Syue Mountain / Xueshan / Snow Mountain
Its not quite often I write one here counting a trek accomplished. Especially this year, I wanted to ensure to finish a trek and a dive this year. Luckily YMCA (sg) announced Xueshan hiking in Taiwan. It wasnt hard to make my mind for the trip but later started worrying about the limits to what I would be pushing myself.
My last one MacLehose trail left me with no-never-hiking mood but am known for throwing myself into boundary bending thrills. I started preparing myself by using stairs for 30 floors. Just before the trip, I ensured I did it with my rugged timerland shoes and that promptly gave me sore thighs until the end of first day of the trek.
Planned it in such a way to have little bit of city tour following the hike. All fell in place and scoot airlines carried me promptly to Taipei on the too-early morning of 2nd March. Taoyuan Airport looked deserted and the cold by all means tried to reach my bones. My denim jacket did help a bit. As per the plan we, the ymca hikers group to meet at airport by noon and I had whole morning to wonder what to do.
Tried to check if that has got airport hotel but that was undergoing some renovation. Tried my level best to explain taxi stand guys that I need a hotel for few hours to rest and refresh. Finally a guy nodded and got my stuff in to the taxi and suggested it would be around S$60~70 for 5~6 hours.
Rain forecast for the entire week was way to alarming especially considering the peaks of Xueshan. After 10 kms of drive in drizzling cold weather, taxi driver pulled the car to an exit and got me into a motel. I paid and got my stuff into that godown looking place. But rooms were pretty neat and the bath was huge. Place was kind of making me uneasy with the never felt weather. I tried to get some sleep with the self-warning that I wont have proper energy for the hike.
After refreshing, got a cab to the airport and the weather still looked eerie and cold. Taoyuan Airport was looking bit better with passengers and tried to communicate that indeed it worked. I went in and explored both the airports. Kind of disappointing with very less number of shops. I didnt find anything proper to eat to be honest.
After long wait, rest of the hikers and YMCA guides joined us. Bit of relief in the land where English is a rarity even in airport.
In the nangang district we stopped at a rt-mart (a retail chain and a mall) and tried my first time with teppanyakki and pleasanty surprised I liked it. Got some huge apples and fruits and stuff for the hike as there wont be a place to get anything.
Generally people keep Wuling farm at Xuěbà(Shei-pa) National Park in Dahu Township as the place for night cap before the hike. Our guides have different plans (guess – we didnt get enough rooms out there for us – it requires very advanced planning). As we had plenty of day ahead of us before reaching the place to sleep, it was decided to visit a Whishky distillery . It pronounced like ka-va-lan and learned they are one of the finest whisky makers. My knowledge is limited to beer and wines. It was bit of fun looking at those huge boiler looking fermantation units for a while. A much needed coffee shop was in site and that also acted as the place to taste the free whisky of the distillery . I was bit reluctant to the idea but looking at that some 10ml content, I decided to give it a try. It was not bad but anything more than that quantity would have made my thought the otherway. Overall, “King Car Kavalan Whisky Distillery” at yuanshan (Yilan) was a quite beautiful trip.
As expected weather got worse in the late evening. We finally got into a small roadside town apartment which acted as a shop and shelter at first floor. Few of us were in serious dillemma to take bath or not and luckily I had mine in the morning.
On 3rd March, we started around 4 in the morning after a bone numbing bath. When we woke up in the car again, the beautiful valley of Shie-pa national park feasted our eyes with the drizzles and mist. Visibility was quite less.
A small but beautiful office with a spectacular view (clear weather when I returned). We had our permits ready by that time. We have been advised to watch a safety video which would scare anyone who suspect about the fitness. I have tested my physical strength and stretching it in MacLehose trail in HK but this one would test my physical strength to face cold and the height of 3886 meters (close to 4km vertically).
Luckily I spent enough time for shopping for this weather. Below is the quick list for this peak.
Fleece or POLARTEC 200-1000
Wind proof Layer
Good Hiking boots
+ Head Torch, water bottle (Nalgene), wet wipes (important), medications.
Skipping or adding any items based on the persons comfort. To be honest, I underestitmated and skipped the mid layer which made me to wonder whether I would be alive or not in the morning on the second day!.
Qika hut (Cika Hut)
I had a ear cover and covered it with a beanie as well before the start. My pack was just quite neat and didnt dump with too much of load like I did with MacLehose trail. With the visibility of less than 10 feet, we started our hike. After numerous hairpin bends, during midday we reached qika hut. As it was quite misty, there were no views.
The Chika hut is situated at the traditional atayal hunting ground called as Kikuru. The old hunting trail used during Japanese occupation has long been deserted and current climbing trail was built in 1969 by the Taiwan Forestry Bureau for holding China Youth Corps Syue Mountain activitities.
Generally people skip this hut for the nightcap as its kind of easily reachable. Its 7.1 Kms from the trail head and not hard to climb. We stopped there for a snack break and continued to 369 hut for the night cap.
Little later on our way to Syue mountain east peak, slowly mountain slopes came into visibility. Slowly weather got better and I felt slightly relieved. I genereally preferred to walk alone and this one was no exception. I joined people or waited once in a while where they took break. I respected my momentum and hiking style and didnt want to push my body to cope up with the hiking style of those veterans.
Just before the east peak, there was a place to rest and we promptly ate our lunch. I checked the lunch was given that morning and honestly felt I could eat nothing. I ate a banana and relied on some of the cereal based snacks.
Weather cleared further and the gigantic east peak shed the mist dress slowly but fully to give a cold feel to everyone of us with its height. It was named aptly for its tough hike.
Slowly the ascend started and that continued to be few steep ups and down for a while.
We reached Syue mountain’s east peak after 5KMs from Qika hut. This itself at a staggering 3201 meters high. Luckily weather was pleasant and I was able to walk without gloves for few minutes.
From here, one can expect beautiful views and most of them 360 degrees. After a snack bar break, we continued the snaky trail that slight started to show a small building in the middle of a distant hill. We were told its the 369 hut where we gonna stay for the night.
369 Hut / Sanlioujiou Cabin
The Sanlioujou got its name from being located at the foot of the 3690 meter high Bennuofu mountain. There used to be a pond and a hunters cabin nearby. The atayal people called the cabin Takajin, meaning the cabin built with dead logs. When the water water dried up mountain lake vanished.
Little after 3pm we reached the 369 hut which sits an amazing valley. Its like this, Its the mountain slope halfway and there goes a valley all of a sudden. Hut sits right at where valley starts. As the surrounding has lesser trees, view is pretty and soothing.
This place had a standard zero degree weather and I couldnt even think to remove my shoes. We were given some hot soup by the cook. Again, I pushed myself to drink so that my body can be warm. Hut is just basic of basics. Literally made of wood. Our guides have staked some sleeping bags for all of us which were sort of ice cold.
Good chinese buffet was there for dinner but my specially trained tongue refused anything other than the bould of rice with hot water. I cursed myself for my food practice. Little later, the cook shared the horror stories of what can go bad how the rescue operations work there. One of the guy hiked literally got his lung filled with water because cold and later rescued through helicopter.
I filled boiling water to my thermal flask and slowly drank it like tea. For that weather it was little soothing but I lost teeth enamal which I realized couple of days later.
Though the weather was good for that evening, following day’s weather was still in question and storm was somewhere in the terms. We have been advised to check the sky by 2am and if the moon is visible clearly we are to proceed to the peak. Also, we have been advised not to take stars as the sign about the weather.
It was a beautiful night with horrible weather that my body can sustain. Worst, I had to use the bio-restroom for nature calls and I had to use one to pee at 10pm. When I checked the thermometer, it was showing somewhere around minus 6 (-6) degrees. I was sceptical that the wipe I had might be frozen. I couldnt sleep in the hut with the sleeping bag. It was more than horrible experience. It was too cold and my efforts to keep me fully zipped wasnt working. I tried to use another opened-sleeping bag as pillow which felt it was frozen for ages often. I will be honest, I might have prayed to be alive next morning. I constantly worried that I might get frostbites. Lucky – nothing happened. May be I was too scared as it was my first experience in sub zero degree weather.