Hey wanna hike Nanhu?
In the beginning of March, I set a message to Taiwanese friend Daniel who I knew from the climbing gym and asked him if he’d hike Nanhu Mountain with me during our four day weekend in April. Although I didn’t know Daniel super well at this point, I knew we both shared an interest in hiking and luckily, I convinced him to come with me. Ben and Hannah had brought all my backpacking gear (minus a bag unfortunately but luckily my roommate had one that I could borrow) and I hadn’t done any camping yet in Taiwan. I was all geared up and ready to go! I applied for our permit and even though I was a few days past the deadline it still got approved. The only thing left to do now was pack!
Although I’ve done several longterm backpacking trips, I hadn’t done anything at this elevation before. Nanhu Mountain is 3,740 meters tall, the fifth tallest mountain in Taiwan. Unlike the more famous Yushan Mountain, the tallest mountain in Taiwan at 3,952 meters, Nanhu is more remote and therefore more difficult to summit. However it is renowned for its beauty and incredible terrain. I needed to make sure that I had all the right equipment before I took off. Below is a list of what a brought along…
Clothes: Rain gear (jacket and pants), fleece pants, two pairs of leggings, one pair of shorts, three shirts (one thermal layer) four pairs of underwear, two sports bras, baseball cap, warm hat, two pairs of socks, and gloves
Gear: Headlamp, small cooking pot, pocket knife, spoon, tent, sleeping pad, silk liner, sleeping bag, SteriPen, toiletries, small med kit, hiking poles, and a canister of fuel for Daniel’s stove
I borrowed a few things that I didn’t have from a friend at work who had hiked Nanhu before. Daniel and I went to the mall together to get food for the trip. I already had some Annie’s Mac and Cheese from Carter that I’d been saving, but I wasn’t sure what else to bring. After shopping for a bit this is what I ended up with…
Food: Oatmeal and brown sugar, dried fruit, bread, cheese, PB, dried beef, two boxes of Annies, a packet of raman, four cliff bars, two bags of M&Ms, trail mix, and some PB cups.
Daniel was a bit skeptical of some of my food choices but the real surprise was what he brought along. In addition to other snack food, he brought a dozen eggs and four fish! I was quite intrigued how he was planning to keep the fish fresh and the eggs in one piece but he promised me he had a system.
The Hike Begins
Day 0 4/3: Off to Luodong
The first night Daniel and I met in Luodong, Yilan and spent one night at a hostel called Yilan Inspiration about 15 minutes from the train station. Daniel was mad about my hostel choice because he told me it was 太麻煩, too inconvenient. According to him Taiwanese people do not like to walk more than 5 minutes to their accommodation from the train station. The hostel was so cute, every room had a theme and the one we were in was themed camping (so we actually camped for four nights!) Each bed was placed in a little tent which was quite private. I went out to explore the night market but found it extremely overwhelming so headed back to get some rest before the next day.
Day 1 4/4: Entrance 登山口 to Yunleng cabin 雲稜山莊 (12.1 km)
The first day Daniel and I got up early and caught the public bus 1764 (Luodong Station to Yilan) and got off at Siyuan. However, the bus ride was EXTREMELY windy and I started to feel quite sick about an hour in. It just continued to get worse until finally I felt so sick that I grabbed a bag out of my pack and puked! Not the best way to start the day… Thankfully the bus driver stopped at a 7-11 soon after so I was able to use the bathroom and dispose of my bag (much to the dismay of the workers at 7-11). By the time we got there it was already almost 10 am. The side of the road was crowded with cars already and one group started at the same time as us.
Hike to Entrance 登山口 6.7 km
The first step was to hike to the trail entrance (because apparently the “official” entrance was an additional 7 km away). This section of the hike consisted of first hiking through farm land and then heading up through the forest into the forest via a somewhat steep, narrow, and poorly marked trail. Thankfully I had Daniel with me because throughout this section I was convinced that we had lost the trail but he assured me that this was the right section. After we hiked up for a while, we came out on a flat road that traversed deeper into the woods. We came to an intersection with another trail head, and finally after about 2.5 hours of hiking found the entrance to Mt. Nanhu. There were many people here who were just finishing up lunch, so we stopped and joined them for a bit.
Tuochiatun 多加屯山 1.7 km
After eating, we headed up a very steep trail section. It was quite hot and so we took our time with this section, but we did pass a larger tour group on the way. Most people tended to hike in very large groups with companies and had people carry their tent and food for them, but I was happy to have more freedom and hike with Daniel. After a steep and exhausting climb, we arrived at large clearing with many people. We stopped for a quick snack. Shortly after, we encountered a small stone marker that was for 多加屯山, a 2,827 meter peak along the way.
Muchien Saddle 木杆鞍部 to Yunleng Cabin 雲稜山莊 3.7 km
We hiked up some more and entered the Muchien Saddle section. At some point during this section we broke out of the trees and began to see spectacular views of the Nanhu peak. It look unimaginably far away but we knew that in just a couple of days we’d be up there too! After about two more hours we arrived at the cabin. It was nestled in a small valley surrounded by trees with a small window overlooking some neighboring mountains with a steep pointy peak. Even though we arrived before 5 pm, the site was already packed. There was hardly room to pitch our tents and we were lucky to find a spot that wasn’t too uncomfortable. It was quite chilly so I had to layer up soon after arriving.
While we were making dinner, we met several other hikers and had a chance to talk to them. There were a few big tour groups that were having their dinner prepared by the people they had hired to carry their gear and food up to the cabin. Most of these workers were Indigenous and we enjoyed talking to them. They offered us some Baijiu 白酒, the disgusting (to my palette) Asian equivalent of vodka but even stronger which I firmly declined. In addition to us, there were probably at least 80 people staying at the site in the tents and the cabin. The capacity of the cabin is 55 and there were more than 10 tents crammed into the small field. We talked to a group of students from a university, a group of men who were from all over Taiwan but did hiking trips together frequently, and a guy named Cash and two women who he was hiking with. By 7 pm I was already in my tent and ready to check out for the night. It was cold and everyone else hit the hay very early.
Day 2 4/5: Yunleng cabin 雲稜山莊 to Nanhu cabin 南湖山莊 (10.4 km)
While I knew hitting the hay early meant that other hikers would be on the road quite early in the morning, I was unprepared for the extremely early wakeup. People were moving around, packing their tents, and making breakfast at 3 am! I was less than thrilled. It was cold and I just wanted to cozy up in my sleeping bag. But by 5:30 I was up and out, only to discover that most everyone had already hit the road. Daniel and I packed up our tents, made breakfast, and we were out before 7. It was probably the earliest I’ve ever gotten up on a hiking trip and I was less than thrilled about it.
Shenmachen Mountain 審馬陣山 3.2 km
After hiking for a couple of kilometers, we came upon a large open field with several other groups. We had discovered for the most part that we were walking at a much faster pace than everyone else, which meant that we didn’t need to start as early and had the luxury of longer breaks. In the field there was a guy flying a drone, and another hiker generously offered us some grapes. A few kilometers later, we arrived at the first peak of the day. 審馬陣山 (Shenmachen Mountain) is 3,141 meters high and was mostly surrounded by trees. But it was still exciting to have reached a new peak! It was Ben’s birthday and I had a bar of service so I facetimed him from this peak. I wished that he and Hannah were there to hike with me, but after talking to several people I decided we made the right decision in hiking Hehuan instead of Nanhu back in the beginning of March because the weather would have been quite cold and there was still a bit of snow at this time.
Nanhu North Peak 南湖北山 2.2 km
We started hiking again, this time out mostly above treeline. The path snaked along a wide ridge, and we could see the valley that lead to Nanhu cabin towards the end. It was midmorning at this time and clouds were rolling in, beginning to constrict our views of nearby mountains. By lunchtime we had reached the North Peak. This one was at 3,536 meters and we were a bit tired and hungry when we made it to the top. There were no views at this point due to the clouds covering all nearby peaks. It was also rather chilly so Daniel made some raman for lunch while I stuck with my bread and cheese. We ran into our friends at this peak who shared some snacks from none other than… Trader Joes?! Apparently there is a store in Taipei! It was a chocolate covered nut cluster and man it tasted good.
Nanhu cabin 南湖山莊 2 km
It was about 12:30 when we started out on the next section of the trail. Although it was only about 2 more kilometers to the cabin, this was by far the most excited section of the trail. It was still very cloudy and we couldn’t see many views which perhaps put me at ease because after traversing through a short forested section of the trail, the path began to quickly narrow. Suddenly, a rocky ledge appeared in front of us that was covered with ropes firmly bolted into the rock. The trail was impossibly narrow and appeared to disappear on the other side of the ledge. I went first with Daniel close behind, clinging for dear life to the ropes secured to the rock. Thankfully the trail was maintained quite well and I never felt unsafe during this section, but my heart was beating quite fast throughout most of it. The closest comparison I have to this section is the Knife’s Edge on Mt. Katadin in the US, except on steroids.
After about half an hour we were past the ledge section and about to descend into the valley that contained the cabin. The slope down was extremely steep. Though I am no geologist, this section of the trail was traversing over rock that easily crumbled into smaller pieces. I would guess it was shale, but it made it difficult to hike without sliding down the trail. Daniel and I took many pictures of Nanhu from this area because the view was spectacular. It was still cloudy but clearing up a bit so we could see our ultimate destination not too far off in the distance. When we made it to the base, we immediately pitched our tents to secure a spot. This time there were even more tents, but the valley was very large and had plenty of space. However, we wanted to find a spot that was both sheltered and comfortable to sleep on so we nailed down our spot quickly.
Nanhu East Peak 3 km
It was only about 2 pm when we arrived so we decided to go ahead and hike the East Peak while we still had daylight. It was still cloudy but we felt significantly lighter without our packs weighing us down. We somehow got off track and lost the trail early on in the hike. Like the rest of the valley, the hike up to Nanhu East Peak was also crumbling shale? rock. We scrambled up, searching for tracks of other hikers on the way. When we got to the top ledge, we peered over into the cloud filled valley below. Daniel did some sleuthing and found a narrow trail that led to the summit. Although we had been off track, it seemed that this route is often confused for the main route based on the fact that this route was well traversed, but not the main trail.
After a few photos, we headed back down to the cabin. Daniel made me dinner this time, raman with some cabbage and a poached egg. I must say that I may need to start bringing eggs on my hiking trips, it was delicious! Many hikers carried them along, strapped to the outside of their packs, wrapped in paper towels in their bowls, etc. Only one of Daniel’s eggs broke so I’ll have to try it out! We enjoyed the sunset and talked with some of the other campers. We were camping near our Trader Joes friends and so I shared my M&Ms and they gave me some tea they had made. We got lucky and the clouds had cleared just in time to catch some spectacular views. As we settled in for the night, I put on all my clothes because it was quite cold. I had a bit of a fitful sleep because I was cold most of the night and it was pretty windy.
Day 3 4/6: Nanhu Main Peak 南湖主峰 to Yunleng cabin 雲稜山莊 (11.4 km)
Although many people got up extremely early again, Daniel and I decided to hold off until 6 this morning. Neither one of us has slept especially well and we were both quite tired. When we got up, we noticed that the camp was mostly empty. Several others had planned to hike to further peaks, extending their hike to upwards of 7 days. Daniel and I were unable to do this because we just had the long weekend, but I’ve heard from several Taiwanese people that the peaks beyond Nanhu are some of the more beautiful and less traversed routes. The campsite was absolutely stunning in the early morning hours. The light only touched the upper parts of the mountain, making the views from the shaded valley unbeatable.
Nanhu Main Peak 南湖主峰 4 km
Around 7 am, Daniel and I started hiking up to the Main peak. We were both feeling tired so we took it a bit slow. On the way, Daniel’s pole broke and he lost half of it! Even though we looked for a while we were unable to find it, which was definitely a loss. At least he still had one functioning pole for the way down! On our way up, we passed one of the tour groups hiking down the mountain. They had woken up in time to see the sunrise. Although I admired their determination I was not able to muster this kind of energy. It was also very chilly. We were blessed with a really beautiful and sunny day (again!) and one of the most incredible parts about the morning hike was the sea of clouds. It was extremely beautiful and spread between the mountains, forming a blanket over the trees.
When we got to the top, we could see the entirety of the The Holy Ridge or 雪山聖稜線 a mountain range that connects Snow Mountain 雪山 all the way to Mt. Dabajian 大霸尖山. Daniel told me it was rare to have the opportunity to see this whole range uncovered so I felt lucky to be up at the top on such a beautiful day! It had definitely been quite a climb to summit Nanhu Main Peak, but it was so worth the effort because of the incredible views. Nanhu sits at 3,740 meters, meaning that from the start of our hike we had climbed over 2,000 meters, not including the descents and ascents. That’s more than 6,500 feet!
Nanhu North Peak 南湖北山 2 km
After hiking back down, we stopped for a quick hot breakfast and packed up our tents. We were not looking forward to the climb back up to the ridge as it was quite steep and easy to slip on the shale-like rocks. We passed a large hiking troupe on our way up, but made the mistake of stopping to put on a layer at the top and getting trapped behind them during the extremely narrow ridge section. I thought that Daniel and I were taking it slow the time before but man oh man this group was reallllyyyy taking their time. Finally, much to our relief, they decided to let us pass by. We still took our time in the remainder of the ridge section, especially during a tricky pass for a few hikers heading up. I wonder what the tour group did when they passed by these solo hikers on their way up…
Unlike last time, the sky was perfectly clear and we could see beautiful mountains stretching for miles. However, we were also able to see just how far we would fall if we slipped and lost footing on the ridge section. This was both a blessing and a curse for us. When we reached the North peak, we stopped for a brief lunch. While we were waiting we ran into the tiniest little girl hiking with her parents. I couldn’t imagine taking an elementary-aged child on this hike but kudos to her for making it work!
Shenmachen Mountain 審馬陣山 2.2 km and Yunleng cabin 雲稜山莊 3.2 km
The hike down toward Shenmachen Mountain 審馬陣山 was beautiful and much faster than the hike up had been. We were really flying and had plenty of time to spare. Before we knew it we were passing the summit. We didn’t need to stop this time and continued on the trail. We stopped to take a break at the big field and ate a few snacks. The sun was very strong and I was thankful that I had brought along my buff and baseball cap. Although I had been careful with sun protection, Daniel had not and ended up with a bit of a red nose.
Again, we arrived at the cabin quite early. There were far fewer tents this time so we were able to find ample space to set up for the evening. We cooked our final dinner (Annie’s Mac and Cheese for me!) and headed to bed.
Day 4 4/7: Yunleng Cabin 雲稜山莊 to the Bus Stop (12.1 km)
I slept the best overall the last night. I think I was mostly just exhausted at this point and my body needed rest. We woke up after most everyone had left and made our food. We were the last people out (including the hired workers) so we closed up the cabin and hit the road.
Muchien Saddle 木杆鞍部 2.7 km
Although Daniel promised me that there were no more large elevation gains, I think he lied. There were several more and although I was still in good shape, I wanted to just gradually descend to the bus stop. Because we didn’t have too far to go, Daniel and I decided to take our time with the hike back down.
Tuochiatun 多加屯山 1 km
Despite this however, in no time we found ourselves back at the small stone marking for the mountain. Daniel was better at pacing than I am because I enjoy feeling the rush of moving quickly down the mountain, and despite the fact that we had plenty of time and didn’t need to catch the bus until 3, I still have a constant fear of being late.
The Entrance 登山口 1.7 km and the Bus Stop 6.7 km
We stopped at the clearing again a little further down from多加屯山 for a snack. Here we ran into Cash again, our friend from the trail. We took some pictures and exchanged facebook information before heading down the trail to the entrance. The way back was so much quicker than the way there. I was surprised to arrive to the bus stop so soon after we left.
Back to Hualien
We arrived close to 12:30, leaving us with a looooong wait for the bus. After contemplating whether or not we should wait, Daniel and I decided the best option was to hitchhike. We stuck out our thumbs. I was expecting no one to respond to us but people pulled over and waved, honked their horn in recognition, or apologized because there was no space. After only about 10 minutes of waiting, a family that had driven by because they had no space came back up the road. The mother and her son in the backseat had consolidated to share one seat, making room for Daniel and I in the back. I was shocked to see such willingness to help an absolute stranger! Although they were stopping to meet a friend for lunch, they insisted that we take down their phone number and call them back if we were unable to find a ride back. They dropped us off at the 7-11 (the fateful puke 7-11) and headed on to their friends.
After grabbing some snacks and drinks, Daniel and I headed out to the road to look for a ride. Although there were many cars, none of them seemed to have any space. Finally we found one that had two extra seats. The girls in the car told us to wait a moment, they needed to ask their friend… Cash! I hadn’t recognized the girls because I hadn’t had the chance to talk to them but when they mentioned Cash I remembered. Cash readjusted the seats to make room for us and told us to wait a moment while the girls showered (apparently in Taiwan you can pay shop owners and use their showers? That was pretty cool). While Cash was readjusting the seats, we ran into the family from before. They had finished eating and pulled over to make sure we had a ride. We told them we did and they continued on their way, but I was amazed to find someone so willing to help out a complete stranger.
The car ride back down was uneventful and Cash drove at a much more enjoyable pace than the previous driver and the bus driver which made my stomach feel a lot better. Cash drove us all the way back to our hostel where Daniel had left a bag and we parted ways. The hostel had been kind enough to allow us to come back and shower, so we cleaned up and headed to the train station. Feeling fresh and hungry, we stopped to buy tickets and then some yummy gan mian 乾麵 or dried noodles. We stopped for some milk tea and then we were on the road!
After four days of hiking, Daniel and I had traveled a total of 46 km (28.5 miles), climbed up and then back down over 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), and spent four days hiking through the most beautiful range of mountains that I have ever encountered. The weather was absolutely perfect despite the fact that it almost always rains in Yilan, and we both stayed in great physical condition for the most part, with the exception of several blisters on my feet. I can summarize my feelings and lessons I learned from this adventure in this short list:
- Bring eggs backpacking! Really?! Why?! They make an excellent and flavorful addition to any raman packet and can easily be poached in hot water. This is easier in Taiwan where eggs do not need to be refrigerated but fresh eggs backpacking? DELICIOUS.
- Always bring many warm clothes. Even with perfect weather I was quite chilly and grateful for my extra layers. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed the hike so much if it had rained.
- When hiking in Taiwan, plan wayyyy ahead. Permits go quick and although there is a translated version of the permit website, it is still quite difficult to get a spot unless you plan months ahead. What was funny for me was although I had orchestrated the entire permit process, everyone on the hike expected that Daniel applied for the permits and was bringing his “foreign friend” along for a hike when in reality it was the other way around!
- Talk to strangers. The people that we met on the trail were so kind and offered food, stories, pictures, and just good company. Thankfully my Chinese has improved enough to talk to them but even so many people had quite fluent English and I enjoyed talking to them. I did not encounter any other foreigners the entire time and people were interested to learn more about me and how I had found this hike. It made for a good conversation starter!
- Hitching in Taiwan is cool. Taiwan is a safe place and people are very willing to help out a hiker in need. Although I wouldn’t recommend letting your guard down because it is always important to be aware of any possible dangers, it is fairly normal to hitchhike and families will open their doors for you. I would normally feel very nervous to hitchhike as a woman in the US, but in Taiwan I felt very safe.
Hiking Nanhu was an amazing experience. I know I won’t have any other long weekends ahead of me to undertake hikes like this, so I’m glad I jumped at the opportunity. Daniel was a great companion and I really enjoyed getting to know his sense of humor and share stories while hiking. Maybe several years down the line, we can have a reunion hike! However, I’ve still got plenty of time left before heading back to the US to explore the mountains of Taiwan that have been largely untapped by me. Maybe one day I can explore the Baiyue (百岳) or 100 famous peaks of Taiwan and complete the 挑戰百岳, the 100 peaks challenge, I’ve already got six (南湖大山 Nanhu Mountain，南湖北山 Nanhu North Peak，南湖東山 Nanhu East Peak，合歡北山 Huhuan North Peak，合歡南山 Hehuan South Peak，審馬陣山 Shimachen Peak) so I’m on my way!
Ooh, maybe I’ll do this hike in November. When I was on the Teton Crest Trail and the only person on Paintbrush Divide at sunrise, I was like I guess only Asians (I am generalizing from Taiwan and Japan) are so crazy about hiking somewhere for sunrise!