The Lunar New Year holiday was a terribly busy week that had me up and on the road early almost every day and back home to sleep in my bed every night! I had to take several day trips for work-related stuff but was still fortunate to manage having some free time to get in a couple of hikes on the days in between the stuff I was doing.
One of the hikes was one that I did a while ago and wanted to do a second time and the other - the one I'm writing about today is a hike that I've wanted to do for a long time and one that I'm sure I'll go back to quite often as it was really fun!
Huang Di Dian (皇帝殿) or the "Emperors Palace" is one of the most popular trails for avid hikers in northern Taiwan and is often compared with Wuliaojian (五寮尖) in terms of difficulty and of course the sense of accomplishment you feel when you reach the top. The hike is quite difficult and shouldn't be taken lightly - but if you are in relatively good shape then it shouldn't really be a problem!
I've hiked Wuliaojian more times than I can count and when I'm in need of a full body workout it is my go-to trail that gives me the exercise I so desperately need.
Some people compare the difficulty of these two hikes and will say that Huang Di Dian is JUST AS difficult or even more difficult than Wuliaojian. I can't really say that I agree with those assessments as Huang Di Dian seemed much easier than I was expecting and the day after the hike when I woke up I didn't feel like my body had died over night.
The difficulty (for most people) with Huang Di Dian really just depends on your method of transportation to the trailhead. If you are arriving by car or scooter then you will have a much easier experience than those who take the bus and have to hike to the trailhead.
If you arrive by car you can easily park by the trailhead and start the hike directly. If you are like most people (including myself) you probably will have arrived by means of public transport and that requires a long walk up a paved road to the trailhead.
The walk from the bus stop to the trailhead could add 20-40 minutes based on how fast you walk and can be just as difficult for some as the hike itself can be.
Once you arrive at the trailhead there are two options and it's really important that you pay attention to this part - No matter which option you choose, you are going to come face-to-face with about 30-40 minutes worth of stairs which (If you just walked up that road from the bus stop) will be the worst part of the hike for the majority of people.
Now here's the important part: There are two trailhead markers and a map. The map will show you the trails and what the hike will look like. The trail beside the map leads to the East Peak (東峰) while the trail to the left takes you to the West Peak (西峰)
The trail going to the East Peak is the easier route but I don't recommend taking it - I recommend taking what's considered the more difficult route, not because it is more difficult but because you will get to enjoy much more scenery as you ascend and will be able to easily get to the Western Peak, a few other ridges and the East Peak in a short amount of time.
If you take this route, the walk down to the parking lot from the East Peak is much easier and is mostly covered by trees. This route is also a lot easier on your knees and once you reach the road you can walk slowly back down rather than descending a bunch of ridges, the mountain and a long set of stairs.
When we reached the trailhead a scooter pulled up beside us and dropped off an old woman. The old woman wasn't wearing hiking gear and didn't have a backpack so we asked where she was hiking? She replied that she was "going home' which kind of confused me. This is a popular hiking trail - What home? She went on to explain that her home was about 20 minutes up the hill and that she takes care of a temple up there. The interesting thing was that while we were taking a break, she passed us and gave us the normal '加油' (Go, Go, Go!) and once we made it to the temple she was there to greet us and asked us to sit down for a drink and to take a break.
She had water, snacks and gloves available to the hikers who were braving the trail and it got me thinking: How does she get this stuff up here? She would have had to carry it up herself. It amazed me that a woman of her age could carry that stuff up such a terrible set of stairs.
Senior citizens in Taiwan never cease to amaze me. They are battle-hardened war machines that put youth to shame and I love it!
Once we passed the temple we quickly rid ourselves of the annoying stairs and were into the climbing part of the hike. The path isn't as steep as the stairs but through the trees you can see some pretty awesome scenery. After about five minutes of climbing you come up to a cliff with a chain that you have to climb up. Truthfully you don't even need to use the chain. I had my camera in one hand and walked up the cliff easily enough.
After climbing up the ridge you get to the cool part of the hike, the part that everybody came for - the ridge walk. The ridge walk on this hike is actually a lot more beautiful than what you get at Wuliaojian and I found myself stopping for long periods of time to enjoy the view.
The western peak of this hike has great views and if you're brave enough you can climb up on the ridge, have a seat, eat a snack and enjoy 360 degree views of New Taipei City. On a clear day you can even see as far as Taipei 101!
After sitting on the ridge and finishing off a quick snack we moved on for the short hike to the East Peak - If you take the route I mentioned it should only be about a 15-20 minute hike to the East Peak although there is a bit of climbing involved.
The views from the East Peak are much better than the previous one and it can be a bit scary if you stand on top of the ridge and walk towards the edge. I stayed on the peak for a while but I was sweaty and the it got really windy so I decided it was time to head back to the parking lot.
We were unfortunately running out of time and didn't have time to continue on further past the East Peak. If you do have time though you can continue on past the East Peak to another cliff face and a bat cave. In the future, and time permitting I will update this post with photos from the bat cave as it seems like another pretty awesome place to visit on the hike.
From the East Peak, the parking lot is a short walk down some tree covered stairs and if you take the route I mentioned it should be a bit more relaxing than your way up. Once back at the trailhead you'll be able to use the bathroom, throw out your trash (DON'T LITTER) and take a break on the benches.
If you took the bus you should be careful to check the bus times and be sure to make your way back to the bus station before the bus leaves - which brings me to the practicalities of this hike:
If you are taking the bus, you need to be careful. You need to take what other bloggers have termed "The Bus from Hell" (#666) from either Jingmei (景美站) or from Muzha MRT station (木柵捷運站) The problem is that bus #666 has several destinations. You need to make sure that you take the bus that goes either to "Huang Di Dian" or "Huafan University" (華梵大學) otherwise you are in for a long hike from Shiding Old Street (石碇老街.)
The best way to do this is to ask whatever friendly Taipei bus driver who is driving the bus where the bus is heading and whether or not he or she could drop you off at the bus stop. Likewise when you need to head back to Taipei you need to make sure what time the bus will arrive at the station to pick you up.
Remember to wear some hiking shoes, bring a raincoat (just in case) and bring some water and snacks. You could also plan pretty epic (or romantic) picnic with friends (or your loved one) on one of the ridges so bring whatever suits your needs!
This hike is now probably my second favourite hike in northern Taipei and if it weren't such a pain in the ass to get to, I'd hike it just as often as I hike Wuliaojian. The ridge walk is really fun and the scenery from the peaks is honestly a lot better.
Don't let people fool you that this hike is difficult - when I did the hike there were children, fathers, mothers and grandparents enjoying the beautiful scenery.
You CAN do this hike and you SHOULD do this hike!
It's a great time and an easy enough hike for the whole family or a group of friends to enjoy! Have fun and be safe!
If you have any questions, comments or criticisms don't be shy - comment below and I'll get back to you pretty quickly!