Showing posts with label old_trails. Show all posts
Showing posts with label old_trails. Show all posts

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pingdeng Canal Old Trail (Yangmingshan)

Not long ago, on a fairly warm and sunny Saturday, we hiked the Pingdeng Canal Old Trail outlined in Richard Saunders' Yangmingshan: The Guide.

You can read about how to do it in the book, and anyway I'm not the best person to ask as we got lost, but here are some photos from that lovely day:

If you decide to stop and see Shengren Waterfall (聖人瀑布) on the way, you have to climb a lot of annoying stairs. The good news is that the views are nice. well as amusing and homey.

Shengren Waterfall - technically prohibited to get that close but whatever. There are a few sections of the trail that are technically "prohibited" but you can go anyway; it's perfectly safe.

An old, not terribly attractive but legitimately antique, temple by the base of the stairs.

The stream we "illegally" crossed to get to the waterfall. Um. BAD naming choice, guys.

Later on you have to scramble over rocks along a low stream to get to where the trail picks up again, and oh yeah, the actual path to the trail is indiscernable so we had to scramble through brush and mud to get back to the part that was actually walkable, in prime snake-hole territory. Fun. Richard, you may want to look into that when you advise on taking a nonexistent fork to a path above.

We were confused later, and ran into this guy about an hour after our detour around a ridge (another unclear trail junction. Grrrr, Richard. Grr. It said bear right, and we did, and right took us up and over an unnecessary ridge). He looked like he knew what he was talking about and directed us to Qingtiangang.

Polluted sunset over Qingtiangang. You can't even see Taipei and its sprawl through the smog. I blame China.

For dinner, we had delicious lamb and other dishes at Ah-Guo's Lamb Restaurant - 阿國羊肉 - near Wenhua University, and mediocre kung pao chicken. Next time, we'll try the goose.

We did get to see some rare color-changed autumn leaves along the canal, though.

All in all, a lovely day hike but after months of not hiking (foot problems) it really wiped me out. Also, better directions would have been nice.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Xiaotzukeng Old Trail

As anyone who's studied Taipei County on a map knows, the Pingxi coal mining area (now a popular tourist spot with a small-gauge railroad) and the gorgeous Pacific views of Jiufen may seem worlds apart, but are actually surprisingly close. This is not a huge revelation, as they're both quickly and easily accessible from Ruifang, a small town in northern Taipei County. The only thing separating them is a mountain ridge. Specifically, this mountain ridge:

...which is accessible from the first stop on the Pingxi Rail Line - Houdong. Houdong also has a quaintly dilapidated atmosphere, friendly locals and a very small (VERY SMALL) town square with local eats. This is more or less the town square:

Feeling undercaffeinated, we headed towards a sign saying "Houdong Coffee" which was conveniently in the same direction as our destination, Xiaotzukeng Old Trail. We got there to find the place empty, but some guy came out of his house next door saying "you want coffee?" and proceeded to run up the road to a woman tending sweet potatoes to tell her that she had customers. While we waited some other locals sauntered by, and asked the wife of the guy who ran off what we were doing there. "Oh they want some coffee," she said, looking up from her own sweet potatoes. "Coffee? Is Old Chen's coffee machine fixed?" "Seems so."

The owner came back, took off her gloves, and led us inside. "Actually, I think the coffee machine is still broken," she said. "Cocoa?" It was caffeinated, so sure. It tasted pretty good iced. We sat in the "coffee shop" (a living room with an extra table and a broken coffee machine in the corner) and chatted with the family. Old Chen's son came in and chatted with us in English, giving us free hand-roasted coffee to apologize for not having a working machine. "We just have this machine so whenever some people come by who want coffee, we make them some. It's not a real coffeeshop," he said. (We figured).

"Where are you going," Chen Taitai asked us.
"Xiaotzukeng Old Trail to Jiufen."
"Jiufen? That's way too far! You can't do that!"
"Really, how far is it? We thought it was just 2-3 hours."
"Exactly! It's about 3 hours to Jiufen. That's too far!"

Some other guy wandered in. "You got coffee?" he asked Chen Taitai.
"Nope, machine's broken."
"Oh. Where are those foreigners going?"
"They're nuts. They're going to Jiufen. Walking."
"What? That's too far! That's like 2 hours! You can't do that!"

But, indeed, we did do that. Xiaotzukeng Trail starts at the far edge of town to the left of the train station, just past the elementary school, and is fairly well-marked as trails go. I wrote about it here when it appeared as a feature in the China Post. It's a reasonably well-maintained (well...) old trail that leads from Houdong to the abandoned (and really cool) mountain village of Xiaozukeng before climbing over a ridge and down to Jiufen.

Ignore what the article says about a gentle climb - it's fairly gentle and on a surfaced road for the first 20 minutes or so, but quickly turns into a stair-climbing extravaganza and then pitches quickly up the mountain - fortunately there are a few good break spots along the way.

Even on a sunny Sunday, we only ran into a few small pairs and groups of hikers, and one solo climber in a massive mosquito hat.

The animal life on the way up is fantastic, at least for all things bug:

...yes, that spider is every bit as ginormous as you think it is. Roughly my handspan. I feel bad for the little red guy.

We also saw black and white speckled lizards with bright blue tails (stunning), a horde of grasshoppers and lots of butterflies, which I couldn't seem to photograph fast enough to get a good shot. The Pingxi area is known for butterflies so this was not a surprise.

Partway up the trail you run into a beautifully ruined old village, which feels like something out of Middle Earth (Brendan's words):

...before climbing to a shrine (there are a few on the way with a gorgeous view of the way we came:

I usually don't take photos of idols, but I am consistently reassured by Taiwanese that it's actually OK - because I'm not so sure that's true. But this time I felt I may as well give it a shot.

After the abandoned village and the shrine, the trail stops being stairs and turns into a slippery, rock-strewn uphill heave-ho with lots of things in the way. As we climbed, some music all the way from Houdong town - someone playing a large bamboo flute - ricocheted off the walls of the mountain crag we were heading through and floated up to us until we crossed over to the other side of the ridge. If that had happened in China, it would have probably been due to the government placing speakers several yards from the trail and playing 'traditional music', but in Taiwan things like that are authentic - it made the whole experience that much more charming.

My friend and I were a bit behind Brendan as we clamored over the rocks and stumps. When I saw him go over a hill where the trail seemed to end, I knew that Jiufen was supposed to be on the other side but I was surprised by Brendan's whoop of excitement. Coming into view instantly, with no hint about what was ahead, just as you take your last step over the lip of the wooded ridge, was this:

(Yes, that's the Pacific behind Keelung Mountain there).

"We won this mountain!" he said as I made my way over, shouting down to our friend not to take a break, just rest when she got there. I hummed the song that plays when Super Mario rescues the princess and the characters all start dancing.

The way it just appeared like that, with a full-in-the-face ocean breeze, was mind-blowing - 110% worth the scramble up from Houdong.

...a few things we saw on the way down to Jiufen - 1250 meters of downward pain on very uncomfortable stairs:

Then we took a well-deserved crash at a teashop in Jiufen, drinking cold things and eating sugary things, before buying a bunch of random stuff we wanted (brown sugar cake, aboriginal millet wine, you know...stuff).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hiking Tidbits

An interesting article in the China Post outlines a walk along the Xiao Tzukeng trail near Ruifang and Jiufen. As a huge fan of Taipei county's "Old Trails", this one is definitely now on my list of places to visit. I'm not a fan of climbing steps as opposed to hiking - preferably on a dirt trail, close to nature, with some monkeys at the end - but it still sounds like a lovely trip.

Gold Mining Country: Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail

Two things immediately stood out as I followed Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail near the Taipei County town of

Ruifang one beautiful early morning recently. The first was the beauty of the mountain scenery rising high above my head, which is rugged and precipitous, yet covered in a dense canopy of trees and undergrowth.

It's hardly surprising that this is an outstandingly beautiful slice of countryside: the upper Keelung River valley is possibly my favorite part of Taipei County. More unexpected is the high quality of the wide, expertly cut steps that carry the trail up to the heights, quite unlike the usual uneven, narrow and slippery slabs of rock that negotiate the steepest stretches of most historic trails I've followed.

It's not until exploring further up the mountainside, as we start to decipher the information boards placed alongside the trail at intervals, that we learn why the trail here was built with so such care, and it's a surprising discovery. Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail connects the lowlands of the Keelung River valley just north of the village of Houtung (侯硐) with the tiny, long abandoned settlement of Xiao Tzukeng, a tiny place perched high in the mountains (unreachable by any road), built to house the families of miners hoping to make their fortune at the gold mines above Jiufen, which is just a short climb over the ridge behind.

Recently upgraded and signposted, Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail (小粗坑古道) is a gentle walk, yet one that's peppered with fascinating relics from an exciting period of Taiwan's history -- the Jiufen gold rush. A few minutes after leaving the road, the first of many stone buildings, now nothing but a picturesque ruin enveloped in the jungle, stands beside the track.

In another minute or two, the track becomes a trail, crosses the rocky stream twice in quick succession, and reaches the bottom of a grand staircase of wide, well-hewn steps that lead all the way up the mountainside to the abandoned village and beyond.

The width and careful construction of these steps really is quite surprising to anyone who has walked more than a couple of Taiwan's hundreds of "old trails," so it's obvious that the villagers here were far wealthier than the farmers, villagers and fishermen who laid many of the other trails across the mountains throughout Taiwan.

About half-an-hour from the trailhead, the path climbs onto a large, stone platform rising high above the stream that flows at its foot. A quick look at our trusty hiking book revealed that a waterwheel was apparently once fixed here, and that gold-bearing rock brought from the mines was crushed and washed at this place. Or at least maybe it could be after wet weather -- the streambed was bone dry on our visit.

A long, wide staircase now climbs for about twenty minutes from the bank of the stream to the edge of the abandoned village of Xiao Tzukeng, a wonderfully atmospheric place, with a handful of half-ruined stone buildings lining the path, half hidden by the thick foliage of the encroaching jungle.

A trail on the left leads past the ruins of the village's old elementary school (which had a single classroom and just one teacher, so that only first and second grade kids could be taught here), and on up more steps past a picturesque small Earth God shrine to a wooden platform atop the nearest summit, providing a good view of Ruifang and the Keelung River Valley.

It's hard to imagine a bustling community of over 200 people once lived here, but another helpful info-board informed us that Xiao Tzukeng was once quite a lively place. A stage once stood in the playground of the school, and the village even had its own ensemble of Chinese Beiguan musicians!

Continuing onwards and upwards, after diverting around the grounds of the only house in town that's still inhabited (apparently by a couple of monks), a short but narrow, overgrown and difficult trail leaves the steps on the right and contours the precipitous hillside, reaching (after about five minutes' scramble) the foot of the small but very pretty Yingssu ("silver silk") Waterfall (銀絲瀑布), a hidden little place that's worth the trouble of getting there even when it's dry (as is often the case!).

The steps (a bit dilapidated in places now) climb steeply for another hot twenty minutes to reach a large and dignified stone shrine, protected by an unsightly concrete roof. This is the Temple to the Mountain Gods, a place at which miners en route to the mines at Jiufen would request permission before extracting rock from the mountainside, in the hope that the assent of the gods would ensure their safety while underground. The shrine is big enough to enter. Inside, in a niche at the back, sits a small stone figure, a replacement for the original statue (covered in gold leaf) that once sat here.

Jiufen (and, of course, its crowds) is now just a short climb, over the ridge.