Saturday, March 23, 2013

Trip Report: Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan




Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan




At 3886m, Xueshan or Snow Mountain is the second highest peak in Taiwan and the highest mountain I have ever summited. And what a glorious adventure it was! It was 3 days and 2 nights of nothing but breathtaking scenery and great company. Here's a summary of how it all went.



Day 1


It is about a 4 hour drive from Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport to Shei-Pa National Park and then into Wuling Farm which is a recreational area within the national park. It is still winter in February and we arrived at the peak of the cherry blossom season. Thankfully we arrived early enough to avoid the crowds but there were already hardcore photographers in position when we drove in around 630am.


Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan
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Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan


After watching an introductory video of Xueshan played for us by the park rangers, we headed off from the trailhead. Xueshan here we come!

Prior to the trip we were told to prepare for frozen rivers and water sources so we packed about 6 litres of water each and winter-specific equipment such as crampons and ice axes. We were rather disappointed to find out that latest reports from the summit revealed that was no snow at all even past the tree-line. Looks like we weren't going to see Xueshan covered in xue (snow).

The hike started out pretty comfortable for the weight I was carrying, the most i have ever carried on a hike due to the water requirements. But this was just the beginning of course. The first couple of kilometres up to Cika Hut was a series of stepped switchbacks on nicely packed, dry trail.



Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan



Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan



Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan

We rested for a couple of minutes at Cika Hut and then resumed. The plan was to reach the summit by 2pm and then trek down to Cuici Pond for a night a the Hut there. 

The hike was beginning to take its toll on D and me. J, even with his prior experience on this trail was suffering too from lack of sleep due to his shift work the day before. By the time we reached East Peak at 3201m around 12noon, we were far off the pace to make it to the summit AND back down to Cuici Hut for the night. 

Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan
Heading to East Peak


Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan




Once we reached East Peak, the decision was made to head straight to 369 Hut and spend the night there instead of heading to the summit. We would then rest and make a summit bid the next morning. The trek to 369 Hut was by no means easier and I was stoked to finally see the hut through the trees.




369 Hut





























369 Hut is a simple elongated single storey cabin with enough room for 106 hikers. Inside are two rows of wooden double deck bunks, on which are lined with thin black rubber mats. These act as rudimentary sleeping surfaces but one must come with your one sleeping pad and bag as the nights at 369 Hut get cold (-1 degrees celsius) in the winter.
I do not have any photos of the interior as by this time i was tired out and plagued with a throbbing headache (mountain sickness ?).

A level below the sleeping quarters is a small hut in which you prepare and eat your meals. It is a really simple yet effective little space that provides you a place to cook out of the wind and cold.


Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan
The kitchen with a lovely view





























Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan
Dinner time!




























Dinner was a simple affair of dehydrated food reheated with boiling water and some fresh mushrooms and cabbage we bought from 7-11 (yes that's right, Taiwan's 7-11 stores are amazing, a whole separate story for another time!). I headed to bed pretty soon after dinner as my headache was killing me, even after taking two aspirins.





Day 2


Our second day started at 430am, same as the rest of the other hikers in 369 Hut. Breakfast was cooked and consumed, bags pack and we got ready to set off as soon as there was enough light to see the trail. I was looking forward to today's trek as I heard that the scenery would be better. It was unfortunate that there wasn't going to be snow as this winter is unusually warm and dry.




Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan




























Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan




























The forest above 369 Hut consists of mainly Abies kawakamii (Taiwan fir). It is said that it used to cover a larger swath of land but a fire broke out some time ago and burned through a great part of it, leaving behind charred white trunks as memory to what was once a thriving forest.


Above this , we entered the much spoken about Black Forest. CW told us that in a proper winter situation, the area would be blanketed in snow, making the forest seem like a scene out of a Lord of the Rings movie.


Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan





























We soon broke beyond the tree line and there loomed in front of us the objective of our quest:



Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan

The cirque behind me leads up to the peak of Xueshan and is normally entirely covered in snow in winter, but here you can see how dry and warm this winter has been!



Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan

900m more to go!!









Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan



 There was still a fair bit of ice on the trail and we had to pick our way carefully to avoid slipping. I figured that since i had already spent money on an ice axe and crampons, i decided to try them out. It was fun to be able to stab the crampons and axe into the ice, but eventually the trail start to become more rocky than icy, so we ended up not using them for the rest of the trek up.


Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan
D powering up the mountain

Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan
too cool for skool


Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan
View of The North Corner from the summit



We reached the summit around noon and we decided to climb up to the North Corner of Xueshan. This involved trekking down and then climbing up literally on all fours to reach the top. It was a gnarly experience and I am glad we didnt have snow to contend with. 


After enjoying the awesome views, we head down and up to the summit to get out packs and then we made the descent down to Cuici Pond


Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan


I will never forget the boulder strewn slopes that bridged the top of Xueshan to the lower valleys of Cuici Pond. In the picture about you can see where the trail starts at the top (the U shaped part of the ridge). The boulders were mostly the size of huge watermelons, with many more the size of couches.


Xueshan (Snow Mountain), Taiwan
Cuici Pond (Cuici Hut can be seen behind the trees in the centre of the photo)

We reached Cuici Pond around 5pm and we went to check out the pond. We were very low on water and we brought our bottles to collect water. Again, due to the warm and dry weather, the pond has shrunk to about 1/3 its size. Water collection had to done carefully so as not to stir up the silt. We would later clean the water by sterilising with puri-tabs and boiling it. Despite the lost in pond size, it still allowed for pretty spectacular reflections of the ridge behind the hut. The setting sun caused the ridge to change hues as the sun got lower and lower on the horizon.

That night in Cuici Hut was the coldest I have ever spent, around -5 deg. celcius. Not funny at all but i would not trade that experience for anything else. Now I know what cold is! It was partly my fault too as I tried to cut pack weight by bringing a three season sleeping bag paired with a liner. The liner I used was a Sea to Summit Reactor and it did as good a job as it could possibly do, without it I probably would have suffered even more.




Day 3


We started out at 630am the next day and we took the exact same route back. Apart from having to climb back up the boulder field to the summit, the rest of the trip back was mostly downhill and we really motored on. We wanted to get back in Taipei in time to return the rental car and we knew we had to contend with the weekend crowds coming into Wuling to view the cherry blossoms. With this spurring us on, we reached the trailhead by 230pm, which was super fast. 


Summary

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and my advice to anyone attempting this in winter would be to train up with the appropriate load (approx 20-25kg) as you will be carrying a lot of water due to frozen water pipes and streams, in addition to winter/ice gear. Even in a warm and dry winter like this, the extra water we carried was vital to a safe trip.  I will be posting reviews of the gear used during the trip soon. Stay tuned!

22 comments:

  1. Hey, would like to hike snow mountain. Do you engage a guide company there? Would love to get their details. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Hi ! So sorry for the late reply. We didn't engage a guide company, we depended greatly on our friend K who has been there many times to sort out the permits for us. He did it with the help of his taiwanese friend. When are you planning to hike? If you like I can put you in touch with my friend K? For his first hike there, he made contact with a local hiking company who helped sort out permits, maybe he can offer you more help/advice. The trails in Xueshan are well marked and you shouldn't have problems finding your way around without a guide. the tricky bits are getting the permits and booking your slots in the mountain huts.

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    2. Hi, me and my friends (total 5 of us) would like to climb Xue Shan from 11 to 13 Oct. Is it possible to share your friend K's contact?

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    3. Hi Jag, oh crap .i hope this is not too late. I am asking my friend whether he is ok for me to share his contact with you.

      Did you and the other blog reader "Unknown" managed to plan the hike together for 16 to 18 Oct?

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    4. Hey Jag, email me at joeygansh@gmail.com . will pass you the contact via email. thanks!

      Delete
  2. Hi黄光荣, I'm also travelling thinking of climbing Xue Shan from 11 to 13 Oct, but it seems that all the beds for 369 hut has been taken. I'm thinking of going from 16 to 18 Oct instead (there are still many beds available at this point for these dates). Would you guys be interested to hike together?

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  3. Hi gearupgetout, may I check if we need to bring out own cooking utensils (e.g. cooking pots, etc) when spending the night at 369 hut?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Cloclo, so sorry for the late reply. yes you have to bring all your personal gear. So for cooking, that would mean your stove, cooksets/pots, mugs, forks/spoons etc. there is a rudimentary but practical table top in the kitchen for you to cook on.
      This is the same for the hut at Cuici Hut.
      When are you planning to go? :)

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    2. At the moment, I am planning to go from 16th to 18th Oct, for which I have obtained the permits. Oh, I need a stove as well? Yikes.. I suppose I could get those from the local 7-eleven or camping shops?

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  4. My friends and I are exchange student here in Taiwan and we would like visit this majestic mountain. However none of us are hikers (all college students) and don't know a single thing about hiking. :( Is there a company or a tour guide that rents out gears and accompanies you to the summit? :)

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    Replies
    1. Hi John, i replied to your email. go check! :)

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  5. Try Taiwan Adventures, very experienced and helpful. I am going to hike Snow mountain on 30 Oct.

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  6. Hi,

    We are planning to hike Snow Mountain this March, last week. Is there anyone you can recommend to guide us or help us. We already spoke with Taiwan Adventures and they need at least 3 people for a group. We are just two. We don't mind to go DIY. Just 2 female hiker from Manila.. wishing to climb Snow Mountain.. :)

    Thanks, Weng...

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  7. join their facebook page, they have a hike in march for snow mountain https://www.facebook.com/groups/TaiwanAdventures/

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  8. WOuld you do it in the summer like August?

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  9. Hi my friend and I would like to trek xueshan in april. Wondering if u and your friend can advise us on the weather and recommended attire for the trip? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can I have yr email so I can drop u a message?

      Delete
  10. hey there! im wondering if climbing equipment (i.e crampons & ice axes) are available for rent over there?

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  11. Hi would u like to rent my ice axe and crampons? You can drop me an email at joeygansh@gmail.com. Thank you

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  12. Hi! May I ask at the trailhead entrance, when the park rangers examine the mountain entry permit and the police permit, do they do a physical check of the equipment that we have? I'm climbing in early January but I only plan to hike until the East Peaks and stay and the Qika Hut. By any chance do you still rent crampons as well? Thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete