Last year, I went on a trekking trip to Hehuanshan (合歡山), or literally “Joy Mountain” in Chinese, in Taiwan from 5 June 2019 to 8 June 2019. Although a novice to high altitude trekking, I was able to trek up 4 different peaks that are above 3000 m in just 2 days!
This trip was organised by Ace Adventure Expeditions as part of its Start Trekking programme. This programme was designed for greenhorns just like me. Hitherto, the highest peak I have trekked outside National Service in the Army, other than Singapore’s own Bukit Timah Hill (163.63 m), was Gunung Lambak (510 m) in Johor, Malaysia. That achievement was also on a hiking trip with Ace Adventure Expeditions, back on 31 May 2014.
Hehuanshan is a series of peaks in Central Taiwan which forms part of the Central Mountain Range (中央山脈), a principal mountain range that runs from the north of Taiwan island to its south. Hehuanshan lies between the Nantou (南投縣) and Hualien (花蓮縣) counties and is located within the Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園).
On this trip, I had the opportunity to trek up 4 peaks on Hehuanshan, all above 3000 m. The East Peak (東峰)(3421m), Mount Shimen (石門山) (3237m) and the Main Peak (主峰) (3417m) on the first day of trekking and the North Peak (主峰) (3422 m) on the second day.
These 4 peaks are among the “Hundred Peaks” or “Baiyue” (百岳) chosen, by a group of prominent Taiwanese hikers, from amongst the named peaks in Taiwan known at the time to have a height of about 3,000 m. The criteria for getting onto the Baiyue list included uniqueness, danger, height, beauty and prominence. With the likes of Yushan or “Jade Mountain” (玉山) (3952 m) and Xueshan or “Snow Mountain” (雪山) (3886 m) at #1 and #2 respectively, the placings of the 4 Hehuanshan peaks I checked off the list are as follows: North Peak #34, East Peak #35, Main Peak #37 and Mount Shimen #66.
I understand from the local guides on the trip that these 4 peaks are amongst the “easy peasies” in the Baiyue list in terms of height, difficulty and the time needed to hike up. While it was not a completely walk in the park for me, I found that the pre-trip training session organised by Ace Adventure Expeditions, that I attended 2 months before the trip on 11 April 2019, adequately prepared me for the trip. The trek leader and 2 local guides on the trip were also most helpful and watchful over us, especially those of us who were weaker and less experienced. These mitigated any challenges that I may have encountered in terms of the terrain on the trip.
During the pre-trip training session, we were educated on high altitude trekking and on general healthcare in such circumstance. We were also given tips on the kind of gears and equipment we should have on the trip. We were taught basic trekking techniques like footwork, pacing and the use of trekking poles and given guidance on the layering system, footwear, hydration and high altitude health concerns such as Acute Mountain Sickness. At the session, we were each given a little booklet on how to prepare ourselves for the trip between the session and the actual trip, complete with a list of what to pack on the list. Just before the trip, we were given another booklet on what exactly to expect on the trip and contained reminders of what we were briefed on a the pre-trip training session.
I would say that this trip would probably be considered a very “easy landing” in the experienced trekker’s universe. There was no necessity for us camp in tents over night or stay in a mountain lodge or hut at high elevation. We also did not need to cook our own meals in harsh conditions. We had proper dinners at restaurants at the end of each day of trekking and we got to sleep and shower in the comfort of our hotel rooms, which was a hot spring hotel on this trip. I even got to dip in a hot spring tub to soothe my aching muscles after trekking up and down the 3 peaks on the first day.
The trip down to our accommodation at a lower altitude for our overnight rest allowed those of us with risks of Acute Mountain Sickness to acclimatise much better. Lunch on the first day of the trek, which happens to be on the day of the Chinese Dumpling Festival, was dumplings at a café near the Hehuanshan Visitor Centre, which was close to the various trailheads, after our descent from Mount Shimen. The only “hardship” meal of cup noodles, canned food and 3-in-1 coffee I had to “suffer” was on the second day on the summit of the North Peak at 3422 m. Frankly, the experience was not bad at all. While the food may be basic, the magnificent mountain top view and the fellowship with the many new friends I have made on the expedition more than made up for the simple food.
The scenery on the way up and down the 4 peaks and the panoramic view at the summits were awesomely breath taking. Words fail me to do justice to the beauty I beheld. Hence, I took tons of photographs and some videos, not just of the beautiful scenery but of the moments of our interacting with each other and with Mother Nature on these hills. Needless to say, many of these photographs and videos found their way onto my Facebook page. At the conclusion of the trip, Ace Adventure Expeditions very thoughtfully weaved some of the photographs and some videos taken by those on the trip into a montage video clip that neatly summarised the joyful time we had. This clip can be found on YouTube.
I had a great time on this trip that earned me the right to brag that I have checked off 4 peaks on the Baiyue list! The icing on the cake was that I was able to catch up with 2 of my mates from my secondary school alma mater, Hua Yi Secondary School (華義中學). One of them is none other than Joanne Soo, our trek leader and the honcho of Ace Adventure Expeditions, who was my classmate for a year and whom I now affectionately refer to as “Iron Lady” due to her fame associated with the Singapore Women’s Everest Team. After the 2 days of trekking, my ex-schoolmates and I extended our trip slightly and had the opportunity of hanging out in Taipei, mostly in Ximenting (西門町), for a day before return home to the hustle and bustle of work.
All in all, this was a good short getaway with a dash of adventure. If you are keen to join this start trekking programme, the next Mt Hehuan trek is scheduled for 26-29 Nov 2020.
Looking forward to my next mountain with Ace Adventure Expeditions.
– Michael S Chia
Trek participant of Mt Hehuan Trek (5-8 Jun 2019)