The Canadian was cold on Snow Mountain, Taiwan

It was 6:15 AM and our group was vying for the leading spot on the trail to set a quicker pace.  A slow and quiet race was taking place, to reach the top of Snow Mountain before the sun threw itself from the clouds. Dawn did its thing, illuminating the range that curved around the valley we had climbed through, but the biggie biggie, bold views were kept hidden away by the ridgeline, unviewable until the summit.

Single file hikers walking up to the summit of Snow Mountain at dawn in December with snow on the ground

With every 100 metre distance marked with a wooden signpost, you are very aware of how fast (or painfully slow) you’re covering the last stretch before the top.

It was a race against the clock, but also a silent competition between hiking groups. We were stuck on the narrow, icy path behind a large troupe that had set off from the 369 Hut at around 1:30, well before our 3 AM departure. Many of us were caught up in sunrise fervor, wanting to make it, or not make it, by a pace that each of us set for ourselves. Showtime was to be at 6:30, maybe 6:40 AM.

An opening. The trail made a short fork around a huddle of petrified bushes and I hustled, a term used here with a healthy dose of creative licence. At over 3800 metres, the only thing I would have exceeded an enthusiastic trudge for would have been a latte. I had focused on finding a slow, consistent pace over the weekend and I figured that was the key to success up here. I struggled to keep close to Stu, one of our guides, and Jody, a Colorado mountain girl. Minutes later, the world was all wind, fog, and light.

Tough life being a bush up here in the winter...

Tough life being a bush up here in the winter…

By reliving the experience by writing this (bonus of having a blog, or a journal, or both), I realize however that my mind can’t rustle up the actual ‘there it is!’ moment of sunrise. Does it matter? Moreso I remember the light on our faces as we cozied up to each other for photos around the summit plaque. The wind whipping up the clouds around us, churning, bright from the early morning sun. Just before starting down the mountain, watching the silhouettes of hikers making it one by one to the top. And, having really cold hands, but feeling awesome. Here are a few of my most cherished snaps.

We're missing a few good souls in this photo, but stoke level is high!

We’re missing a few good souls in this photo, but stoke level is high! You know what else? Fine representatives from Germany, Phillipines, America, Canada AND France are all featured here.

The last meter marker, at 10.9 km from where we parked the vans two days prior. Oh, also, a mountain range.

The last meter marker, at 10.9 km from where we parked the vans two days prior. Oh, also, a mountain range.

Everything was frozen.

Everything was frozen. That weird, dense cloud ocean was a persistent part of the wonderful weekend scenery, well before the summit.

Yes, this, certainly would have been an after-sunrise photo. No, I did not read the placard. It was probably frozen too.

Yes, this, certainly would have been an after-sunrise photo. No, I did not read the placard. It was probably frozen too.

Once I decided to visit Taiwan and you know, started actually learning something about it other than that people moved there to teach English, the mountains intrigued me. Taiwan has a lot of cool geology for a small island whose outline resembles a yam. Earthquakes. Hotsprings. Mud geysers. Volcanoes. And, big mountains (five ranges!). In a sentence, you can thank an ongoing and dynamic, complex and converging boundary partytime, lasting all night, every night and involving plates with exotic names including ‘Sunda,’ ‘Phillipine,’ ‘Okinawa,’ and ‘Yangtze.’ Consequently, despite erosion, much of Taiwan is thrust up a bit higher each year. Frisky!

Of all the geofantasies to choose from, hiking to the top of a big mountain ranked the highest. An adventure that involved overnighting in mountain huts would facilitate a fun compare and contrast session to my experiences sleeping in four walls in the backcountry of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. A weekend out of the city, plunked in the middle of my five weeks in Taiwan, would be a nice break from dodging traffic. Plus, it would be remiss of me to not give some credit to the ‘peak bagging’, ego-stroking appeal of the whole thing: Taiwan is home to many peaks above 3000m, a hundred of which comprise a glory list for box checkers (oh boy, does this make me an experience box checker?): The ‘Bai Yue‘.

The Canadian ninja. Outfit not suitable for crossing dark streets at night, but for this hiking weekend I was happy with what I packed. Details later in the post!

The winter ninja with her first of the beautiful Bai Yue. Each of the Bai Yue clock in at over 3000m elevation. Jade Mountain (Yushan) is the highest, at 3952m. Snow Mountain is the second. Braggity brag brag. I like to think that the whole experience, and the people I shared it with, were the best part, not touching the summit stone, although it was pretty.

And, bam, the three-day, two-night hike up Snow Mountain was the only thing besides my first night’s stay that I booked before arriving in Taiwan. The first night’s stay largely was for my parent’s peace of mind (Hi Mom), but the prebooking of the hiking trip was because of required permits, and because I went with a group. Initially I fantasized about adding another layer of challenge to the experience, and navigating the application process – and the hike itself – solo, using Google translate, blog posts and patience…

Thankfully, more rational thoughts prevailed and, as an early Christmas present to myself, I turned over about $350 CAD and with it the responsibilities of permits, transport, meals, gear rental, logistics and funtimes to Taiwan Adventures, a Taipei-based outdoor guide group. They were rad in all respects, I highly recommend them. All I had to do was pack warm clothes and a good attitude. Oh, and hike up the mountain.

Stu and Phil Dawson of Taiwan Adventures led this group of hooligans up Snow Mountain. It was great meeting people visiting or living in Taiwan, from all over the world.

Stu (glasses) and Phil (bandana) Dawson of Taiwan Adventures led this group of hooligans up Snow Mountain. It was great meeting people visiting or living in Taiwan, from all over the world.

So, how did it all go down? Join me (deep, engaging voice) in the next post for a few reflections on my highlights and lowlights from a winter backcountry weekend in Taiwan. Thanks for reading!

 

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