Saturday, 3 November 2012

Trouble in the Taoyuan Valley...

Last weekend's hike could probably go down as a bit of a disaster... but looking back, with a sprinkle of lighthearted reflection it was fun. A lot of fun. Although I fell over, and nearly fell over a lot more if it wasn't for Dylan and a few super tough Taiwanese hikers who all seemed to be twice my age, triple as healthy and probably a darn sight better looking too. They also managed to walk without getting covered in mud unless I splashed them when I tumbled... :P

I've been looking at hiking the Caoling Historic Trail in Yilan for quite some time as I passed by the trail head on the return journey from my trip to Hualien. It's set in a nice part of the world in Yilan County in the northeast of Taiwan. My friend Pete was being visited by his brother Dylan and so we thought, with the weather being good and the diminishing number of weekends before winter arrives, that this was the perfect opportunity to hike one of Taiwan's most famed and popular hiking trails. We chatted the day before the hike and decided that it might be nice to hike a section of the Taoyuan Paradise Valley Trail which can be linked to the Caoling trail and at the end of a long hike we would arrive at Fulong on the beach where we could camp and rest after a nice, long, satisfying hike. So equipped with a tent, a sleeping bag, a change of clothes and enough water to rehydrate Susan Boyle fresh out of a really hot sauna I was ready for a decent trek, followed by camping and a relaxing day at the beach.

Probably against our better judgment we arrived at Daxi train station a bit late at midday and decided to start our planned extended hike regardless of any time constraints safe in the 'knowledge' that if time was a problem we could always cut the route short and perform a circular hike back down to the road and find the train station safely. To what I would call 'real hikers' of whom I would count the author Richard Saunders among, these trails are quite 'moderate' and nothing really that strenuous. (Richard Saunders writes really good hiking guides in English about North Taiwan and Taipei). To myself, 'a fat, slobbering, wobbly mess', this trail was bloody tough and sufficed to say we found ourselves struggling to make much progress with the trail as there seemed to be an endless supply of steps and is in the very least my idea of purgatory. I was also sweating like a walrus at the dentist... a lot! I was rather disillusioned after a few hours and rather unfortunately, we didn't even manage to make it to a decent vantage point in time as to afford ourselves 360 degree panoramic views that are possible in good weather here. The mists seemed to roll in very suddenly just in time for us to get to the triangulation marker at the top of the first mountain. We did however get some nice views of the pacific ocean earlier on and for that I am very grateful.

At about 4pm we met a group of hikers from a local hiking club who were very keen to pass on their information and details of group hikes and they happened to have a fairly impressive grasp of English that I don't find on display in Nankan despite it being the clerical centre for the transport hub of the entire island. These guys were amongst the friendliest people I've met in Taiwan and I am sincerely thankful to them. They gave us some rather wise advice to stop hiking and head back down to the road with them as it was getting late. We did have tents and could possibly have found a place to pitch them but it wouldn't have been that wise due to the narrow path we were hiking. And I was tired and slow... ;) … Regardless, we followed them down a forest path that started out very nicely indeed and was wide and interesting and I felt like I was back in the Indonesian jungles of Sumatra or Java. Unfortunately for me – take into account I weigh a fair bit and my favorite past time is eating Big Macs – the path soon got thinner and thinner and eventually became a two-foot wide dirt trail with a rather steep descent on one side and a crumbly-soiled, steep forested verge on the other. Slightly before that, I slipped and fell over resulting in a Taiwanese fella lending me his hiking stick and very carefully guiding me through the steps. Exactly what happened when I fell this time, I'm not entirely sure of, but I did simultaneously pull both calf muscles and let out a growl like a really sad bear who can't find any honey and is suffering from depression of some kind. After a few more hours and finding a stone path again we found our way to the road and the station and had a rather eventful day. I also neglected to mention earlier that all the pictures I have are courtesy of Pete and Dylan because not only did I manage to break the motor on my camera's zoom lens resulting in it being useless until I can get it repaired, I also borrowed and seemed to break Dylan's camera in quick succession. He handled it well and I replaced it in kind. But the case remains the same for all my tubby friends: “stairs are the enemy!”...

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