This was a two day hike (two weekends ago) on sealed road, dirt track, tagged path, and bushwack that took me out of the Shuangsi (alt.sp. Shuangshi or Shuangxi) river valley to the much smaller Dasi river valley in Yilan County. Like other places in this part of the island, I was to see a lot of traces of cultivated areas that had been abandoned over the years: stone walls, old terraced fields and stone farm buildings all left to the elements and entangled in weed, vine and roots.
The weather was cloudy to fair with no likelihood of rain when I left Shuangsi train station early in the morning and walked along to Gong Guan just east of town.A farmer in a battered straw hat tending his garden was the last person I was to see that day. I diverted from the road that carried on to Fulong at a place where a small river comes in from the south and a road runs along it for about five kms to a campground and cabin site that on the several times I’ve been here has never shown any evidence of having visitors.
The sun popped out of the high clouds increasing the temperature as I walked past several farms keeping an eye out for evidence of a couple of minor paths up to the ridge on my left, a ridge I had hiked along previously without noticing any obvious way down on that side. My aim was to get as far up the road as the campsite and look around for any path that would take me out of there and further south.
Although untagged, a gravel farm road overgrown with grass seemed the likeliest route. The road went steeply up switchbacking and oscillating from one face of the hillside to another presenting different aspects of this back woods area: to the north east the ShuangTai farmers road, the back road to Dasi, and the valley I was leaving. A breeze picked up through the trees as I climbed higher, bushwacking through the forestry regrowth and the remnants of the road eventually picking up the ridge and following it to DingLan Mtn. Scrambling through the screwpine clustered on parts of the side ridge and avoiding the thorns of the newly grown rattan shoots, I joined a tagged path that follows the ridge all the way to a peak at 619 meters. Peeling off that ridge an hour further on, I would spend the night at an abandoned reforestation hut I had discovered a few weeks previously on a reconnoitering trip.
The hut was at the end of an old overgrown concrete road that branched off from Chien Jen village a few kms up a side road on the hills and the highest point of the ShuangTai Rd. The small forecourt area of the hut looked over a small lake half filled with reeds and a slight aroma of wild ginger stayed in the air as the afternoon drew into evening. At this high point, it was possible to see the smattering of farms on the ridge opposite as I looked at my map and figured what roads might serve my purpose when next in the area. Clearing a couple of tables, I rolled out my thermarest and lay down, sleeping well, in sync with the frogs croaking in the lake.
The road had a few extra tags and some bamboo had been cut since my last visit, so at least some hikers make it here I thought. The journey on this second day was to take me through ChienJen village and then up a stream back to the ridge. But the village was no more: just overgrown fields, crumbling stone walls and swampy undrained abandoned fields. As the path went upriver, I marveled at the tiny terraced plots still remaining from the days when this was intensely cultivated farmland. The sun was quite hot as my route continued upwards and then suddenly the ridge was in front of me and I could see the large valley that leads down to GongLiao. Coming down to the end of the road in the valley headwaters was another steep and overgrown path, intermittently tagged, that I navigated walking from one side of the stream to the other or hopping down from one terrace to a lower one. Civilization was a gravesite, somewhat overgrown, but with a path to an old stone house used as a chicken coop and another path that led up out of that watershed to an old earth god shrine on the ridge and the path down to the Dasi River. I rested at that strategic spot, enjoying the breeze, glugging down water and noticing the thickening clouds coming across from inland. The path went downhill surprisingly gently and I dawdled around looking at stuff and taking rest breaks in an attempt to have a less sweaty day than the first one. At Dasi River, after crossing it and then walking on the springy ground of an abandoned field, I joined the main path along the river. Not long after, a series of tags showed a detour route above a landslide; the shale trickled down the incline as I picked my way across making sure not to grab onto old screwpine that has an alarming tendency to snap off at crucial moments. Wild pig had been in the vicinity. The evidence: freshly turned earth and uprooted plants extending along the path in several stretches.
I hadn’t been along the Dasi River for two or three years and I was surprised to see a new cabin on stilts a kilometer or so further on over on the north bank. The route differs from the map in this location making it necessary to cross the river several times, and I pushed on to the road down to Dasi as thunder rumbled behind me in the hillsides far above, hills that looked tiringly steep at that moment. Looking back one last time, I wondered how I’d managed to descend all that way,and as it began to drizzle, the mountains were closed off and made invisible behind a curtain of clouds.