Everchanging Wonders in Taiwan Mountains


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Wen-Chih Lin  DYNASTY MAZ 90/09

   Frequent fliers in and out of Taiwan are familiar with the island's image of verdant hills amidst the blue Pacific Ocean, but few go farther afield to see the island's attraction first hand。

   In fact, such efforts would be well rewarded, for nearly two-thirds of Taiwan's area is taken up by mountain ranges with at least 200 distinct peaks at over 3,000 meters。

   These mountains form the central spine of the island, and the forests which cover them range from the tropical through sub-tropical to temperate and even frigid at the summits。

   In the different climatic zones, the scenery varies starkly, giving Taiwan the name of "Ilha Formosa" which it has had ever since ancient times when Portuguese sailors saw it from afar。

   Taiwan's central mountains run all the way from the north to the south of the island, and almost from east to west,and include some of the highest peaks in Northeast Asia。 Outstanding are the rugged Yushan (Jade Mountain) and Shiashan peaks, which pierce the clouds at almost 4,000 meters, and are the island's first and second highest, located in the north and south-center respectively。

   If you want to enjoy Taiwan's best scenery , then you should certainly not leave out the island's "ridgepole" --the Central Mountain Range。

   Not only does the scenery vary according to zones, but also to seasons。 For instance, during spring and summer, all kinds of flowers bloom radiantly in the valleys。

   In the autumn, the leaves turn russet and gold, giving the appearance of a temperate zone garden, while in the winter at the highest points, there is often a carpet of snow to give yet another glorious vista。

   Many people like to visit Alishan during spring, since this is the peak of the flower season at higher altitudes。 Since it is quite cold at night, visitors like to consume wine or liquor to drive away the chill。

   It is in the summer time, however, that mountains come into their own as a place for relaxation。 People con not only enjoy such natural attractions as the sunrise over a "sea of clouds," but also escape from the unbearable heat and the hectic lifestyle of the lower altitudes。 Hsitou, close to Sun Moon Lake , and Hohuanshan, the highest recreation area in Taiwan, are popular in the summer。

   For hiking during the winter season, most people prefer to linger around the flat grassy plateaux that surround the highest peaks。 Especially at sunrise and sunset, the scenery is enhanced by sun-tinged clouds which are breathtakingly beautiful。

   In winter, the north wind often leaves the highlands damp and cold, and whether it is foggy, raining or snowing, the topmost peaks show a more sinister side of their beauty。

   At this time, crowds of people from the lowlands flock to Hohunshan on the cross-island highway to enjoy the rare sight of snow in the tropics -- although at this altitude, they are in the frigid zone in winter。

   People who often visit Taiwan's mountains for hiking become familiar with its special features, for instance the arrow bamboo forest , which cover large areas of Jade Mountain, Especially at altitudes of 1,000 meters, the bamboo develops shoots each spring which are sweet and crispy to the taste and are regarded as a "must" for mountain climbers' and campers' meals。

   Spring usually comes late to the mountains, and its not until April that it reaches the highest peaks。 By May, the entire mountain areas is brightened by azalea blooms and a wide range of other flowering plants。

   A month later, these blooms have all with red, but there are other scenic wonders in store as a new generation of flowers emerges in July。

   Among them are delicate alpine blooms such as purple lady bells, pink Japanese knot weeds, golden yellow stone crops and white edelweiss。 The mountains' beauty is greatly enhanced as hundreds of them dance vibrantly in the breeze。

   Without doubt, summer is the liveliest season of all in Taiwan's mountains as both plant and animal lift abound everywhere, basking in the warm sunshine。 In the deepest valleys and on the highest hillsides alike, there is a feeling of life and cheerfulness。

   By October, the summer feast is nearing its end, and the mountains become quiet and calm。 The days become shorter and cooler as autumn arrives。

   But mellowness brings its own enhancement as fruit reach ripeness and reveal their tempting colors and fragrances to the world。

   The lush green summer gradually turns to golden autumn as Nature fashions another of her miraculous transformations。 Before the first frost comes in November, the hills and mountains are decorated by the shades of red , yellow, gold and brown in a final blaze of color, fitting a performance before the final curtain。

   By the end of the year, the mountains gradually lose all their color and turn pale as the leaves fall to the ground, crackling as they are crunched underfoot。

   The only visible greenery is provided by the arrow bamboo, azalea and cypress trees, which resist the winter's cold with amazing resilience。

   The main period for snow in Taiwan's mountains lasts about four months each year starting around the time of Western New Year when the first cold front arrives on the island。 Especially during the Chinese New Year, which falls around February each year, the cold fronts become particularly frequent, and the mountain tops are completely covered with snow。 The snowline in winter is at about 3,000 meters, and the cedar forests at this altitude look particularly attractive with a white coating。

   Although most of the snow covered peaks con be reached only on foot and with appropriate equipment, and exception is Hohuanshan,which has a highway passing over it at over 3,000 meters。 This enables many people in Taiwan to get acquainted with the otherwise unfamiliar snow。

   Hohuanshan con be reached from eastern or western Taiwan by a branch of the East-West Cross-Island Highway。 From the East, the road starts at Hualien, goes through the Taroko Gorge and Tiedshiand to Tayuling at the highest point of the highway, from where there is a brance going to the left which rises steeply upward to Hohuanshan before going down to the west to the town of Wushe, and on Puli and Taichung。 On the way, the road passes many other tourist attractions such as Chinching Farm near Wushe, and there are other roads leading into the high mountains off the main highway。

   It is difficult to describe all the scenic variations in Taiwan's mountains, but visitors can choose their favorite time of year to get acquainted with the wonders of nature represented there。 The most important thing is to make sure you are prepared for possible bad weather, and then be amazed at how wonderful the trip turns out to be。