Ascent of Yushan on 1996-07-08

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Sehyou-Jenn Jou
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, July 8, 1996
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Elevation:12963 ft / 3951 m

Ascent Trip Report

(Please note: This report has little useful information for those planning a trip to Yushan today. I do not recommend a stealth ascent of this peak. Reports are that the trail I used in 1996 has been destroyed by a 2009 typhoon. Other conditions may have changed considerably.)

I arrived in Taipei from Tokyo late in the evening of Thursday, July 4. The next day, Friday, July 5, I tried to find out how one goes about getting a permit to climb Yushan. My Lonely Planet guidebook said I had to get a permit at a police station, and it also had the address of the Taiwan Mountaineering Club. However, no one at any police station spoke any English or seemed to know what I was talking about, and the mountaineering club was closed. The guidebook also said you needed to have a large group size and be a member of your national mountaineering club, and as an unaffiliated solo climber I would have trouble with both these conditions.

So I decided to go to Yushan anyway and see what I could do, and perhaps “stealth” the peak. I decided to stay away from the popular and easier route from Alishan in favor of a longer “back way” in that started from the town of Tungpu, figuring that I would be less likely to be hassled by authorities that way. I also saw an ad in the local English expat newspaper for “Central Rent-a-Car” with a picture of Gordon Bryce, a genial looking westerner, so I called him up and made a car rental reservation for tomorrow. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the Chinese National Palace Museum and running other errands in Taipei. I even went to see an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in a crowded modern shopping mall, subtitled in Chinese.

On Saturday I picked up my rental car, a Ford Festiva, and braved the motor-scooter choked streets of Taipei and got on a good freeway heading south. Some street signs had Roman-alphabet signage, but many were Chinese only. I had to look at my bilingual map and memorize the appearance of the symbols and match them up with what I saw on the signs. I left the freeway and headed for Sun Moon Lake (???)--those were very easy symbols to recognize on a sign.

It was a fairly long drive, however, much of it on winding mountain roads. I stopped briefly at the lake and a couple hours later finally pulled into the tiny but crowded resort town of Tungpu. I parked in an obscure dirt parking lot and hoped my car would be OK there for a couple of days, and then I checked into a cheap hotel. I explored the area a bit and found the start of the trail to Yushan, and then found a restaurant. I like to eat fish, so to mime my meal choice to the waiter I pointed to the restaurant’s aquarium. He nodded, and then proceeded to scoop up some fish with a net directly into a deep-fryer. I was very startled by this, but my fried fish was a filling meal. I didn’t see another westerner in the entire town during my time there.

On Sunday morning, July 7, I checked out of my hotel, stashed extra stuff in my car, and started hiking up towards Yushan at 9 AM. I had no good map or directions, and could not read the trail signs. The trail went southeast up a long, scenic river valley, passing some waterfalls that were popular day hike destinations for the many tourists. After several miles the trail became more quiet and it started ascending more. It was a long, hot, hike. By 3:40 PM I arrived at Patungkuan Meadows, a grassy spot with an utterly squalid tumbledown shack for a shelter. This was the normal camping spot, and there were maybe three parties there camping in tents. I had no tent, just a sleeping bag and tarp, and the shelter was too gross for me, so I just planned to sleep under the stars. (I later found out that there was a dirt road that approached much closer to this spot, but I doubt I would have taken my rental car on it).

While there I started communicating with an older Chinese gentleman, maybe in his 50s, who spoke a minimal amount of English. He gave me a business card, telling me his name was Sehyou-Jenn Jou, and he wanted us to team up for tomorrow’s summit attempt. I thought that would be a great idea, to have a local along with me in case I ran in to park rangers, so we agreed to a pre-dawn start.

I tried to sleep, but it was tough while the sun was still out. Also, it started drizzling a little bit in the early evening, so I tried to cover myself with my tarp. Fortunately, the rain never amounted to much.

On Monday morning, July 8, Jou and I started hiking uphill around 1:40 AM—the skies were clear. The trail left the meadows of Patungkuan and started a long southwest traverse uphill above a steep and spectacular ravine that was downhill to our left. At the head of the ravine was the rocky dome of Yushan. The path was through thick bamboo forests that frequently obscured almost the entire footway, forcing us to bushwhack until the trail cleared out a bit. The other major obstacle was massive landslides that had obliterated sections of trail where we had to precariously clamber over rough debris.

Jou was also hiking very slowly, and I waited for him at first, but once the sun rose and we neared the summit I explained the best I could that I would go on ahead—I wanted to get up there before any authorities and it was killing me inside to wait. So alone I hiked upward and broke out of the bamboo forest and came to a rocky pass just to the right of the summit dome. Here a well-engineered footpath snaked its way uphill, with metal poles and a chain railing to keep hikers from falling off the sheer cliff faces. My guess was that at the pass the main trail from Alishan joined my route.

The path was easy hiking except for the exposure, and I was soon on the summit, all alone. It was still pretty early in the morning, about 5:20 AM, and I was happy to see on this blue-sky day that there were no higher peaks in sight. Without a map I was not really sure I was climbing Yushan at all, so it was nice to get confirmation. The summit had a badly deteriorated stone monument on top, and I sat down for a nice long rest. After about 20 minutes Jou finally arrived, and we exchanged congratulations and took pictures of each other.

I said goodbye to Jou and headed down at 6:10 AM after my rest, very pleased to have made this summit given the obstacles I had overcome. If the Taiwanese authorities hauled me off to jail now, at least I had attained my goal, and they couldn’t take that away from me.

I hiked solo down to Patungkuan without incident on this now hot, humid day, finding the landslides and bamboo thickets just as troublesome as I had on the way up. At the campsite area I grabbed my sleeping bag and tarp and began the long slog back to Tungpu. This hike, I later discovered, features an elevation gain of 2800 meters/9300 feet, and doing the summit climb and getting back to Tungpu in one day is pretty ambitious. I was very footsore and tired on the last miles of trail, passing more and more day hikers out to look at waterfalls. I even saw one westerner here, but she was in a group and I was too tired to stop and chat.

When I finally arrived in Tungpu at 2:40 PM I was very glad to see my car was where I had left it, and I threw my stuff in and drove out of town. I still partly felt like a criminal who had gotten away with something, and I wanted to get farther away from the scene of the crime. So I drove to the city of Shuili, where I had a hard time finding a hotel, since there were almost no signs in the Roman alphabet and no one spoke any English. Rural Taiwan was definitely off the beaten tourist path in 1996. The hotel was cheap and a bit run-down, but I was able to take a nice shower and get to sleep with the noisy air conditioner providing some relief from the humidity.

The next day, Tuesday, July 9, I drove from Shuili to Taipei, stopping at the airport to leave off most of my baggage in a locker. I returned my rental car, got a hotel room, and spent the afternoon and evening wandering the streets of Taipei. The next day I got a bus back to the airport to catch a flight to the next destination on my trip, Hong Kong.

The final summit block of Yu Shan, with the southeast face in shade in the early morning sun (1996-07-08).
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:9288 ft / 2830 m
    Total Elevation Loss:9288 ft / 2830 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Headlamp, Bivouac
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:9288 ft / 2830 m
    Distance:14.8 mi / 23.9 km
    Start Trailhead:Tungpu  3675 ft / 1120 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:9288 ft / 2830 m
    End Trailhead:Tungpu  3675 ft / 1120 m

Other Photos

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
In 1996, Yu Shan had a more imposing summit marker, but it was badly deteriorated (1996-07-08).
Click here for larger-size photo.

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