Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Yushan (aka Jade Mountain)

Yushan National Park is the largest of Taiwan's parks and contains 30 or so peaks that are over 3000m.  The tallest of these is Yushan, which has a height of 3952m and is the highest peak in northeast Asia.  Derek - a coworker from AST - and I traveled there to get away from the city and possibly summit Yushan.  Grades and the end of the quarter kept us from truly being prepared and we did not have time to apply for the necessary permits.  Would we be able to get in?

frosty Yushan

From Yushan

As we scrambled to get gear, maps and other items for the trip, the persistent question of is there any other way to get to the peak paid off.  Well, yes if you want to walk a longer distance.  What we had plenty of was time so as we left the chaos of Taichung behind and set our sights on the tiny village of Dongpu. This village, at approximately 1000 m, is nestled between peaks and is home to hot springs from the tectonic activity in this area.  Arriving in town, we found a few friendly faces to direct us towards a place to park the car and unloaded our bags.  The plan was to be out for six days.  If we reached the top, great.  If not, OK.  The report from the ranger stations was that winter climbing conditions were in effect.  This meant that to reach the top ice axes and crampons were necessary.  We did not have this equipment with us and agreed that the need would dictate whether or not we summited.

View of Dongpu as we quickly gained elevation

From Yushan

It has been awhile since I've carried a full pack and I felt the weight as we reached the Lolo shelter. Darkness fell while we finished our first camp meal of the trip and we retired to tents for the night. The next morning, we were lucky to begin with blue skies as we continued into the wilderness area.  The scenery was amazing!

Series of Cascades

From Yushan

While beautiful, the terrain was a bit on the sketchy side.  The landscape is rugged and steep, and lots of rain has the tendency to fall in the mountains.  This combination quickly adds up to landslides, which were evident everywhere as the remnants of bridges dotted the trail.  At times, a detour sign would change our course to straight uphill as we had to skirt the landslide.  These detours made us work hard and added serious climbing as we went up and over the washout portion of the trail.  In other instances, the trail would continue through the slide area with minimal footing above a serious penalty.  In many places, the rock was rotten.  Like cardboard left out in the rain for days, the rock -a shale type - was like mush in my hands.  Holding on in an attempt to gain traction was almost pointless.

A section of trail with a bridge holding on...

From Yushan

Our goal for the second day was Patongguan - a meadow between peaks and a crossroads of multiple trails. Arriving in late afternoon, we set up camp in a depressed area that offered some shelter from the chilling wind.    Scattered about were ruins from Japan's occupation of Taiwan.  The little I gathered from signs on the trail indicated that Japan - in an attempt to subdue the aboriginal people - built a series of roads and outposts through the high mountains.  Low rock walls were all that remained.

Enjoying an early dinner, we were treated to a beautiful sunset as the day's clouds disappeared and stars slowly began to appear. Facing south, I marveled at how clear the night was and slowly fixated on a constellation that seemed familiar.  Four stars - the Southern Cross!  Reportedly, Taiwan is one of the most northern places where this constellation is visible and it was shining brightly down upon us.  Turning around, constellation after constellation gleamed in the night sky.  Eventually, the cold air forced us into tents for a night of howling wind that shook my little tent.

From Yushan

Day 3 - grey skies and cold.  The question of the day was whether or not we would be able to reach the summit of Yushan.  Would there be ice?  Would the weather be passable?  How steep would the trail be?  What could we do but get up as early as possible so that we would have enough time.

The scenery continued to impress.  It was like walking through a Chinese landscape painting.  Clouds swept by in all directions - traveling high to low, left to right, low to high... From time to time we caught glimpses of towering peaks high above.

From Yushan

We reached Laonong River Campground and set up tents and grabbed lunch.  Hoping to travel quicker without the heavy packs, we put essentials in one bag and continued climbing.  Breaking above tree line brought several good bits of information.  1- The fog had cleared and the skies were becoming bluer and bluer.  2- The severe winter conditions that we had been threatened with were almost nonexistent.  Patches of snow covered some of the ground on the approach but these were minimal and provided more of an opportunity to huck snowballs.

Reaching the ridge joining the Main and North peaks of Yushan, we headed up the steep scree trail as wind pushed down on us.  At this point, we were still unsure whether we would actually reach the summit. Coming from the north, we could not see the trail to the top.  The face in front of us showed ice on the rock.

From Yushan

At the top of this climb, we joined the trail from Tataka - the "normal" ascent.  It was empty!  No one else was on the mountain. The route to the summit appeared to be clear and a short while later we were on the top of Taiwan.  The view was amazing!

After running around a bit on the ridge, we descended back to camp with decisions to make regarding the remainder of the trip.  The weather the next day dictated our choice - it was cold and the visibility was limited so instead of returning to summit other peaks of Yushan, we headed back towards Patongguan.  From there, we continued south with the hope of better weather the next day to summit Hsiukuluan Mountain.  On the way we were treated to a rare appearance of the sun as we crossed a bridge over a nice series of pools and cascades.  A bit yucky from the days outside, we each grabbed a pool to wash off.  Imagine my surprise as I'm changing and suddenly a group of people come trudging down the trail.  These were the first people we've seen since two at the beginning of the hike.

That night, we camped at Banaiyike Cottage.  Doesn't the word cottage bring out thoughts of a nice quaint building tucked into a meadow?  Not the case.  This ramshackle building was no eye candy, but we managed to find some level ground to pitch our tents.  Sometime in the middle of the night, I registered the faint pitter-patter of rain on the tent.  Ugh.

The rain continued as the day our fifth day breaked and we debated whether or not to begin our return to Dongpu or to day hike towards Hsiukuluan.  Not wanting to return to civilization, we grabbed one bag and headed out.  Reaching Chungyang Cottage (future reference - this would be a great place to visit in the summer.  Beautiful river setting and nice structure), the trail's gradual ascent turned serious and we began climbing.  Clearing tree line, the weather worsened and the lack of cover found us quickly soaked through.  With higher elevation came a strong, cold wind.  Fortunately, we reached Paiyang Cottage just as my core temperature started to decline and we refueled.  Deciding the peak could wait for another trip, we returned to camp with the intent of packing our tents and making our way out.  As we reached camp and considered packing, a surprise arrived.

Seven Taiwanese men came marching around the corner.  One spoke some English and as we offered to share the small area with them, they quickly began working.  Within moments, their lunch was prepared and a raging bonfire was drying everyone out.  What a game changer!  We joined the circle around the fire and slowly began to warm up.  Well, not too slowly as it turned out.  Derek managed to burn a hole through his socks and as I stood by the fire one of the men pointed at my leg.  My rain pants were slowly melting away!

Body fires put out, we decided to stay the night to maintain some sense of warmth and walk out the next day. Questions again began pouring through.  Would the rain make trail conditions worse?  What was the possibility of landslides either sweeping the trail or us down to the river?  Would the rain continue?  This last question kept us up all night as the rain continued without pause.

Hoping that we would have enough time to make it to the car, we woke early the next morning and quickly packed camp.  The task was simple - descend 2000 meters in 20 kilometers.  The rain persisted but the trail conditions did not deteriorate.

We crossed back over bridges

From Yushan

and made our way through former landslide areas.  Six hours later, our knees ached as we reached Dongpu and the car!

Parting shot - Yushan East Peak on a clearer day

From Yushan

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Year in Review

Just a little over a year ago, Krista and I shared a wonderful week.  It was a week to look back upon as one that set that tiny bit of snow rolling down the hill to collect more and more bits until the roller coaster ride was in full swing.  That week, which happened to be Krista's birthday week, had three major events: the American School in Taichung offered us a job which we accepted, we sold Krista's home, and we decided to get married in the upcoming Spring Break 2010.

With all of that excitement, it was time for a celebration so we packed our bags for a winter migration south to the Tulum area of Mexico.  There, we explored beaches, ruins and the jungle.

From Ruins of Tulum

A few short months later, the bags were again packed as we left Portland for Las Vegas.  It was time to get married!  Early in the morning, we dressed and headed out down the strip to take a few photographs.  The street blocks are super-sized!  We were quite a ways down the Strip when we realized that it was past time to get back.  Krista's feet were aching and the taxis would not stop to pick us up.  We finally sprinted to the taxi rank at a casino and made it back to our hotel and car just in time to speed off to the wedding chapel.

From Calendar 2010

We made it!  By this time, Elvis was warmed up and ready to go and walked Krista down the aisle, stopping from time to time to cheese for the camera or to break into spontaneous song.

From Calendar 2010

Walking out as a married couple, we quickly exchanged our shoes for sandals and began the drive towards the Grand Canyon.  Destination? A little bit of paradise deep inside Havasu Canyon, an area managed by the Havasupai tribe.  There was almost no one there as we finished the long but beautiful hike in.

From Calendar 2010

From Calendar 2010

Our trip to the sun was lots of fun but we were soon back in Portland where the rains bring beautiful flowers.  My parents visited from France and we went to the tulip fields south of Portland.

From Calendar 2010
Another day was spent at the Chinese gardens in the middle of Portland.

From Calendar 2010

Finally, the time had come.  The school year was finished, we had moved out of our apartment and were camping at Grammy's, and had said farewell to friends and family.  All of our belongs fit into a cubic meter, a few bags for the airplane and a doggy crate.  It was time to move to Taiwan!

From Calendar 2010

In an attempt to make the travel as painless as possible for Audrey, we opted out of the ridiculous travel plan sent to us by our school and drove to San Francisco.  The drive through the redwoods, coast and wine country was stunning.  Here, we take a final photo as we wave goodbye to the US side of the Pacific.  The next time we would see the Pacific would be at Thanksgiving from the southeastern shores of Taiwan.

From Calendar 2010

After a long trip, a month of quarantine for Audrey and a quick start to the school year, we slowly settled into life in Taiwan.  Each day it feels a bit more like a home.  This park is on the daily schedule and has become Audrey's favorite location as she has become a feature.  Crowds gather to watch her sprint, leap and return her tennis ball for another round of Chuck-It.

From Calendar 2010
This past winter break found us in Thailand as we roamed through impressive temples, trekked the hill country, joined the throngs in Bangkok and spent Christmas Day working at an elephant preserve.

March 24.2011 - One year since Elvis sang for us.  And where are we today?  Um, well we're scattered.  Krista is living in Zhuhai, China as she takes a one month course on teaching English as a foreign language, Audrey is loving life at Honey's Friends (a doggie boarding place) and I'm off to explore the Taiwanese mountains.  It's been a great year! One of the things that is great about our job is the time we get to spend together at work.  It is wonderful to see each other so much during the day so while we are not currently with one another, we've built up some solid bonus time and will all be back under the same roof soon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Paying Bills

The monthly task that lightens the paycheck has a different twist here in Taiwan.  In the States, I eventually migrated to having a magical elf somewhere suck the money from my bank account to the electricity, water, internet etc. utility.  And some of these companies, before repeated requests finally moved the entire system electronically, continued sending me return envelopes for a check in case I wanted to use the post to pay my bill.

Krista and I have a bank account in Taiwan but it does not come with checks - everyone uses cash while few places accept a card.  Utility companies do not seem to provide automatic withdrawal services (if they do English applications don't seem to be around).  So what is a person to do each month when a new bill arrives?

From Random Taichung

Yes! We go to any nearby 7-11. Bills come with a bar code and the helpful person at the register scans in the bill, takes the perforated portion, applies an official looking stamp to our copy and hands us a receipt. We can even make other purchases to supplement the experience.  But, if the bill is not paid on time (like a past water bill), 7-11 cannot help a delinquent.  That time, a special trip was made to the water company office.

It seems as if only 7-11, out of the many chains of convenient stores, is privy to this service.  As such, there are stores everywhere and a person can also buy train tickets, concert tickets, complete bank to bank transfers and walk out with a refreshing Slurpee.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lantern Festival

Imagine looking out of your apartment window to the often dimly lit park area and seeing a towering, 3-story, yellow glowing rabbit.  Fifteen days after the beginning of the Chinese New Year marks the start of the Lantern Festival.  Since this is the Year of the Rabbit, many of the lanterns have captured rabbits in various forms - there is the scary-tall carrot munching rabbit, dancing rabbits, reading rabbits, and many others.

From Random Taichung

The lanterns are constructed using heavy frames and a velour-type fabric covering.  Once a few lanterns arrived, they began to multiply and were joined by many others.  My guess is that the lanterns were once true lanterns, using a flame for light but today an electrical generator keeps these rabbits and friends bright.

From Random Taichung

From Random Taichung

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cingshui Cliffs

From Taroko Gorge

Eastern Taiwan is rugged and the Cingshui Cliffs rise directly out of the ocean. I am the type who eagerly awaits the first sighting of the ocean.  As the breeze brings in the smell of the salt waters, I get anxious.  For two people living on an island, it has been quite some time since we've visited the ocean.  Our trip through the Taroko Gorge dropped us off at the base of the cliffs.  Making our way to the first access point, we grabbed Audrey and were pulled down the steps to the beach.  The Chongde  recreation area was empty of other people as we reached the gravelly / rocky beach.  To the north, the beach stretched for a bit before the steep cliffs made passage impossible.

From Taroko Gorge

But we were not there for fishing.  The ocean was calling and both Audrey and I took our turns jumping in the water.  The shore dropped quickly away and once past the shorebreak line there was definitely no standing up.  The undercurrent from outgoing waves was strong and Audrey found herself in a frantic paddle as the next wave would come crashing on her.

From Taroko Gorge

The water was quite warm and I could have stayed in for a long time.  But, we had a long drive back home so it was time to get out, say goodbye to the Pacific and continue driving around the island.

From Taroko Gorge

Coastline with road tunnel in the distance

From Taroko Gorge

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Today's Parade

Whistles.  Drum beats. Loud crackles, pops, explosions and whistles.  We rushed to the window to see what the noise was all about in the street below.  Coming down the street was a mini-parade.  There were fire works in the middle of the intersection to get things moving...

a standard bearer

chair dancers
 and a big drum pounding out the beats.