ShiDing to PingXi Ridge Hike Report

Although last weekend the weather forecast wasn’t particularly favorable, feeling that there was at least a half day without rain, I chose a hiking route that would provide a number of options for bailing out if the weather turned or extending if the weather stayed fair.

Taking the 666 bus to ShiDing from Mucha MRT stop, I thought about the last time I’d been on that stretch of road. It had been a couple of months previously when I’d hitched a ride with a couple of lads picking up some pine logs from the old mountain road connecting ShwangShi to ShiFanLiao; an epic ride that delivered me all the way to the Zoo Station, me in the back of the pick up holding down the tarp over the logs to avoid prying eyes.

This time, I’d leave all the concrete and traffic behind by staying on the ridge lines all the way to PingXi. Getting off the bus at ShiDing, I walked up the left fork in the direction of the HuangDiDien turn off and after a 100 meters, turned left up a side road and found the stone steps that led up to the HuangDiDien west peak. This path has a lot of open views and as I climbed up I couldn’t help notice the huge traffic jam in the Ilan bound lane on the freeway. Although I’d only been going about 40 minutes I’d climbed a quite steep gradient and it all seemed thankfully far away.

The western part of the ridge at HuangDiDien with its chain ladders and twists and turns isn’t hiked as often as the central part and I didn’t see anyone until I passed the path leading up from the car park. At this point the bare rock juts up out of the surrounding forest and sitting at an open spot drinking water I looked around and decided the weather would still be good to carry on to the main ridge closer to the Ilan border. Not having hiked on this particular ridge for a number of years, I looked back on my earlier experiences in this area, how I’d follow a route, mark off a side turn on my barebones county map and come back the following weekend and take that turn, rolling out into new areas as the web of hiking paths expanded beyond and onward to the Ilan coast. Now, in this superbly scenic spot with views in every direction, I was doing the same thing, taking a viewing of the opposite ridge line and the farm roads in the vicinity of HuaFan Buddhist University.

I was using my medium sized backpack. It could hold my thermarest, sleeping bag, stove, food and rainpants and rainjacket but not my tent. I'd made a mental target to make it to the mountain at 840 meters altitude due east of HuaFan area where the rain shelter below the summit would be my overnight stop. The weather stayed fine and I was perspiring as usual occasionally wiping my brow with my Hello Kitty facecloth - not something I would do in front of anyone and then I noticed indeed there was a witness to my uncoolness - a black dog, your typical medium sized farm mutt, was on my heels darting ahead, dropping behind and veering off here and there as we hiked on. Although I stopped a few times to shoo him off or give him time to feel bored, nothing would sway him from his decision, so onward and upward we went. Perhaps he has girlfriend over the hill, I thought as I remembered a trek I did in Nepal where a dog attached itself to our party as a form of protection as we ran the gauntlet of hostile forces, the temple dogs in the villages we passed through. 

The path briefly pops out at the back of the HuaFan University campus before re-entering the thick forest and up to a peak at 731 meters altitude. At this point the path seemed to fizzle out and probably at this point my earlier self would have turned around and exited back at the campus road. Realising that the open areas grew back thicker and that any trail beyond would be less used, I did a quick bushwack in a circular direction around the peak before picking up on the path continuing further on. Not long after, the path began to go down through the forest which had some pine in it until we came out at some new looking tea fields. The dog seemed pretty happy about that especially when he noticed an old bath tub that farmers use for watering the tea plants. I'd urged a friend on a previous trip to jump in and read a newspaper as a photo op but like for the dog, the skin of green algae had put him off and he refused. Luckily for the dog, a freshwater stream was nearby and he took long leisurely draughts as I sat on the stone embankment taking a break.

There was still a couple or more hours of daylight left as we ambled down through the fields to the road that contoured just below the ridge and served the few farms this high. Along the way to my destination, only a handful of cars passed by and although the sky had patches of grey, directly above seemed good enough to see us through. High views beyond to the hills in front of Ilan County proper were the new aspect after leaving the PingXi environs behind and I could just see clouds begin to descend on the opposite peaks. At a small hamlet with a temple, the canine welcoming committee in the form of a reddish somewhat scruffy terrier mix came out to socialize. Could this be…no, because once again homeboy was back at my heels running along, but this time with a difference. Something must have happened back there because now it started humping my leg in earnest and it took quite a few twists and shoves to get him back on four legs. Eventually, he cooled down, but I was beginning to think this was going to be an awkward night…

Reaching the turn off, up the farm road that leaves to the path to the peak, twilight was falling. Small birds were wheeling and chirping, the larger serpent eagles gone from the skies and a cool breeze was in the air. A full days hike were reaching my bones as we made the final push to the summit where a viewpoint gazebo made of wood provided the perfect and soothing rest point. As the dog lay down, libido hopefully quiescent, I took sips of water and looked both back at the PingXi area and then over to the PingLin side noting the sporadic array of lights of the various temples and tea farms on the hillsides.

Going back to the rain shelter just five minutes back, I felt the first spots of rain that would quickly escalate into a foggy drizzle and heavy rain through the night. After sharing my crackers, mashed potatoes and sardines and filling a plastic bowl with water, the dog crashed out and I had an undisturbed sleep sleeping on the log bench.

The next day was cloudy and dizzly, so I canceled my plan to come down on another mountain path and walked the No. 43 Road down to PingXi. The dog was still with me, but at the bus stop in town it began to mingle and when the bus pulled up, I looked around. It wasn’t there.