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Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail

January 31, 2015

Climbing Xueshan (Snow Mountain) in Taiwan : A journey to alpinism


As I am writing this entry, it had been almost a week since my trip to Taiwan. No, I did not went there on a touring spree but climb a mountain. Whenever someone would ask me in Manila what was my Itinenary on tourist spots and I would say I will go there to climb,  they would reply on a blank face, maybe thinking what the hell is wrong with this person. But as a climber for so many years this trip makes perfect sense.  I had been wanting to climb Xueshan (Snow Mountain) in Taiwan for quite sometime then. Basically for three reasons 1.) to go above 3000 meters above sea level (masl) since the highest mountain I had climb was way below the height of Xueshan (Mt. Apo) 2.) To experience hiking in snow in multi day trips. 3.) To experience international hiking. 


So yes I went to Taiwan alone. A few days before my flight I am having snakes on my stomach (butterflies is an understatement). It my first time to go to Taiwan, a country which hardly speak english. It did not help that the cheapest flight I could get leaves at 1 hour before midnight, and was delayed for 2 hours! After arriving at Taoyuan International airport, the Bus ticket counter  was already closed. Being on a budget, I don't want to shell 1000NTD to bring me from Taoyuan to Taipe. I was ready to sleep at the airport when luckily fellow Filipinos relying on the bus was also stranded. So what we did was to share a taxi. The hostel were I stayed was a couple of meters away from the Taipei main station. It took me a while finding the address given that it was my first time to step into this city and it was 4oclock in the morning. I hurriedly went to bed since there was I few places I need to visit before I hike (to be detailed on another entry).





Though I am travelling alone from the Philippines, I was not alone on the climb. I am joining a group of other climbers who was being led by an outfitter. Our meet-up place was at a Taipei MRT station. As I assesed my team mates I was thinking If I made the right decision on doing this kind of set-up. All of them look pretty strong and most are taller than me, even the ladies. Their bags was huge, all looks considerably fit (one girl was doing a leg split stretching on a wall, scary). I was hoping I could measure up to their abilities.


From Taipei it was a 2-3 hour ride to Sheipa National Park which is the trail head. We arrived at the place almost midnight. It was already very cold, at the height of 2200masl. The digital thermometer registered minus one. After the guides handed us some of our technical equipments and last minute instructions, we started the trek. We drop by the ranger station to give our permits, like in Mt. Pulag a video was shown to us regarding the mountain. The trail was pretty straight forward but already steep. After an hour of hiking, we reach Qika cabin. The cabin is very basic in term of ameneties. Running water, bunk beds,  nasty toilets and a small kitchen but no equipment. The main purpose of staying on this lodge I believe was to acclimatize, since the hour spent on hiking can be adjoined to the next day hike. It was very cold, I remember waking up several times inside my thick sleeping bag.

Meet-up place


Packing up





Qika Cabin




Our beds for the night


Our Kitchen


Our Dining table
My Breakfast




The Toilet (bowl is not good to see)


Group shot - Clockwise from top (Ross - Scotland, Me-Philippines, Regina - USA, Joe, USA, Avik - India, Brian - USA, Ian- Canada, Marcus - Germany,  Jennifer, Larisa - Australia, Diego - Mexico, Dimitry - Belarus).
***Photo credit to Neil Wade (who is not on this picture)


The trail (taken during our trip back to the trail head)







The next day after some early tutorial on how to use snow crampons, we continue with our trek. You may consider the trail almost the same the Mt. Pulag via  akiki trail but is more established. The trail is well maintained and there are markers almost every hundred meters to assist the hikers. Abundant pine trees, steep ascents and ridges consist of the trails. One prominents stop is what is called "the crying slope" a very steep part of the trail that I guess is about half kilometer long. After a few more hours of hiking we reached the east peak of the mountain. Here we had a first glimpse of the actual peak. The "Holy Ridge" can also be seen. The 369 cabin where we stayed on the second night was also visible on this viewpoint. As we reach past 3000 masl, altitude mountain sickness (ams) hit me. I had a mild dizziness and headache. Probably its because it my first time to reach this height, or maybe we were hiking too fast. As the altitude gets higher the air gets thinner. Making it more difficult to breath, and due to this it seems the bags gets heavier.

Nearing the cabin, I had a glimpse of frost and snow, I was then able to confirm there will be snow on our final day.
The 369 cabin is almost similar to Qika, except that there is more table on the lawn. This cabin is carve in the mountain so just staying here, the view was already mesmerizing. I did not felt that cold in this place, I think its because the 120 beds are all occupied. I hate cramp space, but during that time it was very okay.


Crampons 101












First glimpse of Ice







Yes, it almost made me cry!

But a guide has another story, He said that when winds hit this area, it makes a sound similar to crying.






Rest stop before start of the "Crying Slope" Trail



Photo Credit to Neil Wade


Photo Credit to Neil Wade


Rest Stop from crying slope












At around 3000 masl, found this bonsai bamboos similar to Mt. Pulag






The left most peak is the summit of Xueshan


The Holy Ridge can seen. The ridge is hikeable, but 5 days on a heavy bag.




















First glimpse of snow









cramp cabin


369 cabin


Photo credit to Avik Samantha


On the final day of of our climb, we woke up very early so that we may be able to catch the sunrise at the peak. As we were walking on the early part the of the trail,  it was snowing. Contrary to the previous day it was very gloomy. The stars we saw last night were now nowhere to be found. The trails are still very established and composed of switchbacks. As we go higher the snow on the ground becomes thicker and the falling snow becomes was more frequent. As we enter Black Forest the ground becomes fully covered with snow, the large rocks on the trail were almost hidden. There are parts which were also covered with ice, that one from our team slipped. "Catch him, catch him" yelled our guide, else he might have fallen into a ravine. On the middle of our trek the guides informed us that it was time to wear our crampons since the snow was now very thick. As we moved out of the forest the falling snow was already a storm. Blowing hard and giving intense cold, there are times I need to hid my face to prevent cold wind from hitting it. The trail was now more steep but still composed of several switchback. As cold, pain on the legs and hard breathing was all over me. It made me think for a while "Why am I doing these? Is it really worth doing this hardship"? But as we were almost to the top, dawn starts to make the entire place more clear. Clouds are passing and covering the summit. We had a good view of the whole place. Sunrise was there! I had the great  feeling that everything was all wort it. I have reached the 2nd highest point in Taiwan and considered the most beautiful hike in this country.

We took pictures, congratulated each one for a feat not easy to do. It was really difficult breathing on this altitude.  I think the oxygen level at the summit is 40% less than on sea level. After a few minutes we decided to go down.

The black forest was very very amazing on daylight. Large trees, snow covered rocks, icycle on streams, deer tracks. These were some of the great views that can be seen. After resting for a while on 369 cabin, we continued our decent to the trailhead. Then it drizzled. Just great! Its a four season hike - sun, snow, rain, trek at night, what else can you asked for! 



snow and dark, not a good combination


snow storm while resting




summit marker














Conquered!


Team "United Nations"
Photo Credit to Neil Wade








Sunrise!
























Photo Credit to Neil Wade




























Icycles




















Trek Buddy Ian




We made it again to the summit, on less effort and clear skies!

Photo Credit to Neil Wade






We were really lucky, considering according to our guide it was raining the whole time the previous weeks. I thank God for giving me a good experience and keeping me safe on this whole trip. ;)






Nature-ral High Tips:


If you are plannig to climb this mountain here are some of my tips: 



  • Train hard - The mountain is difficult specially on winter. And if you are joining a group like I did, make sure you will not be a liability to the team
  • Get a guide - Unless you live in Taiwan and is very familiar with the place and the language. I suggest you get a guide. There are two main issues for tourist like me, logistics and equipments. Its hard to DIY a trip on a foreign land, and bring all your cooking equipment (and food).
  • Invest on good gears - Buy good and light gears. It will make your life easier, remember as I have said on my blog, the bags gets heavier as the altitude gets higher.
  • Bring a large bag - I brought a 50 liter bag and just for my sleeping bag half of the space is already gone. I compressed all my things, this made me pack everything. But compressing takes time, the result is that I am almost always the last one to pack my things. 
  • Use poles - Trekking poles is a must on winter climbs, other than it help you move the weight from your knees, it will help you not to slip on ice. Use the poles before the climb, to ensure you are already comfortable on the actual climb itself.  
  • Climb a 2K masl mountain - Try hiking a 2k masl mountain on a long trail to know how your body will react (and get accustom) to high altitudes. Gradual climbing is the key. 

46 comments:

  1. A great story! Thanks, man. I love it.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Dmitry! Keep in touch and more mountains!

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    2. Great Experience....loved it....

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    3. Same here. Miss you guys and Taiwan!

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Chunky / Taipei CT House!

      I had a good stay and will definitely choose again your hostel the next time I go to Taiwan. Your place is highly recommended.

      Cheers!

      Delete
  3. Nice account...i am thinking of doing this hike in december 2015, could you share the guide you engaged?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Benjamin,

      Please send me an email (bachwitz@gmail.com) and I will give you details on the information you need.

      Cheers,
      Naldy

      Delete
  4. Great Story on the climb! I went climbing DIY without a guide to Xue Shan 1st week of Jan this year just a couple of weeks before you did and only made it as far as the East peak on a day trek from Wuling Farm. I could see the 369 Cabin and the Main peak but can't go further as my permit doesn't allow me to go further without booking the 369 cabin bed space. Moreover, I was without a Guide and trekked alone without an Ice axe and cramptons so was worried I will not make it pass The black forest with the snow obscuring the tracks. I had to turn back feeling disappointed. I know I have to go back to conquer the Main peak someday! I just Signed up with a Singapore based YMCA Trekking Group and Setup for This coming September to embrace the beautiful Autumn Xue Shan Climb! Wish me Luck!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Dragondiver,


      YOu are very brave I don'think I can do it solo.:) Yes, I would recommend getting a guide if you plan to trek very early morning for the summit assault. On our case we got lost once due to darkness and snow storm. Our guide told us also stories if fatalities in the dark forest due to getting wayward then falling of the cliff.

      Good luck on your upcoming trek!
      Thanks for dropping by.

      Cheers!
      Naldy

      Delete
  5. Hello!

    Could you share with me what group/organizer you joined? or did you do a DIY trip for this one?

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nella,

      We were led by an outfitter, or in the Philippines it is what we call an organizer. Send me an email at bachwitz@gmail.com for faster communication, I will send you the details on my reply.

      Cheers,
      Naldy

      Delete
  6. Replies
    1. Thanks!

      .. and thanks for visiting my blog.

      Delete
  7. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    Thanks also to those who sent emails asking for info on how to do the climb and those that sending me congratulatory messages. I hope the info I shared is much help.

    Cheers to all and see you in the mountains!
    Naldy

    ReplyDelete
  8. Adding this email conversation with Shirlynn. I believe this is important to those planning to climb this Mountain.


    Hi there! Greetings from Singapore :)

    I’m an avid traveller in my early twenties and I have made plans to climb Xueshan this December!! I found your post very informative and helpful :) As it is my first winter climb, I would really appreciate your advice on the following questions:

    - What shoes did you wear? Could you kindly let me know the brand :)

    - How many layers did you wear on average?
    I’m planning to wear a thermal + fleece turtleneck + half/down jacket for the top, and a thermal + waterproof pants for the bottom.

    I would really appreciate your advice because I really need all the help and preparation I can get prior to this climb!

    Thank you and have a good week :)

    Best Regards,
    Shirlynn Koh :)


    Hi Shirlyyn,

    Hikers are required by the park to wear crampons on a winter climb. Normally a C1 type of crampons (the most basic type) would do. Given this, crampons needs a boot compatible to it. A B1 type of boots is compatible a C1 type of crampons. You can check the net for B1 type of boots, but on a nutshell B1 boots is anything that covers your ankle and is waterproof. My boots is a Berghaus brand.

    I brought the following.
    - feather down jacket
    - windstopper fleece
    - rain jacket
    - long sleeve shirt
    - long sleeve thermal shirt
    - thermal pants
    - trekking pants
    - thermal gloves (make sure to have this)
    - beanie

    Dont forget to bring a rain/waterproof jacket. There is a chance it might rain and you will feel very cold without this. Also if there is a blizzard during your hike, snow will penetrate your jacket.

    At the first cabin where we are the only hikers I think I wore everything + a negative 5 sleeping bag.
    At the second cabin, where its fully booked, I wore less due to heat coming from all the hikers.
    From the second cabin to the summit (where there is snow on our hike), you can wear less (for me - pants, thermal shirt, long sleeve, rainjacket) since you will still sweat during the hike. YOu should try to minimize sweating since you will feel cold or even freeze when you stop and cold sets in. But bring the jackets, you will need them when you are already in the summit and stationary.


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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Eddy,

      The cost of hiring an outfitter defends. If you know how to speak chinese, I believe it will be cheaper compared to westeners who are doing guideship.

      There are those who do it in 2 days. But I would suggest you do it in 3. Sleep in both cabins for better acclimitization.

      Its quite hard to get a permit in Yushan since they do it via lottery. And also note that in Xueshan, the park is requiring hikers to reserve a permit 7-30 days in advance. And the cabin can accomodate only 200 hikers per day, and they get full quickly specially on winter.

      Delete
  10. Hi there! Great blog that would be really helpful for my preparations to climb Snow mountain or Yushan.

    I'm thinking of heading down in December as well (from Singapore too) but the general concerns of going there solo is pretty daunting. I did solo trips elsewhere in China along with extensive hiking but climbing this mountain would be a different thing altogether.

    Is it advisable to do travel alone? Wondering if you can link me up with Shirlynn as well.

    Thanks!!

    Eddy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Eddy,

      I would not advise to hike there solo as you might get lost in the black forest, specially if you will hike very early for the summit ascent like what we did. And if you don't have experience in snow/winter climb its very dangerous.

      Btw, thanks for visiting my blog. Dont hesitate to comment/email me if yo need additional info.

      Delete
  11. Sorry for that double post, gonna try for Yushan and see if i can get to go there. I'm sorely lacking in terms of gear and would need to get a new set of hiking pants/jacket etc.

    Are there any must haves in terms of gear? Also, in terms of change of clothing, how many sets would you recommend for typical winter hikes?

    Black friday here i come..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From what I have heard, Xueshan is more rewarding than Yushan. And as what I have said, the permit is via lottery so there is a probablity you will not be chosen.

      Winter gear is what you need. Good if you can get a good outfitter that provide/rent-out gears.

      Cheers

      Delete
  12. Hello there! Thanks so much of your post about Xue Shan, really helped us in our plans.

    My friend and I are from Singapore and we are planning a DIY hike to Xue Shan on 3-5 Jan 2016. We heard that for the winter season, the trip leader would require a certification akin to experience in hiking in snow conditions in order to apply for the permit.

    We are wondering whether it is true, and whether we can proceed to apply for the permit to hike Xue Shan without a "Snow certification". We are going to hike the Class A route, which requires no prior hiking experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Billy

      Sorry for the late reply been tad busy the past weeks.

      With regards to your certification inquiry, here is the reply from our guide.

      "The leader needs a certificate that you can only get by taking a 4 day snow skills class in Taiwan"

      Delete
  13. Hi ...

    Very nice and interesting post~!

    I planning to go Xueshan(from Singapore) ard 20-22feb.
    Will Love to hear from anyone of you as u all here seems like professional climbers.

    Just wonder, if this trip is suitable for people like me (especially i'm scared of cold~)

    Im not a regular climber, and only climb Kinabalu 5-6yrs back.
    Any pointers to share/advise me pls.....


    PS: I'm quite worried if the snow up there requires any technical climbing~ =(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I heard from the our guide that there is less snow this year. Probably due to El Nino affecting Asia.

      The trek is very cold, specially during this time of the year. But if you have the proper gear, I think you can make it. But being fit is another story. The only advise I can give you is train hard. As this will make your trek easier.

      Although the mountain requires you wearing a crampon, the trail is not that technical.

      Good luck on your trip, if every you decide to go.

      Naldy

      Delete
    2. you'll need a snow climbing certification to do the trek in this period if im not wrong. best is to get a group or leader who has this cert/training. crampons would probably be necessary

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    3. HI Eddy,

      Thanks again for visiting. Were you able to proceed with your hike?

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    4. I initially planned to do both Snow Mountain and Yushan but was only able to do Snow Mountain. Decided not to go for Yushan as i was too fatigued. GLad to make it though! Taiwanese said i was crazy to go alone... heh.

      Delete
    5. Wow nice Eddy!

      Did you take the snow certification? Hope you can provide us some of your pic and see the place looks like this year.

      Cheers

      Delete
  14. Enjoy reading your blog on XueShan. It is very informative and you have been very nice sharing your experience from the trip to those are planning to hike there. Thank you. My colleague is organizing a trip in late March, probably will not see snow but I hope the weather is not too cold by then.

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    Replies
    1. Hey my pleasure. ;). Good luck on your trip and enjoy the place.

      cheers!

      Delete
  15. Hi Bachwitz,

    Would you mind letting me know which travel agent you went for this trip? I am thinking of doing one, but not sure which group I should join!

    Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Hey. Sorry for the late reply. I have connections problems the past weeks.

      Shoot me an email and I will give you the details. Cheers

      Delete
    2. HI Bachwitz, i found your post really helpful, also your pictures are so beautiful, I just made a summit to xueshan few days a go, but the weather was not in favor to my camera, a bit dissapointed, so i'll be back again on this March.

      btw, let me reply to 家溢, currently i am looking for buddy to join a hike to Xueshan on that hike, if he interested, he can find my invitation on this facebook group. thank you :)

      https://www.facebook.com/groups/TaiwanHART/permalink/10153797054446438/?hc_location=ufi

      btw, right now the snow is accumulated about 50-100cm at the valley and the top of the mountain.

      Delete
    3. Hi Firdaus Islam, sure no problem. Let us wait for 家溢 to reply.

      Wow, those are thick snow. Hope all participants are well on that climb.

      thanks for the chat!

      Delete
  16. Hi! Thinking of doing Snow Mountain this Easter. Was supposed to go to Nepal for the 4th time but things may not work out. So Taiwan's Snow Mountain is a huge possibility. Can you let me know your trek agency? How much did it cost? My email is ginacsales@gmail.com. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Sent you an email! Thanks for the visit.

      Delete
  17. Hello Sir, This is a very informative blog. I am planning a Snow Mountain ascent soon, and I sent you an e-mail inquiry regarding a few important details. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. I replied to several emails. I hope one of them is yours! Cheers

      Delete
  18. Thanks for sharing your story :)

    When did you to to snow mountain?
    I plan to go there alone but heard that it's dangerous to hike alone there and definitely cannot get the permit :(
    So I want to know how you join the group.

    My email is porcpe@gmail.com
    Any recommendation is appreciated :)
    Thanya

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    Replies
    1. Hi Thanya.

      I did the climb last January 2015. You are not allowed to hike alone if you will do it on the snow season, a trained guide is needed be able to get the permit.

      To get the permits for snow mountain, you can do it online. please check this link - http://www.spnp.gov.tw/v2/Article.aspx?a=H6sqhseTE6c%3d&lang=1

      Sorry for the late reply, I had been occupied the past days.

      Cheers,
      Naldy

      Delete
  19. Hi! Could I know which expedition guide you eventually went with and how much the climb cost? (: thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Min~,

      Send me an email at bachwitz@gmail.com. We can have a chat.
      Thanks for visiting

      Naldy

      Delete
  20. great blog... thanks for this post.
    paakyat kami next year.. sana makaya din :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you ma'am. Kaya yan basta mental and physical preparation.

      Goodluck and keep safe. :)

      Delete