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A frog goes hiking: 單攻玉山 (Yu shan one-day trip)

posted by Martin Rubli at 14:48

It's been just about a year since my last hike to one of Taiwan's 100 highest mountains.

This time's challenge: Climb Taiwan's highest peak and come back the same day. The trail head starts at an altitude of around 2600 meters and 玉山主峰 (Yu shan or Mt. Jade main peak) stands 3952 meters tall. The distance to the top is about 12 km and the entire trip generally takes around 12 hours.

It's certainly not an easy hike, but very doable, at least if you don't go over the top with packing your backpack like I tend to. We stayed the night in 東埔山莊 (Dong pu mountain lodge), which is conveniently located about 2-3 kilometers from the 塔塔加登山口 (Ta ta jia trail head).

Unfortunately we had rather bad luck with the weather. The first five hours of ascent were largely dry but near the 排雲山莊 (Pai yun mountain lodge) we entered the fog and drizzle set in, which got worse as we hiked up to the peak.

A few hundred meters before the top I decided to leave my backpack at the side of the road and continued with nothing but a bottle of water, a small waterproof camera, and the Swiss and Taiwanese flags that I carry an all these trips. The heavy backpack had really worn me out and with the weight off my shoulders advancing was much easier.

We spent only a few minutes at the top to take the obligatory peak photos. After all, the fog was so thick that there was nothing else to take pictures of unless you're an artist who's heavily into gray shapes on gray background. Besides, it was too cold for eating, so we postponed lunch for a few hours half-way down.

Finally at the bottom, exactly 12 hours after we had started, we sprung for the shuttle back to the parking lot and headed home to recover our sore muscles and aching joints.

On the way home a strange feeling befell me: It just didn't feel like I had just been to the highest mountain in Taiwan. Hiking without a view is just not the same for the brain. Conquering the physical challenge was great but I'll definitely have to go back for the view and the feeling!


GPS track


Hiking log

(The altitudes may be a little off as I hadn't calibrated my altimeter.)

0300: Get up, eat breakfast
0330: Set out by car to the parking lot close by
0345: Start hiking from the 新中橫公路北側平面停車場 (New central traversal highway north side parking lot), 2595 m
0427: 塔塔加登山口 (Ta ta jia trail head), 2598 m
0503: 孟祿亭 (Meng lu pavilion), 2783 m
0633: 西峰觀景台 West peak view pavilon, 2988 m
0810: 排雲山莊 (Pai yun mountain lodge), 3406 m
1033: 玉山主峰 (Yu shan main peak), 3952 m
1040: Descent
1156: 排雲山莊 (Pai yun mountain lodge)
1330: 西峰觀景台 West peak view pavilon, lunch
1400: Continue descent
1545: 塔塔加登山口 (Ta ta jia trail head)
1556: Shuttle back to the parking lot


Photos

The 塔塔加登山口 (Ta ta jia trail head), the most commonly chosen trail for climbers of 玉山 (Yu shan).

The 塔塔加登山口 (Ta ta jia trail head), the most commonly chosen trail for climbers of 玉山 (Yu shan).

View southwest from the 玉山群峰步道 (Yu shan many peak trail). There are no particularly well-known mountains visible, but since I went to the trouble to look them up: The tallest one of the four round peaks about a third from the left is 南面山 (Nan mian shan). The one in the middle in the far back is 新望嶺 (Xin wang ling). And, peaking into the view on the right side, is 棚機山 (Peng ji shan).

View southwest from the 玉山群峰步道 (Yu shan many peak trail). There are no particularly well-known mountains visible, but since I went to the trouble to look them up: The tallest one of the four round peaks about a third from the left is 南面山 (Nan mian shan). The one in the middle in the far back is 新望嶺 (Xin wang ling). And, peaking into the view on the right side, is 棚機山 (Peng ji shan).

One of the few short sections of the 玉山群峰步道 (Yu shan many peak trail) where you need to watch your step.

One of the few short sections of the 玉山群峰步道 (Yu shan many peak trail) where you need to watch your step.

Most of the trail is in the forest and leads over solid ground ...

Most of the trail is in the forest and leads over solid ground ...

... or simply over rocks.

... or simply over rocks.

This probably would have looked better against a blue sky background, but the barren trees with their interesting shapes make for good views.

This probably would have looked better against a blue sky background, but the barren trees with their interesting shapes make for good views.

Dramatic clouds over 嘉義 (Jia yi) and 台南 (Tai nan). Not surprisingly we did get a little taste of their load later on.

Dramatic clouds over 嘉義 (Jia yi) and 台南 (Tai nan). Not surprisingly we did get a little taste of their load later on.

The trail is constantly subject to landslides and other dangers.

The trail is constantly subject to landslides and other dangers.

Because there was fog further up this section was really all the mountain view we saw that day. Nice, but not exactly why you go hiking the tallest mountain of the island!

Because there was fog further up this section was really all the mountain view we saw that day. Nice, but not exactly why you go hiking the tallest mountain of the island!

The famous 大峭壁 (Big cliff). It is very impressive when you look up but fortunately the hiking trail runs safely at the bottom of it.

The famous 大峭壁 (Big cliff). It is very impressive when you look up but fortunately the hiking trail runs safely at the bottom of it.

The 排雲山莊 (Pai yun mountain lodge), which is currently being renovated and expanded and should be finished around July 2011. Until then the only options are camping somewhere in the area or doing a one-day trip like we did. At least this way the amount of people at the top stays reasonable. In normal times you don't want to be there when a few dozen people are fighting for the best place to see and photograph the sunrise.

The 排雲山莊 (Pai yun mountain lodge), which is currently being renovated and expanded and should be finished around July 2011. Until then the only options are camping somewhere in the area or doing a one-day trip like we did. At least this way the amount of people at the top stays reasonable. In normal times you don't want to be there when a few dozen people are fighting for the best place to see and photograph the sunrise.

The other way of being virtually alone is going up when the wind is strong, the fog thick, and the view zero. Apparently I'll have to come back another day to take the photos I was hoping for.

The other way of being virtually alone is going up when the wind is strong, the fog thick, and the view zero. Apparently I'll have to come back another day to take the photos I was hoping for.

Update (2011-05-14): I've uploaded the GPS track to GPSies: 單攻玉山 (Yu shan one-day trip)


  1. Ellen Long says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I'm planning on doing a one day hike as well after I train. I will be going solo (can't find anyone else with the time or fitness). Can you give some suggestions as to the easiest way to get the trail head? Will I need my own transportation? I would like a 2 or 3am start so I have plenty of time to get down. Please let me know what you think. Thanks again!

  2. Martin says:

    That depends where you start. If you stay overnight in the 東埔山莊 you can simply walk there. It's a paved road and it will take you about an hour. You can't drive a car inside because a few hundred meters after the parking lot there's a police station with a gate. It's half-closed at night, so you can walk through but not drive in. Not sure about bike or scooter, you might need to ask them.

    If you arrive from somewhere else you can simply drive your car or ride your scooter to the parking lot and walk from there. It'll take about 40-50 minutes to the trail head.

    Finally, the 東埔山莊 does offer some transportation, but it's quite expensive and may not suit your timetable, especially if you're alone.

    As for going solo 玉山 is probably okay because there are always quite a lot of people and it's virtually impossible to get lost because of the many trail signs. However, as you certainly know, the mountains can be a dangerous place, so at least make sure people know about your exact plans and bring a cell phone - there's a signal for the better part of the hike. Better yet, try to find someone to join you! :-)

  3. Ellen Long says:

    Thank you so much for answering my questions about transportation. I have two other questions about physical fitness and what to pack. In what shape were your teammates and how did you train? How fit would you say I would need to be to do this comfortably? I comfortably run 10K about 2-3 times a week as well as bike over 100K a week. Lastly, what did you pack for this hike? Are there any water sources along the route?
    Congrats on your achievement!

  4. Martin says:

    Don't worry, with that amount of training you'll be fine. I found the hike to be harder on the joints than on the muscles. I had pretty sore knees when I got down but no sore muscles in the days after the hike. Make sure you pack hiking poles and knee protection to make the descent more bearable.

    I packed too much food and water. I had packed enough water (4-5 liters) in anticipation for good weather and ended up drinking less than half of it. 排雲山莊 normally has water but since they're renovating that may not be the case right now (I didn't ask). Try calling the national park office to ask if you're not sure.

    Other than food and water just pack the usual hiking equipment, in particular rain gear. I used most of my clothes at one time or another; not because it was particularly cold, simply because of the constant fog and drizzle.

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