Climbing Snow Mountain
Snow Mountain, Taiwan, 2009-09-10 12:00 by Martin and Laerke
Yulun had planned for us to go mountain climbing, she emailed us about while we were still back in Denmark. Back then it seemed very far away and we happily agreed – what could be more fun than climbing the 2nd highest mountain in East Asia? When we got to Taiwan it started to dawn on us that you need all kinds of gear to climb a mountain… Hao-Yu, a friend of Yulun’s who is quite the mountain climbing expert, was going to be the leader of our little expedition. He called us into a pre-departure meeting to discuss gear, what we were going to eat on the mountain, the route etc. He was also rather concerned that we weren’t fit enough to actually climb a mountain, he suggested we go jogging (!) prior to the mountain climbing! The fact that it was around 30 something degrees in Taipei didn’t seem to bother him.
What you wear on a mountain is apparently also really important; we were told: ”NO COTTON” in any of the clothes…hmm…we didn’t have any non cotton clothes :(

Hats and thick jackets was a must too, because it gets cold on the mountain!!! It turns out that the Taiwanese and the Danish doesn’t have quite the same parameter for when it is cold, which does make a lot of sense… I spent one whole day on the mountain is shorts and we were more often hot than cold. The nights got pretty cold though and we were very happy with the warm sleeping bags Hao-Yu lent us (bless his heart). Also, if it does rain or is windy, appropriate clothing is advised.

Throughout our trek we noticed that the Taiwanese LOVE gear! Whether it was the more the better or the lighter the better is still to be determinate. One guy we talked to on the mountain noted that we looked very fashionable (!), but this was probably due to our non-hiking outfits. I think our very normal looking clothing with things like cotton and jeans on the mountain got some stares; “ha ha, crazy foreigners…”
On the morning of the 12th we all met up at campus to pack our stuff into the rental car, which turned out to have no trunk… Unfortunate considering that we had 6 fairly sizeable backpacks. Somehow we managed to get all the packs stowed in the car and we set off.
After a 6 hour long drive we reached the trailhead, and we set off on foot! Finally we had started! At this point we were already at the elevation 2140m. Our destination for the day, the first cabin, called Chika, was 2,463m. It is a 2km, 1.5-2 hour hike to the cabin, which seemed easy enough. However it was ALL uphill, pretty much every step was a step up. I think we all semi-panicked a little to ourselves the first 5 minutes. Toughts like “f… this is HARD, I can barely breathe and it has only been 5 minutes – how on earth am I gonna survive this for THREE days!?!?!” went through our minds (respectively in Chinese and Danish). But it turns out that the first 5 minutes are actually some of the worst!? Once we got going we kinda got into a rhythm and we made it just fine to Chika Cabin.

The next day, after a horrible night’s sleep (due to noisy groups coming and going all night), we set out around 7 AM. Yulun and the others were sleeping soundly, so we just went ahead – didn’t wanna spoil their sleep too. Our destination was “369” Cabin (at 3150m). It was a long and, in parts, tough hike up switchback after switchback, with very little level ground. I think all hikers to Snow Mountain will recall one particularly brutal section of trail called the “Crying Slope”: it was a bit of a challenge with heavy packs on, but we made it!
A little later we reached the summit of the East Peak (3201m), an exposed knoll surrounded by stunning alpine scenery. As we rose in altitude the landscape kept changing.

The trail is wide and clear the entire way up. It is signposted almost every 100 meters (1.1km, 1.2 km, etc.) with maps at the cabins and various points along the way. There are interpretation signs introducing trees, plants, animals and geographical features. They are in English and Chinese and it is great with a little info about what you are looking at, plus it is a valid reason to stop and catch your breath for a while ;-)
Reaching the “369” hut at around midday, we slumped down on the porch and enjoyed the sun, ate some lunch and snacks, and then went for a nap. We scored a small room actually reserved for the camp guards, but no-one was there - great with a little privacy and a bit of noise reducing walls. We slept for a couple of hours…nice!!! Shortly after waking up from the nap, the rest of our team arrived. Unfortunately the clouds were rolling in, so it got quite chilly, the views disappeared and any ascent to the summit had to wait for the morning. We had great 2nd lunch and dinner though. At 369 everyone goes to sleep at 8 PM the latest, so with our little private room and no nightly coming and going, we managed to get a decent sleep.

Next morning we left for the Snow Mountain peak. We didn’t start out really early (to catch the sunset as many groups do) as Hau-Yuo advised against walking in the dark, not because it is dangerous, but because it is boring. The scenery was too good to miss. The first section cut through the Black Forest, a large stand of Taiwan firs. But later and closer to the summit, we emerged from the shade of the firs into an ancient forest of whitened junipers. Even closer to the summit, the short growing season in the alpine environment causes many of the junipers to only grow to a few feet even though they are hundreds of years old. They were an awesome sight, with their twisted roots, and complex branching patterns.

At the point where the forest gave way to alpine meadowland we were just under a kilometer from the summit. The views were grand up a glacial cirque, covered in scrubby Yushan Rhododendron plants about halfway to the summit. Yulun and Allen even saw a dear jumping ‘round the meadows.

The last scramble up the naked, rock and pebble covered stretch was hard. The air was thin and legs were tired from the previous days walking – but our spirit was high and as closer we got, the more we felt that we could make it. And then we were there!

After 10.9 km we were at the summit of Snow Mountain, the 2nd highest mountain in Taiwan and in East Asia. 3886 meters above sea level, it is by far the highest altitude we have been, but this time we had walked there on our own two feet. The views were great, though some clouds had already gathered. But the sun was out, the wind mild and just sitting there on the top, looking to the beautiful mountains near and far, was awe inspiring.
Unfortunately we couldn’t stay forever. We had to go back, all 10.9 km, and drive the car back to Taipei. So we set off. We had a lunch stop at the 369 cabin and then headed to the trail head, but we were already running a bit late. On the way back we heard the barking dear calling, and suddenly we also heard another wired sound. At first we thought it was just a strange bird, but then we saw a big monkey sitting on a rocky outcrop some 100 meters away. It might have felt lonely and were calling for its likes.

We ended up walked the last 2 hours in the dark using headlights. This experience confirmed that hiking in the dark is just about the dullest thing one can do. At the same time our feet and knees were really tired, we could have stopped to rest at the Chica hut, but we just wanted to get down, so that we didn’t need to walk any further! At last we reached the trailhead and the car – and then “only” had a 4 hour drive back to Taipei. Martin and Hau-Yu took turn driving, while Allen entertained so to keep whomever driving awake.
It was an amazing trek; beautiful scenery, great walking and doable for any fit person. We were actually surprised at how well we managed it, but maybe all that traveling does help you get in shape. And with regards to equipment; well, we did just fine in our cotton clothing – Martin is quite possibly the first person in jeans to climb Snow Mountain!


2012-11-27 11:42 by Shu Zhen
I would like to clarify if going downhill is very steep?? Is there a long journey of using rope? I would sincerely need your advise as i have slight fear of using the rope to go downhill.Many thanks

2012-12-03 05:09 by Martin
Hi Shu Zhen.There is no real climbing involved, it s a long hard and steep trek all the way to the top. So no rappelling or rope is needed :)