Climbing Yushan (Jade Mountain) Taiwan Asia>Taiwan>Yushan

Yushan   

Country   Taiwan
Height   3952 metres (12,966 feet)
Vertical Elevation   ~1400 metres (Dongpu Lodge)
Rank   45/243
Location  

Yushan National Park (central Taiwan)

Nearest town   Alishan or Chiayi
Start/Finish   Dongpu Lodge
Climbing time   11.5 hours return
Distance  

10.9km one-way (+3.5km to trailhead) 25.3km total

Grade   3/5 Climb
See also   NA
Date climbed   12th June 2013

Climbing Yushan (Jade Mountain)

| The Mountain |

At 3,952 metres, Yushan (or translated Jade Mountain) is a pretty serious climb. The return trip is long, steep and quite exposed toward the summit. However, the hardest part of climbing the mountain is the Red Tape and permits required to make the trip. Nevertheless, the hike is pretty spectacular passing through lush forests lower down, scrubby slopes higher up, and scree and rock at the summit. While the return trip can be completed in a day, the logistics of getting to the starting point and an early start really require two or three days set aside to climbing Taiwan's highest mountain, although the actual climb will still be completed in a day.

Yushan is just one of many peaks and hiking trails in the area, with some pretty serious, multi-day hikes available throughout the area.

Terrible weather made my adventure even more challenging, however as always, the exhilaration of climbing onto the summit platform and highest point in all of Taiwan was well worth it and made this hike thouroughly enjoyable.

| When to go |

Generally speaking, summers in Taiwan (June-August) are wet and winters (December - February) are dry. The same goes for Yushan. Average annual rainfall in the Yushan area is about 3,600mm. It rains an average of 140 days per year, mostly between May and August. The monsoon season is between May and June. The typhoon season is between July and September.

From Sepember to April, the Yushan area is covered in frost (although generally only in the low valleys). At elevations above 2,000 metres there is snow. Snow falls on average 24 days per year, mostly in January and February.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. high C° 2.9° 2.7° 5.0° 7.6° 9.8° 11.6° 13.2° 12.7° 12.6° 12.5° 9.8° 5.8°
Avg. low C° -5° -4.1° -2.1° 0.3° 2.5° 3.9° 4.2° 4.1° 3.5° 2.4° 0.2° -2.8°
Rain (mm) 116 149 139 249 454 513 361 499 257 153 79 86
Humidity % 69 78 80 82 85 83 79 84 80 74 68 66

 

 

 

| Access |

The challenges of climbing Yushan are twofold. Firstly getting there, in a country where English is pretty limited. But secondly, and more difficult are the government required permits and insurance required to climb the mountain.

By far the easiest way to overcome these challenges is to join an organised tour, as these companies will organise everything for you (from picking you up, sorting our permits, and overcoming the language barrier). I've listed below the process I went through to complete these tasks, and also listed (as far as possible what is required if you try to do everything yourself. ie no guide).

To climb Yushan you require a climbing permit and official climbing insurance. I think you also require a guide (but I'm not sure on this). The permits are required to control the number of people who want to climb and hike in the area. The issue is that the accommodation at the base of the mountain (Jongpu Lodge) is limited, so there are only so many beds which people can use (32 in total for the entire park). There is a hut (Paiyun Lodge) part way up the mountain, however it seems this has been under construction for the past couple of years.

However, as part of writing this blog and doing some resarch, it looks like this now might be open, which will greatly increase the capacity of accommodating climbers. The permits appear to be awarded based on combination of first come, first serve and ballot (so applying early will help). Weekdays and non-public holidays stand the greatest chance of success. As an example, the night I stayed at Jongpu, the hut was almost completely occupied (32 beds), although only a few hikers were actually going to climb the summit. Most were just hiking in the area, however the permit is still required.

I would not suggest trying to climb without the permit. There is a checkpoint at the base of the moutain, where they ask to view your permit. Then again higher up the mountain at Paiyun Lodge, there is another checkpoint. A guard/ranger manning this checkpoint asked for not only my permit but also my passport to ensure it was me on the permit.

You can read more about the application process here.

You can apply for a permit here.

To apply for a permit, you will need to provide a copy of your passport and evidence you have climbed a 4000 metre peak in the past (ie a digital photo of you on a summit somewhere). I applied about 3 weeks prior to arriving in Taiwan and everything went smoothly, but then I did everything through a guide, so I didn't have to worry about trying to navigate the not very user-friendly website, organising transport, accommodation at the base etc.

The next challenge is finding accommodation at the base of the mountain. Most climbers stay at Dongpu Lodge (which is at the base of the mountain), however I haven't been able to find a way to contact them (no website or phone number). And the person behind the desk certainly didn't speak any English. Again my guide organised this for me. The town of Dongpu is the nearest town (or Alishan), but I suspect both are a little too far to stay the night and then travel to the mountain. ie, finding someone to drive you to trailhead might be difficult. Dongpu Lodge is definitely the way to go. The lodging is pretty basic. Bunk beds, basic toilets, communual cooking area etc. You can buy a few snacks (drinks, chips etc), but not much else.

Finding a Guide

So, how to find a guide. If you Google guiding companies for Yushan, you'll find a few. I tried emailing three of them (especially the ones with flashly, professional looking websites). None of them responded to me (I sent at least two emails to each). Not sure what's going on there. In the end I contacted the Chinese Taipei Alpine Association (http://www.mountaineering.org.tw/mountaineering-e/) via email and found someone who would be my guide. This is another really aweful looking website. Nevertheless, I finally found someone (Mr Lin) who turned out to be really helpful (and wrote quite good English). He sent me through a schedule of fees, which included everything from being picked up at Taipei airport, transport to and from the mountain, accommodation, and all climbing permits. I've listed the fees in the section below. I was required to spend three nights to climb the mountain. In reality the return trip (ie from Taipei) could be completed in two days, however I guess many of the guides (who come from Taipei) want you to spend 3 days to make it worth their while. I was given some reason about buses not wanting to drive back to the train station after 3pm. I'm not sure I believe this, however I guess was happy to spend the extra night in the mountains (at Alishan which is definitely worth checking out).

Below are the travelling directions to get to Yushan (from Taipei):

HSR to Chiayi
HSR is the high-speed train which runs down the West Coast of Taiwan. Trains run everyt 30 minutes or so, are really fast and are really efficient (and spot on time). Chiayi is the train stop you need to get off at.

Transport from Chiayi - Alishan - Tungpu
There used to be train which rain from Chiayi to Alishan, however a landslide has closed the line and it doesn't seem clear when the train will run again. There are buses which run to Alishan. We didn't get the bus, but instead hired a car (van) which took us to Tongpu and back. I keep saying (we). While I climbed Yushan alone, Tiana (my lucky wife) came along with me, however decided to stay in Alishan while I climbed. A car made it much more convenient to move around, dropping her off, picking me up, getting me to the train station without rushing etc. This cost an extra $3000NT in total, but was certainly worthwhile.

I'm therefore unsure the buses etc required to get from Chiayi to Tongpu (Dongpu Lodge). While I was at the lodge a couple of vans turned up, which I'm guessing came from Alishan. Alishan is well serviced with a bunch of hotels, restaurants, and a few shops. The carpark was always full of coaches (I'm sure coming from Chiayi). I guess from Alishan there are mini-buses/vans which will take you to Yushan/Dongpu.

When I climbed, Dongpu lodge was the only option for sleeping the night before. Given the hike starts between 1-3am, you need to be at the base the night before. We did pass a couple of Taiwanese guys camping/sleeping in a rest hut part way up the mountain, however other than them, I didn't see any places to camp (although that's not to say you can't).

A note on spelling:
It seems the translation from Chinese to English has resulted in a few different ways of spelling things. For example, Yushan also includes Yu Shan, Jade Mountain, Mount Jade. Dongpu includes Tongpu, Tungpu.

| Fees |

Below are the fees I paid for climbing Yushan.
All fees are listed in Taiwan dollars ($NT):

Climbing Fees
1. Climbing permit: $1,000
2. Insurance: $150 (I had to pay for the guide also +$150)
3. Guide: $3,000 per day
4. Alishan Park Ticket: $150 each (required if you decide to stay in Alishan)

Transport Fees
1. HSR - Taoyaun (airport station) to Chiayi: $920 (+ $920 guide) Oneway
2. Chiayi-Alishan by bus: $300 return (+$300 guide). We decided to get a van which was an extra $3000 split between the group.
3. Alishan - Tungpu by bus: $100 (+$100 guide). As above, our van took us all the way.

Accommodation Fees
1. Dongpu Lodge: $350 (+$350 for the guide).
2. Alishan. We stayed at the Alishan House (apparently the nicest hotel in Alishan). It was ok. $2,200 per room per night

Food/Water
There seems to be pretty limited food at Dongpu Lodge, although there are basic cooking facilities. It seemed some of the other climbers had food prepared for them, however I don't think was prepared by anyone at the lodge. We instead had pre-purchased all our food and water at 7/11 closer to Alishan. The 7/11 was actually ok, and while my food consisted of instant noodles and chocolate bars, it was sufficient for the few meals required.

| The Climb |

I'm not sure what it is with me, climbing mountains and bad weather. The number of mountain-tops I've stood atop, only be shrouded in clouds and soaked to the bone, standing in the rain. When researching climbing Yushan I marvelled at the spectacular views, sunny conditions and smiling faces of summitteers standing upon the summit. Instead, I stood shivering in 5C, soaked to the bone, with rain and wind making for a thouroughly unenjoyable experience. Well actually, physically I may been a little uncomfortable, but climbing Yushan was a fantastic experience and one that I'm glad I made the effort to undertake.

Just the day before, Tiana (my wife) and I had flown into Taipei from Hong Kong. We were on a four holiday to Taiwan, and two of those days would be devoted to climbing a mountain. Of course, I would be punished later on, with our remaining two days spent walking from one shopping centre to another in Taipei. I'd organised everything for the climb prior to arriving in Taipei, so no sooner had we checked through customers, picked up our bags than we were met by Mr Lin, our guide for the next couple of days.

Mr Lin, I would later learn was 62 years old, had two kids older than me, and was a part-time guide for would be climbers of Yushan. He said he'd climbed to the summit about a dozen times. His English was not so good, making conversation throughout the trip pretty limited, however he was an extremely friendly, honest guy and really made the trip enjoyable for us. From the airport we transferred to a bus which took us to the nearby HSR (or highspeed) railway station. From here we boarded a bullet train which would race us down the coast to Chiayi (about an hour). At Chiayi we had organised a mini-van to take us up the mountain. As Tiana would be spending the night in Alishan, while I climbed, I figured trying to negotiate the regular buses which run up the mountain would end up becoming complicated. Having our own car would be much easier to manage and would allow us a little more freedom in our timings.

2.5 hours later and we pulled up in front of Dongpu Lodge. This would be where I would spend the night, while Tiana would go back (about 45 minutes) to Alishan. Having come from sea-level that morning, to 2,568 metres I now had a slight headache. I always wonder whether my altitude headaches are combination of altitude, tiredness, or dehydration. I'm sure a combination of all three. There were only a couple of other hikers at the lodge, although by the time I eventually went to bed (about 8pm) the single bunkbed room was virtually full. The lodge is simple enough, with bunk beds (all too short for me), a basic toilet and some cooking facilities. I was so tired by the time we arrived, that I slept from about 4.30pm to 7pm. Mr Lin and I shared a basic meal of instant noodles and lychees, purchased from a 7/11 earlier on. I watched with mild envy as the latest group of climbers were being served a buffet of dumplings and steam buns. I sipped on my warm Coke and scooped the last mouthful of salty noodles into my mouth.

I chatted to a photographer who had been staying at the lodge for the past few days and looked at some of his time-lapse photos, before going to bed about 7pm. Unfortunately, this was to be one of my worst nice sleeps in a long time. My headache only got worse, the room was now crowded, hot and muggy. The bed being too short meant I had my legs permanently bent at a funny angle. Fortunately, I didn't have anyone in the bed next to me, nevertheless I think I only had another hour of sleep before turning my alarm off at 2am.

We ate a little more food (I really wasn't that hungry) before finally heading off at 2.40am. My mountain-adventure was about to begin. It had rained during the night and everything was now wet. While it was only 10C, we quickly warmed up as we walked up the 3.5km road which took us to the beginning of the trail. This road opens at 8am for vehicles, however this early, we had to walk it. We silently passed the Ranger Hut which we had visited briefly the day before to sign-in and have my climbing permit stamped.

We reached the Tataka Entrance right on 3.30am. This is as far as a car can drive (where we would be picked up on our return trip). A large stone marker stands by a lookout up the valley. However, in the dark I couldn't see anything and after a brief rest we continued on. For the next 4 hours we would slowly walk up the valley toward Paiyun Lodge. This 8.5km trail is really pretty good. The trail is well marked, with only a slight incline. There are a few rest stops and a couple of toilets along the way. It became light around 5am and the view of the valley dropping away on our right was pretty spectacular. The forests are unlike anything back home, with old and mangled pine trees, massive bonsai type trees, and lichen covered boulders (I'm sure I could be a little more environmental literate here, but my knowledge of fauna is pretty limited....looks cool, doesn't look cool). On a few occassions, the trail hugs close to a wall, dropping away below us. Some of these drops must have been 20+ metres, and the chains running along the cliff wall provided a sense of security. In reality, you'd really need to be unlucky to take a tumble here, although a tumble would result in some serious broken bones.

Just before 7.30am we arrived at Paiyun Lodge. At 3,402 metres this the last 'human' habitation before reaching the summit (another 2.4km away). There is really quite a large hut/lodge here. Three floors, looking almost brand new. It seems the lodge has been under construction for the past few years. My understanding is that it is now open, although I'm not 100% sure. We couldn't get into the lodge, however there is a small toilet block and a couple of kitchen benches we could use. There is a also a rangers lodge, and a ranger soon appeared to check my permit and also asked to see my Passport to verify it was me on the permit. The ranger hut has first aid, a radio and there is a helipad a little further on, so it's good to know there is an emergency backup this high up.

It was now raining, so we only spent 10 minutes having a quick drink, putting on our wet weather gear (which was a jacket for me) and continuing on. 10 minutes later (7.40am and we were off).

It's really only the last 2.4km to the summit which is difficult, and it is pretty difficult. It is steep, rocky and relatively exposed. Unusually though, I wasn't too affected by the exposure, although I normally am. It may have been my freezing and wet body, constant rain and clouds which simply numbed my brain to falling to my death.

The trail continues behind the hut and starts to climbs steeply through the trees. Wooden markers every 500 or so metres give you an update on how far you have gone and how much further to go. There are also a few trails leading off in other directions (to surrounding peaks), however these are well marked and displayed in English and Chinese. The trees soon give way to waist high scrubby bushes. The trail essentially zig-zags back and forth up a scree slope. The trail itself it good, so you're not physically climbing the scree. It was now raining pretty steadily and all my clothes were completed drenched. The views, had I been able to seem them through the clouds, are pretty spectactular (the view was a little better on the way down).

Eventually the scree gives way to the final few hundred metres of rock. This is the hardest (and I guess scariest part). You are essentially climbing up a steep rock face. The trail continues to zig-zag back and forth, however on numerous occassions you are climbing straight up a metre or two. There are usually chains in these steepest parts and so long as you don't look down, it's not too bad. There is a section just below the summit in which you walk through a covered "avalanche" shelter. After exiting this cover, it's another 100 metres of so climbing up the steep slope.

And then before you know it, you can go no higher. The summit is before you, marked out with a stone platform and marker. Unfortunately, we were completely covered in cloud and the rain had not ceased up. We couldn't see anything, although other photos online show that the views from here on a sunny day are pretty goood. It was 5.2C on the summit and it taken us 1 hour 50 minutes to get from Paiyun Lodge to the summit.

After 10 minutes on the summit, a few photos with what I later realised was water all over the lense and we were heading back down. I always find exposure much worse on the way up, so going back down wasn't too bad at all. Of course, the weather started to clear almost as soon as we left the summit, so it wasn't long before the rain stopped and I could finally start to warm up again. By 10.45am we were back at the Paiyun lodge and by 2.15pm we were back Tataka Entrance. We were met by our driver here and 45 minutes later I was having a shower at Alishan. I understand that most hikers are picked up here, so you don't need to walk the 3.5km back to the main road and park entrance.

Timings for Climb

Dongpu Lodge to Tataka Entrance: 70 minutes (3.5km)
Tataka Entrance to Paiyun Lodge: 4 hours (8.5km)
Paiyun Lodge to Summit: 110 minutes (2.4km)
Summit to Paiyun Lodge: 1 hour
Paiyun Lodge to Tataka Entrance: 3.5 hours (3hrs without rest)
Total: 11.5 hours return

I would say our speed was slow to very slow. Unfortunately my guide didn't set a cracking pace on the way up (although reasonable on the way down). Had I been walking alone, I probably would have shaved 30-45 mins off the ascent (mostly at the very top section). We took few rests on the way up, although did take a 30 minute rest on the way down.

Photos

Click to view the entire Yushan climb

 

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