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A Jaunt up Jade 

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When I first arrived in Taiwan, several people told me that there are three experiences I must do while I’m here. These are to climb Jade Mountain, cycle around Taiwan and swim Sun Moon Lake. My husband and two sons swam the lake and my eldest son cycled around the island, so it was up to me to climb the mountain. I’m proud to say that I’ve now managed to do that, almost six years later!

Organization for Jade Mountain

As I’m sure you know, Jade Mountain is the highest peak in Taiwan standing tall at 3952 meters. This means that a lot of people want to complete the challenge. As a result, the first hurdle is to win the permit-lottery so that you are allowed to hike up the mountain. The hike from the trailhead to the peak is not that long, around 10km, which means a 20km round trip. There are some people who do this in a day which, as the less popular option, means you’re more likely to get the permit. However, considering the altitude, I thought it best to do it the Taiwanese way. That means you take it slowly, stay in the cabin and climb the peak for sunrise. I got my Jade Gang together and asked Dory Chung to lead our expedition. She makes things very easy, as she applies for the permit, organizes the transport and leads the way … leaving you to enjoy the experience.

Getting there

Dory, Gaby, Jodie, Lene, Lewis, Sophie and I set off one Sunday afternoon from Taipei. We drove down to Nantou and then took Route 21 to a small aboriginal village, where we stayed the night. We stocked up on energy with a traditional dinner that had numerous dishes including chicken, pork, fish, sweet potato leaves, water spinach, okra and sweet potato fritters.

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And we’re off!

Early Start

On Monday morning we set off around 7am to Jade Mountain, reached the park office, checked in with our passports and then took the shuttle bus to the trailhead. At 9am, rucksacks on our back, off we set off. It was 8.5km to the cabin and we took it slowly, unused to the weight of the rucksack, but also because the weather was glorious and the views spectacular. We could see the surrounding mountain ranges and peek down into the valley below. The path is mainly trail, with a few steps in places. At first, we had the trail to ourselves, but then people started to pass us on their way down. They had scaled the peak that dawn and were now heading home. Most impressive of all is the porters, though. They go both ways and carry these huge rucksacks full of supplies or one or two gas canisters and they are pretty speedy. I loved that feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature. Huge trees clinging to the mountainside, beautiful rhododendrons blooming and birds chattering all around.

The cabin

We reached Pai Yun cabin around 3pm, shed the rucksacks and enjoyed the view. It was already quite cool, around 12 degrees, which after Taipei’s 30+ was refreshing. We were assigned to cabin 6 which we shared with another group of hikers. The cabins are made up of wooden bunks, with thin foam mattresses and thick sleeping bags provided. The dining area is downstairs, and the toilets are outside. It’s all well-organised and works like clockwork. At around 6pm we had dinner and then it was time for bed. Yes, it’s early! But the lights go out and the temperature drops so cosying up in your sleeping bag is the best option. By 2am everyone was awake and readying themselves for the adventurous part of the trip. Breakfast was provided – rice porridge with all sorts of flavorings – but it was way too early for me to eat. We set off around 3am, head torches lighting the way up the path. It’s the first time I’ve hiked in the dark and it was easier than I imagined. The head torches provide plenty of light to show the way. After about half an hour we left the trees behind and climbed the scraggy mountainside with other hikers’ lights bobbing up and down in the distance. This section of trail is pretty steep and narrow, and at times, it was a relief to have the metal chain to hold on to. The last 500 meters is particularly challenging as the cold wind emerges and the path gets even steeper. However, at this point, dawn is breaking, and you can see mountain silhouettes all around, which is quite breathtaking.
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We reached the peak and found a quiet spot from which to enjoy the sunrise. We had a great show, with the orange orb rising in a perfect circle to brighten the sky and tint the clouds. There was also a beautiful sea of clouds to admire, along with all the mountain ridges that gradually emerged from the dark.
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We lasted about an hour on the summit, took our Instagram-worthy photos on the peak and then headed down to defrost the fingers. Although you go down the same way, it looks totally different in daylight, and you realize exactly where you are and what you’ve climbed. Back at the cabin we revived ourselves with a delicious bowl of noodles and then set off back down to the trailhead. We got back to the van around 1pm and headed back to Taipei feeling tired but content, with our mission accomplished.
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If you fancy a jaunt to Jade, then go for it. I recommend you get a group together, because it’s not just a hike, it’s an experience! There’s the long journey to the trailhead and you share a cabin for two nights – so it’s more fun with friends. I would also suggest that you hire a guide to arrange all the details, and if she’s free, I’d choose Dory.

Check out her Facebook page: ExplorewithDory. Happy hiking!

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Lucy Torres is a volunteer at The Center but is more often found on a hiking trail. She loves exploring different routes to find beautiful views and relax in the great outdoors.

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