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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hiking Heaven

Anyone who has driven on National Highway No. 1 中山高速公路 near the town of San'i 三義 in Miaoli County 苗栗縣 has seen these, the Sanyi Huoyanshan 三義火炎山:

Obviously, at some point in time, massive landslides removed big chunks of the mountainside. I've often wondered if there were any hiking trails in them thar hills, and today I found out there were. Located near the spot where Sanfeng Road 三豊路 meets the freeway is a small parking lot, and some concrete steps leading up into the trees. The steps soon stop, and a trail begins winding its way up the hill. Deceptively gentle at first, it soon becomes rocky, and though not a technical climbing challenge (as if this pansy-ass weekend hiker, who prefers to go out on weekdays, would know), it's a lot more difficult than the wooden staircases that bring walkers to the top in Tak'eng. In many places, there are ropes to help the hiker along, and hiking clubs have left numerous ribbons tied to trees to indicate the way (useful in several spots). At one point, it's necessary to walk along some logs that have been tied to the hillside with ropes:

The best part about the trail is that it takes you right up to the denuded hillsides. The trail skirts the ridgetop, and there are several viewpoints that provide stunning vistas of the badlands:

Another great feature of today's walk was the fantastic views of the plain down below. Even on a hazy afternoon like today, it was possible to see far in almost all directions. On a clear day, the views must be spectacular:

About 90 minutes into the hike, I came to a clearing, where previous hikers had built a cairn. A perfect spot for a self-portrait:

The trail continued on from here, past another cairn (where I added a stone in memory of my beloved Uncle John, who died in his sleep last week), and further on along the top of the ridge. Unfortunately, at roughly two hours into the hike, I reached my fail-safe point, that moment when I had to turn around and head back to my scooter, so that I would have enough time to get home, have a shower and eat dinner, before going out to meet my private students. This is a trail that begs to be explored on an all-day outing, to see how far and where it goes. If you want to give it a try, be sure to wear gloves and a good pair of shoes, and bring plenty of fluids - I burned through two bottles of Pocari Sweat ポカリスエット, and I'm still feeling thirsty!

Without a doubt, today's route was the best trail I've come across so far in the greater T'aichung 台中 area.

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