This is one of the most beautiful hikes that we’ve experienced while living in Taiwan – located in Taroko National Park. We first hiked it back in April of 2016, four months after we arrived. We had hoped to camp on the summit then but got rained out and Pickles got altitude sick so we descended and camped in our minivan.
It’s been on the Taiwan bucket list ever since!
This was a national holiday weekend for Dragon Boat Festival (Friday off). It’s a time to race Dragon Boats and eat zongzi which we didn’t partake in, but this is what a zongzi looks like:
On Friday we checked the weather and it looked like a slim chance of rain. We already secured altitude sickness meds (Acetazolamide) at one of the many National Health Insurance Pharmacies around the island. This is an over-the-counter and about $3.00 USD for 8 pills. For higher elevations (no pun intended) the pharmacist will recommend viagra, no RX needed. It helps treat jet lag recovery in hamsters too. UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE IS THE BEST!
We packed the minivan and headed east toward the massively rugged mountain range that slices vertically through the country.
The Montana of Taiwan
The air at higher altitudes is the only place to naturally escape the intense heat and humidity at sea level. It’s so exciting and rare to feel cold while living in Taiwan. Current temps at sea level hover around a 100º f and this is the beginning of summer. The drive would be about 2 to 2.5 hours, but with a holiday it took us 3 hours. There is only one road to Hehuanshan and it is the highest road in all of Taiwan! It is extremely narrow and winding. If there’s a drive to take anxiety meds on, it would be this one. I’m a terrible passenger so I should look in to this.
We got a visual treat because the pink mountain azaleas were in full bloom. These were not here the last time we hiked in June. Absolutely stunning. The bottom 1/3 of this hike is selfie-central.
We got some concerned comments (mostly from elderly women) regarding our short-sleeved shirts while hiking up (it was 50º f). At night it dipped to 44º f which is considered cold to most Taiwanese. Do we Americans run hot or just have more meat on us or both?
Something that almost put our 10 year marriage in peril is outdoor gear failure or what some may call a lack of being prepared. Pickles warned me that our tent’s fly was worn-out (it is a 17 year old REI tent aftereall). This is no problem in sunny weather as we last experienced while camping in New Zealand and…
of course it rained
This is a relationship tester! Never fear, female MacGyver packed full rain gear (someone else did not), multiple bandanas that aided in sopping up the ponds forming in our tent, an extra cheapo trash bag raincoat because when it rains in Taiwan, it RAINS. Women… what would men do without us?
After the short downpour, we felt settled, albeit a bit soaked. Then this…
In general, the Taiwanese travel in groups and don’t mind staying in close physical proximity to one another (group harmony always prevails). We do not enjoy traveling in groups and when camping always seek the farthest spot from other humans. You can imagine our disappointment, when at sunset, when we thought all the campers were set up for the night, we saw this… about 40 humans parading our way.
In the dark, we quickly unstaked our tent and dragged it to privacy, beyond a small knoll, out of sight from the human onslaught.
We had ’em! Passionfruit’s hiking boots decided to give up all forms of waterproofness. Pickles’ air mattress surrendered its last breath and deflated (yushan cane, aka stubby bamboo is not cushy). And even though we took altitude medicine, we both suffered intense altitude headaches most of the night. But when we got up at 4:30 am and saw this everything seemed ok in the world:
Priorities: We may have crappy old camp gear, but we had these from our neighborhood artisanal doughnut shop!
Location, location, location! Our tent was set up off to the right, dipped down below the crowds with unobstructed eastward views.
Enjoying High Altitude Solitude
We became salmon swimming downstream amongst the morning day hikers. When the 23.5 million people of Taiwan get a holiday they tend to stay on island and just relocate to another area to explore, like us. We usually avoid in-country travel on holidays because traffic and outdoor recreational areas are congested. Everyone wants a piece of the wilderness but because it’s very rugged and dense there’s not much off-trail exploring that’s possible or often permitted. We may have camped out of bounds, but with so many humans around there’s very little wild-life aside from some pretty birds so we knew it was safe.
Hope you’re all enjoying your summer and finding an adventure to call your own. Thanks for following our online diary and posting comments (we love hearing from you). We miss you, friends and fam! Love, – P&P
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