Yushan, also known as Jade Mountain, is the tallest peak in Taiwan and the tallest in Northeast Asia. It is a beast of a mountain and from a distance, looks near impossible to climb but in reality, apart from the last 400m, it’s not too bad, providing you’re in shape and the weather is kind to you!
By far the hardest part of climbing Yushan has to be getting the permit in the first place! With all of us working full-time, we needed to get a permit to stay in the Paiyun Cabin on a Saturday night and unfortunately that is the most popular day.
Typically for a weekend permit, there are 2000 people competing for a mere 100 places, giving us a one in twenty chance. Not good odds and it took 14 attempts before we finally hit the jackpot (Yes, I am incredibly stubborn). I would seriously recommend anyone thinking of climbing Yushan to try for a weekday, or choose another mountain!
Our trip began on Friday evening when we drove down to Shizi, near Alishan. We arrived around 2am and stopped there for the night at a bed and breakfast. The first day of hiking just involved getting to the Paiyun Cabin (4-5 hours of hiking) and so we weren’t in any particular hurry to get to the trailhead which is at Tatajia.
The view from the B+B was very nice and it looked as though the weather would hold out for the day. After eating, we finished off the drive up to Tatajia. Not far from Tatajia we came across a load of Formosan Macaques who were hanging around the roadside, presumably waiting for passing tourists to feed them.
At Tatajia we were supposed to hand in our permit but somehow it had disappeared. However the park ranger was really nice and just printed out another copy for us. After showing our IDs and getting checked off one-by-one, we were shown a short film which you are required to watch before entering the park. The film is OK and some of the safety stuff is worth watching but it seemed a shame that they showed so many of the features of the trail. Personally I prefer to discover things rather than be shown them but at least the film is short and after 10mins we were ready to get going.
From the Tatajia Visitors Centre, it’s a fairly long walk to the actual trailhead but the park run a shuttle bus service which costs 100NT person. A bit steep but we were more than happy to pay it. The trail to Paiyun cabin is cut into the side of the mountain and for the most part it gently climbs upwards. There are a few sections that are steep and harder work but mostly it’s OK.
Around 6km into the hike, there is a small pavilion which makes a great place to stop for lunch, providing it not too crowded and just before it there is an eco-toilet with the strangest sign in the whole of Taiwan!
Walking in to Paiyun was great, loads of interesting plants to see along the way and the clouds kept sweeping in and out alternating between shading us from the sun and giving us wonderful views of the mountains and valley.
We arrived around 2.30pm and got sorted out with our spaces in the cabin. After a short rest and some tea, a few of us headed off towards to the West Peak, but none of us were really that up for it and after 10 mins or so we stopped to just laze around and bask in the sunlight. Then I spotted what looked like a small trail going directly up from the main trial and we climbed up to find an amazing view of the main peak of Yushan.
We headed back to the cabin, ate and then found a nice spot to watch the sunset. It was probably the most beautiful sunset I’ve seen in Taiwan. The sky just got redder and redder and it was truly amazing.
The unfortunate thing about sharing a cabin with other groups is that you are at the mercy of their wake-up call. Our part of the cabin had 4 groups, one of which wanted to get up at 1.30am to start out for the peak and so we had no choice but to join them in the early start.
The temperature dropped to about 5C outside but inside was surprisingly warm and I had to dispense with my sleeping hag halfway through the night. Normally I’d say 1.30 is a tough time to get up but it was such a restless night for me that I was glad to get up and finally have something to do!
After a quick breakfast we, got our torches on and hit the trail at 2.30am. It was a beautiful moonlit night with millions of stars. The moon was so bright that we didn’t even need to use our torches for most of the climb.
The beginning of the trail slowly zigzags upwards and if you take your time it’s easy going. After 40mins we got to the more difficult part. It is marked by a signboard. Just after this there are two routes. The one with the chains to the left is only for the winter-time when the snow is bad and so we continued upwards on the main path. Care is needed here and so we switched on the torches again. It is easy to lost from this point and it’s very important that you keep looking ahead to make sure that you are still following the trial.
The trail has a tunnel built to protect hiker from falling rocks and scree. Take care here, especially coming down, as the tunnel is quite low and, as Rodger will testify, it is easy to hit your head on the beams!
The end of the tunnel is known as Fengkou. It can be dangerously windy here but there was only a slight breeze for us. After Fengkou, is the final ascent. It’s a hard scramble up with plenty of chains to hold on to and to guide you up.
We finally got to the top at 3.45am. Way too early but at least we were the first ones up there and got to stake out a good spot to watch the sunrise which was again incredibly beautiful.
As it got closer to sunrise the peak got more and more ‘renao’ and some of us headed off to the right to find a quieter spot. The views were unbelievable. We could see for miles all around and when the sun finally came up, Yushan cast a huge shadow over the mountains to the south.
After getting our fill of photos it was just a case of scrambling back down to the cabin, packing up and then hiking out the way we came. Coming down, it was interesting to see just how steep and dangerous the ascent had been.
More photos of Yushan
Neil’s version of events and excellent photos here
Permits – Foreigners can apply up to 3 months in advance, providing they wish to climb Yushan on a weekday. Otherwise you’ll need to apply between 33 and 30 days in advance. The application then goes into a draw and if you’re lucky, you’ll win the lottery and get a permit.
Paiyun is a bit cramped, especially if the weather’s bad and everyone is inside but it’s better than nothing. There is a good water supply, toilets and a small kitchen. It should get rebuilt sometime this year.
At Tatajia there is a small hostel, Dongpu Hostel 東埔山莊, that makes a good place to sleep the night before beginning an ascent of Yushan. (Tel: 049-2702213)
Buses go from Chiayi to Alishan but stop there. It’s about another 20km to Tatajia from there and hitching or walking would be the only option. Otherwise you’ll need to drive to the trailhead or hire a driver and vehicle.