Yangmingshan National Park

I found it alien that you could take a bus from central Taipei and, an hour later, be surrounded by mountains. Yangmingshan National Park has many trails and hikes for people of all abilities.

Determining the bus to take was confusing since everything I read said get the “red 5 bus” to Yangmingshan bus terminal. But the bus was hard to find. After asking several people, I found the bus stop. The next bus was due in 40 minutes.

The bus journey itself was scenic, especially when it ascended the park. When I got to the final bus stop, I walked up to the Visitor Centre, which is a bit of a trek! Most people took another bus.

At the centre, the guide gave me a map and described the things I could do in the park.

I said I wanted to go up a mountain and he pointed me to the highest peak in the region, the 1100m Mt Qixing. The first 400m of ascending was relatively easy, he said, but the final 200m are steep. I looked at the contour lines and could see the final bit was a straight ascent up a steep mountain. To complicate the hike, he added that rain was forecast for the afternoon and that, after the first part, I should check that I can see the top of the mountain before proceeding. There were alternative routes after the first section to other locations in the National Park, which had some fine sights too. I set off.

There were a lot of rocky steps for the “easy” part. After ascending 400m, I saw several people under a shelter refreshing themselves. There was quite an old person and she nodded to me before beginning her ascent. The weather looked fine. So I decided to continue. I could see that the steps for the final 200m ascent were rougher and bigger. It was going to be a slog.

In the end, the top came sooner than expected. I saw many more people. They’d come from the other direction, which was reachable by a bus and had an easier ascent to the top. Some of them were going to descend the way I came up. I’m glad I came the way I did.

As soon as a I reached the top, the old person I’d seen was making her way back down bare foot! Taiwanese are hard-core hikers. But it’s not an exclusive activity. There are lots of families and children. Hiking is something everyone does and sometimes there are several trails to the same destination, allowing for different abilities.

Whilst the ascent was dense broadleaf forest and had diverse wildlife, the landscape I descended was affected by the northeasterly monsoons and was therefore covered primarily with grasslands.

On the way down, I saw smoke several times. There were posters explaining what was going on. Much of the landscape was formed by post-volcanic features such as fumaroles (openings where gases and vapours escape) and sulphur crystal formations, making this a fine place for observing volcanic landforms. 

As you walk past the fumaroles beside the trail, you can “feel the heat that is welling out of the earth and smell a unique odor” (reminiscent of rotten eggs). The smoke and smells are a sign of the intense post-volcanic activity that is taking place deep underground. The explanation continues:

Post-volcanic activity takes place because the heat that is contained in the magma chamber following a volcanic eruption raises the temperature of underground water, turning it into steam that emerges from the earth’s surface in fumaroles, steam vents, and hot springs. The yellow crystals that you see around many of the steam vents form when the sulfur-containing high-temperature gas from deep in the earth spews from the surface, comes in contact with the air, cools down, and produces spine-shaped crystals. The gas also contains sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxic gases, so don’t watch this post-volcanic activity for too close for too long.

This was the kind of mountain walk I like — a tough ascent and a relatively gentle descent.

My ideal would be a tough ascent and an elevator to the bottom! On this occasion, I didn’t have to descend the same amount as I came up. About halfway down, in Xiaoyoukeng, there was a bus going back to Taipei. (The same bus people hiking in the opposite direction had taken to ease their path to the top.) I joined the queue. The bus took about 45 minutes to get back to Taipei.

I’d only had a couple of bananas and two crackers during the hike. In the station, on returning, I saw a bagel seller. There was an unadorned bagel, with just salt added. It tasted good!

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