The Highest Peak in Northeast Asia
On a small island like Taiwan, it’s really difficult to imagine that the highest point reaches nearly 4,000 meters above sea level – it’s 3,952 meters! Look at Japan, of which the land mass is more than 10 times bigger than Taiwan. The Japanese people’s holy mountain, Mount Fuji, is the highest in the country but is still nearly 200 meters shorter than Jade Mountain, or Yushan in Mandarin Chinese here in Taiwan. Therefore, Mt. Jade is dubbed as the highest peak in Northeast Asia and it’s long been wanted by many alpinists.
We call it a “jade” mountain not because you can find jade pieces or any sort of fortune on the top. It’s simply because the main peak is primarily made of sleeky slate rocks and, if observed from the Western Plains of Taiwan on a sunny day, it looks like a glistening piece of jade. So, our ancestors romantically named that mountain “Jade Mountain” in their mother tongue. There’s, however, another explanation that the snow-capped peak glows like a piece of jade in the sunshine. Thanks to its great altitude, the top of the mountain is always snowy in winter but never all year round.
One, Two, or Three Days?
Because of the increasing popularity of marathons in Taiwan, Jade Mountain seems to catch the eyes of marathoners if they want to improve their lung capacity at a high altitude. Consequently, the one-day hike becomes popular and in fact feasible if you’re physically fit and well-trained.
For some aggressive office workers, they might plan a two-day trip to the mountaintop due to the limited time on weekends. In this way, they’ll spend one night at Paiyun Lodge, which is the only serviced mountain lodge hikers can find in that area.
For those who fear that acute mountain sickness, aka AMS, may occur, a three-day-two-night trip is highly recommended with the first night spent at Dongpu Lodge, which is 2580 meters above sea level, and the second night still at Paiyun Lodge, which is at an altitude of 3402 meters.
Yushan National Park
The second and largest national park in Taiwan, Yushan National Park spans Nantou County, Chiayi County, Hualien County, and Kaohsiung City. With an area covering more than 100,000 hectares, this alpine national park has two-thirds of the region over 2,000 meters above sea level. Known as the roof of Taiwan, the Yushan Range, or Jade Mountain Range, is one of the five major mountain ranges on the island.
Among the 22 peaks taller than 3,000 meters in the park, nine of them are grouped as Yushan Nine Peaks and it’s certainly an ambitious plan to conquer them all. Sadly enough, I’ve only finished four of them though I’ve made it to the top of Main Peak more than half a dozen times. Taiwan is not only just a small nation with a huge population of over 23 million people but also a crowded island with almost 300 mountain peaks reaching a height of 3,000 meters!
Dongpu Lodge and Around
My favorite way of climbing Jade Mountain is to spend at least two nights in the mountainous region with an elevation of over 2,500 meters. Due to the limited choices there, the first night will definitely be at Dongpu Lodge, which is at the joining point of Highway 18 and Highway 21 and just about 1 kilometer away from the Tataka Visitor Center, one of the only three tourist centers in the park.
I’ll recommend that the hikers spend the first day acclimatizing themselves to a high altitude near the mountain lodge, which offers a couple of easy and beautiful trails in the Tataka area, such as Linzhi Mountain and Lulin Mountain trail systems. Don’t exert too much of your strength on the very first day. It’s better to stroll around the lodge or the Tataka Visitor Center.
My favorite is, however, the less-than-two-kilometer-away Dongpu Mountain, which takes roughly 45 minutes from the trailhead to the amazing peak with an extensive view covering the whole area, including the majestic Yushan Main Peak and camel-back-like North Peak to the east.
One time I was so lucky to see the surprisingly impressive sea of clouds right here on the mountaintop, which is perched on the northern tip of the mountain block with a wide-open view of the neighboring cragged mountains. The gorgeous mountain scenery comes to my mind from time to time even after years.
Hike to Paiyun Lodge
I frequently take the family to Taiwan’s national parks for hiking and one of the main reasons to select national parks is their well-signed and perfectly-paved trail systems. Hiking on a national park trail won’t risk your alpine holiday, i.e., there’ll be a lower possibility of unpleasant surprises.
Safety is the priority, as we constantly emphasize. On the second day of this recommended Yushan expedition, you’ll hit the “trail” in the morning but not earlier than 6:30 a.m. It’s just a 600-meter walk from Dongpu Lodge to Yushan Service Station, where you’ll have to give the entry permit to the park rangers and adjacent police station.
This is also a pick-up point for the shuttle van, which charges NT$100 per person from the service station to the trailhead. Why shuttle? You wouldn’t want to spend one and a half hours on a distance of 2.8 kilometers one way because you’ll be afraid of being late to the lodge for the second night – Paiyun Lodge. Alternatively, if you’re confident that you’ll easily hike to an elevation of 3,402 meters from the service station, I don’t mind if you include this distance of the forestry road plus an 8.5-kilometer walk on the Yushan main peak trail.
Today most hikers can leisurely walk along the south slopes of the Front Peak and the West Peak of Jade Mountain at a gradual ascent to the lodge. The altitude difference from 2,600 to 3,402 meters above sea level within a distance of 8.5 kilometers won’t wear you out if you’re reasonably healthy. You’d better arrive at the lodge by 6 p.m. because the dinner ends at 7 p.m. and you’ll have to settle down and finish your meal in at least one hour.
The third day of the hike is going to be the most tiring but exciting of the mountain adventure. Today you’ll have to get up really early – normally between 1 and 3 a.m. – if you don’t want to miss the awesome sunrise. No matter whether you fall asleep or not during the night, at around 1:30-2 a.m., you might be awakened by the disturbing sound from bunk beds and metallic mountain gear of your roommates.
After devouring your breakfast, you’ll hurry out and be prepared for the 2.4-kilometer ascent to the summit of Jade Mountain through the treacherous scree slope first and rugged cliffs to the mountaintop later before the sun rises, if there’s any.
During the peak seasons, the Main Peak might be packed with hikers and you’ll find it a bit difficult to secure a good location for photography. If the weather is unpleasant and unbearable, you can own the whole mountaintop. After taking a snapshot, you’ll start out with a strenuous descent until you safely make it back to the trailhead by dusk. Today’s descent includes an elevation difference of 1,400 meters and a total distance of 13.3 kilometers if you can catch the shuttle van by 5 p.m.
One of a Lifetime
There’s an interesting saying that, if you want to be a genuine Taiwanese, you’ll have to swim across Sun Moon Lake, climb to the top of Jade Mountain, and bike around the island. Honestly speaking, hiking to the mountaintop of Yushan seems to be the easiest if you’re not a good swimmer. So, book a tour ASAP because you’ll have to apply for a permit at least a month before you pack your hiking boots. Ask a trustworthy travel agent to arrange it for you should be easier to go through the red tape.
Don’t forget there are just around 100 “slots” a day in the Paiyun Lodge and you’ll have to secure one if you’re planning a two-day hike in order to successfully get the entry permit. Unbelievable, isn’t it?
The trails are basically 24/7. But, please, don’t go during the night. You wouldn’t know what animals, or monsters, you’ll meet in the forest!
Free except for the lodging fees: NT$400 (without meals) for Dongpu Lodge, and NT$850 (a combo price for a sleeping bag, dinner, breakfast, and brunch!) for Paiyun Lodge.
How to get there?
Getting there can be quite tricky if you’re coming from any big city in Taiwan. Most visitors prefer to get to Chiayi by train or HSR first and transfer to the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle service, which offers four routes to Alishan, considered a gateway into the Yushan National Park area. From Alishan Forest Recreation Area, you have only one choice to take – Yuanlin Bus’s No. 6739 bus service, which departs daily at 13:00 – and must get off at Dongpu Stop.
Useful Tips While Visiting
Too hot in summer?
We are talking about an alpine destination between 2,580 and 3,952 meters above sea level. You might still need a down jacket even in summer and polar clothing in winter. However, Jade Mountain’s higher peaks and trails are generally closed between December and March. The closing period varies according to the severity of winter each year.
Take your own, obviously! We’re talking about hiking, aren’t we? If you choose to acclimate yourself first, as I’ve recommended, Dongpu Lodge doesn’t offer or sell any meals but we can use the kitchen. We can still cook as long as we bring our dinner and breakfast ingredients. Or, cup noodles might be easier for you since we have some of the best instant noodles in the world!
The most difficult part of visiting Jade Mountain is, interestingly, not your physical limit. There are only 116 beds to the most in Paiyun Lodge, which means a maximum of only 116 hikers can spend the night and probably make it to the summit. The application system is pretty much like a “lucky draw”. The national park authorities announce who “wins” the “slots” every day. Check out the Lottery Draw Schedule and you’ll have a better idea and find the right web pages to apply for a permit.