Southern Cross-Island Highway

Thought there was a thread on the Southern Cross somewhere, didn’t find it, hope this is not a duplication.

Did a reconnaissance trip up the Southern Cross Highway from Tainan yesterday (December 15, 2010). Some conclusions:

Passable now by car to just past the Yakao tunnel. This only applies if you are very confident driving difficult roads and for the next few months of dry weather (remember the south generally has dry winters). When the next significant rain arrives the road is sure to close in several section.

Impassable by any means (km mark 148 I think), between the tunnel and the Yakao hostel. There are suggestions (that I don’t really believe) that this large landslide section will be passable by Chinese New Year. We did the last, highest, section on bicycles and then on foot. There was no way we could have crossed the final landslide. Based on previous experience and most reports the highway should usually be fine from Xianyang eastwards.

Even if open in practice, the road between Meishan and Xiangyang may remain officially (legally) closed. If planning a cycle trip over the new year, get up to date road condition reports, be prepared for the road to be closed beyond Meishan, and consider only riding the section from Meishan (for reasons of pleasantness).

The highway is ‘scruffy’ all the way from Jiasian (Jiaxian) to Meishan, stunning scenery after Meishan. Starting in Jiasien (or even Yujing/Liogui) the road is less than pretty in many places. There are numerous places where the road has been/is being patched up - and vulnerable to further damage/closure. The villages (Jiaxian, Baolai, Taoyuan, Meishan etc) have a down-and-out feel to them. After Taoyuan a several kilometer section of road is unsurfaced and is in the riverbed - unsuitable for many cars or drivers. After Meishan the views are as wonderful as ever, and the road is fine for 99% of its length. The problem lies in the remaining 1% obviously, most bad spots have been patched up and only OK for confident drivers.

Lots of people have lots of contradictory and inaccurate opinions on the current state of the road and what is likely to happen both in the short and long term. This includes those that should know: Forestry Department, National Park, Highway Bureau, police, hunters, road workers, surveyors, etc etc. Also note some people’s, otherwise reasonably informed, knowledge ends when it goes out of their jurisdiction - Kaohsiung County people are badly informed about conditions 500 meters further along in Taidong County. Any ‘information’ should be interpreted cautiously.

My conclusions in January - after a recce trip when I was able to drive all the way over, still make sense: The 921 earthquake and Typhoon Morakot have fundamentally changed the state of things. There will be various targets and a lot of money spent on keeping the road open for the next couple years. Much of the work will unfortunately cause damage that will influence the stability of hillsides for later periods - ie work to temporally open it for the next weeks/month will cause damage that will make medium-term repairs in 6 months time more difficult, in turn those repairs will make the long term reconstruction more difficult. I will not be surprised if after 3 or 4 years of typhoons/earthquakes/deaths/money spent the government will announce the closure of the highway for 10/20/30 years. There is a decent chance of it being kept passable as far as Meishan (still some resilient residents there) on the west side, and to Xiangyang (road conditions OK) on the east side. There are no magic solutions, anything done is at the end of a vulnerable supply chain - the road itself.

Further photos of the recce herehttp://picasaweb.google.com/barkingdeerinfo/SouthCrossRecceDec10#. Includes a lot of photos of rolling rocks from road building around the section of highway beyond Taoyuan. Over 15 excavators were dumping debris over a cliff. It was an incredible show, watching a non-stop stream of rocks, some as big as regular cars, bouncing down into the river.

A note on conditions and background. We drove a a high-wheelbase 2-wheel drive van, in dry conditions - it rained today. My friend and I are both confident and well experienced dealing with rough roads and crossing landslides. We do not recommend this trip to everyone - no offense that may include you.

If needing more info email me at barkingdeerinfo@gmail.com Also remind me to post updates as we approach the New Year(s).

I think you are probably right, except the gov’t won’t announce the road will be closed for such and such years. It will simply be closed “until further notice” and then there is no notice.

Thanks for the update. The Southern Cross is sorely missed. I used to ride this a couple times a year and hike in the area as well.

Thanks for the update. Hiking southwards from Guan Shan peak (3666 meters) it’s possible to peel off the spine at several points and come down westwards to aboriginal villages at the end of twisty mountain roads. One of the roads comes down near Taoyuan and another further south. Have these villages been evacuated or did the roads survive Morakot?

I also wonder if they will reroute the hiking trail from the road up to Guan Shan peak. That was a staircase of old railway sleepers which i heard got washed away…

Awesome, thanks for the update. Having reliable, accurate, first hand knowledge is a refreshing and welcome change.

Sorry to hear it’s not passable at all, even by bicycle, but the longer they keep the tour busses out the better IMO. Hopefully they’ll open a bike path all the way to allow access to such a truly amazing part of the country while discouraging motor vehicles entirely.

[quote=“Jah Lynnie”]Thanks for the update. Hiking southwards from Guan Shan peak (3666 meters) it’s possible to peel off the spine at several points and come down westwards to aboriginal villages at the end of twisty mountain roads. One of the roads comes down near Taoyuan and another further south. Have these villages been evacuated or did the roads survive Morakot?

I also wonder if they will reroute the hiking trail from the road up to Guan Shan peak. That was a staircase of old railway sleepers which i heard got washed away…[/quote]

Most of the villages seem to be continuing in some manner or other. It is still hard to tell what will happen to them on the long term. Some have accepted relocation, some are resisting for good/bad reasons.

Rumor has it that it is possible to exit on the Xiao Guanshan Forest Road and then Baolai. I doubt the trail has had many people recently - it didn’t before Morakot (the memories that are coming back…brrr). Exit at Tengjhih if possible at all must be be very bad. Don’t start planning it.

The initial part of the trail was visible yesterday - someone has laid a path of stones at the edge of the riverbed. Just mentioning those railway sleepers makes my legs go stiff. Looked for, but no sign of a way up to Guan shan ling. Looked dangerous.

Feel safe in saying there is no chance of any tour buses being up there for a LONG time.

Good read. There was a guy a couple of months ago who also posted some pics & said he’d cycled across it in early September. Presume the big slide has slid some more since then.

Ah winter over, sunny and warm(ish) in Tainan again.

I read that report, and it emphasizes the dynamic nature of the road, there is no way he could have crossed the landslide after the Yakao tunnel without a helicopter.

Hey y’all.

Been lurking here at forumosa for awhile, but now that I have something worthwhile to contribute, here it is…

On 3/7/11 I began my journey on what I thought would be a 10-day cross island trek. My plan was to take the bus from Kaohsiung, as that’s where I happened to be, in spite of what the Lonely Planet guide directions indicated. That is, taking a bus from Tainan. For a little background, I got the idea from the LP guide, which struck me as a brilliant opportunity while I’m just traveling the island, as I had intended on doing a trip like this before my plane even touched down. Based on what I read, all the pieces were there for the trek of a lifetime. Little did I know that pretty much all of the information in that guide (published in 2007) is worthless. Before I left, I heard that the highway had been badly damaged during Marokot and subsequent storms, but judging from the pictures and that biker dude’s post, I knew that I could do it.

A rundown of my plan:
Take the bus as far as I could, preferably to Meishan. Apply for permits. Camp somewhere along the way to Tienchih, instead of trying to walk 27 km in one day (1). Hike to Tienchih hostel via the Jhongjhiguan trail. Stay the night (2). Hike to the Kuhanuosin cottage up the Guanshan trail, and take a daypack up Kuhanuosin. Stay the night at the cottage (3). Summit Guanshan early the next day, and return to the highway to camp somewhere near Kuaigu (4). Take the trail to Taguanshan, then return to the highway and hike to Yakou hostel, and stay the night (5). Hike to Siangyang at the start of the trail to Jiaming lake, apply for permits, then begin on the trail, camping where I could (6). Hike to Jiaming lake, spend some time taking in the sights, then start back (7). Return to Siangyang, and begin down trail towards Motian (8). Hike to Lisong hot springs, and camp by the river (9). Hike to Wulu, revel in societal comforts, and catch the bus to Taitung (10).

So early Monday morning, I set off. Everyone at the bus station thought I was crazy, but they were helpful and reverent. Transferred at Liugui to take the bus as far as Taoyuan… the first point at which reality started detouring from the guide. The lady awas empathic about the fact that the bus does not return from there that day. I told here I was going to Taitung, and her eyes bugged. Had some kind of seafood soup concoction here, which was delicious, even if everyone was constantly looking at me and laughing. The ride was uneventful, if somewhat troubling, judging by the millions of dollars they must be pouring into reconstruction projects all over the county. I rode from Paolai with an aboriginal woman whose infant child, slung to her back, provided hilarious commentary along the way. Disembarked, was greeted by many locals using unfamiliar phrases, but just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

Every half mile or so I would encounter dogs, in singles or in packs, some that rushed at me barking before their owners called them off, with a “God bless you” as condolence, or that quietly slunk behind me for a few miles. The scenery wasn’t particularly beautiful, although it was a very nice day, as the river has clearly changed course to run directly over the former highway. Trucks hauling gravel and cement and construction equipment were passing by every couple of minutes, along with a student bus to Meishan, and many rallying 4x4 vehicles I can only assume were driven by locals. After about 10km I got sick of walking through this forsaken landscape and stuck out my thumb. I didn’t have to wait 30 seconds before a guy in a truck picked me up and took me the last 5km to Meishan.

Once there, I was hailed by a police officer, and since I needed to apply for permits anyway, I walked over. Very little English on his end, almost no Chinese on mine, so I improvised: I indicated a computer, and pulled up MDBG Chinese-English translator, and we typed back and forth. To further solidify his point, he showed me a map, and making an X with his arms, indicating that all trails west of Yakou are closed. The hostels both at Yakou and Tienchih are closed. No permits being given for Guanshan, Taguanshan, Guanshanling, nada. He referenced the landslide east of the tunnel, saying it was impassable, but I couldn’t determine if he meant by foot or by car. Shortly thereafter, a lady from Alishan showed up, and was really excited to help me, even though I was pretty sure my plans were completely shot to hell, but since she was so nice, I let her make calls to the bus stations in Taoyuan and to Siangyang park to ask about the status of Jiaming NP trail. It’s open. But I wasn’t about to walk 40+ km without the possibility of hitching a ride if I couldn’t climb any mountains or stay at any hostels or find any more food. I mean, six days of MSG ramen for dinner just wasn’t going to cut it. So, I stayed the night in the campground there in Meishan, which is pretty nice for a car-camp site.

The next day, I explored the little town, but there isn’t much to see. Being the second Tuesday of the month, the visitor center was closed. I walked across the suspension bridge below the highway, and walked around the village, but nobody looked particularly interested in catering a random “Mei guo” wandering down the street. Saw a lot of beautiful birds which I couldn’t identify unless I saw pictures, some domesticated wild pigs in a nasty hulk of a building, and… that’s about it. Started walking back down the highway, hitched a ride, and found myself in Paolai a little after 2pm… with two hours to kill until the next bus. I continued my reading of Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood.” For a once-thriving hot spring resort town, Paolai has a real down-and-out sort of vibe to it now. I guess it was a Tuesday, though. Rode the bus towards Kaohsiung (I don’t think there even is a bus from Tainan anymore, all the stops said Kaohsiung) with the local middle school kids, who all wanted to practice their English, and watched a scrolling sign in the bus that read “MASSAGE!!” Scoped some beautiful cliffs outside Liugui, which could have some potential for some adventurous rock climbing, but for now… I’m pretty enamored with Long Dong.

That’s all. Didn’t mean it to be so wordy, but hopefully that information is helpful. I have no hope for the highway or the trails being reopened any time in the next year, which is likely how long I’ll be here. Too bad, so sad.

Peace,
Nate

Thanks for the update, but I am curious why you even attempted after reading the above reports.

Great write up.

I am just wondering if it is open for an SUV to drive Kaohsiung to Taitung??

Somebody always has to be a critic. Why did I attempt it in the face of adversity? Because I wanted to succeed in spite of the added challenge. On a more logical note, I hoped that the trails would be less effected by the typhoon and subsequent storms (and I expect they really are not that bad) than the road itself. This is because the highway is far more obtrusive a deformation of the landscape than a trail, and therefore more susceptible to - and indeed a symptom if not the very cause of - these natural and dramatic shifts. I learned many a lesson, so it was not a fruitless venture. One of them being the timidity of the Taiwanese recreational institutions when it comes to these sort of activities. Not that there is no legitimate cause to cease issuing permits. I am simply implying that in, say, the United States, even if the roads were closed, it would be a “hike at your own risk” kind of endeavor. You don’t need a permit to climb any of Colorado’s 14ers. But blatantly ignoring regulations would have been very bad form. So, having finally gotten a good day this week, I climbed and camped at Long Dong instead.

As far as trying to four-wheel it… I highly doubt the slide beyond Yakou would be passable.

[quote=“Cunninlinguist”]Somebody always has to be a critic. Why did I attempt it in the face of adversity? Because I wanted to succeed in spite of the added challenge. On a more logical note, I hoped that the trails would be less effected by the typhoon and subsequent storms (and I expect they really are not that bad) than the road itself. This is because the highway is far more obtrusive a deformation of the landscape than a trail, and therefore more susceptible to - and indeed a symptom if not the very cause of - these natural and dramatic shifts. I learned many a lesson, so it was not a fruitless venture. One of them being the timidity of the Taiwanese recreational institutions when it comes to these sort of activities. Not that there is no legitimate cause to cease issuing permits. I am simply implying that in, say, the United States, even if the roads were closed, it would be a “hike at your own risk” kind of endeavor. You don’t need a permit to climb any of Colorado’s 14ers. But blatantly ignoring regulations would have been very bad form. So, having finally gotten a good day this week, I climbed and camped at Long Dong instead.

As far as trying to four-wheel it… I highly doubt the slide beyond Yakou would be passable.[/quote]

Sigh. You had very sound advise on this thread from professionals that is just a couple months old. That advise included a writeup that mentioned an impassable slide. Did you bring a helicopter with you as advised?

The South Cross sits on the junction of the Eurasian and Phillipine plates. You can actually see the plates colliding and lifted above the ground at one point. It’s a massively active and fragile landscape, as is much of Taiwan. The land never fully recovered from the 921 Earthquake and then was hit with several metres of rain in a two day period during Typhoon Morakot.

The is not Colorado. In addition to the challenges of any high mountain region you have some unique dangers such as a land still recovering from a massive earthquake and flood, naturally very weak rock, and a general topography that is marked by V-shaped valleys, and thin ridgelines. Oh, and this is the landslide capital of the world.

[quote]For landslide scientists Taiwan has an almost mythical status, effectively being the nearest thing to a landslide laboratory…the combination of high rates of tectonic uplift, weak rocks, steep slopes, frequent earthquakes and extreme rainfall events renders the landscape highly susceptible to landslides and debris flows. Indeed, Taiwan has almost every type of landslide, although as an aside the number of known ancient rock avalanches remains surprisingly low given the prevailing conditions.

Of course the reason why Taiwan is of interest to landslide scientists is also the reason why it can be a challenging place in which to live. When the World Bank reported in 2005 on its “Disaster Hotspots” study it noted that "Taiwan may be the place on Earth most vulnerable to natural hazards, with 73 percent of its land and population exposed to three or more hazards.[/quote]

As for the trails they are very likely impassable in places because of slides, washouts, destroyed bridges, etc. If you don’t understand why that is likely then you don’t understand Taiwan’s mountains and likely shouldn’t be attempting advanced challenges in them, especially alone.

Like Alishan NSA further North, It’s amazing how dead Maolin has become since Morakot. We tried to go camping in Pingdong last three-day weekend and every campground we had jotted down from the Camping in Taiwan blog was either closed indefinitely or no longer in existence.

We ended up not camping at all and staying at a Dominican monastery down in the plains (Wanjin Basilica, nice place) instead.

Does anybody know of any good campsites in Northern Pingdong or Kaohsiung counties that are still open?

And would it still be worth my while to do the south cross in two separate trips (Taoyuan Xiang to Yakou and then Taidong to Yakou?)

I think Maolin died before that: I used to camp there lots about ten years back, then one year a typhoon wiped out all the suspension bridges. Last time I was there was probably five years ago, and I couldn’t get to any of the old haunts.

Maolin is slowly getting back on its feet. De En Gorge Guesthouse still has a great campsite on a bluff. Was just there in December.

As for doing the south cross, no not worth doing to Yakou from the west side (and you may not be able to get across anyway) and worth doing from the east as far as Siangyang Forest Recreation Area though check road conditions before heading up.

On Google Maps, of uncertain age, but since Marakot, the SCIH appears to be passable, even through Yakou… at least the GoogleCar got through, and passed some scooters.
goo.gl/maps/B3FsN
And you gotta love the STREET LEVEL view of the SCIH.

Those must be from before Morakot then. It has been closed since. The Google Car did not get through.

I tried to drive up to Meishan last weekend since most have said that the road is passable until then. I’m sure the road is passable but it’s really rough. Basically it’s just an improvised road in the river bed. I drove 3-4 kms on it before turning around since I only have a car that I take a lot of places that I shouldn’t. I’m not sure what challenges exist after Meishan but there could be 10-15 kms of road without a good place to rebuild it. The road previously was located about halfway up the valley but it doesn’t look stable enough to consider putting a new (ridiculously expensive) road. They might have to build a bridge that whole distance. Quite impractical imo. It’s a little disappointing that it isn’t easy to access anymore but that also keeps away the tour buses.


South Cross Island Highway, Taiwan by abacus07, on Flickr
The old road is visible on the right with the improvised road coming in from the left.

We’re looking to do a road trip through the mountains from Tainan to Taidong. Not all in one day, of course, so what is a good place to overnight? Are there any worthwhile places to linger along the way (perhaps Maolin)?

It looks like one night/two days is enough, though we have at most two nights/three days for this trip.