, not the side facing the sidewalk.

I didn't see it at first, since I didn't think of standing in the middle of the road to read the other side of the sign.

At least you won't miss your bus, as it's likely to run you over while you're reading the sign to see where it goes.

Trent said...

Oh, and you can also take bus 1076 to Pingxi as well.

Ed en Vadrouille said...

Thanks Trent!
Shame that I wasn't with you guys this Saturday, Josh loved it and I'm found of this place.
By the way, I've entered the Taiwan Best Trip with him. We are thinking to do a Dayunlin-Hualien-Taidong bike trips.

Gary Lewis said...

I learned some history of the Crags' trail construction.

My son and I went hiking in the crags yesterday, after riding bikes the night before from Taipei to XiZhi, then on the XiPing road (16km up and over a ridge) to Pingxi. We stayed at a "minsu" (B&B or hostel) just where Pingxi's old street meets the highway, opposite Old Street. The B&B was good, and the host was fantastic -- a Mr. Wang who's worked for 12 years with several friends to engage the community and local government officials to help develop Pingxi econonomically and socially. Mr. Wang's B&B is identifiable by the railroad tracks inside, beginning at the entrance.

Mr. Wang was a fountain of info. He clarified that 4-5 local people worked for over 10 years to build the Pingxi Crags trails. It was a completely local effort with no government support. They brought an electric generator up, and used powered drills (hammer drills I presume). Mr. Wang wasn't sure if they used electric jackhammers as well. In addition to building new routes, they upgraded their early ones with thicker "posts" to enhance safety and longevity. For the many materials, they solicited donations, as they had little money themselves. The donations came almost entirely from outside of Pingxi.

Today we tried hiking north of Pingxi, trying to follow a route shown on the excellent Chinese trail map that's part of the series published by "Shanghe Wenhua" Publishing. There was more than one trail and no signs at the starting point, near the Pingxi train station. We ended up in an extended cemetary that wended its way through the hills north of the RR tracks, couldn't figure out the route, and decided to bike back to Taipei.

I'll be back to hike some more. Biking there made it all the better.

Thanks for your wonderful blog, Robert.

- Gary Lewis

Leong said...

Hi, like to know if the crags are climbable in winter?
i'm heading there on 22th this mth, and is interested in trying it.

Ed en Vadrouille said...

Leong, as long as it is not raining it can be climbed any time. But DO NOT GO THERE if it rains. It would then be very very dangerous.

Unknown said...

Regarding swimming, if you follow the river 500 meters up from the waterfall along the left bank, you find two reasonable descents leading to a small pool suitable both for adults as well as children. Thanks for the blog!