I would have preferred to stay in Alishan, but accommodation is difficult to find and it’s expensive. I therefore stayed in Fenqihu.
My hostel owner said she’d drive me to Shizhao an adjacent town, at 8am to get the bus to Alishan. When we arrived at the bus stop, I could see something wasn’t quite right as she spoke to several people. I thought that the bus might be cancelled. It wasn’t but it was scheduled later than she envisaged. I asked her what time I should take the return bus from Alishan, and she said the last bus to Fenqihu was at 1410. That was far too early: I’d barely have time to explore the area, which is one of the highlights of Taiwan. She then spoke to a shop owner, and he agreed to drive me back to Fenqihu if I took the later 1710 bus to Shizhao.
At Alishan, I decided I had time to ascend the mountain Tashan at 2600m on the tourist map, which was a rough guide of Alishan’s attractions rather than for navigation.
For the hike, I’d read that walking beside the train track would avoid some of the ups and downs of the forest. I questioned this but saw others walking towards me. The track went through the forest too, it just wasn’t as undulating.
The walk, so far, was straightforward. I went through a few dark long tunnels (and used my phone’s torch at one point). I questioned how suitable this path was for the general public as opposed to the seasoned hiker. I continued. Then I came across a break in the train track. The land had fallen away after a landslide. There were metal hooks and ropes to cross the gap! I was beginning to have my doubts about this path.
My Outdooractive app told me I was on the right path to Tashan. A bit later, I asked three women if I was on the right path. One of them categorically said I’d missed the turn. When I showed them the map, she was still insistent and said I should follow them back and they would point out the right path. Then one of her companions noticed that we were standing at what was Tashan station before the earthquake/landslide. So, I continued.
Next, I encountered a steep ascent. By this time, I was very sceptical. But you can be your own worst enemy when you’re on a mission. I don’t remember ever giving up on a hike. So, I continued.
I scrambled up the 150m forest path. Red/white/yellow ribbons on some trees told me I was on a path to somewhere. My app told me I was on the way to Tashan. In theory, when I got to the top of the scramble, I should merge with the tourist-friendly path.
The top came and… I was still in a forest. I walked further and the paths were indistinct, but the ribbons pointed the way. At times, I was on a ridge with falls either side, which were masked by the trees. Most of the time, one side of me was a steep drop. I continued.
I could see from my app that I was getting closer to Tashan — just not very fast. I could see the mist descending and whilst visibility in the forest was fine, I feared rain and loss of visibility. More importantly, I’d not seen anyone since I’d scrambled up the forest. I set myself a time limit: if I weren’t appreciably closer to Tashan by 1.30, I’d turn back.
At 1.30, I’d made negligible progress according to my map. The paths were narrow, windy and at times precarious. I decided to turn back.
As I retraced my steps, I briefly got lost and ended up going in the wrong direction, towards Tashan. I quickly corrected my course and was happy to find the spot I scrambled up! The descent, curiously, was easier than the ascent. Once down, it was a flat walk back to town.
As I walked, I wondered what had gone wrong. Then I came across the path that the women I’d met earlier were probably thinking of. I looked at my hiking app and that path was going to Datashan! Suddenly, everything became clear.
As I was heading to Tashan on my map, I wonder why it said Tashan was about 2400m whereas the tourist map said 2600m. I assumed the tourist map was taking artistic licence. It wasn’t. For some reason, my map had Tashan as an adjacent mountain and the mountain the tourist map called Tashan was called Datashan in my map. I had gone up the wrong mountain! It didn’t help that at one point, I was at 2500m.
In the UK, for the navigation app I use, I have the OS maps. Abroad I use the free OpenStreetMap, which are normally very good. Something had gone wrong in this instance.
As I found in Yangmingshan National Park outside Taipei, paths up mountains are often steps, sometimes wooden, sometimes stone. I appreciate steps open mountains to more people and there are sometimes alternatives for those who prefer rougher terrain. I like ascending but am not a great fan of walking up endless steps to get to the top of a mountain. I prefer more varied terrain. In that respect, today was a success. I was off the beaten path, sometimes scrambling, sometimes facing the elements, and away from lots of people traipsing up steps. And even though I’d not reached my destination, I think I’d have settled for this walk at the beginning of the day.
I returned to Shizhao. As promised, my new friend, the shop owner, was there. He shut the shop and drove me back to Fenqihu where I had the “world famous lunchbox” for dinner.