Snow Mountain 雪山 is Taiwan’s second highest peak (not counting Jade Mountain’s sub-peaks) and is possibly the most beautiful place in the whole of Taiwan. The main peak is 3886m above sea-level making it a very cold place to be in winter but the scenery is second to none.
In the days building up to up to our trip, I was constantly checking the weather. In Taipei we had had none stop drizzle and the temperature was dropping. From the CWB we could see that it had snowed around Hehuanshan and so it seemed inevitable that snow mountain would be fittingly covered in snow. None of us have any experience hiking in snow and it sort of worried us but at the same time, we’d never seen snow in Taiwan and the thought of climbing up a snow-capped peak was very exciting.
We all finished work around midday and met up to pick up the hire car. As soon as we had the supplies sorted out, we were off and heading through the Xueshan tunnel towards Yilan. The weather seemed to be getting worse as we approached the coast and we were worried that we’d have to hike in the rain on the first day. It’s not good if you get all your gear wet at the off.
As the car climbed up the number 7 towards Wuling farm 武陵農場, there was still no end to the rain but just as we reached the highest point, Siyuan Yakou, the clouds began to lift and we caught a glimpse of the beautiful snow-covered peaks of the Snow Mountain Range.
Before embarking on the trip, we had to apply for permits (more about this at the bottom) and at the trailhead there is an office where rangers inspected our permits. On top of that we were made to watch a hilarious safety video with some very dubious advice.
By the time all that was over, it was already night and we started on the trial with head torches to help us find the way. About 40 minutes later we arrived at the Qika hut and with the sky now clear, we could see countless stars. An amazing sight for anyone who lives in a light polluted city like Taipei.
An early start. The alarm went off at 2am and we were all convinced that none of us had slept at all but as we’d all been woken up by each other’s snoring at some point in the night it was clear that we had all slept!
After a quick breakfast, we were off again hiking up in the dark. The aim was to get to a viewing platform by sunrise but we made great time and actually got the east peak of Snow Mountain by 6am.
It was cold, so, so very cold and taking photos was painful on the hands but the view was so absolutely spectacular that we stayed for a good 30 minutes shooting. In front of us we could see the peak of Snow Mountain with a trail of snow being blown of the top and it looked more like Nepal than Taiwan.
We could see the next hut, 369, and headed there to eat an early lunch and take a well deserved rest. By the time we got there the sun a fully up and it was so nice just basking in the warmth though not for a long time as the sun up at this kind of elevation will absolutely fry you.
At the hut we met two volunteer rangers and some other hiking groups. They said we were lucky as there had been blizzards for most of the week and that no-one had made it to the peak. The ranger set off long before us with a warning that there might be over a metre of snow. Undeterred we pushed on and entered into the beautiful black forest.
The forest was exceptionally beautiful with the snow lying on the ground and tree branches. As we got further and further in, the snow got deeper and deeper. There were a few tumbles and falls but nothing serious. At what is normally a source of water, there was a small cliff face that had huge 2-3m long icicles hanging down from it. We went over for a better look when suddenly the snow above began to fall down on us. Thinking the worst, we ran to get away but the altitude kicked in and we only got about 10m before collapsing out of breath!
At the end of the forest, the snow got seriously deep, up to our waists in places and this made the going really tough. We followed the footsteps of the ranger and finally at the bottom of the glacial cirque caught up with him.
Together we climbed onwards taking it in turns to stamp footholds in the snow as we tried to make to the peak. At on point there looked like there was a ridge with a path but as we got to it, it became apparent that there was absolutely no chance of finding any kind of trail and that we’d have to just make one ourselves through the snow.
It was hard, hard work. 100m took about 20 minutes and at about 300m short of the top we had to give up. The wind had blown all the soft snow down into the valley below and there was nothing in front of us but rocks and ice. Our crappy 4-point crampons just weren’t up to it and the safest thing to do was to return to the 369 hut. We were bitterly disappointed but sometimes you have to realise your limits. Besides the mountain isn’t going anywhere and now we’ve got an excuse to go back!
It was a tiring walk down to the hut, we’d been hiking for around 13 hours when we made it back and after eating, we were in bed at 6pm.
We got up late, 6am, and watched the sunrise from the inside the hut. Because we’d stayed at the 369 hut instead, we could take our time about going home. It was nice to have the time to chat with some of the rangers and other hikers. Got some ideas for other places to go and got some advice for where to avoid during the winter.
The walk down was pretty easy but our legs and feet were aching from the day before. It was good to see all of the things we’d missed on the way up like the pine forest and the crying slope, so called because it is so steep that it’ll make you cry! It took a little over 3 hours to get down and we were immensely glad to have a car to drive back rather than our usual motorbikes.
More photos – I took well over 400 and could have taken more!
Permits - The bane of a hikers life but very much necessary. To hike snow you need two kinds of permit. One is to enter the national park and that is the first one to apply for – Park Entry Application. This is the one that allows you to book a space in the huts.
After that, if you’re successful, you’ll be sent an email with a broken link that should take you to the National Police Agency. Here you can apply for the second permit to enter the mountainous area. Beware, this only works with internet explorer.
After that, all you need to do it print out 3 copies of each permit and present them to the check point at the start of the trail and the police station in Wuling.
As space is limited, permits are difficult to get at the weekend and we were very lucky. If you can go during the week, it’s much easier to get a permit and the trail and cabins will be quieter too.
Transport – We drove in a hired car and it was fine. Though it’s a good idea to check on road conditions before heading out as the number 7 is prone to landslides and is sometimes closed for repairs.
An alternative to driving would be to take the bus from Taipei. It leaves the main station at 7.20am and arrives in Wuling at 11.30am according to the Wuling website (that sounds very optimistic to me, might actually take longer). At Wuling there’s a shuttle bus you can take to the trailhead.
Itineraries – Our original plan was the one below. However, as we didn’t get over the peak, we had to return to the 369 hut and stay there on day 2. This was always going to be a tough hike and it was made more so by the conditions. The itinerary we actually did was much easier than the one we had planned but getting a space in the 369 hut on a Saturday is not.
Day 1 – Trailhead – Qika Hut
Day 2 – Qika Hut – 369 Hut - Main Peak – Cuichi Hut
Day 3 – Cuichi – Main peak – Tailhead – Return to Taipei
To get an idea of how long the hike will take, it’s best to buy a map of the area. They are available at most hiking stores and usually give estimated times to get from one point to another.