Yushan Scenic Beauty
On the mountain trails when I meet unfamiliar climbers, they would ask me questions such as "To climb Yushan, you only need one to four days of food stuff. Why are you carrying so much?" "Hey! Are you the food supplier for Yushan North Peak?" "Does your backpack weigh more than 40 kg?" "What do you do?"
Every time when I climb Yushan, I often encounter more or less the same problems. Even when I rest, there are always curious climbers trying to lift my backpack to guess its weight. I only smile. If I start to answer their questions, I would feel reluctant to proceed to Paiyun Mountain Cabin. This is especially so when new climbers know that I will be staying put for a few days. They often ask curious questions on whether I need someone to provide food supplements later or what kind of food I take with me.
The Door to Yushan - Tatachia Saddle
War Between Free Hand and Afforestation
The area around Tatachia Saddle was gutted in a huge forest fire in 1993. The aftermath coincided with severe droughts all over the island. As such, the barren surface was seriously eroded under heavy downpours. The only surviving herbaceous plants quickly multiply and by the end of summer to the beginning of fall, the areas are covered in seas of flowers. The main plant communities consist of Adenophora morrisonensis subsp. morrisonensis , Tricyrtis formosana, scene numerousness hay and other pteridophytes (fern) type of vegetation.
If not for the dead tree trunks lying on the ground, it is hard to imagine that this place was once gutted by fire. Only within a year, on the following spring, continuous rainfalls have helped resuscitated the survived roots. Young shoots started to sprout quickly such as the Pieris taiwanensis, Rhododendron rubropilosum var. rubropilosum and the Salix fulvopubescens var. fulvopubescens. All vegetation competes to multiply in fast speed so as to conquer more lands. However, the Forestry Department Is cultivating the picea in their afford at afforestation in this area. It is yet to be seen how the natural vegetation competes with the engineered reforested vegetation.
Yushan's Love Theme
Placid Views along the Jungle Trails
From Tatachia Saddle to Yushan Main Peak, the mountain trail lies in the northwest direction of Nanzisian River valley. At 10.9 meters long, it wiggles between the Yushan main ridge and the mid-slope of the west peak. Rugged areas are mounted with footway planks. It is believed that this area has more alpine mountain planks than anywhere else does on the island. The views along the trail encompass the Yushan main ridge from opposite the river valley and the zigzag terrain of the southwest peak. Currently, the compound within the first 3 meters of the trail is burnt site. Only after that, can we see the Abies kawakamii and Tsuga formosana woodlands. Inside the forest, dense and tall Yushania niitakayamensis Grass dots the entire compound. After a short while, it is easy to tell the Tsuga formosana spruce woodland from the fir woodland. The twigs of the Tsuga formosana spruce stretch outward; its bark is light brown in color and the needle-shape leaves congregate at the tips of the twigs. Every tree has its own unique shape. Although they may seem plain when viewed from the trail, they are pretty attractive in foggy atmosphere. Abies kawakamii is tall and straight. Its bark is in greenish brown color and the red-brown ball-shape flowers stand erect at the twigs, making such imposing sight.
Along both sides of the trail in the Tsuga formosana spruce woodland, several woody plant species can be found. Such are the Formosa thimbleweed, Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum, Photinia niitakayamensis, Sorbus randaiensis ,Rubus rolfei etc. In summer, the trail is fringed with all types of herbaceous plants such as the gentiana, Yushan stone bamboo (dainty pygmaeus), Borneo wintergreen, Yushan knotweed and Formosa wild mint (origanum vulgare var formosanum).
As for the fir woodland, mainly woody plants such as Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum, [[Juniperus formosana]], Berberis morrisonensis and Rosa transmorrisonensis fringe the trail. In summer, the areas are dotted with herbaceous plants' flowers, especially the Hypericum nagasawai, Sedum morrisonense, Gentiana arisanensis , Epilobium hohuanense, Rubus rolfei and Oxalis acetocella subsp. taemoni. However, at the northeast flank of the Yushan Main Ridge, the fir woodland is also mixed with small communities of Viola biflora and Coeloglossum viride, which are considered as rare vegetation from the remain of old glacier epoch.
Climbers who wish to ascend to the summit for a view of the Yushan Main Peak have to track 5 km to the Yushan West Peak's pavilion. The Tsuga formosana woodland here was also gutted by fire before and the barks have dropped off after the fire resulting in uniquely looking white stems. Although plenty of young shoots can be seen along the trail, the woodland remains very sparsely forested. This is because high altitude favors the growth of Yushania niitakayamensis Grass. As such, densely grown Yushania niitakayamensis Grass surrounds the white woodland. Whether such situation would happen to Tatachia Saddle Area is yet to be seen. This is the dividing point for the strong and weak climbers as the terrain after this point is extremely undulating and full of turns and twists. Another dividing point is at the 6.7-km cliff area. As many climbers are not accustomed to travelling by car at night, when they reach this point, they are already feeling drowsy. They need strong will and determination to reach Paiyun Mountain Resort. As there is only 2 km more to go, climbers tend to be more relaxed and need to be waken up to proceed their journey.
The Center stage of Yushan Group of Mountains - Paiyun Mountain Resort
Paiyun (Rolls of clouds) Mountain Resort is located 85 km away from Tatachia Saddle. It comes under the jurisdiction of the Forestry Department. The resort only provides lodging for the climbers. In recent years, few climbers who are new to this area have mistaken that since this is a regulated property, there should be food and beverages provided. Consequently, they suffered from starvation. Such misconception has often occurred at popular alpine areas where transportation is convenient.
"OK, we are there!" This is what we often hear at the narrow plank in front of the cabin, every time when some climbers approach. This is a common effort made to encourage that still behind. Nevertheless, few still choose to rest their feet before they proceed further. The hundred concrete stairs leading to the cabin is the final test of climbers' stamina and endurance. Every time after I climb up the steps, I would wobble my way to set up my tent. Very few climbers, who carry heavy backpacks or seldom exercise, would collapse on the ground for a while, as if this climb has consumed all their energy for the whole year. Some would blame on the thin air or the mountain sickness etc.
Paiyun Mountain Cabin is well known for its attractive sunset sight. However, as the view from here is pretty narrow, only in spring or fall those climbers can see the full view of the sunset. I like to go to Yushan West Mountain. The view of the wilderness is wide and interesting, but the protruding area can only accommodate one person. I can enjoy myself viewing the cloud formations and far-away lands such as the Nanzisian River, Shalisian River Valley, the entire view of Yushan Main Ridge and the northern flank of the South Mountain which are made up of steep walls and folding rock stratum terrain.
The Majestic Group of Mountains - Yushan Mountain Ridge
To watch the sunrise over Yushan Mountains is the main attraction for climbers scaling the Yushan Mountains. By dawn, the Paiyun Mountain Resort is noisy as climbers usually ascend the summit three hours before dawn. By the time they reach the 800 meters intersection of the Main and Yuan (Round) Peak, their respective level of physical strength and adaptation begin to show, as this section is steeper. If climbers have not done enough warm-ups or are weak in acclimatization, they would find themselves almost motionless. This section of the trail is the Eocene between the fir woodland and the Juniperus squamata woodland. The trail after this section runs around the Juniperus squamata short shrubbery in zigzag direction.
Climbers who lose their stamina would not be able to withstand the chill and they have to retreat or push harder so that they would be within 30 minutes behind the other team. The last 400 meters stretch consists of steep bare rock surfaces and is of tremendous challenge to the climbers.
"Oh! We are there! Just in time for the sunrise! "Hurry"! The sunrise is here!" These are some of the common exclamations of encouragement heard at this section. After all, waking up this early is disruptive to the body's routine functioning. We can often see climbers groping in dark light at half-awaken mode and simply follow the tracks left behind by their predecessors. Those who have reached the summit never forget to shout words of encouragement to their teammates behind. Occasionally, I would flash my torchlight towards the Alishan Mountain Range in the western direction, hoping that the visitors now waiting for the sunrise at the Kuanle Pavilion in Cohesion could spot my light. Most climbers prefer to watch the sunrise at the right bronze status side where as I like to watch from the intersection of the Main, East and Yuan Peak. Here, I am sheltered from the wind and I can see Laulon River and full view of the Central Mountain Range. After that, I go along the Main Crest Line to Yuan Peak and back to Paiyun Mountain Resort.
The terrain at the Yushan Group of Mountains is in a cross shape. Its main ridge begins from the North Peak to Main Peak, Yuan Peak, South Peak and ends at the Shionanshan (Small South Mountain) in the east. The north crest line stretches from the East Peak passing the Main Peak, West Peak and ends at the Front Peak. This crest line forms the dividing line between the Zhousui River and the Kaopin River. The northeast flank of the northwest edge at the main ridge is the water source of Chenyulan River, which is at the upper stream of Zhousui River. The northwest flank is the source of the Shalisian River, which is at the upper stream of Zhousui River. The southeast flank is the source of Laulon River, which is at the upper stream of Kaopin River. The southwest flank is the source of Nankansian River, which is at the upper stream of Kaopin River.
The southern crest line begins from the east at Lushan passing South Peak, Shionanshan and ends at South Yushan. It consists of 11 peaks, which are at least 3,000 meters high. For centuries, Yushan has been retaining its crown as the highest mountain on the island. Although the movements of the plates have raised the island's terrain, erosion and natural deterioration have neutralized the changes. Yushan still maintains its height at 3,952 meters and the sunrise still castes its first ray from between the Marlboros Mountain, Shioku Mountain and Tasuiku Mountain.
The northern section of the Yushan's main crest line is known for its magnificent contours. From the intersection of the Main Peak and North Peak until the North Peak, there is a 200 meters steep pebbled terrain. Many climbers prefer to take a longer route to avoid this stretch, as it is not only tedious but also exposed to strong wind all year round. Even if they take on this route well prepared, they have to hold on to the iron railings firmly to avoid being blown off. The alternate route is to ascend the North Peak and then passing Patungkuan and exit to Tungpu Village, without returning to the Paiyun Mountain Resort.
The Yushan North Peak houses the island's weather station. Towards the north stretch is the dividing point between the Shalisian River and the Chenyulan River. Both rivers flow through Tungpu Village. The west flanks of the Main and North Peak consist of steep walls dropping into the Shalisian River. The east flanks have protruding landscape. The Chenyulan River dominates the northeast flank. The Yushan entrance to the Patungkuan's trail is along the southeast mid mountain. This section of the crest line has the largest concentration of rhododendron. During end of summer, as the morning sunshines through the Marlboros Mountain, these flowers bring out the most magnificent sight of the Yushan Group of Mountains. In winter, the glorious sunrays penetrate the clouds and cast themselves upon the icy walls. The intersection between the Main and North Peak becomes the best training ground for climbers.
Tungshionan Mountain is at the south of the Yushan main ridge. The west flank of this peak consists of steep slopes where as the east flank is gentler. This section also houses the passage to Lushan, which is the end of South Peak. As the terrain from the South Peak to Lushan is undulating, climbers have to go around the north flank of Tungshionan Mountain's slope down to the river base and then ascend to Lushan. This track is extremely demanding and only seasoned climbers would undertake such challenge.
Bare Rock, Juniperus squamata (Juniperus Squamata) Woodland
Yushan main ridge stretches in the south-north direction. Both sides of the slopes are dotted with Juniperus squamata woodlands; their canopy height reduces as the altitude increases. Only at the Eocene of the Abies kawakamii and Juniperus squamata woodland can you see some tall and straight trees.
Yushan short cypress woodland consists mainly of Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum, Lonicera kawakamii, Berberis morrisonensis and Rosa transmorrisonensis species. The herbaceous vegetation consists mainly of Potentilla leuconota, Angelica morrisonicola, and Ponerorchis kiraishiensis. Mosses and ferns cover the ground. The upper portion of Yushan short cypress shrubbery is covered with bare rocks and pebbled slopes. The wall is densely grown with vegetation such as alpine willow, Berberis morrisonensis, and Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum. The herbaceous vegetation consists mainly of Hypericum nagasawai, Anaphalis nepalensis etc.
The best spot to observe the climatic changes in the Yushan mountain area is at the Yushan main ridge. Spring often brings unstable weather condition. Clouds often congregate at altitude above 3,000 meters high area. Rain could fall continuously for a week. Nevertheless, the spring rain washes away the winter snow and irrigates the vegetation. Without the spring rain, the scenery here would be so dull. From end of summer to early fall, the Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum lashes in its full blossom. During this time, I usually put-up at the intersection of North Peak and Patonkuan to wait for fair weather days, as these are pretty few and short during this period. It is a blessing if the sun would show for 3 hours. The strong current and dense moisture blanket the entire mountain areas so that at night, the Yushan western crest line is covered in altocumuli and windstorms. Sound of wind soughing in the pines and falling rocks are non-stop. The tents expand or contract following the strength of the strong wind.
In mid summer in the afternoon, the mountain areas is blanketed by strong south-west wind mixed with dense moisture surged from Laolon River and Nankansian River at the upper stream of Kaopin River. If this condition converges with the rising moisture from the Zhousui's upper river basin, thundershowers will follow in the afternoon. When the weather is unstable, paces of dense cumuli can be seen surging from the south into the mountain areas in the morning. Then, at noon, orographic rain would fall. If altocumuli appear in the evening, the areas will be submerged in non-stop torrential rains for a few days. Few rapid ravines would form.
Weather is most stable in fall. The moisture level in the high air current is lower. On a fine day, the blue sky often exhibits enchanting starts clouds. Also, in the afternoon, the low cloud type would congregate at the west flank of the Yushan Main Ridge at the 2,500-meter level, exhibiting sightless seas of cloud.
If the current front just passes the island, we can see patches of altocumuli flowing along the river valleys towards the mountain areas. In the evening, the areas are blanketed in dazzling fresh red color altocumuli or starts cumuli clouds. This kind of weather usually brings rain for 4 to 7 days. If the temperature were too low, temporary snowfall or ice rain would follow. When waves of strong fronts finally leave the island, the mountain areas emerge into snowy winter season. Snow usually accumulates at around altitude 3,500 meters. If this coincides with severe cold front, the new Central Cross-Island Highway and the Paiyun Mountain Resort would be covered in snow. I have once in a snowy day, retreated from Paiyun Mountain Resort and the mountain area in one-meter snow.
Yushan Northern Crest Line's Group of Mountains
Watching from Yushan Main Peak towards the East Peak, one is truly captivated by the majestic beauty of the terrain. No wonder it is recognized as the top ten most significant landscapes on the island. The terrain between Yushan's Main and East Peaks is in a "U" shape. North of the mountain ridge consists of steep walls, which drop right into the Laulon River. The south flank consists mainly of bare rocky slopes. The trail from the Main Peak goes around the gentle slopes downwards and then upwards along the steep cliff walls. Climbers who wish to ascend to East Peak must have rock climbing experience and tremendous guts, as the East Peak rock stratums are soft, often with falling rocks and no clear track. Each time, climbers have to look for new route. When in a team, those behind must always watch out for falling rocks from above. The summit of East Peak affords splendid view Of the Yushan Main Ridge and East Ridge and the winding terrain filled with rocky stratums. The journey to and from this spot is truly strenuous.
Yushan Main and West Peak's crest line houses a section of steep slopes with extreme drops. The entrance to the West Peak is from beside the Paiyun Mountain Resort. In earlier years, West Peak was gutted by fire all the way to the slope in the south flank. Today, both sides of the trail are still dotted with dead wood. Tracking through these areas is like passing the tall and dense Yushania niitakayamensis grassland. First time climbers can only be certain of reaching the summit when they see the Deity Sign. There is nothing much to see from here. Few people would venture to this spot if not because it is listed as some of the best peaks on the island.
The front peak's entrance is 2.7km away from Tatachia Saddle. The sloping trail is 800 meters long and there is not much view to see here too. Usually, team leader would not lead climbers to the Front Peak, as one section of the trail is not easy to descend.
Yushan Southern Crest Line
Yushan southern crest line is full of challenges. Its jigsaw terrain consists of extreme drops and both flanks are dotted with steep walls. Climbers often have to camp at Yuan Peak's campground. It is a bare rocky surface located at the recessed intersection of the Yuan Peak and the South Peak crest lines. Although the site is sheltered from wind, the area is flooded when hit by torrential rain in bad weather. This is because the surrounding strong wind travels in a whirlpool pattern and it traps the rainwater here. This condition has compelled the Forestry Administration to rebuild the cabins. One time, I was with my students from Chinese Medical School on a typhoon day. At night, in a short 3 hours, the cabin was flooded up to three feet high and over the beds. We were compelled to retreat to Paiyun Mountain Resort immediately. However, after the rain stopped, an enchanting rainbow appeared in the sky as if God wanted to compensate us for our discomfort.
Around the Yuan Peak campground, the Juniperus squamata (Juniperus Squamata) species appears in cone-shape and grows in isolation. The bare rocky surfaces are also dotted with Berberis morrisonensiss, Rosa transmorrisonensis shrubberies as well as herbaceous plants such as Anaphalis nepalensis, Potentilla leuconota, Euphrasia transmorrisonensis etc. Further more, the edge of the west flank of this section is dotted with Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum. At closer look, you might be able to find some shellfish fossils on the rock faces. Also, wild animals can be seen actively roaming around the places. At dawn, mountain goats can be seen running around the southwest crest line at Yuban Peak or black bears roaring at the lower section of the water source of Lauren River valley. In the afternoon, squirrels often come out to steal food. When the morning sun rises from the Tasuiku Mountain, the sunlight casts upon the south crest line and from the campground, the folding topographic make-up of the southern crest line's cliff walls can clearly be seen.
The south and the main crest lines meet at the Pisochisian (i.e. atresia curve) Peak. The south flank of the peak consists of bare rocky steep slopes. It is the trail intersection of the South Peak and the South Yushan. From this intersection moving eastwards, climbers have to ascend to the Pisochisian Peak and then eastwards along the edge of the ridge. The trail is narrow and can only accommodate one person. Occasionally, climbers need to lean against the wall and move side way. Then, they have to climb up the giant rocks before they could reach the renowned South Peak, one of the top ten most noted peaks on the island. To proceed from South Yushan at the intersection, climbers have to go along the southern crest line and then descend about 100 meters of pebbled slope. Then, climbers move along the mid mountain trail to reach the summit. On the way, they would pass the edge of the fir woodlands and occasionally amidst the Yushania niitakayamensis grasslands.
Yushan Southern Crest Line
South Peak, one of the top 10 most noted peaks in Taiwan, appears ferocious to climbers. Its summit seems as if stacked with giant rock pieces. It is the best spot to view the Central Mountain Range's southern group of mountains. The walls at the north flank of the peak are steep. The south flank has a protruding landscape whereas the southwest bare rocky surfaces are scattered with shellfish type of fossils. Both flanks of the peak are covered with Juniperus squamata shrubberies and Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum. The tracks near the summit are unclear and climbers often have to rely on their own intuition and judgement to make the final ascend on the rocky surfaces.
South Yushan is located at the southern section of the Yushan main ridge's southern sub-crest line. The mountain stretches towards the south and forms the watersheds for the Laulon River and Nankensian River. It also converges with the Kaopin River around the Chishan area. As the accumulated cloud and mist often enter the mountain areas from here, the year round strong wind has deterred the growth of any woodland at the eastern slope. As such, the gentle slope houses the only alpine grassland in the mountain areas. The west flank of themountain is mainly made up of steep cliff walls dropping into the Salisian River. The cliff wall is dotted with short shrubbery type of vegetation and the bare rock surface is dotted with the uncommon alpine iron-thread lotus. In mid summer, the rising mist and cloud push forward or converge at both flanks of the mountain edge, forming splendid seas of clouds. Climbers are often so captivated by the sight that they have forgotten about the Sign of rain to come.
Deep Thought at the Yushan Main Peak
Very often when I am admiring the majestic scenery of the surrounding mountains at the Yushan Main Peak, I come across team leaders or guide trying their very best to describe to first time climbers, the landscape and the geological link between Yushan Group of Mountains and the Central Mountain Range. They also point out some of the mountain's special characteristics and unique topography. Sadly, some climbers would hurriedly take some pictures and make their descends. It is as if they only want to have records of being there so that they can brag about themselves but they are less interested to understand the magnificent geological make-up of this environment.
Every climber's ultimate goal is to reach the summit. The conquest poses as a challenge to them as well as an admiration of the majestic nature of the mountains and its height. If the journey is purely to test out one's physical endurance and fails to understand the mystics and unique characteristics of the mountains, then, it is equivalent to working out in the gym. The mountains transform in such marvelous ways under different seasonal changes, that only through slow paces and closer observation, can you truly enjoy the joys of mountain climbing.