Chilai Group of Mountains


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Its splendor and unique contour



 In the earlier years, Cilai Mountain region was known for its ease of access. With its inclusion as part of Taroko National Park, several resorts and trails have been built. Coupled with the advancement in climbing gears, mountain-climbing activities here has become more attractive than before. Currently, during holidays, hosts of visitor scale the majestic mountains for a view of the undeniable beauty of nature as well as to get a taste of the exciting mountain climbing experience.

 At Cilai Mountain area, the most magnificent views are the Cilai Hanging Rock area and the broken ridges. The broken ridge around the Carloro Mountain area and the Cilai North Peak are regarded as one of the ten most majestic and scenic spots. The main ridge is known for its pleasant view of the alpine meadow made-up of the Yishan Arrow Bamboo grassland, whereas the eastern ridge's trail is know for its torturous passages through the Arrow Bamboo grasslands and its high sternness.

It's geological landscape

 The northern section of the Central Mountain Range's main ridge stretches initially in the southwest direction. At Hohuanshan East Peak, the main ridge turns southeast into Cilai Mountain area and then turns southwest again, forming a "S" shape contour. Such twists and turns have resulted in frequent misty condition at the Cilai Mountain area and rapid changes in the wind direction. With visibility less than 5 meters, climbers often have difficulty locating directions.

 Cilai Mountain area's main crest line is the watershed for the Zhosui and Mukua (Papaya) Rivers. From the north, the Cilai Mountain crest line passes the Main Peak, Carloro Mountain, Chilakou Mountain and ends at Cilai South Peak. The main crest line reaches the Hohuanshan mountain area in the north, where a huge mountain depression has formed at their contact point. Here is the watershed for the Liwu and Zhousui Rivers. The crest line's southward stretch reaches the Lenkao and Antungjin Group of mountains. At the contact point, there is the level Yishan Arrow Bamboo Grassland.

 From Cilai North Peak to Cilai Main Peak, the terrain is level, where as the western side consists mainly of steep broken ridges and cascading river sources. Viewing from Hohuanshan, the entire landscape is like a gigantic piece of rock towering over you. The view is even more imposing at dawn where the mountain is blanketed in darkness, creating a mysterious atmosphere. The eastern slope is more gentle and dotted with Yishan Arrow Bamboo Grassland. However, at the southern flank of Cilai's North Peak, a hanging cliff protrudes from the peak and drops some 100 meters, making the North Peak seemed overbearing and isolated from the rest. The North Peak is regarded as one the 10 most scenic peaks on the island. Between the Main Peak and the North Peak, the edges are in a "U" shape. As such, the rising clouds from Tachia and Zhosui Rivers often leak out from here.

 From the Main Peak, passing the Carloro Mountain to Kuoshan, the broken ridges and rock walls are in zigzag shape. The width at the edge is often less than a foot. Climbers always find this challenging. This section is referred to as the Carloro Broken Ridge. Viewed from the Main Peak, the Carloro Mountain seems like the horn of a buffalo. As such, it is also called the Devil Buffalo's Cape. On a fair weather day, from Kuoshan, climbers can enjoy panoramic view of Mukua (Papaya) River mouth. From Kuoshan passing Cilai South Peak to Nanhua Mountain (Lenkao North Peak), the gentle trails run through the Yishan Arrow bamboo Grassland. Between the South Peak and Nanhua Mountain, there is a lake, nicked named Tienshih (Heavenly Pond). The water level here is unstable and many climbers often slow down their pace to admire the lush greenery around here.

 Stretches from the Cilai North Peak, the eastern ridge are the watershed for Liwu River and Mukua River. Also, the end of the ridge is the river source for the Sanzhan River. The terrain is sloping and recessed. Its northern section is steeper whereas the southern slope is gentler. This ridge houses the Panshir Mountain, Taroko Main Mountain, Liwu Main Mountain and Patolu Mountain; All of these are renowned mountains on the island. The ascents to the peaks are very difficult as most part of the trails runs through the thick and tall Yishan Arrow Bamboo grasslands and steep cliffs.

 The Taiwan Power Company's power supply tower is located along the trail at the southern ridge of the Cilai South Peak. This path, also referred to as Lenkao Mountain Crossing trail, runs from Lushan Tribal Village in Nantou, passing Tonyuan, Lenkao Main Peak, North Peak to Tungmen (Copper Door) Village in Hualien County.

Views along the Fir Woodland Walkways

 From Songshia (Pine Snow) Building to the northern section of Cilai North Peak, the depression on one side of the slope is under direct sunlight where as the other side is against sunlight. At the two slopes' meeting point is the Heysui (Black Water) Lake area. As the depression on the on the northeast side of the slope is affected by strong wind from the Liwu River valley, no vegetation can grow on the slope until the edge. However, at the sheltered recessed slope, dense Yishan Arrow Bamboo grasslands are found. As the southwestern recessed slope is sheltered from wind, it is suitable for the growth of dense Formosan Fir woodland at the gentler slope. As the front portion of the ascending trail passes through steep ridge at the edge of the Fir woodland, this location is perhaps the best spot to observe the Formosan Fir woodland. The slope exposing to the sunlight is dotted with fir woodland at the upper section and the Yishan Arrow Bamboo grasslands at the lower level. Mixed woody plants mostly grow on the slopes against the sunlight. Examples of these plants are Yishan Rhododendron, Chinese Juniper, Brown Hair Willow, Alpine rose, Yishan pod plants, Giant Chinese Catalpa Flower, horse mulberry, yarn wine. Herbaceous plants mainly consist of Formosan Deer Medicine, gentian flower, alpine white pearl tree, Yishan thorny plants, Mountain Tatangyel, Formosan wide mint and Yishan Chinese mugwort grass.

 After climbers navigate through the steep edges of the fir woodland for about an hour, they will reach a wide-open meadow walkway among the Yishan Arrow Bamboo Grassland. Most climbers, sweaty by now, would rest at the spot right after exiting the grassland, to admire the picturesque scenery and stretch their muscles. What followed next are steep paths by the edge of the ridge leading to the mountains north of Cilai North Peak? On both sides of this stretch of alpine meadow trail, there are numerous mixed species of the red hair rhododendrons. At the next mountain, there is Heysui Lake and a mountain cabin. Climbers heading for Cilai Main and North Peaks usually rest here for the night. The unfit ones would return to Songshia Building the next day.

 From the Mountain cabin at Heysui Lake moving along the ridge to the cabin at the Zhousui River upstream, the path passes the dense Arrow Bamboo Grassland. The trail at this section of the grassland is actually the intersection between the Fir woodland and the Hemlock spruce woodland. It encompasses some very old trees and as the sunlight does not penetrate into the forest so easily, it is dim and wet. The ground is dotted with plenty of mosses and lichens. Some of these species include Pine creeping plants, ferns, conch chrysanthemums, Yishan Ghost grass, Biting Cat and Alpine creeping oxalis.

 The humid environment yields to a unique mixture of fir and hemlock spruce woodland. The other woody plants in the forest are very much similar and the herbaceous plants are mainly made-up of Plum grass, Wuzhan, Huanwan, Biting Cat, medicated fine Leaves, Huhuanshan Willow leaves, Formosan alpine mustard and Yishan knotted. Near the source of the river, there are two cabins named Chengkung (Success) Castle. The are memorials served to honor those climbers from the National Chinghua University who perished on the mountains. There are altogether three structures. The first Chengkung Castle is half and hour walk distance from the 2nd and 3rd castle. The water source is near the 2nd and 3rd castle. Currently, half of the 2nd Chengkung Castle has given way to soil erosion and only the 3rd castle can accommodate climbers. A lot of climbers have the experience of screaming at mid night when they saw the Biting Cat plants on their way to the toilet, and then quickly burst into laughter.

 From the back of Chengkung Castle, the trail gradually slopes upward and passes the dense Arrow Bamboo Grasslands for about an hour. Then, arriving at the intersection between the cabin and the direct trail to the North Peak, climbers usually take a rest in the cabin first and then proceed on the trail passing through the forestland mixed with Yishan Cypress and Formosan Fir or steep cliff walls. When the climbers finally enter the Arrow Bamboo scrubs, it means they have reached the main ridge and soon, the Solar Cabin can be seen.

 This section of the ascending trail is at the intersection between Formosan Fir and Yishan Cypress scrubber forest. This intersection forms the boundary between these two vegetation and it is also exposed to the strong river valley wind from Zhousui and Tachia Rivers. The high humidity level at the river valleys spurs the growth of numerous Yishan Rhododendron among the Yishan Cypress forest. Also, high up on the bare rock surface, there are rare Alpine Willow mixed among other woody plants such as Yishan Mini Cork Tree, Yishan Wild Rose etc. The herbaceous plants consist mainly of single-flower Neo-ER seedling, Yishan mugwort, Cilai Red Orchid, Alpine Fragrance and Yishan Aniseed Celery. However, the most attractive ones are the dual yellow flower violet and the green flower Orchid, which grow in small numbers only.

Observing Daylight Sun Coronas from North Peak

 To be able to observe the magnificent sunrise is purely by luck especially to observe a complete one. When I was a professional mountain photographer, I have encountered a few incomplete daylight sun coronas, where the time was very short indeed. So short that there was not even sufficient time to capture on camera or the pictures would turn out blurry. The only one most complete was taken in mid Dec 1990 at Cilai Mountain area while filming frost scene. Then, the Taroko National Park has not built the solar cabin yet. Of the two cabins, only one can shelter us. When the sky is clear at dawn, we ascend to the peak to film the sunrise. On our return journey, we saw the mist gradually clearing away from the ridge river valley and surging upward to the sky. When the wind pressure at the western flank of the ridge blocked it, it would not get over the ridge. As the wind current carries the mist, sign of bad weather likes the summers, begins to show or the cloud would display a unique shape. But then, it was in late fall and there should not have such weather condition. This is because before the strong wind passes the island, majority of the clouds moves from the river east of the ridge, to the ocean and form into thick clouds. There, it moves rapidly following the river valleys into the mountain area. When I raised my head to look at the sun and the changes in the clouds, through the thin layers of rolling clouds, 5 to 6 round ultraviolet coronas appear around the sun. The scene lasted for only 3 minutes. I was excited as I finally saw the complete daylight sun coronas. It quickly disappeared with the rolling clouds. This rare astronomic occurrence differs from that of faint light. Only in rolling layers of clouds will the faint light occurs and it only has a single ring of ultra-violet light. When the cloud is thin, the strong sunrays make the ring appeared brighter and thus, it has always been mistaken for being in white color. Daylight sun coronas occurs in rolling clouds or altocumulus. As such, the two are different especially when viewed from different angle. The radius of the daylight sun coronas' visual angle is about 5 degree, whereas the single-ring faint light is 22 or 45 degree.

 The next day, after filming the sunrise, we descend eastward to the river source of Mukua River to carry some water back to the cabin. While cooking the noodle, an earthquake struck. Initially, I thought the pot was not placed properly, and I hurriedly hold it to prevent the boiling water from spilling and dirty the tent. Later, as I heard the sound of the cabin shaking and my body was wobbling, I realized then that the tremor was infect an earthquake.

 Subsequently, the weather was unstable and daytime temperature varies drastically from nighttime. Even on a sunny day, the wind was strong. At dawn, the ground was covered with frost and we often could see the sea of clouds surging over 3,300 meter high on the western side of the ridge. The clouds were thick and they moved horizontally towards the north rapidly. When I walked on the trail at the ridge, my shadow was easily cast on the cloudbanks by the sunlight, forming an ultra-violet ring. This unique occurrence is often referred to as the Kuanyin (Goddess of Mercy) Ring. As the clouds were very thick, the ring could persist for nearly an hour. This really made my three-week trip a fruitful one.

 From Cilai North Peak to the eastern slope of the Main Peak, placid meadow dots the entire landscape. West of the slope is steep wall with cascading water flowing into the Zhousui River? Although the south and northern views are obstructed by mountains, the east and west sides afford wide placid views of the area. At the upper section of the pasture, there are few Yishan Cypress trees and Yishan Rhododendrons. The Firtrees scatter sparingly at the recessed section of the slope. In general, the vegetation here is nothing special. Numerous scrubs and herbaceous plants, the same height as the Yishan Arrow Bamboo grassland, grow here. They are mainly the Yishan Mini Cork Trees, Single-stem Yellow Flower, Alishan Gentians, Yishan Suspended clasp and the Thick-lip White Butterfly Orchid. The western slope is mainly dotted with big group of Yishan Rhododendrons. However, during flowing season, climbers could only admire the bouquets of flowers from far.

 The northeast side of the Cilai Main Ridge is full of small rock fragments. During its booming period, the vegetation here is exposed to scattered sunlight more than direct sunlight. At noon, the misty environment at the mountain area actually spurs their growth. The vegetation here is mainly made-up of buttercup, Yishan Mountain radish, flaming grass, five-bud plum, Nepalian Flute southernwood and Yishan ground centipede. Also, the very rare species of Nanhu Willow vegetable and Alpine Willows are found here in large numbers.

The famous Carloro Hanging Ridge

 Cilai Main Peak affords wide panoramic view of the surrounding areas. The view to the south is the Yishan (Jade Mountain) group of mountains, to the west is the Shiashan Mountain Range, to the east is the coastal mountain range and river valleys streamed from Hualien river basin. To the north is the tall and precipitous Cilai Main Peak. For most beginners climbers, this torturous stretch of steep and dangerous trails are a major stumbling block on their ascent to the Carloro Broken Ridge, which from far, resembles the bull's horns. The entire Carloro Broken Ridge is divided into three sections. Every section's elevation differs by 10 meters, and the edges are only a foot wide. Currently, the section at the Taroko National Park has safety ropes mounted on the dangerous slopes. However, climbers, especially those with fear of height, still have to exercise extreme caution especially when the rope entangles with their backpacks, under adverse weather. With care, it is in fact not difficult to pass the broken ridge. Under fine weather, the area affords panoramic view of the east as far as Hualien River and the ocean. As the second section's pass is not too obvious, under cloudy condition, the climbing guilds always have to respond to call for help from others as many climbers are stunned by the steep rocky walls at the edge of the ridge. After passing the broken ridge are all tall circuitous rocks. From here, climbers have to go on a steep trail among the tall and dense bamboo grassland. The entire slope of the western flank of the broken ridge is dotted with Yishan Round Cypress woodland. Within the woodland, there are other vegetation such as Alpine Willow, Formosan Deer Medicine, Yishan Tangkui and Yishan Mugwort. At the bare rock area, the rare forestry type of chrysanthemum willow can be found.

The High Mountain Grassland

 Exiting from the Yishan Bamboo Grassland at Kuoshan, climbers are rewarded with wide view of the mountain area while proceeding towards the South Peak's bamboo grassland on the mid mountain trails. The area affords far view of Tienchih (Heavenly Pond) at the end of Cilai Mountain. Tienchih is used to measure the rainfall level. Climbers ascending to South Peak must walk through a section of the Zhousui River source. A cabin named South Peak Mountain Cabin is erected by the trail. Zhousui River is the meeting place for the Fir woodland and the Arrow bamboo Grassland. Here, on the bamboo grassland, there are scattered Red Fur Rhododendrons and other common species of the herbaceous plants have once joined the Chingta University's Mountain Climbing team here and we met tremendous adverse weather condition due to the typhoon. We were trapped in the South Peak Mountain Cabin for 4 days as the mountain trails have turned into flowing stream and the water level was knee high. Tienchih was filled too and almost covered the entire Arrow bamboo grassland by the lakeside. However, the water receded soon after the sky was clear. This was perhaps due to the low level at the lake's drainage point, which prevented the lake from storing excessive water. Tienchih is on the path of the Taiwan power supply cable, which runs from east to west. The cable maintenance route starts from Lushan in Nantou, passing through Tonyuan, Yinhai, Tienchih, and Longjian to Tongmen Village in Hualien. Climbers ascending to Cilai Group of Mountains always rest overnight at Tienchih's Mountain cabin and proceed to Tonyuan the next day and go by car to Lushan tribal area. Tienchih Mountain House is surrounded by sublime hemlock spruce woodland and there is a three-tier waterfall in the vicinity.