Tuesday, March 17, 2009
A Country Hike in the City
On Sunday, the clouds cleared up around noon to reveal a warm, sunny day. We set out from Jiantan MRT and hiked via backroads and little-used trails from Shilin to Neihu. The trip is outlined in Taipei Day Trips 1, so if you want to attempt it, pick up a copy.
The hike begins at Jiantan and heads up lots of stairs, around the backside of the Grand Hotel and through a wooded children's park and karaoke spot (for the parents). There are several temples nearby, all with lovely views of Shilin, the Danshui River, Guanyinshan, Beitou and the revolving restaurant tower (at least that's what I think it is.)
This area has a lot of military installations, which means you can't go far off the path. It also means you will pass a lot of unmarked buildings, old guardposts and even older pillboxes, set up in case of a mainland invasion I guess.
Soon you'll reach the peak of the first hill - hardly a mountain - Jiantan Mountain. Heading down, the stairs give way to a proper trail. You'll go down then up again, finding yourself eventually on a very rural road that winds around. You end up with more great views - on one side, Shilin and the Danshui River. On the other, Neihu. There are plenty of great viewing spots, many of which are probably populated with tai chi practitioners early in the morning.
Later, as the road winds around, you begin to get views of Yangmingshan and the National Palace Museum. The glare was quite high at this time of day, when the sun was at its zenith, so I apologize for the washed-out image with the old crater of Yangmingshan in the background. You don't start getting these views where Taipei Day Trips says you do (there's been some forest growth since it was written), but they do come eventually.
Most of these come as you approach and then top Wenjianshan, which is somewhere above Dazhi on the Shilin-Neihu Road (you can stop hiking here and head down to the road at this point if you want - it's about 5kms to get to that point).
One thing we loved about the hike was that it was almost entirely rural, with real trails and forest. Other than the views over urban vistas, you could hardly tell that you were hiking within the Taipei city limits the entire time.
After Wenjianshan, you take some steep stairs down to a road, head left down it for awhile then head straight up a very steep path through the woods. As we approached the leveling-off of the path, several mountain bikers raced down past us. I heard whooping as they hit the steep part, so I don't know if they made it all teh way down on their bikes.
After the trail levels off, you end up at a well-hidden and little-known stone path. It's quite wide and plenty of locals walk it, but you won't see many foreigners and no tourists. There are no views, but it heads through some lovely woods and is an easy walk for a few kilometers.
After awhile, you end up back at the trail up the final peak - Jinmianshan (Gold Face Mountain) which has views over everything.
The view is not at the true summit; to get there, you have to walk past the summit and wind your way past lots of bumpy boulders. It's easy to find; you can see the view improving as you head forward and that's where all the people 'in the know' will be.
We lingered a bit too long on the summit, watching the sun go down. We had not underestimated the climb back, it' s just that it was a 10 kilometer hike (so says the book; we think it was longer) to get there, the view was astounding, and we didn't want to leave.
The hike down is over a tricky but fun rock scramble...if you linger for sunset, bring a flashlight. Trust me. There is a rope to help, and it eventually reaches some steep stone steps that could cause a sprained ankle during the day; imagine at night when you can't see (I don't have to imagine, I took a spill here).
The trail lets out in an alley along Huanshan Road in Neihu, very close to Neihu Road. Taipei Day Trips 1 gives the exact address, so if you want to hike in reverse or not bother with the long part and just go for the rocky views, you can start from here (be warned; it's a very steep ascent).
Bring lots of water, especially if you do the full 10 kilometers; there is nowhere to buy it along the way despite there being lots of roads to temples, shelters and recreation areas.