This weekend we shot down to Chiayi straight after work for a fantastic 2 day excursion in the mountains near Alishan. The scenery and hiking were second to none taking in a beautiful peak (Luchushan 鹿屈山) with views of a snow-capped Yushan, an earthquake created-lake (Shuiyang Forest 水漾森林) and an enormous cave, fittingly called the thousand people cave (Qianrendong 千人洞).
Arriving late at Shanlinxi, we had some trouble getting into the park but with the ingenious use a stick, we were able to drive through the one way spikes and made our way towards the pagoda that would be our campsite for the night. The weather was so nice that we didn’t even bother with tents and just bivvied under the stars.
Sleeping out meant we rose as the sun did and got on the trail at 7.30am. Immediately the path went directly up the mountain and set our pulses racing as we climbed up several ladders and crisscrossed over the old forestry road. After 20mins or so the forest road went off to the left and we began the ascent of the advanced peak of Luchu Mountain.
At the top of the advanced peak there’s a wide firebreak and it’s from here that we saw Yushan. Off towards the north we also spotted a group of five eagles circling the forest.
We followed the firebreak, dropped off the ridge at the end and looped around towards the main peak of Luchushan. The forest around here is mostly pine but every now and then we would encounter the smell of camphor but frustratingly we were unable to find a camphor tree!
The peak of Luchushan isn’t very exciting but just before it there’s a nice spot where we stopped for lunch. From here the trail heads steeply down through thick bamboo and eventually meets back up with the abandoned forestry road. We were immensely grateful to have a flat surface to follow for a while before we began the descent to the Shuiyang Forest.
It was a tough and quite dangerous climb down. Ross took a tumble that left him with grazes on his head and he was lucky not to go over the edge of a cliff…….
We arrived at the lake and found a large group of Taiwanese hikers already there. They’d set up camp and were exploring around the lake. After a quick chat we cracked on round the left side of the lake, a bad decision. It was a really difficult walk/scramble around and it turns out that the other side is much better.
Still, we got to see some deer footprints and the landslide that created the lake after the 921 earthquake. The two paths that go around the lake meet up where the lake water pours out and down into a river. Nearby there’s a hunter’s campsite and from there the trail climbs up and then back down to the river further down stream.
The river is an amazing place. Huge boulders are strewn everywhere and the mountains just rise and rise on both sides. We got lost at this point. The trail to the cave is on the left hand side and after going past it and up the wrong path, we eventually retraced ours steps and found the route. At this point we were running out of time and so we had a chat, weighed up our options and decided that there was enough time to get to the cave before dark, providing we didn’t get lost again!
It felt like a hard climb over the ridge towards the cave but in reality it wasn’t. We were just knackered after 10 hours of hiking! The final stretch actually goes over the top of the cave and drops down. This final section is a bit sketchy, especially when you’re as tired as we were.
We had the cave to ourselves and so we set up the tents, found some firewood and settled down for night. One of the pieces of wood we found turned out to be camphor and produced a wonderful smell. We were also treated to clear skies and a brilliant view of the stars.
The next day we packed up and headed back to the lake. Then instead of climbing Luchushan, we just followed the forestry road for 10km back to the car.
Day 0 – Taipei (1900) – Shanlinxi (2400)
Day 1 – Trailhead (0800) – Advanced peak (1000) – Main peak (1200) – Lake campground (1400) – Lake exit (1500) – Cave (1730)
Day 2 – Cave (0630) – Lake campground (0900) – Forestry road (1030) – Trailhead (1400)
There are several places to camp. The cave and the beginning of the lake are the best. The lake water can be drunk after boiling as can the water from the waterfall by the cave.
The trail for the most part is easy to follow with the exception of the river after the lake. Take care in this section. Always follow the plastic trail markers and keep an eye out the trail going up to the left. It’s very easy to miss.
Also, I would give serious thought to not going here if the weather is bad. The going was tough in places when it was dry and if some of the downhill sections were muddy, it would be very hard work getting down safely.
Maps can be found here scroll to the bottom and open the word file.
GPS coordinates (Chinese blog)