The Beidawushan Series: Paperwork and Navigation

This post is scheduled to go live on February 28, which is the anniversary of a brutal authoritarian crackdown by the Republic of China government in Taiwan. One of the reasons police permits are required for many hiking routes in Taiwan is that anti-government dissidents, including some of the people who rose up against the ROC government in the aftermath of 2/28, historically had a tendency to hide in the mountains. Nowadays, the police permit system is mainly for safety (the mountain police are often responsible for rescue efforts). The mountain police I’ve met are friendly, and one even taught me a bit of the local language (Truku, in that case) so that I could greet any indigenous people I might meet on the trail properly. But I think it’s worth reflecting on why the system of policing ‘restricted mountain areas’ was set up in the first place.

If you want to hike Beidawushan, officially, you need permit(s).

A picture of trees with two peaks in the background.

Thou shalt not enter without the permit.

If you take the national trail, all you need is a mountain police (入山) permit. You can get it from the National Police Agency headquarters in Taipei, you can get it from at least two different police stations in Taiwu township (I heard conflicting information about which police stations issue the permit, but if you end up at the wrong one, they can tell you how to get to the correct one), and you can also get it from the police headquarters in Pingdong county. You can even get the permit online, though apparently you have to set the encoding of your browser to ‘Traditional Chinese, Big 5’. You do not need to get this permit in advance – you can get it the day you start the hike.

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Supposedly, you need to present your permit to a police checkpoint to get to the trailhead, but I somehow never did this since local people were driving me around and never stopped at any checkpoint.

I also know that some people have hiked the national trail without getting a permit at all, and there were no consequences. Even the person who oversaw Cedar Valley Lodge didn’t check it – but they regularly switch employees, so just because the overseer I met didn’t check it does not mean other overseers do not check.

Can hemlock be used to make paper to print the permits on? (okay, cutting down the hemlock trees to make paper would be totally horrible)

Can hemlock be used to make paper to print the permits on? (okay, cutting down the hemlock trees to make paper would be totally horrible)

I think it is also possible to hike Beidawushan via Nandawushan (Pingdong) or Paiyusenshan (Taidong) with just police permits, but you should ask the Pingdong or Taidong Forestry Bureaus to be sure.

If you attempt any other route, you will have to pass through either the Shuangguihu Wildlife Habitat or the Dawu Nature Reserve, and obtain a separate permit to legally enter those protected areas. You can get the forms (which of course are only in Chinese) here. I personally would never enter without the proper permit, but I know people who would go in without permits and probably get away with it.

The roads leading from the plains up into the hills to the trailhead are confusing, and many people get lost. The easiest solution is to hire a local driver. If you plan to spend a night in Taiwu township before the hike (highly recommended if you are interested in the Paiwan people) your accommodation should be able to arrange this. In a group of 3+ people the cost should be reasonable, especially if you choose to be picked up from Chaozhou train station instead of Pingdong train station. Local drivers probably will not get lost, but other interesting things might happen – for example, we went up through a minor road and another car was coming in the other direction – and the road was too narrow for the car to pass. On the other hand, the driver probably will not speak English. Also, watch out for motion sickness.

Remember to look out the window if you feel like puking.

Remember to look out the window if you feel like puking.

If you are using your own transportation, make sure you have a good map and consult the locals (if you use directions from the internet or GPS, double check that all of the roads are still open).

Continue to the next part: “Sleeping on the National Trail”


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The Beidawushan Series: Hiking Conditions

I am not going to describe basic mountain hiking safety in this post. You must make sure you understand basic mountain hiking safety before trying to hike Beidawushan, or any other high mountain.

A slope with forest and a landslide, shrouded in mist

Landslides and mist, oh my!

The new trailhead for the national trail is at around 1100 meters above sea level, Cedar Valley Lodge is about 2100 meters above sea level, and the summit is 3090 meters above sea level. Thus, if you follow a standard 3-day/2-night itinerary, the elevations look like this:

Day 1: ~7 km distance, +1000m altitude
Day 2: ~5 km distance, +1000m altitude, then in reverse ~5 km distance, -1000m altitude (note that there is a lot of up-and-down on the ridge itself)
Day 3: ~7 km distance, -1000m altitude

As you can see, Day 2 can be pretty steep.

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You do not need special climbing equipment for the national trail, but many sections require ropes (already in place), including a few landslides, lots of rocky scrambles, and some “exciting” bits on the ridge itself where you can fall to your death. If you have a thing about heights or exposed narrow ridge trails, think carefully before trying this hike. This is all much more dangerous in wet weather than dry weather.

Due to the abundance of moisture and life, to quote the Pingdong Forestry Bureau, “Leeches may kiss your feet”. Somehow, my feet have never been ‘kissed’ in places which are notorious for leeches (Jin Shui Ying Trail, Walami Trail, Wulai, etc.) yet they get ‘kissed’ in places like Yangmingshan National Park and Alishan.

Routes other than the national trail will probably need additional equipment, so you will need to ask someone with deep knowledge of the area to know what to bring. Someone I know who hiked Beidawushan from the Taidong direction said that he needed a machete.

You can check trail conditions on the national trail at this website if you understand Chinese. The trail is often closed due to typhoon damage.

The big typhoon Morakot landslide!

The big typhoon Morakot landslide!

Speaking of typhoon damage, never go there when a typhoon is coming or right after a typhoon. Even when there is no typhoon, high mountain weather in Taiwan can be extreme and change quickly. Do check the weather reports for Taiwu township, but understand that the weather at mid-elevations (which is what is forecast) may not reflect the weather at high elevations.

Hold on to that rope!

Hold on to that rope!

Beidawushan is in southern Taiwan, so the rainy season is May-October, and the dry season is November-April. Generally, dry weather is safer than wet weather. June-September is also the typhoon season, though typhoons can also happen in May and October.

Like other high mountains in Taiwan, summer rain tends to happen in the afternoon, so if you hike in the summer, plan to do most of your hiking in the morning.

This is the kind of weather you want for a hike.

This is the kind of weather you want for a hike.

It rarely snows in Beidawushan (i.e. it does not happen every year) but snow is possible in winter, and can mess up your hike if you are not prepared. Generally, winter weather in the high mountains can be fierce even without snow.

The safest times to hike are November-early December, and March-April. May is the best time to see rhododendron flowers.

Continue to the next part: “Paperwork and Navigation”


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The Beidawushan Series: Life on the Ridge

One of the pleasures of hiking Beidawushan is going through the different ecological zones. All journeys start in the tropical plains of Pingdong (unless you’re coming from the Taidong side, in which case you’re starting either in a tropical basin or at a tropical seashore). Then you get into the tropical hills, and then into the mid-elevation cloud forest … but, if all goes well, you’ll eventually reach the temperate forests.

About two thousand meters above sea level, one starts to find Taiwan red cypress, which many consider to be one of the most majestic trees in Taiwan.

An old cypress trunk reaches into the sky.

An old cypress trunk reaches into the sky.

The most famous stand of Taiwan red cypresses is in the very touristy Alishan Forest Recreation Area … but the national Beidawushan trail has its own famous red cypress tree, about 25 meters high and 11.7 meters in diameter, and estimated to be about 2,700 years old.

My own photo of the great old red cypress tree

My own photo of the great old red cypress tree

Taiwan’s mountains have plenty of azaleas/rhodededrons, and Beidawushan is no exception. I was not there in May, when the rhodededrons are in bloom, so I’m borrowing this photo from the Pingdong Forestry Bureau:

A picture of Taiwan Azaleas

Beidawushan is supposed to have a population of Swinhoe’s pheasants. While I didn’t see any there, I have seen a male while going through the Fenrui Old Trail through the Alishan mountains, and it was the most spectacular bird I have seen in Taiwan.

As one gets closer and closer to the ridge, one finds Yushan cane, a type of bamboo which excels at living in the harsh conditions of Taiwan’s high mountains. It often grows where few other plants can, and it one of the first species to come back after a forest fire.

Lots of Yushan cane

Lots of Yushan cane

I remember, when I was resting at the Dawu shrine, a Formosa laughing thrush came down. Formosa laughing thrushes are a very common bird in the high mountains of Taiwan. By the way it was eyeing my snack, it’s clear that many hikers feed the birds along the trail.

Some laughing thrushes on the road to Hehuanshan

Some laughing thrushes on the road to Hehuanshan

The highest reaches of the Dawu mountains have the largest forest of Taiwan hemlock in the entire world.

Instead of trying to describe the Taiwan hemlock forest with words, I will describe it with photos:

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera

Continue to the next part: “Hiking Conditions”


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The Beidawushan Series: The Japanese on Beidawushan

The Dawu shrine, with the peak of Beidawushan visible in the background

The Dawu shrine, with the peak of Beidawushan visible in the background

As I described in “The Paiwan People: Part 1”, the Japanese first became involved with the people who lived near Beidawushan during the Mudan incident of 1871.

In 1895, the Qing empire ceded control of Taiwan to Japan. The Paiwan resisted, as did other indigenous peoples. The Japanese attempted to make the aboriginal people assimilate, which included building schools for them and teaching them Japanese (these schools were often right next to, or even, inside the police stations which were built to ‘pacify’ the local people).

A Bunun man I once met claimed that the Rukai people (who live on the north side of Beidawushan) were able to avoid the influence of Japanese culture longer than anyone else – for example, they were the last people to accept a writing system. Considering that the Rukai tend to live in isolated valleys, this is plausible.

After Taiwan got incorporated into Japan, a flood of mountaineers came in to explore this ‘new’ island. For example, Yushan (a.k.a. Niitakayama) is higher than Mt. Fuji and became the new high point in the Japanese empire, which of course meant that Japanese adventurers had to come down to Taiwan to bag the peak. Many mountain summits and routes in Taiwan were traversed for the first (recorded) time by Japanese mountaineers. In addition to adventure, many Japanese naturalists studied Taiwan’s ecology and first recorded in writing the existence of many species, which is why so many species in Taiwan have Japanese names.

The route used by today’s national trail was originally opened up by the Japanese. Noro Yasushi became the first Japanese person to reach the summit of Beidawushan in 1909. Japanese settlers built a shelter at the site of today’s Cedar Lodge for the purpose of building Shinto shrines. And indeed, one of the most famous sights of Beidawushan is the Dawu Shrine.

Look at the coins tossed into the shrine.

Look at the coins tossed into the shrine.

The Dawu Shrine is the best preserved mountain Shinto shrine in all of Taiwan. ‘State Shinto’ was a policy to try to use Shinto to get people in Taiwan (and other territories under Japanese rule) to assimilate into Japanese society, and shrines such as the Dawu Shrine were part of that policy. People used to come to this shrine every October 28th for worship.

The shrine was originally at the summit of Beidawushan itself, in spite of the protests of the Paiwan people who regard the summit as sacred. After the shrine got repeatedly hit by lightning (maybe the goddesses of Beidawushan were angry?), it was moved to a safer spot alone the Dawu ridge one kilometer away from the summit, where is remains today.

After the Republic of China took over Taiwan, they tried to erase Japanese culture, and destroyed many Shinto shrines. The Dawu shrine was probably spared because it’s near the top of a high mountain deep in Paiwan territory.

Most photos of the Dawu shrine show the torii standing up, so I was disappointed to find that the torii have recently fallen down. I was also amused to find that hikers had carved messages. For more information, check out Queenie’s answer to my question.

Next to the shrine is the Takasago Volunteers’ Monument, which was set up in 1944 to honor the Taiwanese aboriginal people who served in the Japanese armed forces.

A photo of the Takasago volunteers' monument.

A photo of the Takasago volunteers’ monument.

Continue to the next part: “Life on the Ridge”

***

Some of the information in this entry came from the book Carefree Walks through Mountain Forests in Southern Taiwan (高屏山林縱情遊).


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