Saturday, May 12, 2012

Elusive Snow Mountain and Jiamin Lake

Entitling the Elusive Snow Mountain, but only for us.  A reminder that we will have to come back for this journey that we make, the Snow Mountain eluded us by giving us a different objective for our climb.  Read on to know why.

I have always been intrigued as to why my fellow national service brothers-in-arms trained in Taiwan, and though they carried stories of the tough training that they have to go through, I was still not too sure how difficult the training in Taiwanese terrain will be, however our attempt to climb the Snow Mountain (2nd highest mountain in Taiwan) made me finally realised the hardship involved in such terrain.

Taiwan island is mountainuous, in fact in certain article in the web, it was mentioned to be an island with the most mountains by density!  This statement may be exaggerated, but  it is no exaggeration that this island has 165 mountains exceeding 3,000m.  the highest being the Jade Mountain (玉山) standing at 3,952 m. 

The topography nature of Taiwan island sees these mountain ranges
Central Mountain Range (中央山脈)
Hai-an Mountain Range (海岸山脈)
Snow Mountain Range (雪山山脈)
Jade Mountain Range (玉山山脈)
Ali Mountain Range (阿里山山脈)
stretching from north to south on the eastern side of the island.

Of these 165 mountains, the trekking community in 1971 has collectively classify 100 of these mountains (台灣百岳列表) to be the most fascinating, and that it is the dream of most trekkers to climb these 100 peaks.

Initially, we have chosen to climb both the Jade as well as the Snow Mountain, but alas to climb Jade Mountain requires tendering for climbing permits which we were not fortunate to obtain.  Thus we settle for the Snow Mountain, and another mountain to the south which boasts having the second highest alpine lake in Taiwan.  The Jiamin Lake (嘉明湖) located in the Central Mountain Range, and situated 3,310 m.  And overlooking this lake is the Sanja Peak (三叉山) which stood at 3,496 m.

Trekking to the 'Elusive' Snow Mountain
Trekking in Taiwan requires the application of climbing permit, and this is due to the fact that there are limited sleeping space in the mountain lodges.  By controlling the numbers also has the advantage that it will not be a crowded climb.
Trekking profile for the 3 days.  Entrance to Jika Lodge, then to the Eastern Peak before proceeding to 369 Lodge and back

Day 1 - Taipei to Snow Mountain Trailhead ( 新竹,雪山登山口服務站) to Jika Lodge (七卡山莊)
Taiwan being mountainous with its 5 parallel mountain ranges forming creases and folds, would indicate that the mountains were formed by tetonic activities.  Which is to say that there will be earthquake and hot springs.
We did not get to experience earthquake, but did enjoyed the delight of soaking in the hot spring.

The journey to Snow Mountain trailhead would be an arduous one, with winding road, and the occasional hilly ride from Taipei before we finally reached the destination.  Along the way we were able to see the beautiful gorges, valleys and high mountain peaks.  It was a scene most majestic.

In this month, the typhoon has yet to arrive and the river bed was quite dry, thus leaving great tract of land to be cultivated for food.  With rich mineral that flows down from the mountain, and abundant water, the vegetation grew fast and nutrient rich. It has to be time in such a manner, that harvesting should take place before the typhoon season starts, which usually occur between May to October.

Reaching the trialhead, which is also the location for a landlocked salmon, a species found only here.  The trekking starts with a video safety and environmental awareness show.  This will be the first time that we are trekking without the aid of porter, meaning that we have to carry our own load.  A luxury that we used to have on other mountains!  Regardless, the first day was easy going, easy slope with interesting fauna.  Within 2 hours, we have reached our resting point for the night, the Jika Lodge.

Pine cone and Needles

A 90 Degree Pine Tree - the power of Sunlight!
Jika Lodge

It will be a new experience for us all, to stay in a lodge.  Dinner will be served in a communal kitchen.  And served early for there is no artificial lightings saved those on our headlamps.  With nothing to do, we retired early.

Day 2 – Jika Lodge to 369 Lodge (三六九山莊)
Today will mark the beginning of our rainy trek.  It will be raining and foggy for the rest of our journey.  In the beginning, when our inner clothing were dried, and our shoes and outer shells were able to keep the water out, it was alright.  But through time, as we slogged through the climby, somehow the rain water was able to creep into the inner shell, and thus causing certain discomfort in the form of wetness and a sense of miserableness.

As usual, the trekking was not considered as difficult, as the slope was gentle.  And when we came to this slope also known as “Crying Slope  哭坡  “, it was a 200 m steep climb.  Thankfully, we overcame this Crying Slope without shedding any tear.
Notice for the tough 200m ahead!

The trek to the 369 lodge was difficult, as we were also buffeted by strong wind and poor visibility.  To lift our spirit, the guide was telling us that on a good day we should be able to see the other mountain ranges, as we stood on the summit of Snow Mountain Eastern Peak 山東(at 3,201 m).  Alas, on the contrary we were not able to see the scenery, but have to fight very hard with the wind to have our pictures taken on this summit.
Snow Mountain Eastern Peak (3,201 m) - 1 down and 99 to go!

After the summit climb, we headed for the 369 Lodge, it was called because of a nearby 3,690m mountain.

How the lodge get to be called 369
Unlike at Jika, the kitchen and toilet facilities were a short distance from the sleeping quarter, in another words, everytime we have to make a trip to either of these facilities, required us to don our wet gears, a most uncomfortable and inconvenience experience!

This night, the wind blew unrelentedly, and rain came in droves.  Lightning flashed, and one thunder clap sounded so loudly that we suspected that it must have striked a building near to ours. 

Day 3 – 369 Lodge to Summit and back to the Trail Head, and back to Taipei
Arose at 3 am, ready for our summit climb, only to be told that it was foggy, raining with high wind that we were advised to abandon our climb to the summit.  Simply too dangerous, and will be very tough.  Disappointed but glad, we returned to our sleeping bag to catch the remaining winks.
Greetings on the doorpost, representing 3-6-9

The Team before the descend.

The Crying Slope - not so scary if you are descending.
The weather was not turning any better when we descended, with howling wind, and limited visibility, we were consoling ourselves that it will be worse up at the summit.  Without much incident, we proceeded with our walk, and soon we made good way as we reversed our trek.

The lower we went, the sunnier it gets, and we wondered why our timing was so way off, but soon at the Trial Head it began to rain.

Such lichen requires good and fresh water and air to grow.

Lichen covered Pine

Now you see him!

and suddenly you do not!

Thus the walk that was shrouded in mist and fog.

And finally we are back to where we start.
Like our experience with the Kinabalu climbs, we came across many beautiful moths.  These were wise, as they escaped the cold and wind by hiding out in the lavatory.  With such sights, that we have not seen, many species were captured and immortalised in digital realm.
Very intricate design on this moth. 

Just as beautiful with mottled print.

With muscles sored, and dirty from lacked of wash, we adjourned to a hot spring bath.  It was nice to have muscles soothed, and clean clothing to replace those soiled from the journey, refreshed and rejuvenated we were, as we headed for Taipei.

Trekking to Jiamin Lake – the Sapphire in the Central Range
(嘉明湖 - 中央山脈中的一顆藍寶石)
The second highest lake in Taiwan, sometimes this lake is also called the Meteorite Lake, and other time as Angel’s Tear (天使的眼淚).

To trek to this lake, will require us to make a long journey cutting across several mountain ranges to make our way to the trail head.  This lake located in the Central Range, and the journey from Taipei will take about 9 hours to Hua Lian, and after which couple more kilometres to Xiama where we stayed a night before our journey to the Siangyang Reserve.

Day 1 – Siangyang Reserve Trail Head to Jiamin Lake Sanctuary Lodge (嘉明湖避難山屋)

Today, start the journey with fair weather, and we prayed hard that it will last!  For the previous trip up to Snow Mountain has been disappointing for some of us, as we did not made our way to the summit, we hoped that this time, it will be different!

Trekking Profile of the first 2 days of trekking.  Highest Peak is the SiangYang which was achieved on the 1st day, and subsequently at 3,520m will be the Sanja Peak.  Before that will be the Jiamin Lake.

Walking to the trail head from the Reserve entrance took us into the beautiful pine forest, and the stone formation which is usually slate, show the unstable stage of such rock formation.  Many places were plagued with landslide, and certain areas needed to be crossed with speed and care.

Beginning of our track to the trail head.

A thistle like herb with medical value for the Lung
Flowers of this Thistle herb.

Broken Slates

Slate is a metamorphic rock, which changes from sendimentary state, compressed under pressure, but not enough to produce a flake like nature.  In fact, many fossils records are enclosed between these strata.  I attempted opening several of these rocks hoping to see some leaves or animals records, but there were none!  Well the local must have realised it, for I don’t see any fossilised records  being documented or displayed.  Though slates can make for nice cosmetic building materials, it sure was not easy walking in such terrain.  Paths are unstable, and the though of falling rocks on our head never strayed far from our thoughts.

The Official Trail-Head
Flora here is quite different from the Snow Mountain Range, in that there are more species of pine, and lesser of the lichen that hangs on the pine.  This plant with the unique shape leaves, we were told to avoid for it was poisonous.  And likewise for this beautiful blossom, we were told not to touch.  Thus the quick lesson we learnt, we are dealing with unknown fauna, and it is best not to touch any plants.

A poisonous plant that we were told not to touch!

Another Poisonous Plant with interesting leaves.

In this forest, there were evidence of sanbar deers (水鹿), in the form of their tracks as well as the bare pine trunk.  We were told that deers use the bark to rub off old skin covering on their antlers in preparation for a new season.

A bark-less tree which has been stripped by the sanbar deer
En-route to the Lodge, the weather turned foul, and we were once again walking in the rain and fog.  The velocity of the wind travelling in this mountain range was between 60 and 80 kmph, and now we can understand why, we were heading for the Jiamin Lake Sanctuary Lodge (嘉明湖避難山屋)!

Landslide area

Another Landslide area

Intermediate Stop

A notable feature on this track, is this small but ancient pine.  Well known to all trackers, and a mandatory photo stop.  Looking at the beautiful naturally crafted shape, we can deduce the usual wind direction, and that the strength of the wind must be strong, to produce such a stunted specimen such as this.
This Ancient Pine - was told that it was about 4000 years!
 The topography on this track is not difficult, gentle terrain, but walking in the rain and wind, the equation shifted.  As the lodge and Siangyang Peak were near to one another, we decided to attempt the summit, and will attempt the summit again the next day if the weather opens up.

At Siangyang Peak (2 down and 98 to go)
Of all the trail, this summit trail will be deemed as the most challenging, due to the rock outcrops that one must navigate before the summit is reached. But with the wind, fog and rain, translated to wet, cold and poor visibility, it was a tough climb up and down! Certain moment, with balance yet to settle, we halted waiting for the wind to subside less we missed our footings, and ended up being a casualty.

The local populace must have known about the poor weather condition, for the lodge that we have reached was quite empty, and we have the luxury of not cramping with others.  Once again, the toilet facility was built far from the sleeping quarter, good for hygience, but the thought of using it gave us second thoughts.

The name said it all - Sanctuary!
An unusual habit for us, dinner at 5 and retired by 8 for most of us.  We were able to sleep at that hour for we were tired, but then most of us were up before midnight, and then we were quite awake!

Day 2 – Jiamin Lake Sanctuary Lodge to Jiamin Lake
Started our journey at 7:30 am, and the rain, wind and fog have not abate!
The night before, many of us attempted to dry some of our clothings, and whatever dryness we have put in, soon it was damp.

As we walked behind our guide, we quickly made good progress.  Soon we came to the ridge overlooking the lake!  What lake we did wonder, for the whole place was covered with fog!  Asking ourselves whether we were able to see this elusive lake, and the title of this blog will change.  We descended to the phantom lake.  

Upon arrival, and the water at such close quarter we did see, suddenly the sky opened, and the whole lake exposed. Wow … such a rare sight for us, our prayer heard.  Quickly our cameras were out, and happily we snapped.
This occasion was short lived, for the usual fog soon descended, and once again the lake was draped with a thick curtain of mist most moist.
Wind was our enemy when we climbed, and it was also our ally when it blew the fog away.  This happened many a times, and the occaional clear period, great scenes that were not denied.
Journey to the lake was shrouded in fog and high wind.

The Lake - we saw the lake. That euphoria was short live though when the fog swept in again.

That was the visibility!

Overlooking this lake, is the Sanja Peak (三叉山) standing at 3,496 m, supposedly to be a short walk up to the summit, but with the strong wind, this was not so.  With head bent to cut the wind, and our strides slow but sure, as we don’t want to slip.  We make the auduous journey to this peak.  Whipping out my camera to take the group, but triumph evidence was blurred by the fog and rain.

Sanja Peak - 3 down and 97 to go!
Happy we have achieved our objectives, soon we make our way to sanctum sweet, where hot ginger tea await.

Day 3 – Jiamin Lake Sanctuary Lodge to the trail-head

Day 3 Tracking Profile
With our goals achieved, and this being our return journey, however foul the weather maybe, it will make little difference to our coming deed.  For we have unwittingly tested out our equipment and self, hardend and toughened for further mountains to climb.

Reversing our trek, we passed familiar yet unfamiliar sight.  Familiar landmark, but with reverse view, the paths taken, looked so new.

Slowly we trod, and finally the entrance we saw.  Great relief for it was now over, for all the sodden souls!

It is definitely fascinating, attempting to climb the Taiwan mountainous peaks, and that we pride ourselves for achieving 3 out of the 100 must climb peaks, we will bear in mind that in future we rather have snow, than rain.  This will be the October period, where there is light wind and rain. 

Despite the unfavourable weather, there were still occasional for dried and clear period, to review to us the majesty of fauna and beautiful mountains and gorges.

It was a great experience for most of us, and the initial belief for those who have attempted mountains above 4,000 m, we would think that the Taiwanese trails will be easily achieved.

Now we learnt a new element in the form of wind, strong gutsy wind that can easily throw a person off the trial.

This trip has put our self and gears to test.  To some of us, our gears stood the challenge of water and cold, while others found they need to further improved on their gears.  In such climate as well as stony path, be it goretex laced and expensive brand, soon the cut from the rocks will render any shoes water insistent!  Soaked we were, but a pair of woolen vest and socks, though wet will still keep the wearer sane.

What else did we learnt, for some the love for porridge, for this became our standard fare, and to others the ginger tea.  Not only it warms, but the spicy and tangy tastes perked out the weary souls.

Not much photos were taken, as most of the time the primary cameras were kept at bay, it was good to have a waterproof camera, point and shoot in its simplicity it may be, still outshine any DSLRs in such wet day!.