Last weekend I went on my fourth Richard Saunders-organized hike. Richard probably knows more about hiking around Taipei than any other foreigner- has written three English-language books on the subject- so he can be counted on to arrange interesting trips. He also has high standards for difficulty.
This in mind, I was ready for something tough when I saw his warning that this hike would be "moderately difficult". I was tired of typing finals and figured I needed exercise. I had no idea what i was getting myself into.
The first part of the hike was misleadingly easy. We slowly climbed into the jungle, past a set of large, empty alcoves carved into a stone cliff (the characters "Chiang Kai-shek Hall" carved over one of them hinted at their purpose), and then up to a lookout from which we could see the Stone Candle, a sharp vertical peak similar to nearby Xiaozi Shan, but unclimable. After that there were a few challenges, like a large pit we had to edge around (turned out it led to the path below), and a large slimey boulder I had to slide down on my belly, to ensure I wouldn't slip towards the sheer 20 foot fall on one side. Once I was down Richard discovered we had just taken the wrong trail.
The real challenge began after we reached the ridge. The trail disappeared, marked only by ribbons every twenty meters or so. Somehow Richard was still able to find the trail; several times I lost sight of him and had to call out. As the ground became steeper on each side it became necessary to hold onto something with every step. At one point the mud underneath me gave way and I found myself hanging from a branch above above a steep slope. Occasionally we would suddenly walk onto an open ridge with a wonderful view over one of the valleys on either side.
The only part that was truly scary was an open ridge with no trees to hold onto, just prickly holly bushes and silver grass. There wasn't enough space to stand upright, so I stooped as I walked. There was also a 10 foot long, 1 foot wide blade of rick to cross, but it was wide and flat enough that it seemed safe compared to the rest of the trail.
After resting at the top we began the quick but sharp descent back to Pingxi. While not scary, it was still a pain to walk- the trail was visible but paved with slippery, uneven rocks. Not slipping was an exercise in focus, especially difficult after only 6 hours of sleep the night before.
Finally we reached the Dongshige Old Trail, a flat trail along a pretty stream that was used by miners. We stumbled into Pingxi about seven or eight hours after we started climbing.
Pictures from the hike are at the end of this album: