Hiking Xueshan in Taiwan : How to DIY a trip to the summit
Taiwan: 雪山 – Xueshan – Snow Mountain
Taiwan is amazing because it has the largest number on top of a high density of high mountains in the world. There are a total of 286 mountain summits over 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) above sea level on the island and many of them are not very technical or extremely difficult trails. Of course there are challenging ones, but the tallest 2 are actually pretty standard hikes, one of which is Xueshan.
Xueshan which means snow mountain in Mandarin, a mountain that is part of the She-pa National Park. Despite its name, Xueshan doesn’t have snow, or at least not much, even when it is winter. It is the second highest mountain in Taiwan at 3,886 m (12,749 ft) above sea level, and the lesser known brother of popular kid in the class Yushan(Jade Mountain) which is the tallest mountain in Taiwan. The trek itself is quite straight forward, easy to walk, some variety of trails with the forest and slopes, it is a good hike for beginners.
Most of the hiking in Taiwan is very well managed. You can do bookings online concerning the huts, and there are a limited number of people on the mountains due to that. Also, you have to apply for mountain permits most of the time. Unless you are Taiwanese, or are able to read in Mandarin and willing to research using it, trying to DIY the mountains in Taiwan are slightly confusing. I was quite confused the first time, but it is a lot easier once you get the hang of it.
I read from some blogs where they charge like a few hundred USD just to apply for the permits when the application is actually free. That is insane! All you need to do is email, download some forms and submit them. It is quite scary that you can actually charge for such services. Fret not! As I am a nice guy, here is how to DIY Xueshan. I will also include other people’s links as it was part of my research!
As my trip to Xueshan involved other places, I will try to put in my best estimates for the minimum transport expenses if you wish to do it from SG-Taipei. This time, I will combine the expenses with directions together.
Preparation (Things you need to do!):
Check if your accommodation is available.
To check on what accommodation is available in Xueshan, as well as in the whole national park, view it here.
Look for and click on Qika Hut(Chika Hut) and Sanliujiu Hut(369 Hut). Those are the 2 accommodations needed for the dates.
For Xueshan, my advice is that you only need to look at 369 Hut. The ideal itinerary a 2 day 1 night itinerary. It is a 1 day ascend to 369 Hut, stay for one night, climb the summit, and come back down by 12pm to take the transport out of Wuling Farm.
Alternatively, you can ascend to 369 Hut, climb the summit the next day, take your time and stay at Chika Hut on your descend, before getting out of Wuling Farm the next day. This will take 3 days 2 nights.
If there are remaining beds available for the dates, fill up those dates for the Park Entry Permit. If you are unsure which itinerary, then fill up more beds for the Park Entry Permit. You can book beds and don’t use them (slightly mean though), but effectively guaranteeing your itinerary.
Park Entry Permit
This is a must and the most important one! If you don’t have this you will not be able to enter. All climbers are required to apply for a park entry permit. This can be done 7-30 days in advance. You need this when you apply for the police mountain entry permit. No matter what, just make sure you get this! Visit this website and download the forms. Email the completed forms at [email protected] and [email protected]. Don’t worry, they reply in English and are extremely helpful for the applications of permits as well as any other questions you have. Just make sure to email them, and download the approved permit they sent back! (It is the one with the approved seal). We forgot to print it out, and only printed out our application. We were fortunately able to retrieve it when we were there at the police station in Wuling Farm using their computers to access our emails.
So, just remember to do this, send them the emails, and print them out!
Bonus: For you lazy people out there who are wondering how to fill up the itinerary for the Park Entry permit, you can copy and paste this below onto the word document and edit it from there. Below is for 3 days 2 nights if you stay 2 nights at 369 Hut.
Daily Schedule: (3 days 2 nights)20th May (Edit this)Enter Wuling Recreation Area > Trailhead of XueMountain (60min) >Qika HutMay 20th: Qika Hut (250min) > East Peak of XueMountain (50min) >Sanliujiu Hut (369 Hut)May 21th: Sanliujiu (369 Hut) (20min) > Black forest(120min) > Bottom of Syueshan Glacial Cirques(40min) > Main Peak of Xue Mountain (140min) >Back to Sanliujiu Hut (369 Hut)May 22nd: Sanliujiu Hut (369 Hut) (40min) > East Peakof Xue Mountain (155min) > Qika Hut (50min) >Trailhead of Xue Mountain > Wuling Recreation AreaCleaning Environment Methods:1. We will pack the trash and carry it with usthroughout our journey2. Assist cleaning the trash along the way.Emergency Response Measures:If any emergency incidents happens, contact the related unit to assist the rescue
Police mountain entry permit
This can be done at the police station in Wuling Farm on the spot, or previously via email. To download the form, it is the same website as the Park Entry Permit.
You need these permits to access Xueshan from the entrance unless you just bash through which might be possible, but why would you want to do it? Therefore, just make sure you have all the documents submitted to them, and received their acknowledgement, print them all out and you’re ready to go!
After that, all you need to do it print out 3 copies of each permit and present them to the check point at the start of the trail and the police station in Wuling.
The base point to climb Xueshan is Wuling Farm(武陵农场). There is a direct bus to Wuling Farm from Yilan.
The best way from Taipei is basically Taipei – Yilan – Wuling Farm. The details below will help you if you are travelling from Singapore.
SG – Taipei
Return flight to Taipei from Singapore: ~300 SGD
Taking a flight from most places to Taiwan, you will most likely land at Taoyuan airport because it is the main airport for international flights, with some exceptions.
Taipei to Yilan
Taoyuan airport to Taipei Main Station by Bus : 135 TWD
Taoyuan airport is away from the city so you will have to make your way to Taipei. There are several ways to make your way to Taipei main city in order to move out from there. The cheapest way is the Kuo-Kuang bus ( with the exception of walking cause walking/cyling is always cheaper but it ain’t practical right?). For some links, please visit this website on a guide to getting around Taipei, or this trip advisor post. The trip takes around 45 minutes and is extremely comfortable in an air-con bus.
On the other hand, for those interested in the trip to the airport, please view this extremely detailed post.
From Taipei, you can get to Yilan both by bus and train, both modes of transport requires similar amount of time as well as cost. Take whichever is more convenient. I recommend a stop over at Luodong ( for some great food, walking around the parks) on the way to Yilan. To Luodong, the bus takes around 2-3 hours. To Yilan from Luodong, takes only 15 minutes.
Bus to Luodong : 120 TWD
Train from Luodong to Yilan : 20 TWD
Yilan – Wuling Farm
To from Yilan to Wuling Farm, simply follow the instructions taken from this website. If you are lazy to decipher it, read on.
Bus from Yilan to Wuling Farm :
1.Take Kuo-Kuang Bus from Yilan: Kuo-Kuang Bus at Yilan railway station. The line is from Yilan to Lishan bus, get off at Wuling Farm.
Departure: Yilan 07:30 -> Wuling Farm 10:15. Yilan 12:40→Wuling Farm15:25
Return: Wuling Farm 09:10, 14:10→Yilan
Return: Wuling Farm 13:40→Luodong
Ride time: About 2 hours and 45 minutes trip.
Fare: NT$285 (fares are subject to change which based on Kuo-Kuang Bus).
Kuo-Kuang Bus Tel: +886-39-384171
The only issue with the directions is that the bus stop at Yilan can actually be taken from the bus station itself not outside. Just go in and ask for bus 1751 to Wuling. The counter lady is usually very helpful and sweet. In bold, is my recommended timing to take to Wuling Farm to start the first day hike.
Do keep in my mind that there are only 3 buses out of Wuling Farm! Those are the timings you have to hit when you get out of Xueshan. The ride time is also pretty accurate, but it is dependent on the skill of the driver, his mood (whether he wants to drive fast), number of stops he makes (to pee, drop off parcels or newspapers etc). Your trip can take 2 hours, or 3 hours, so I guess in between is quite accurate.
At Wuling there’s a shuttle bus you can take to the trailhead. From the bus stop where you land, you just need to keep walking on, past the bridge to the Wuling Visitor Centre if they don’t stop you at it. You can refer to this map, or this link here which is a bigger and more elaborate picture.
Once there, there is a shop which you can stock up on last minute essentials. The dumplings/tea leaf eggs (茶叶蛋) are pretty good and cheap! After that, you have to make your way to the Police station to settle the documents which is en route to the entrance of the trek. The entrance of the trek is actually a 4km walk up the road, hitch-hike if you can, if not it is a slow ardous walk up the winding road which can be slightly dangerous if there are speeding cars. Once you reach the entrance, you may show your documents and start the trek!
There are two cabins on the trail. Both cabins are extremely basic, with sturdy wooden dorm bedframes. Please make sure to bring your own sleeping bags (if not you end up like us).
The first, Qika Cabin, is at the 2.0km mark. It is just maybe 1-2h depending on your speed. The Qika Hut is more likely to have less people, they have a toilet and taps with ice cold water. There is a kitchen area, simply a room with tables and chairs which you can cook if you have brought your cooking gear.
The second, 369 Cabin, is at the 6.9km mark. Before you reach it, you have to get past the crying slope, which is a hyperbole for a rugged uphill, still an interesting name! I guess for lesser mortals they would have cried, I kid, but like most mountains it is just a slow ardous uphill slope but it provides a beautiful view before and after.
The hike itself is a pretty simple route. At the 369 Cabin, it is usually more fun and lively there. There are usually some geologists stationed there, as well as a hive of activity in the kitchen with the different guides cooking and chatting in there. The kitchen and toilets are of course more utilized and more furbished.
From then on, it is just a slight upslope before you enter the forest, which is a 2-3 hour walk through the forest. Once out of the forest, it is simply the summit push, which is a zigzag up to the peak at at the 10.9km. The markers (and makers) will guide the way!
It is that simple! The way back is the same. So read on if you want to read about my trek as well as see some pictures!
Here are the other blogs you can visit for more information :
Chapter 1 : The Naysayers
“I advise you not to go up”
“You should head back and postpone your climb”
“It is too dangerous because of the storm this week, the path will be very slippery and dangerous. You should not go”.
“Please reconsider, I think it’s not a good time to go”
“You must be crazy to want to hike in this weather!”
“Are you sure you wish to continue? It is the monsoon season and there is a huge storm right now. It will be raining heavily for the whole of this week. It’s all over the news!
The lady shopkeeper; the nice family man who lent us black trash-bags to protect our bags from the rain; the policeman handling our registration; the awesome dudes (forever grateful!) who picked us up in the heavy rain and fetched us all the way to the start of the trail point.
Everyone was dissuading us from going up.
The policeman looked at us with such a look of reproach and concern, prodding us away from our goal with questions before processing our permit. I felt slightly guilty, questioning myself “Should we really be doing this?” After-all, this was technically Manquan’s first climb and my first overnight climb without a guide.
I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Let me rewind back to the start of the trip.
The first drops of rain never cease to amaze me, especially when seeing it from the confines of a bus. Subsequent pitter-patter only annoy me. That’s rain for you, a love-hate relationship. From the moment we go off the bus and started walking for a few steps, it became an emergency scramble to get our rain covers out.
Welcome to Xueshan.
It was pouring, a never-ending torrent of rain. We had chosen the monsoon season because with luck, it would be the best time to climb. If you’re lucky, there will be no rain and the weather would be cool and clear to give us the fantastic scenery. Yet, we jumped right in the middle of a storm.
“Let’s go when it gets lighter”. We tell ourselves that. For a moment, it seemed as if the providence had heard us, before gleefully mocking us with an even heavier torrent.
We got down to preparing our survival supplies, stocking our stomach with steaming Chinese tea leaf eggs and dumplings from the shop, buying a container of mixed nuts to complement the dry food of breakfast bars, protein bars and random nuts we brought from Singapore for the next few days.
What a joyous feast we have!
I expected there to be people waiting to go up the mountain, but everyone else was there to relax at the resort.
After waiting for an hour or so, we steeled ourselves to familiarize ourselves with wet shoes and socks.
Omens ah omens! Before this trip even started, Jingzhou who was supposed to join us, got dengue so he could not make it. On top of that, our first stop was at the police station to register but we brought the wrong registration documents. Luckily for us, we were able to connect to our emails to obtain the documents.
The policeman eyed us, “I think you all shouldn’t go up. Are you sure you still want to continue?”
And that was how it began.
Chapter 2: The Reality
The rain was music, drumbeats rolling out the welcome into the mountain. A 4km hike uphill on the road before the starting point. We marched with the rhythm of the rain forming our own melody of splashes. We stuck out our thumb just for luck to try to hitch-hike because as our motto went, “Why not?”
The next thing I knew, we were cosily squeezed into a car with a group of geo-scientists who happened to be driving up. Looking out of the window as the car slowly twirled up the mountain, the 4km road looked way, way longer than expected. Thank god, no thank this group of people who happened to drive by.
A good and promising start!
We dropped off right at the entrance, showed our pass to the station officer who surprisingly offered no disparaging or negative comments this time. Without a blink of an eye or any show of emotions, he simply, stoically processed the pass as if he couldn’t wait to get rid of us. He, however, did help us take this very starting picture when we were still brimming with enthusiasm.
We sprung off, step by step we said.
Step by step, the lactic acid started building up but I just ignored it because MQ kept on going too. There was no way I was going to falter behind him and be the one to say that I needed a break!
We took big strides upwards, as relentless and wordlessly as the rain that pelted down on us. Soon, the monotonous vision of the trees broke.
First a bench, then a table, a wooden hut rose into our vision.
A random wooden building in the middle of nowhere and finally some shelter from the rain. Chika Hut! A 2-hour hike became a 45-minute hike up.
Opening the doors was like opening the huge gates to an abandoned castle. The smell of damp wood and isolation assailed us. There was nobody around, only the echoes of our soggy shoes. A damp sense of freedom.
Stripping our soaked clothes, we hung them all over the dorm beds and went to explore the area.
It was cold, really cold.
A couple came by and stopped outside for a rest, before proceeding. They were going ahead, like the rest of the world and we were stuck in this cabin. Having said that, it was another 5-hour journey to the next campsite.
Would they make it?
Do people make it?
What happens to all these people who hike up the mountain but we never see them? Or we’ve seen them on the way up but not on the way down. What happened to these people? Do they all make it? Do they give up? Did they get injured? Did they feel the same as I did?
There were no answers. Not in this cabin that would have been a perfect scene in a horror movie.
“Shit, did you bring a sleeping bag?”
“Neither did I”
Somehow, we were pretty nonplussed about it. Perhaps we did not want to show our fear, perhaps we didn’t even know what to fear. I was quite disappointed with myself, which idiots do not bring sleeping bags on a hike that lasts overnight? How could I be so careless? Did I expect there to be sleeping bags? No.
But I didn’t expect it to be so cold, for sure. I thought our clothes would suffice, like sleeping in the army. I mean, how cold could it be?
It was freezing cold, that we were shivering while talking. The bones chattered in sync with our words. We did not even want to wash our hands because the water was too cold. How we had wished for some fire or some heat.
Will we last the night?
There were no answers, except this big black plastic bag lying inconspicuously against the wall in the corner in between the two rooms. My instincts told me to check it and guess what? It was a potluck stored for the ages, hope for the weary and a lifeline for us, bags upon bags of sleeping bags! Piles of sleeping bags.
What was it doing here? Where did it drop from? Were these discarded? Or left there for people like us who stupidly entered the mountains without one? Either way, we were taking this divine providence.
We were slightly skeptical about opening the sleeping bags, what if cockroaches leapt out? How many people have used them? It was too damn cold. We took a deep breath and opened it up, and slipped into it. In fact, it was so bone-chillingly cold, that we took another sleeping bag and layered it and we were still shivering within the 2 sleeping bags. At this point, the song “ I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my bones” started humming in my head.
3pm, and nothing to do. I took out my journal and slowly munched on the nuts. 4pm I am done with my journal and we have nothing to do, and I munch on the nuts again.
This is an existential crisis when you are alone in the woods with nothing to do. We just sit there, take a nap, wake up, eat some nuts. Oh, it is still in the afternoon, how are we going to pass the time? We had no idea.
Some people come in and we chat with them for a while. After that a group of Taiwanese students or boys who seem to belong to the military in training or a scouts group enter. They seem enthusiastic about their camping, cooking and what not and just ignored us. Sitting up staring at them, as soon as it got dark, we just silently stayed in our beds, too cold and lazy to move. As shadows shifted around us, encroaching into our personal space, we just wrap our sleeping bags over and sleep.
It was pitch black, as if a black hole has absorbed all light. Stretching out my hands, I could not even make the outline of my fingers. I look to the left and right and I wonder if I am stuck in another time space warp, or is this what death feels like?
I close my eyes not knowing if I will wake up.
My alarm rings and it is still pitch black.
Despite sleeping non-stop, somehow sleeping more seems to make your more tired. The intention was to start early but we laze around until there is some light. We start off the next day knowing that the previous day was behind us. Maybe today would be a good day.
We step out and the light drizzle of rain awaits us. It did not rain much, or humans are just such amazing creatures and you simply get used to it. The only respite we got was at the East Peak of Xueshan. The clouds depart to give us a glimpse of the famed “crying slope”. The only thing crying was the heavens, looking at the amount of rain it dumped on us the past 2 days.
It was just another slope, we blazed past it not even realizing we had cleared it. As our steps aligned with the raindrops, I wondered if we took the same amount of steps as there were raindrops.
Voices, people speaking, smoke billowing out from the forest. Lo and Behold we reached 369 cabin. Suddenly, it felt like we were in civilization. There were amazingly clean toilets. I felt lighter, ferried by the feeling of relief.
It was 5 star hotel toilets for us.
9am – We completed the 5 hour route in just 3 hours.
We waved Hello happily at the first guy who saw us. Apparently there was another group of people who just left. Go to the summit he says, there is still time.
I was utterly exhausted, fatigue was there in my every bone but adrenaline was oiling it. Once I sat down, I couldn’t move. We spread our items around and just, breathed. It was cold, shivering cold.
Should we not go up? There was not an option. We looked at each other, why not?
5 more minutes, that’s what we told ourselves.
5 minutes was up, my whole body groaned.
We packed our wet stuff, re-wore our wet clothes, and set off once again.
Another 3 hours, just like the first 3 hours we took to get here, it would be easy. If we completed a 5 hour route in 3 hours, we can do this 3 hour route in maybe 2 hours, or 1 and the half if we are good.
It was a comparatively clear sky, compared to what we had previously. It seemed like a fantastic morning. We can finally see the light, the scenery around us. There were spring in our steps. Tall wild grey trees stood solemnly in salute, welcoming us, beckoning us. How long has history stood by to wait for this moment?
It was a really refreshing sight to walk for once, without having to bend your head down, liquid beads sliding down your vision. These ageless trees with greywood bark, like grizzly old men peering down on us, the path for the new generation. Rock after rock, tree after tree. We turned the path and kept walking without stopping.
We were still not in the clearing yet.
We hear the sound of the distant rumbling, its back again! The sky was just a blank canvas of white, of fog mixed up with clouds. Finally, a small opening, a trail through a narrow path, like a tunnel of leaves and we step out.
It looked like one of those backdrops in a game, a castle at the top of a desolate sky with lightning flashes. Except there was no castle, only an invisible top, an invisible summit, an invisible goal we had to reach.
BAM! A screaming white flash of lightning, searing our vision and through the sky, so white that it seemed reddish white, like a sharp slice through the ghostly sky. An immediate thunderclap, as though it was right at your ear. We immediately drop to the ground, a futile action borne out of reflexes because even though if we were really hit but lightning, we wouldn’t have been able to react anyway.
The lightning struck very close, extremely close by. We were clearly rattled by it. We were out of the clearing, but beyond us was just an open space up, so close yet so far. All we needed to do was to walk upwards, the summit was just there. Would we be so lucky to get struck by lightning?
We put up our hoods, the rain was starting to fall yet again. It was the last test, like a last raid boss. We grit our teeths, preparing for the final push. Our minds on the knife’s edge, ever ready for this moment. In the distance we see shapes, lone figures coming down in a line, of various colours. They were the Taiwanese students wearing the ponchos. Like a small trail of ants, they moved silently, minute small figures moving through.
Finally some human beings, finally someone who could relate to the pain we were going through. It was a common identity we shared, a common experience. There was an unspoken connection. I was exhausted, but managed to put up a wave for the teacher, or who I thought looked like the teacher. Still, I thought they were insane. They looked like 17-18 year old kids, and were they not closer to the lightning than us?
Somehow, none of them seemed to be panicking. They just put their head down and kept on walking, and walking, without a single word passed amongst them. I can imagine if I was that young I would be trembling with fear, because right now, even at 26 years old, I was quaking inside.
I was finally happy to be able to speak to another group. It was a lonely hike.
“Did you guys just come down from the summit?”
“Yeah we just came down. Be careful”
“Did you feel the lightning just now”
“Yes, it just struck the valley just beside us”
Oh, that was all I could think of. Oh. They reached the summit, the lightning struck really close to them. Oh well, its safe then. Let us keep going.
“Are you still going? It is quite dangerous, you should consider”
“We’ll see how, we’ll try for awhile first.”
“Okay, good luck”.
As we passed by this first group, there was another group behind them. In fact, it was like split into 3 groups. I was wondering what the last group must be thinking with that lightning.
The same sequence of conversations passed by 3 times. Deja vu X 3.
Once we reached the last group, the same conversation went through. But this time, the teacher in charge looked at us, and said ” I think you should really reconsider. Good luck”.
We looked up into the horizon and saw nothing, but fog and the screen of rain, like a barrier stopping us from the ultimate goal. The clouds looked hungry, as if they were about to growl with thunder anytime and spew lightning. Was there anything else but hope to hang on to?
We said our goodbyes, and looked at each other silently. There was nothing we said. We walked on a few steps, suddenly everything got heavy. It felt like a real lonely walk up. My body resisted, and we were both eerily quiet.
After a few steps, I really felt like turning back. I was not sure what Manquan was feeling at that point in time, but I started feeling hesitant. It was silence all around us, only the beating of my heart, my ragged breath and the screaming winds asking me to turn back.
There was a taciturn agreement between us on reaching the summit, an unspoken code. I looked at him, and he was still silently going.
Our cavalier attitude was washed away, we were just clinging on to any strand of belief left.
Trying to convince myself, I mumbled.
“We should turn back, at the next sound of thunder”
Every few steps, I was thinking, is this the right decision? Let there be a sign. I have put it out, if there was any thunder we would turn back.
Turn back? Turn back when we were so close to the summit? We could see the markings on the ground. We were a few hundred metres before the summit. It was the 9k mark. 800 more metres.
Yet in my heart, I feared, and it was only right that we turned back. Since this was Manquan’s first hike, what right do I have to make him risk it for this summit where we won’t see anything?
As if the heavens’ answered my call, a slow rumbling in the distance. There was no sharp lightning before it, which is usually used as a gauge for how close the lightning is. However, it didn’t matter, our spirits and hearts were crushed already, but the weight of the rain and decisions.
I turned around.
“Let’s stop, it is too dangerous. No point”
“Yeah, don’t wanna die up there. Won’t see shit anyway.”
With that, we took some selfies. I felt relieved actually, and then anger. Soaked, drenched without respite, having trudged up the mountain for so many hours and yet there was nothing for us. We were just an hour late. If only, if only.
On our way down really fast, we went at neck-break speed, overtaking the Taiwanese people. We raced down, not even speaking to each other or to the kids. We just wanted to get back to the hut and went on and on as if it was our summit push.
Through the very same forest we spent 2 hours going through, we reached back 369 Hut.
Chapter 3 : The Dark World
There was nothing dry about us, and nothing warm. We had almost nothing, so the first thing we did was find the guy who first met us when we went up. After hanging our wet clothes, we were shivering. We got invited to the “Tavern”, the place where everyone was cooking. All the guides were there, and it felt like I was transported back to Ancient China in one of those serial shows where the Chinese Martial Arts artists all met in the tavern, due to the way they spoke, the music being played. We were given some hot drink, I can’t remember if it was potato or some purple grass drink. It was good, and we kept drinking it. The first hot thing of our hike.
They were all amazed that we were hiking without a guide and especially without any cooking equipment. One of the guides, a real funny guy sarcastically commented
“Wow, without any cooking equipment? That’s indeed the real way of hiking. That’s the true way, one that people has not been practicing for some time. The true mountaineering spirit. Would be even more real if you didn’t bring any food up and foraged your own food”
We saw them cook up a storm for the rest of the kids in the mountain. Felt like a Michelin Star meal over there as compared to what we had. Once we have rested enough, we went back to our places because it was too cold. We snuggled up to our sleeping bags, it was raining heavily still. So cold, so freezing cold, and there was nothing to do. It was 2pm. Only 2pm, and we were freezing to our bones.
We ate the protein bars, ate the nuts, slept, woke up, ate more snacks.
It was 3pm. It was a long night waiting for us, and we had a big decision to make.
Should we go down? It was raining, not just raining, it was pouring. The wind was howling, at some moments it stopped, before unleashing with greater ferocity. We were depressed. We failed to make it to the summit, and the process was arduous. Without warm food, our bodies felt tired. I wanted to give up.
Give up, what a foreign word. We had to hike down, in the rain. That was another 4-5 hours? Hike back down with nothing to show, and just get out of the mountain. There was still the idea of the 4km road which we hitchhiked, how were we gonna walk out? That was another 6 hours. Should we just leave now? And go down to Chika Hut to stay the night? How miserable, staying at the same hut the next night, it was might as well that we didn’t hike at all. It was tempting though.
We were closer to the ground., closer to warm weather. Should we go either to Chika Hut, and if there was enough time, out of the mountain?
But that would meant, we went almost to the summit, and climbed Xueshan and down in almost a day if we went out. But it would mean we were almost, we could have done it in a day. The thought of going all the way out was too exhausting, and the thought of staying in Chika Hut was equally demoralizing.
The other choice was to wait one more day. Wait one more day in 369 hut before making down? We might as well just get out of the mountain now.
The last choice, was to re-attempt the summit. One more time.
When would be a good time? Tomorrow morning, as early as possible, before light has graced the earth. We would go through the forest in the dark, to try to reach the summit by 7. It usually rains after 9, so it was a chance we have to risk. I
f we wake up tomorrow, it would be a risk. If it was still raining, we would not try, and if it wasn’t raining, we would go. Tomorrow at 4am we should wake.
Another 12 more hours.
We were defeated, fatigued, exhausted, mentally drained. We have given all, was there anything more to give? As we sat there, we looked around at all the happy faces filled with warmth. People offered us food but we had no mess-tins. I could have had some of the hot chicken soup, but we felt it was part of what we signed up for.
A true hiking experience. I shuddered in the cold once more. Even going to the toilet was not a delightful thought because you had to wear your jacket and make it across the rain. I don’t even want to be wet again.
So we had to just rest until tomorrow morning. We just slept, woke up for nuts, and slept. We didn’t speak much. Before I knew it, my alarm rang.
Chapter 4 : Destiny
I heard the sound of the wind in my dreams, or maybe it wasn’t my dreams I heard them. They cried, they teased, they haunted. The sound of the rain on the metallic roofs, the sound on the rain hitting the windows. I heard them all and they never stopped. When the alarm rang, I wasn’t ready. I never was. I was hoping that it was still raining, that we would not face disappointment again.
We woke up in pitch black darkness, and silently we went about putting on our shoes, our jackets. I walked out to the toilet, I see the flashing sky in the distance, but the thunder never came, or not much. I see the lightning streaks like Zeus atop the world playing with our hearts.
It wasn’t raining.
“I guess, let’s go”.
We set off, it was pitch dark, we entered the same path into the forest. Our lights flashed upon the sign which mentioned, beware of snacks and bears. There was no path except our path which was illuminated. Everything around us was unknown. Every little sound was the sound of a bear encroaching towards us, or the sound of a venomous snake poised to strike. We joked about bears coming and snakes coming, but I was scared. I hate forests.
We made a few wrong turns, but luckily we had been through this forest before, twice. Manquan’s light suddenly stopped working so it got tricky. Soon, light came so we did not have to rely on our torchlights. We were closer and closer to our goal.
The clearing, the same steps we met the group. It wasn’t raining, there was no thunder, only fog.
Soon we were walking up the 9k marker. Every step felt like going through lead. Somehow, we were tired, fatigued. Even Manquan was feeling exhausted. I guess you really can’t keep going on with just nuts and protein. We stopped every few hundred metres, but we were getting there.
Every marker was a validation. There was nothing but fog, and still we trudged on.
I saw it.
We reached the plateau, the rock was there. 10.9km. Xueshan, 3,886m.
“We are here, we did it!” I cried. We screamed, and shouted.
I looked at Manquan. I saw the changes in his face, emotions at the moment when he reached. A rush of emotions welled up in me, built up over the previous day. I teared upon seeing Manquan tear. It showed how much it mattered to both of us.
We made it, we overcame it, the disappointment of yesterday, and the cruel emotions and thoughts we were made to go through were released into the mountain and over in history. The fact we had actually thought of giving up, and going down. The unimaginable thought that yesterday we would never have imagined ourselves being able to do what we set off to do, that we had resigned to the fate that we could not reach it. That we had to go through all the rain and thunder, and the idea that we had failed to reach the top and had nothing to show for. We have given everything, and more.
We hugged. It was just the 2 of us, and lots of fog.
It was destiny.
We quickly snapped some pictures but it soon stared to get cold as the wind chill was no joke. It was quite ridiculous thinking back, that you would only spend 5 minutes at the summit, for something we had spent so long trying to reach. 5 minutes, with no view. It was a ridiculous thing, but something changed.
We felt lighter, springier, we felt on top of the world. We were the best, we could do anything. Now was the time for joking and laughing all the way down with our new found optimism and confidence.
“Who is the man!”
“Fuck those people who didn’t make it”
“We are getting the fuck out of the mountain….we are getting the fuck out of the mountain…” We sang.
A few groups of people passed us by on our way down. They were attempting the summit too. Upon seeing them, we were chirpy and happy as larks. They all knew that it was our second time trying to the summit and offered us congratulations. We had our chest all puffed out, and felt that everyone should revere us. I mean, did these fools going up the mountain do it twice?
We were the only ones, and we made it. I wondered if they would too, but we didn’t care, because we were getting off the mountain.
We reached back 369 Hut through the same bloody forest. 4 times, I could remember it off the back of my head, with my eyes closed maybe. We found out the Taiwanese group just left a few hours back. Maybe, maybe we could reach them and ask for a ride down. Maybe there was a chance. We quickly packed our things, took a quick 5 minutes break.
We were getting the fuck out of the mountain.
We went on and on. Past the resting point of the East-Peak of Xueshan. We went down until we heard noises, they were close by. We did not stop, we just kept going, and before we knew it, we were at Chika Hut, and there were people there.
It was the Taiwanese group again when they saw us, they were amazed. They asked us if we went to the summit again and we said yes. We were way too tired to make any conversations. We checked the room where we kept the stuff and it was still there. They were just taking a break and leaving soon. We did not have much time left.
We were on momentum. After taking a short break, we quickly left too, overtaking some of them. Upon reaching the entrance point, we finally sat down, one of the few moments we had sat down during the day. It had been a non-stop walking journey. Even though we had reached the end, we still had another 4km of road to get back down to the bus-stop. We had hitch-hiked our way up, were we going to walk down instead? Sitting near us were some of the teachers who were waiting patiently for all the Taiwanese kids. At this moment, we had to strike, it was our only chance.
We asked them if they could bring us down the mountain, and they said yes, there was a vehicle.
Yes, plan succeeded, it was all good. The kids came down and they had their ceremony with some rice wine. It was a graduation of sorts for them, and I thought it was pretty amazing they all managed to go up the mountain and down without a single speck of complaint, or so that it seemed. It looked natural for them to be doing this, and a very amazing journey that I wished Singapore had such a culture of doing.
They even toasted to us, because of the number of times we had crossed paths with them. We were too shy and grateful because we were relying on them on the way out.
The best part of the trip was the ride down. They had a truck for all the rubbish, so we hopped on to the small truck. We were lying in weird positions as the back was almost full, I think Manquan was facing outwards towards the road and had to hold on with great strength to prevent himself from flying out.
All the way we were lying down, look at the sky while we were going down a steep descent. It was like one of those rollercoasters where you were facing the reverse direction and dangling legs. It was nice to just lie down and move though.
When we reached down, we had to still walk to the bus stop. We were amazed, we are almost out!
The last stage was getting a bus out of this national park. We had a timing to meet. The bus leaves at 12+. We quickly changed, celebrating while we changed and went to the bus stop to wait. We were very nervous as we waited, as the bus didn’t arrive on time.
Was it not going to come? Did we miss it? Were we at the wrong bus stop? Did we have to stay one more night? We talked to some of the old people who were at the bus stop. Nobody else was waiting for the bus, only us. They were just chilling and preparing to hike, telling us stories of the other routes.
The bus came, we were getting the fuck out of here. Guess what, it was foggy all the way back to Yilan, it was quite scary sitting on the bus. But we survived.
We lived to tell the tale.