I Survived Yue Mei Kang: Bear Grylls’s Got Nothing On Me

 “I don’t think we’re going the right way” is how our real adventure started.

Mal and I had heard about a river trace in Jiaoxi and though it would be a great Sunday trip. We didn’t really know what to expect, or honestly, where we were going, but found a promising trail.

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The trail is steep and chalked with forks, so like any would-be Indiana Jones we started following the mysterious red arrows painted on rocks and trees. We had been meaning to get to the river but instead were climbing a mountain.

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That’s when we decided to back track and our story starts to get interesting. After winding our way back to the river, it was time to cool off. We split from the trail and found a great little fall to swim at. The water was fresh and cool and the perfect depth to do cannon balls off the fall.

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All of a sudden we were in the midst of forty Chinese tourists and the luxury of our secluded private pool was quickly lost.

They all headed back down on the path we had taken up, so we made the most obvious choice, leave the safety of the trail and follow the river all the way back down to the park entrance.

It started out easy enough with a few easy traverses down into shallow pools, but when we got to the third waterfall things got real. At this point it was still completely feasible to turn back and get back on the trail but being headstrong adventurers (idiots) we forded onward.

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This particular waterfall was beautiful but too high to safely leap, luckily for us there was a slippery mud soaked rope that went down, under a rock bridge and off a small overhanging boulder. While, this rappel wasn’t all that high, it was awkward and the rope was less than confidence inspiring.

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After that we were sure that we were on easy street…NO. Just past our treacherous abseil was an even gnarlier waterfall. Mallory uneasily pointed out that the rock bolts on the edge probably meant that it was going to be a rough climb down. She was right.

Getting down involved straddling the fall and then sidling up as close to the right side and jumping out as far as you possibly could, all the while hoping and praying that there wasn’t a hidden rock to break your fall.

I went first and to my great relief it was a deep pool with a relatively mild current.  Mal was getting ready for her leap of faith, and what do you know, her biggest jungle fear showed up to keep us company, a snake swam right down the fall and was wading in the pool.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do about it though and we splashed past it without getting bit (honestly it was probably harmless, but no sense in testing it out). After that we had a nice easy wade back to the trail to little the adrenaline settle.

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The main attraction, Yue Mei Kang Fall, is an awesome sight. It’s relatively tall with a wide, shallow pool at the bottom. This is a perfect summer time trek.

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If you go to the base of Wufengxi trail, instead of going up the stairs cross the river where all the kids swim and head up the dirt trail. Getting to the base of the fall and back down should take an hour or two. Safe travels!

This site has good instructions on getting up to the fall.

http://www.mandarintaiwan.com/2/post/2011/09/yang-mei-kang-waterfall-hike.html

Caoling Trail: It’s Historic!

This weekend we followed the advice of some fellow bloggers and headed north to Dali, where the Caoling trailhead can be found. The trail originally led travellers between Yilan and Taipei, but now it only exists for recreational purposes.  It was just a quick train ride from Yilan City and the start of the trail is just a short walk from the train station.

IMG_0507At the train station. Go left at the bottom of the stairs.

The trail starts at the Dali temple, which is situated directly next to the Dali visitors’ center, and impossible to miss. The beginning of the hike is full of dense forest and plenty of butterflies, along with the buzzing and whirring song of myriad jungle creatures. We heard monkeys all along the first part of the trail, but sadly we didn’t actually see any. There was tell of venomous snakes, of which we also didn’t see any. We did however see plenty of giant Asian hornets, which like any flying insect with a stinger, while slightly unnerving, seemed to be mostly harmless as long as you keep moving and don’t mess with them.

IMG_0511These lil guys covered the entire first part of the trail

IMG_0512Then we saw this (big) lil guy!

We soon reached the stone walkway, which at first consists of seemingly eternal steps, but they are definitely worth it once you reach the view at the top. Along the way hikers pass the remains of an old inn; a rest stop for travellers along the trail. Of course now all that’s left is a foundation and a small wall, but apparently every year in November during the Silver Grass Season Festival, a tea stand offers ginger tea to refresh celebration-goers.

After the steep climb, hikers are met with an amazing view, and the option to head toward the Taoyuan Rift Valley, which leads south towards Daxi, or to continue towards Fulong. We opted for the latter this time around.

IMG_0528This photo does not do the view justice, but we sure do look sweaty! On that note, bring a lot of water. You knew that already.

A welcome, gentle descent brings you to the Tiger Inscription Rock. According to the descriptive plaque next to it, General Liu Ming-Deng inscribed the symbol for tiger to give him and his army safe passage against harsh weather conditions. He was also apparently very well known for his ability to write the symbol more beautifully than anyone. Regardless, it seemed to do its job on this particular day. With a small stream running by and the cool breeze that blew through the valley, this was a refreshing and peaceful stop along the trail. Another of Liu’s inscription follows at the Siong Jhen Man Yan (雄鎮蠻煙) Inscription. It means, “Bravely quell the violent mists.” It was another plea for himself and his troops, but I think the simplicity of it makes it versatile enough to be applied to any aspect of life. It was a really beautiful message to meet along the way.

IMG_0538IMG_0537Tiger Inscription

The trail continues through the valley, past some gorgeous farmland, and back into a more forested area, until you finally reach the Yanwankeng Water Park. The park is navigable by a wooden-deck path, which winds around its ponds. We sat here, had a snack, and watched egrets before we made the final 4-kilometer descent to the Fulong train station. By the time we reached Fulong it was already dark, so we decided to skip the beach, but apparently it’s a nice one, and they are currently holding the yearly Sand Sculpting Festival there.

IMG_0546At Yangwankeng Park

Honestly, though, hiking the Caoling trail was enough for us. With its varying landscape and views, it has so much to offer visually. The jungle song of cicadas, birds, monkeys, flowing water, and mountain breezes serenaded us as we hiked. I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone who is on the northeast coast of Taiwan. I am sure we will return again before we leave Taiwan to take the alternate route from Dali to Daxi.

IMG_0555The end of the trail’s cloud-streaked sunset

I traded dirt paths for paved roads, but I found some things I think could help

Despite growing up a complete city girl in Seattle, living in rural Oregon for 5 years before I moved to Taiwan turned me into a small-town recluse, cowering at the sight of city lights. I was always able to escape and take a walk in the woods to help calm my nerves or soothe my worries. I became so accustomed to the comfort of being surrounded by nature, of not having to walk but 10 minutes up the road to find myself out of town and in the forest, that I started to forget people lived any other way.

Moving to Taiwan, I was a little bit saddened and a little bit terrified by the prospect of living in a big city like Taipei or Taichung, but the excitement about coming here pushed those little worries to the back of my mind. Lucky for me we didn’t end up in one of those Taiwanese giants. Although Yilan City is small, it is still a city, complete with towering apartment buildings, flashing lights, traffic jams, and bustling markets. I’m not afraid of dying while walking along the streets here like I sometimes am in Taipei, but I can’t escape the crowds or the noise within the mini-metropolis. It’s a way off from the idyllic mountain towns of Southern Oregon.

This brings me to my main point, which is that one of the amazing things about this country is that it’s so compact. Whether you are in Taipei or in little Yilan City, it is amazingly quick and easy to get out of town and into the mountains.  It’s not exactly a 10-minute walk, but it’s nothing more than a quick drive or bus ride.

Yilan City doesn’t have the convenience of public transportation like Taipei does, but we are so close to some beautiful mountain and ocean spots. We recently rode our scooter only 30 minutes from our apartment and found ourselves on a trail following a gorgeous clear mountain creek. Another short scoot to our neighboring town Jiaoxi brought us to the Old Paoma trail, an old logging road which offers some amazing views of the coast and Turtle Island as well as some really lush trails.

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The trailhead of the Paoma Trail. Check out that greenery in the background! You could totally walk here from the train station in Jiaoxi.
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Me on the trail looking way less happy than I was, I assure you. I want to eat that delicious looking forest.

Some of the more famous spots that we’ve visited are really developed, with paved open paths, and seem to be really busy all of the time. Our visit to Si Shou Shan in Taipei City, which we expected to be an epic hike, turned out to be more like a little stroll in a park. There was a ton of trash around and it was super crowded. It was definitely nice to get a little exercise, but didn’t really offer much in the way of scenery other than a view of Taipei 101, and this sign:

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Nevertheless, it’s really comforting to know that even though we are in the middle of the city, those uninhabited places that I treasure are not too far away. I know that I can escape for a day if I need to.