Exploring High Mountain HighsTaiwan at Her Peaks
Whatever your spiritual or exercise needs, here you'll find the surroundings and challenges requisite to rising above the lesser goals you've been chasing down in the world of mere mortal horizons below. Time to take the high road.
LONG AGO, ON MY FIRST HIGH-MOUNTAIN EXPLORATION of this island's densely clustered canopy of mist-embraced peaks, the above ditty slowly and irresistibly revealed itself to me. My apologies to John Denver. The "Muddy Waters" refers not to the great southern U.S. blues singer but to one of Taiwan's mightier rivers, especially in typhoon season, the Jhuoshuei River (lit. "Muddy Waters" River), which brings silt in prodigious quantity down from the endless almost-vertical slopes, inching Taiwan's western coastline ever closer to China's. The ditty rumbles about without cease in my brain each time I head back into or even think of the island's mountains, and I hereby bestow it on you. Should we ever meet up you may tell me whether this has been blessing or curse. Humming to yourself yet?
The terrain. What is this place, physically speaking? A titanic struggle between two testy-tempered tectonic plates, revealed. When you think of Taiwan think not only of "high" and "technology," but of "high" peaks and "tec-"tonics.
The Eurasian and Philippine plates are engaged in a to-the-death struggle. Taiwan, an exposed display of this Herculean wrestle, is being heaved sky-high out of the ocean's depths, at the dizzying pace for geologists of a few centimeters a year. Taiwan appeared from the watery below 4-5 million years back when the Eurasian plate, where China sits, began to slip under an ancient chain of volcanic islands on the Philippine plate.
In the north at the east-west Datun Range here, the western terminus is the Yangmingshan massif that prevents Taipei City from sprawling to the sea. Down along the east coast visitors marvel at the almost solid wall of mountains dropping right into the deep Pacific, with only a few narrow plains wedged in here and there. The north-south Coastal Mountain Range is in the far southeast; this line of extinct volcanoes used to lie far out to sea, but area subduction has brought them crashing it Taiwan proper and the main body of its architectural framework, the lofty Central Mountain Range.
This range represents the bulk of the island's bulk, running north-south, with numerous lines of peaks running side by side. Some lines are former ocean-bottom rock from the Eurasian Plate, some the Philippine, pushed up by the latter like a bulldozer scraping the top of the Eurasian slab. Much of Taiwan's flat land lies on her west coast, the base the heaved-up "backside" of the central mountains, upper stratum the layers of silt carried down from the young and still-growing giants.
HOT SPRINGS. THOUGH THERE ARE NO MORE working volcanoes on this section of the Pacific Rim of Fire, the ceaseless subterranean activity means no end to the hot-spring bathing opportunities. Locations are everywhere, low hills and higher, with facilities from au naturel springs as they've bubbled thousands of years to upscale resorts. The perfect spots to end or begin your days of hard or leisurely hiking.
Getting there. The island's good and still-expanding road system means that for all the most attractive/popular hikes you can indeed easily "get there from here" or at least get close. Your best first step for how-to info is the Tourism Bureau and its detailed website, with valuable links ( www.taiwan.net.tw).