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.
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.
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.
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‘.
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.
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!