At 3000m high, Huehuanshan offers some fantastic views and plenty of hiking opportunities. And with the winding roads clinging to the mountain slopes, one of the most scenic drive you can wish for.
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Scooters up (3000m & up!)
Scootering around Hehuanshan area is brilliant. The road is narrow and full of buses and cars stopping for a selfie. Scooter just keeps you moving and getting closer to the scenery. The bending road makes you hum 'Born to be Wild' - till you hit one of the steeper ascents and all of the sudden the power is gone. 125cm scooter, two people and 3000m up - it gets interesting at times. Every now and then we we looked more like a rowing crew on a training machine. To get up it took some coordinated moves like being on a swing: up we go, up we go, up we go....
Moutains and Valleys
Most of the time you feel you are above the clouds - despite the fact that you just got off a scooter. Well, you are above the clouds - so enjoy the view and the ride. It is absolutely exhilarating! Hehuanshan offers some fantastic vistas, many of them straight from the main road. But a short walk from the main road often hides even better views. Well worth to make the effort and explore the many small paths and walks.
The road clings to the mountains, winding its way up and down, one bend after another, once stunning view after another. It is hard not to smile when you ride the road (even though your balls might be frozen on the scooter!).
Into the wild
When on the road, your attention is focused on the next bend, the selfie-obsessed drivers parking in the middle of the way and the driven-by-maniacs packs of VW Calavelle (equivalent of white van drivers in the UK). Taking a break and strolling around the hills scattered around the route can reward you with a more complete picture of the road you just took. And it’s stunning. Truly stunning.
A path less travelled (compared to the road below!)
Of course, hiking up in itself is a fantastic and rewarding feast. Near-solitude - not a common feature in Taiwan. And you will get the views.
Yes, there is only One China. And there is only One Taiwan.
No, not part of China. Or you could claim that it's part of Portugal (they were here first!)
It's like claiming that the US is part of the UK...
Staying at the Ski Lodge and the sunset
After the exhilarating ride up and down the mountains, we settled for a couple of nights at the Ski Lodge, part of the Song Syue Lodge (松雪樓).
It offers some simple hostel-style accommodation for hikers and travellers (fortunately, not many Hello-Kitty seemed to stay there). At 3150m it is the highest hotel in Taiwan and offers some fantastic access to the nearby peaks for sunset and sunrise. Of course, being at this hight also means some seriously unpredictable weather that can change in minutes from a total white-out to blue sky to rain...
This was certainly the case on the day we arrived. The clouds started coming around 2pm and completely shrouded the area in thick, white stuff. We went back to the accommodation as the evening looked gloomy and unpromising at the best. Working away on the laptop, I totally forgot about the rotten weather outside.
Till I looked up as realised the clouds started thinning out a little bit here and there, promising a glimpse of some of the peaks.
After a mad dash back to the Ski Lodge to get the camera and tripod some running up the hill to the location. There was some hope for the evening to clear out and the mountains to show their face. By the time we were half way up the hill, I could catch the first glimpse of Chilai Shan (奇萊山) - an impressive mountain face towering over the area.
A glimpse of Chilai Shan – 奇萊山
And it only got better as the time went on.
The nearby peaks kept peeking out, revealing the grand location of the Lodge. and the majestic mountains. This is probably my favourite photo of the evening - a little patches of mist, the lodge and the towering Chilai Shan – 奇萊山.
The evening has soon provided us with another feast - some beautiful blue and pink hues just above the dancing clouds, providing the perfect backdrop for the peaking peak (is it where the name comes from?) of Chilai Shan (奇萊山). For some reason the scene made me think of cake, one with some nice and soft filling in between light sponge layers... yum...
As quickly as they came, following some dramatic and animated performance, the clouds started swiftly disappearing: just as someone pulled the plug in a bathtub, a small vortex sucked the clouds out, leaving the rest of the night clear and full of stars. Thank you , whoever pulled the plug - and didn't do so too early.
As the evening fall and the the last of the cars from the visitor centre disappeared, the place offered some very welcomed solitude underneath the starry sky.
It was an early start next morning. The plan was simple: get up early, see what the weather is doing and head to one of the peaks for the sunrise. Fortunately, there was quite a bit of choice and none was too far away.
Well before the sunrise it was the sea of stars that guided us up. The sky was clear and the dawn was already crawling in. What a way to start a day!
And the morning did not disappoint either. As the sun made its way up, its rays soon met with the playful clouds dancing in the sky. Diffused light started hitting the mountain ridges an amazing display of light and shadows has commenced.
Holy smoke !
At some point the warming air created some up-draught, making the clouds look more like smoke coming up from two giant chimneys hiding behind the ridge.
Once the sun appeared from behind the mountains, the changes were even faster. Clouds were burning, peaks and ridges all of sudden started putting their colours on. The orange rays broke free from behind one of the peaks, aligning perfectly with the ridge below. Symmetry.
Central Range Point - Mount Chung Yang - 中央尖山
Zhongyangjian Mountain (中央尖山; Central Range Point) is a distinctive peak, looking sharp as a Japanese knife from the distance. When seen from the 合歡山 when the clouds do their display, it seems to be floating on a fluffy bed of candy-floss. The scenery was changing so fast that it was hard to keep pace and focus. Clouds coming and going, colours changing all the time. As the clouds lifted and kept moving around at speed, they produced amazing patterns of trails.
The light was getting harsher and harsher with every minute. The clouds that were playfully floating around have burnt, leaving behind what looked like a lake filled with clouds. Candy floss like lake.
Once the sun came up, it illuminated the curvy ridges and brought up all the tones and till not muted colours. All of sudden you feel like you just want to walk and enjoy the scenery, be part of it. And so we did, knowing that the show was over and it was time to enjoy the outdoors and get to the top of the hill.
How wrong we were! Once we hit the peak, my eyes got fixated. This was one of the images of Taiwan that I had stuck in my head. I must have seen it somewhere in a magazine or online. I did not have the details – but the layered mountains haunted me ever since. I tried to get some of that effect when in Taipei – and to an extent, it worked. But it was not blue enough or ‘layered’ enough. I did not have a clue we were so close to this. My whole attention was focused towards the east and north that morning: capturing the playful clouds and the Central Range Point. What started as a fast walk up, soon became a crawl as I was stopping to get a quick shot of (yet another) display. The sun was already up when I made it to the top, still focused in the east… I only looked south when the sun burnt most of the clouds and the contrast became far too strong for a decent photo (except, of course, of some high-contrast shot). I dragged my feet towards the top just to come across THE VIEW! I was not sure whether to be happy – or annoyed. If I knew, I would have raced to the top much earlier and much faster. After a quick scrambled around to find a decent vantage point, I grabbed a few shots and decided to come back next morning. Or maybe even for the sunset… Neither was kind enough with the weather to warrant another trip though. There would have to be another trip to this amazing place.
The peaks of Hehuanshan(合歡山) are impressive when they stand against the low cloud. Majestic. Powerful. Proud. Here the clouds ‘wedge’ between two ridges, hiding from the burning sun.
Floating above the clouds
Time for breakkie
The hike is easy as many of the walks in Taiwan are a little bit like a highway: well-defined, often paved. Guess it allows you to focus on the views rather than scrambling and looking for a stable footing.
After the super exciting morning it was time to get some breakfast in the lodge. And some ginger tea...
Hehuan North Peak (合歡北峰)
The clear morning soon turned around again and some more clouds came from the west. The plan was to do some hikes and later get set for sunset. After breakfast we set off for the Hehuan North Peak (合歡北峰). At 3422 meters high, it is the highest peak among Hehuanshan. Low cloud soon shrouded the peak again, offering no views. We could only imagine what was behind the white curtain. We were back in the mystery land.