After the last cold snap seemed to be fading late last week, I decided to hit the road and do a bunch of hikes at relatively low altitudes. I took the AliShan train from ChiaYi and enjoyed the unhurried pace of the ride as we initially chugged through the tropical environment and the plantations of betel nut palms scattered on the hillsides. Just before the DulihShan area where the train winds around and up and through various tunnels to gain altitude there is a break in the line and passengers have to get out at ChangNaoLiao station and walk through the village and along a track and join another train to continue the journey. With that delay, the whole trip took about four hours. Further along, the scenery becomes sub-tropical and then temperate forest. Nearer AliShan itself, on the left can be seen an arid set of peaks that is the sacred home of the Tsou tribes’ ancestral spirits. An old logging line goes along there before dipping into a long tunnel and following another spur to its terminus at Monkey Rock.
The weather was good, and it was mid-afternoon on arrival, so plenty of time to pass the throngs admiring the cherry blossoms and get on the spur line, long since unused but still a hiking route. It was my intention to check out the route downhill from a point halfway along the line. It was quite a cold spot and, the next morning, I noticed there was frost on the outer fly of my tent. The path was tagged and went along a branch of the logging line through a few tunnels. This route followed a different ridge behind the sacred mountain and was quite rough beginning as it did at the headwaters of a stream - always the most prone to erosion.
Then, the path became easier, even with steps in some places, as it began to descend down through thick forest of Peacock Pine and other temperate forest vegetation. I had gotten up pretty early, so I surprised some barking deer that made their signature sound - somewhere between a bark and a screech, as they ranged on my presence.
After losing about 600 meters the path came out to a wide stream. Instead of the usual jumble of rocks and other debris, this was one unbroken rockbed with a small channel that went along, then turned right and then after another 70 meters went over a sheer drop. With the current drought, the waterfall (not Jiaolong waterfall - that’s in the ravine to the west) was just trickling, but the setting was quite beautiful, and I chose to rest up, unpack my wet tent and dry it out and snack on some raisins.
Leaving that remote spot, I continued on the path which now followed the river - deep down below in the gorge. The path from here on out was in better condition with hand railings and wooden steps. I was glad I was going down because it was quite steep. Passing a solitary orchard, I thought about what an arduous existence it must be to labor up those hills day after day. Then, I realised that’s what I do on most of my free days!
The dessicated landscape of the lower valley came into view as an hour later I came down to river level. This was the headwaters of the river system flowing past FengShan a few kilometers downstream. In contrast to the day before, it was hotter, so I was quite relieved to get a ride at the turn off to the backroad to FenChiHu way up hill and back on the AliShan railway line.
After staying the night there, refreshed and replenished, I walked up the road to the beginning of the FenChiHu to Rueli Historic Trail. Rising through bamboo forest on stone steps, the path becomes a small concrete road following a ridge over the hill and with long range views, then through some pine forest and yet more bamboo acreage to Rueli. It took about three leisurely hours. From Rueli after a detour to the Green tunnel - a ‘car-hikers’ version of the same type of scenery interspersed with a few tea farms, I ambled into the outskirts of Rueli. Perched above the ShengMao Stream, the view from Rueli across the gorge to my next destination, Jialiping, could be seen tantalisingly near.
However, it involved dipping down to a swinging bridge far below. Another descent into hotter climes as the farm road route petered out became steps and on the other side a small road climbing back up to the 162 road, the road drivers take from Rueli to Jialiping. While resting by a side route to a waterfall, three loud cracks of rifle fire rang out uncomfortably close by from the Giant Bamboo grove below. Must be after flying squirrel, but unusual to hunt in the daylight.
Time to move on. Plodding along the road with my 16 kg backpack, it was time to do some distance, and a gentlemanly farmer and paper recycler gave me a ride to the station just in time for me to catch the train to Duhlishan Station about 20 minutes down the line. Beautiful to be carried on that wonderful train line, enjoying the breeze and the forest and fields going by.
Duhlishan has a couple of hiking paths nearby. One to the peak about 10 minutes away and then looping down to the ChangNaoliao station, thus bypassing the break in the line. the train station was unstaffed, so I pitched my tent nearby, cooked a meal and used the bathroom facilities when the maintenance vehicle that comes by to check the line had passed by. Because the line goes through several loops around and around the hill, it was possible to hear the maintenance vehicle coming well in advance, so when it passed by the next morning to do another morning check, my tent was put away and no-one would be any the wiser that I’d camped there. When, it hoved into view, the driver gave a cheery wave as he whizzed by, and I began my hike,a short stroll up the hill and then down, ending up at the lower station and the train coming up from Chia-yi. Thus passed four very enjoyable days in and around the mountain line to AliShan.