Monday, 23 November 2015

Hiking Yangmingshan - Fantasy and Fumeroles

Yangmingshan is one of the many prides of Taipei. A huge national park sitting right on the doorstep of the city and easily accessible by bus, car and hiking boot, it draws us back time after time to discover new sights and visit old, beloved ones.

Our most recent trip covered both angles, including a first visit to Menghuan Pond and our return to Xiaoyoukeng.

Menghuan Pond

The English translation of menghuan is fantasy, and Menghuan Pond is so named because it's wreathed in eerie mists for part of the year. Though the pond is a restricted area open only for educational purposes and to researchers and Yangmingshan staff, visitors can view it from a platform.

Menghuan Pong Yangmingshan

Rare plants and wildlife as well as the beautiful landscape combine to make Menghuan Pond a very special place. A water plant called Taiwan Isoetes that grows there is found nowhere else in the world. Other plants growing in the pond include Chinese water chestnut, bog bulrush, spikerush, common rush and Mt. Qixing pipewort. Frogs, birds, snakes and aquatic insects are also plentiful in the area.

It's a beautifully quiet, still, tranquil place, and I had visions of hefting my writing equipment up the mountain just so that I could sit there and enjoy the peacefulness as I write.

In fact, Menghuan Pond isn't very difficult to get to. We drove to Lengshuikeng car park and followed the signs for a half hour's easy walk. The Yangmingshan tourist bus also stops there, but these days it's getting a little too popular. We saw long queues and people unable to board, even though we were there on a weekday.


It took us about five or six years to make a second trip to Xiaoyoukeng. We first visited the boiling pools and fumeroles on a reconnoitering trip before we moved to Taiwan, and they were just as fascinating on a return visit.

My friend told me when she was a little girl her mother would take her to boil eggs in the scaldingly hot water pools near Beitou, but sadly (and perhaps wisely) such pleasures are no longer allowed. Simply viewing the pools is very interesting, however, because such hot water emerging from the ground seems somehow miraculous. If you listen carefully in some areas of the trail you can also hear water bubbling below the surface.

Boiling pools at Xiaoyoukeng

Steaming fumeroles are also amazing sights to see, edged with sulphur deposits thousands of years old. The air is filled with an acrid, eggy odour that isn't particularly unpleasant but is pretty unhealthy.

Fumeroles at Yangmingshan
Yangmingshan rises high above sea level, with its highest peak, Mt. Qixing at 1,120 metres tall, which means the park has some of the best views in Taipei. It's hard to believe, when looking at the photos I took, that all of this borders a burgeoning, busy capital city.

Yangmingshan National Park

Yangmingshan National Park
Another highlight of our trip was seeing the fourth snake I've encountered in over four years, and my third within a couple of months. It was the largest I've ever seen, too.

Sorry I only snapped the rear end. I thought it was the safest one in the circumstances!

Yangmingshan covers nearly 29,000 hectares, so there's plenty more for us to explore in our remaining years in Taiwan.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Teapot Mountain the Easy(ish) Way

October and early November are some of the best times for hiking in Taiwan. The summer heat has begun to fade and the winter rains have not yet started. Insects and other small creatures are still out and about and easy to spot. Over the last two weeks I've been taking the opportunity to re-familiarise myself with the mountains in and around Taipei, and also venture further afield, in this case to Teapot Mountain.

Named for the shape of its summit, Teapot Mountain lies near the Gold Ecological Park (near Jinguashi) on Taiwan's north-east coast. Many hiking blogs detail the longer, more arduous route to the mountain, starting at the park. But if you're short of time and leg muscle, there is an easier path.

The massive gold state of Guan Gong above Quanji (Cyuanji) Temple marks the whereabouts of the trailhead for the shorter route. I went there by car, but there is a bus stop, and according to this blog, one bus that stops there is the 1062 from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station Exit 1. There's a small row of shops where the bus turns. You can buy water there, which is absolutely necessary, even on cold days.

The steps leading up Teapot Mountain begin past the back of Guan Gong's statue, on the left. They're quite difficult to miss.

Another advantage of climbing Teapot Mountain in the autumn is the sea of silvergrass that grows there.

Silvergrass, Teapot Mountain
In the gusting breezes blowing in from the sea, the swaying heads of grass are truly beautiful.

There's also plenty of wildlife to see on the way up. We saw butterflies and lizards. Some were feeding on the flowers growing next to the trail and some were basking on the steps.

It takes only an hour or so to climb Teapot Mountain by the shorter route, compared to five or six hours if approaching it from the Gold Ecological Park. The former path is also very safe, with no steep slopes requiring rope supports or precipitous dropoffs. Fit children could climb it easily.

The spectacular views over the mountainside and the sea beyond give plenty of excuses to stop and catch your breath.

The actual summit of the mountain isn't safe, and there's a red sign prohibiting entry. This, of course, doesn't stop some people from continuing to the very top (not me - I didn't like the unstable look of the teapot).

Coming down takes less than half the time of going up. The temple and nearby shops sell food, or you can continue to Jinguashi or Jiufen for a good meal as a reward for climbing Teapot Mountain.

Just don't tell anyone which route you took.