A must-do journey for Taiwanese and foreigners alike

Yushan: Taiwan's spirit reaches its highest mountain summit.

玉山主峰遠眺群峰 (圖|朱研燕)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — As Taiwan’s highest mountain at an altitude of 3,952 meters,  Yushan (meaning Jade Mountain), also known as “the first peak in Northeast Asia,” represents Taiwan’s spiritual fortress.

Among the Taiwanese, ascending to the main peak of Yushan has become a personal mission for overcoming life’s challenges, but it has also become one of the main attractions for many foreign mountaineering enthusiasts to come to Taiwan.

Yushan National Park owes the ecological diversity of its scenery and features to being located 3,600 meters above sea level. Traveling through subtropical, temperate warm and cold environments up towards alpine cold climate, climbers can clearly experience all four seasons with its changing natural beauty.

One month before climbing Yushan, visitors must first register online for a mountain lodge at  “Hike Smart Taiwan Service,” and fill in a detailed itinerary and personnel information. Also worth noting, Paiyun Lodge (排雲山莊) is equipped with only 116 beds, so you better have luck on your side.

Teams climbing Yushan usually stay at Dongpu Lodge (東埔山莊) in Nantou County’s Xinyi Township the day before, then set off from Paiyun Station at 6 a.m. the next day on a shuttle bus to Yushan Mountain.

After getting off the shuttle bus at an elevation of 2,610 meters, a large stone slap indicating the entrance to a gentle slope up Yushan which lasts around 45-minute, during which, hikers can enjoy a vast panoramic view of mountains and peaks to the right.

At 1.7 km lies the Menglu Pavilion (孟祿亭) in memory of the American, Dr. Meng Lu, who died in Yushan in 1952.

Starting from the Yushan mountaineering entrance at Tataka, the zigzagging path slowly climbs up steep slopes covered in a virgin spruce forest – very rare in Taiwan. (Courtesy of Chu,Yen-yen)

After the Menglu Pavilion, the slope reaches an altitude of about 3,000 meters.

The forest in this area contains features typical of a cold temperate coniferous forest, mainly dominated by hemlock, mixed with red cypress, and surrounded by giant trees stretching up to the sky.

Then, tree shade begins to dissipate on both sides, and one’s view gradually widens. If lucky, you can overlook beyond Yushan South Peak and other nearby mountaintops.

After a rest, the climb continues for about 40 minutes when hikers reach Yushan’s famous landmark, “Big Cliff.”

This steep rock slope is a natural landscape carved up by the Eurasian plate and Philippine tectonic plates, and when taking the trail through the slope, humanity’s smallness can be felt when under Yushan’s Big Cliff.

Overlooking the mountaintops from Yushan’s main peak. (Courtesy of Chu,Yen-yen)

Only one hour away from Paiyun Lodge, the next route us rugged and crosses the area more steeply. The last step is called Haohanpo (好漢坡), or “Hero’s Slope”, because its steepness causes hikers to almost faint.

The Morrisor Stonecrop is an endemic plant in Taiwan, blooming from mid-June to the end of August. It grows mostly on Taiwan’s high-altitude bare rocks or roads. Its fat and fleshy shape not unlike a fingernail is what gives it its Chinese name: 玉山佛甲草 (the Yushan Buddha Nail). (Courtesy of Chu,Yen-yen)
Towering giant trees line both sides, making visitors seem miniscule. (Courtesy of Chu,Yen-yen)
Anaphalis Nepalensis , also known as the Yushan pearly everlasting, belongs to the Asteraceae family, is densely covered with long trichomes (or “plant hair”), and blooms from July to October. This flower’s ideal habitat are peaks and rock plains over 3,200 meters high.(Courtesy of Chu,Yen-yen)

Located at an altitude of 3,402 meters above sea level at 8.5 kilometers, Paiyun Lodge provides water, bathrooms, and kitchen facilities.

The restaurant and the sleeping bag rental are run by separate companies.

If you don’t want to cook your own meals, you can order meals offered by Paiyun Lodge in advance, and it’s also possible to rent sleeping bags to reduce the weight of the backpack. Such services and equipment are basically five-star accommodation in the mountaineering world.

Built adjacent to Yushan’s main peak and Xifeng peak, the lodge is surrounded by all these mountaintops, facing the valley with a wide view of the south. This position makes it an excellent place to view both the vast ocean and clouds above, which are best enjoyed at around 5 p.m. during autumn and winter.

Paiyun Lodge under sunset-bathed clouds. (Courtesy of Chu,Yen-yen)

The following morning at 3:00 am is the best time for the Yushan hikers to start making their way to the mountain.

The road after leaving Paiyun Lodge is a zigzag-shaped steep slope whose high altitude makes many climbers breathless, while the road’s loose gravel increases a sense of unease, although some sections of the road have iron chains to support it.

With a low morning temperature of fewer than 5 degrees, the road seems endless as the shuttle’s headlights illuminate the path ahead, and it’s not easy reaching Xiaofengkou (小風口) as strong winds make standing upright difficult.

Only 200 meters away from Yushan’s main peak and the final trek of this zigzagging slope is so steep, it seems like a stairway to the sky, so grasp onto the iron chain beside you and climb carefully until you’ve finally completed the final 2.3-kilometer trial.

If you’re lucky and depart early enough in the morning, you will arrive at the peak in time to enjoy the sunrise bathing the sea and ​​clouds – an undeniably unforgettable sight to behold.

The elevation of Yushan’s main peak is 3,952 meters high. (Courtesy of Chu,Yen-yen)