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.
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.
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.
|Heading to East Peak|
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 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.
|The kitchen with a lovely view|
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.
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.
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.
We soon broke beyond the tree line and there loomed in front of us the objective of our quest:
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!
900m more to go!!
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.
|D powering up the mountain|
|too cool for skool|
|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.
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.
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!