Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Taiwan Trip (Part III): I Am Not Going to Die in the Mountains (Hehuanshan North / East Peak)

Taiwan is famous for her '100 Peaks', which refer to the 100 summits that are above 3000m from the sea level. It's also one of the main reasons why we chose to holiday in Taiwan in the first place - to get a full taste of the raw mountains. And as you might have guessed from the title, we didn't know what we're wishing for until it nearly killed us...WELL WHAT'S NEW?

O'right here we go!

After a night that we'd never imagine to have (see here), we hitched a hike (our first time in Taiwan!) to the starting trail of Hehuan North Peak. Before we left, the driver was saying, "Woah! Just by looking at yall I could tell that yall are professionals"! If only he knew where we slept last night and also that my backpack was killing my shoulders cos it had no back support at all...

It's only around 2km+ from the trailhead to the North peak, so our original plan was to take a stroll to the top, rest for a while and head for the West Peak (another 3km away), then take another slow stroll back, and camp at North Peak. 

It was completely joke looking back now. We could hardly survive the first 1km! It was so steep and with 10kg each on our backs, we had to rest almost every 20 steps. The picture above was after the first horrendous half, and before the worse second half started. I think we took almost 3hrs to get to the top and the locals said we might need another 8-10hrs to get to West Peak. 

This is ultimate overestimating of one's ability in your face errbady.

I kept telling Q that the fact that I could actually tolerate his photos of me should implied of my overwhelming true love for him. 

I MEAN, JUST LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCE! Why was it that I could properly compose every shoot of him while I just looked like I was busy falling out of the frame in mine?!

The first 1.7km was the worst (I remembered looking out for the 1.7km marker for soooo long I nearly gave out on life!), but the subsequent journey was quite a breeze with no steps or sharp rocks. 

The scenery is of course, amazing 

And vio! The North Peak! 
It was like a mass cooking gathering up there! The locals bought so much food and kept sharing with us cos I guess we looked pathetic eating merely rice balls from 7-Eleven haa.  

After facing the truth that it's just impossible for us to get to West Peak on the same day, we decided to head for TianLuanChi, a nearby lake that's 3.5km away. 

It's supposed to look like this:

So we got started again!
At the peak of summer, these flowers were said to bloom to cover the entire mountain. This was just a sneak preview of its full glory. 

The hike from North Peak to the campsite was more challenging, where you had to use ropes (which kind hikers had left behind) at several parts. But head's up campers, there's a stream on the way to the campsite where you can get fresh drinking water.

The campsite was on the right of this trail, just a plain piece of mud ground. Quite lovely, but we decided to choose a place we've passed previously as it seemed more sheltered by the nearby hills. 

So far, though it wasn't 100% sunny, there was at least some sunlight. But at this point of time, an endless blanket of fog suddenly floated over and so we decided to get back to our backpacks (which we left at a spot we chose earlier) to pitch our tent before the rain come.

Before we left for the campsite, this place looked so inviting. But by the time we got back, it just looked downright creepy with the onslaught of fog and greying skies. We pitched our tent hurriedly and the wind got stronger and stronger by each passing minute. After barely securing down the tent with rocks, we quickly crawled in and just sat there shivering despite wearing gloves and all. Then, the rain got heavier and the wind started howling hauntingly- I don't know about you, but howling winds in the middle of the mountains was downright scary for me - and our whole tent started to sway violently. The corners of the rain cover got blown up twice, and by the third time, our fingers couldn't even work properly without wearing gloves. 

That's when I thought to myself, "No, I shall not die in this mountain today. There is absolutely nobody camping anywhere around us, and if we are already shivering this bad at 4pm, it won't be hard to imagine how frozen we will be at 4am. And by then, everything is too late. No one would be able to get to us and we won't be able to get down at all". 

As if to confirm my fears, the skies darkened even more suddenly and when I looked out again, not a single soul was in sight anymore.
This is a non-edited photo of the scene, and yes, things were really THIS bad. 

I was thinking if we ever have any mishap happening to us on the way down, this photo shall give our rescuers an explanation behind our rushed descent. From that moment on, all I could think of was 'GET DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. GET TO THE ROAD'. With the unfolding of circumstances where our safety was now clearly jeopardized, I was almost panicking my guts out, while my darling boy was just there calmly drinking the Milo that we've cooked earlier cos 'it's too wasteful to throw it away'. I didn't even realised he was doing that until we looked back to the photos afterwards. 

guys. how typical. *roll and somersault eyes*  

Q wasn't supportive of the idea to descend initially, cos he said it's very easy for us to get lost in the mountains in this kind of weather. 

He had his point of course - just look at all these impenetrable fog and we did lose our way at one point- but to me, an attempt to descend at least gave us a chance to get to safety while staying there in the mountains was an almost sure-die decision. My firmness was a by-product of my survival instinct kicking in and so, down we went. 

The rain and wind got so unimaginably bad. My poncho was literally flapping violently, as if I was riding a motorbike on a highway at 180km/h. Raindrops just kept hitting on our faces and eyes, blurring our vision. I was -how do I even start describing to you how completely freaked out I was inside at that point of time- half an inch away from a FULL BLOWN panic attack. 

This was when we FINALLY got back to the road. My heart couldn't be anymore relieved. I might sound funny and all right now, but really, I haven't been this scared for a loong time- the kind that it suddenly dawned on you that the ending of your life, your death, is actually very very possible and imminent   

And have you ever seen anything like this? A sea of cloud in the valley with a heavy grey cloud hanging above.

Anyw, we then hitckhiked our way to Song Syue Lodge and 滑雪山莊 (Hua Syue Resort) in absolute darkness. Just a head's up, these two are the only accommodations in the whole area and they are connected by a loooong flight of stairs. The lodge is actually a hotel, and the resort is not a resort but actually a shared-dorm where it costs the same per pax as the hotel. And you have to book month(s) in advance for a space in the dorm and have to check in at the Song Syue Lodge anyway. How did I know these? Cos we had to climb the flight of stair in pitch total darkness back and forth between the two and we were beyond beyond mother of allll fatigue by the time we finally settled down. 

We then discovered that the Song Syue Lodge was the SHITTEST and the MOST UNWORTHY hotel we've stayed in Taiwan. You basically had to pay around SGD$50 per pax for a barely 3-star room that would make you feel like you were in North Korea. They had horrendous buffet selection, a lift that explicitly claimed to reduce carbon emission by not working for a good half of the day, ridiculous check-out time at 10am, and the RUDEST RECEPTION STAFF EVER(in particular, the only lady receptionist there). I hated the place so much that I would go and create a booking.com and tripadvisor account JUST SO to let my nasty experience with them known.  

We stayed there cos we didn't have a choice at 9pm - freezing, traumatised and tired. As we crawled under the white fluffy blankets, I wondered what would it be like for us if we didn't descend earlier... Would our raincover be blown off already? Would we be drenched wet and half frozen? Or..an more important question to ask should be if we were even still alive at all??
The morning started equally foggy and grey, but it cleared almost suddenly by 10am. "Mountain weathers", they said. 

So we decided to go visit the much easier Hehuan East Peak, which is just behind the hotel.
Goodbye mountains, you've taught us more than we have asked for this time. Now not only I am in awe of you, I am also fearful of you.

How to get to Hehuanshan:
1) Taipei to Puli (#1832): http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Line=4675&Lang=En Around 3.5Hrs.
2) Puli to Cuifeng: http://www.ntbus.com.tw/en-cjfm.html (Around 1.5Hrs)
3) Cuifeng to Hehuan East/Main/North/West peak: Hitchhike. Yes there's really no other way to get there, but please be assured that Taiwanese are extremely friendly and helpful. You will pass by Main and East peak first, these are two very easy hikes that you can do in a couple hours. You have to start from North peak to get to West Peak, so do gauge realistically for yourself based on my above account.

To get out of Hehuanshan:
1) You can do the reverse of the above to get back to Taichung/Taipei.
2) For those who wish to get from Hehuanshan to Hualien / Taroko, hitchhike to Dayuling and get the bus from there. Take note that it's almost a 5 hour journey and it's downhill ALLLLL the way with lots of turns, so try to get a front seat. It really helps easing the nauseousness.