Yushan (Jade Mountain) in Taiwan can be called the highest mountain in East Asia and the Far East. To find higher peaks you have to go west to the Himalayan outliers in Sichuan, north to Kamchatka in Siberia, or south to Borneo. This area where Yushan stands supreme includes Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indochina, and all of eastern China.
Taiwan is not a big tourist destination, and few travelers or mountaineers realize that this small, crowded island features a rugged backbone of high mountains.Yushan is the highest, but there are many other interesting peaks in Taiwan, several of them much harder to climb than Yushan. Taiwan's mountains are not volcanoes, a refreshing change from places like Indonesia or Japan's Fuji.
Although high and rocky, Yushan is only a few hundred meters above the timberline and is only snow-covered in winter. Two trails reach the summit, but the surrounding terrain is marked by steep cliffs overlooking deep, forested gorges, and landslides mark the hillsides and often wash out parts of the paths.
There are two routes to the summit. The main trail from the Tataka (Tatajia) trailhead is the most popular and easiest - 2 days round-trip. The other is a 3-day round-trip hike from the hot-spring town of Dongpu (Tungpu). This longer and harder route (23 km and 2800 vertical meters) has been closed since the destruction caused by Typhoon Morakot in August 2009, and it is not expected to reopen for some time. This is also the best route to Yushan National Park's remoter mountains and the historic Batongguan (Patongkuan) Trail.
The Tataka route: The 3km from the public road and checkpoint to the actual traihead (Tataka Anbu, 2,600 meters) is served by a shuttle bus NT$100; 8.5km hiking brings you to Paiyun Cabin; the main summit is another 2.4 km beyond Paiyun. Almost all hikers stay at Paiyun Cabin for one night, leaving for the summit in the pre-dawn, descending to the trailhead mid-afternoon. The trail is clear with bilingual signposts at regular intervals. Take extra care closer to the summit when the path crosses scree and becomes narrower, rougher and more exposed. Fixed chains available in the final scramble approach to the summit.
Tataka (Tatajia, Tatachai) is where Highway 18 (110km mark) becomes Highway 21 (145km mark), also known as the New Cross-Island Highway, connecting Chaiyi and Nantou Counties. As well as excellent day hiking in the area, there is also a simple hostel (Upper Dongpu Lodge), visitor center, and police/warden station. The nearest access to public transport is at Alishan 19 km away. Minibus transport to Tataka can be arranged in Alishan to Tataka, otherwise have your own transport or hitch-hike this very quiet road.
Paiyun Cabin (3,400 meters) is a simple structure, barrack-style rooms, no food or bedding is offered unless arranged in advance. A new, and more sophistaced , structure is to be finished in 2011. Reliable water supply, basic padded sleeping platforms, warden on duty. Currently costs 7 $US per night. If arriving at Paiyun with time to spare, consider a trip to the West Peak.
Fit and experienced hikers may apply to stay in a higher cabin, Yuanfong, a base camp for Yushan's southern peaks. This is much smaller than Paiyun, more exposed, and can lack water.
Permits must be obtained - well in advance. The number of hikers climbing the mountain is limited to the spaces available at Paiyun (and Yuanfong). Weekends are very popular and thus very hard to obtain permits for. The mountain is closed 'to rest' every February. Permits are canceled should there be dangerous amounts of ice/snow, or a typhoon approaching. Where previously it was feasible to 'wander' in, it is now impossible/highly inadvisable to hike without a valid permit. You will be turned back and liable to prosecution.
Therefore, the main obstacle in arranging a climb of Yushan is the, slowly-improving, permit process. To climb Yushan you need to have both a 'National Park' and 'Mountain Entry' permit. The Mountain Entry ('ru-shan', or 'Police Permit') is relatively easy to obtain on the spot at the Tataka warden station or in advance at certain police stations. The National Park ('ru-yuan'. or Ecological Area) permit is the more difficult to secure. Start planning at least a month in advance, and remember it is only valid for the specific dates and route listed. Application must be made to Yushan National Park (http://www.ysnp.gov.tw/). An expat-run group Barking Deer Adventures arrange packages and permit support. Topographical maps can be purchased at http://www.booksfromtaiwan.com.
Note: it is not necessary (legally or in practice) to have a guide, or to be part of a group - ascents by individuals allowed. Novice hikers may benefit from being with others. Single-day ascent permits not being issued anymore without lots of proof of ability and experience.
Other than February when no permits are issued it is possible to climb Yushan all year round. Popular times to climb are October/November and March/April. Taiwanese find the winter months a bit too cold, summers can have rain or become cloudy by early afternoon.
(Thanks to Richard Foster for the detailed climbing information)