Jade Mountain (玉山)

Jade Mountain (玉山) or "Yushan" as it is more commonly known by people here in Taiwan is the highest mountain in the country and is the fourth largest mountain on any island in the world.  The mountain is an important symbol for Taiwan and its image is engrained in the minds of every person living in here making it one of the iconic images of this prosperous island nation.

Images of the mountain can be found all over the country in restaurants, businesses and civic buildings as well as inside the Taiwanese passport and on the back of the $1000 NTD dollar bill. No matter where you go in Taiwan the image of mountain is easily recognizable and the people here are proud of their mountain. Yushan is thus a hike that is a MUST for hikers and outdoorsy types in Taiwan and is one that I have hiked on three different occasions.

I had actually planned to hold off on writing this blog post until I hiked the mountain for a fourth time but I decided that I would share photos from my previous two hikes and then ultimately update the post with (better) photos from my next trip whenever that happens! The photos I'm sharing today are not only from two different hikes but from two different cameras. The second time I hiked Yushan I had a Canon 50D with great weather and the third time I was using my current Canon 5D3 which is a full frame camera and perfect for the beautiful panoramic landscapes on Yushan. The problem is that on my third time to hike the mountain the weather was terrible and the photos weren't up to what I consider my normal standard.

My plan with this post is to share photos, some logistical info about the hike and my personal experience hiking the mountain and who can help you get to the top. This hike is one of the best hikes in Taiwan and I highly recommend that even if you are not an avid hiker that you try it at least once as it is a life changing experience to say the least!

Spot the Hiker!

Jade Mountain sits within the much larger Yushan National Park (玉山國家公園) which covers a total of 103,121 hectares and includes a large section of Taiwan's Central Mountain Range (中央山脈) which splits Taiwan down the middle and separates the east from the west. The park contains 30 of Taiwan's 100 peaks (百岳) which are over 3000 meters and two-thirds of the rest of the park is well over 2000 meters above sea level.

Jade Mountain proper consists of five different peaks which range in altitude between 3,952m (12,966ft) to 3,467m (11,375ft) and are as follows:

  • The Main Peak (玉山主峰) - 3,952 m (12,966 ft.)
  • The Eastern Peak (玉山東峰) - 3,869 m (12,694 ft.)
  • The Northern Peak (玉山北峰) - 3,858 m (12,657 ft.) 
  • The Southern Peak (玉山南峰) - 3,844 m (12,612 ft.)
  • The Western Peak (玉山西峰) - 3,467 m (11,375 ft.)

The hike to the main peak is a favourite with Taiwanese climbers as well as foreigners who often combine a trip to peak of Yushan with a trip to Kinabalu (Malaysia) and Fuji (Japan) to complete the trifecta of 'East Asian Giants'.

The mountain trail is for the most part a relatively easy hike and the trails are well developed making the hike accessible to able-bodies. While I say that the trail is relatively easy there are a few difficulties to keep in mind: The first is that the latter part of the hike from Paiyun Lodge (排雲山莊) to the main peak is considerably more difficult than the rest of the hike (and is typically done at a very early hour and in the dark). The second is the logistics of actually getting the necessary permits and bed space within the lodge - The hike is extremely popular and the amount of people that are allowed to go up and down each day is capped at around one hundred. It's not easy to get a spot, especially on weekends so if you plan on coming to Taiwan just for this hike you'll have to keep this in mind. While this might seem like a pain in the ass I think it is a great measure by the national park service to keep congestion off of the trails, preserve the natural surroundings of the mountain and ensure that accidents are controllable.

There are a few different options for hikes that are available - The first (and most common) is a three day/two night hike that is quite leisurely and enjoyable. For this hike you'll need a guide, permits and bed space at Paiyun Lodge. The second option is a much more insane one that involves completing the entire hike in a single day. You'll need permits to get in and you still need a trained guide to accompany you. There is space for 92 people in the lodge and costs $480NT/night while the permit to enter the park is free.

The best way to get to the mountain is to join one of the many hiking groups that actively plans trips to Yushan (as well as other mountains) and for a set fee will take care of transportation, permits, accident insurance, food and other logistics. For foreigners, the best groups to join would be Taiwan Adventures (which is run by foreigners) or the 523 Mountaineering group (a university group with avid hikers who speak English). Of the two, Taiwan Adventures might be the best because they are a much more active group and plan hikes all over Taiwan's high mountains. They also allow for private trips if you want to pay a little more for a personalized experience.

  1. Yushan National Park (Permits and Applications) 
  2. Taiwan Adventures (Group Hikes and Guides)
  3. 523 Mountaineering Group (Group Hikes and Guides)

If you end up choosing the more enjoyable three day/two night trip your experience will likely be a little like this:

Day 1 - Getting to Tataka (塔塔加)

The hike to Yushan typically starts with a shuttle in Taipei. You get to meet the team leader and your fellow hikers and from there you make your way to Chiayi (嘉義) where you'll likely stop for something to eat and last minute preparations. From there it is likely that the shuttle will take you up the mountain road passing by Alishan (阿里山) and arriving at the Dongpu Villa (東埔山莊) where you'll have dinner, a quick shower and off to bed. If you arrive at the villa early enough you may go on a quick hike near the villa where you'll have great views of the mountain range.

Day 2 - Tataka Saddle (塔塔加鞍部) - Paiyun Lodge (排雲山莊)

The second day is probably the easiest and most fun part of the hike. You wake up early in the morning and after breakfast you are taken to the Yushan National Park headquarters (which is across the street from the villa). It's likely that while you are making your way across the road that you can see some Formosan Rock Macaques (台灣獼猴) nearby. At the park HQ your passports/IDs are checked and then you (might) have to watch a safety video. When everybody in your group is checked and ready you will be taken in a shuttle bus to the Tataka saddle which is actually just the trailhead for the hike and your 8.5km hike to Paiyun lodge starts.

The hike to the lodge is easy and quite leisurely as you are walking on a beautiful trail with panoramic views of the beautiful valleys below. It's also quite likely that you'll get to experience the sea of clouds (雲海) that the mountains are famous for. The trail is quite easy and there are more than enough rest stops for people who might be feeling a little tired.

Halfway through the hike to the lodge you'll come up to a separate trailhead for Yushan Front Peak (玉山前鋒). This peak isn't included in all itineraries but is a challenging hike up a very steep hill. If your group is making good time to the lodge you might want to consider an excursion up to this peak.

The hike from the Tataka saddle to Paiyun takes you from an altitude of 2,600m - 3,402m and should probably only take about three to four hours depending on the speed of your group. Remember that you're not in a race to the top and do your best to enjoy all of the beautiful scenery. If the weather is good, enjoy it because it could ultimately change in an instant.

When you arrive at Paiyun Lodge it's important to acclimatize yourself to the altitude. This means that you cannot take a nap just after you arrive. Sit on the benches, chat with your fellow climbers, make friends with the other climbers who are staying with you, read a book, write a book or whatever it is that will occupy you for a short period of time. If you sleep as soon as you get there you will likely feel nauseous and uncomfortable when you wake up.

You will likely have arrived at Paiyun in the early afternoon but after a few hours it will be time for dinner and a bit of relaxing. You will likely have to sleep when it starts to get dark (as day three starts very early in the morning).

Day 3 - Paiyun Lodge (排雲山莊) - Main Peak (玉山主峰)

One of the highlights of being on the summit of Yushan is to experience the sunrise - If you get good weather while on the peak you'll witness some extreme beauty and one of the best natural light shows that you'll ever see as the sun comes up. The hike from Paiyun Lodge to the peak takes another two hours and you go from an altitude of 3,402m - 3,952m.

Taking into consideration that the sun rises just after 5am and that you need to eat breakfast and have your permits checked before leaving, it's very likely that you'll wake up anywhere between 1:30-2:00am. You prepare a small hiking bag (you can leave your larger bag at the lodge) and start the trek up to the peak. This is the hardest part of the hike because you are tired, and it's cold, windy, dark and steep. In a short two hour hike you climb over 500 meters in altitude and it can be a bit difficult if you are not used to mountains like this.

While on top of the mountain and waiting for the sunrise it's important to stay warm. It's cold and windy at the top and the warmest temperatures vary between negatives and five degrees. When the sun comes up have your camera ready and snap off a thousand shots and then line up for a shot of yourself on the "Yushan Main Peak" marker. Make sure to explore the peak while you're there because after the sun comes up most groups only stay for an hour or so before making their way back down to the lodge.

Day 3 - Main Peak - Paiyun Lodge - Tataka Saddle - Home

When you are done on the peak you have a long walk ahead of you. When you head back down in the daylight you can really appreciate the scenery around you that you missed in the dark. After an hour or so you arrive back at Paiyun Lodge, have a quick lunch and pack up to make your way back down to the saddle. The hike from the peak to the saddle is 10.9km but it is mostly downhill so it goes by pretty quickly. By the time you get back to Paiyun you are likely tired so you probably aren't as interested in enjoying the scenery but make sure to take your time on the trail down to the saddle. Once you arrive at the saddle a shuttle bus will pick you up and take you to the park headquarters where your shuttle that will take you back home will be waiting.

The hike to the peak of Yushan is one of the absolute MUSTS for a lot of people in this country and is a matter of national pride to make it to the peak at least once! The hike isn't that difficult and is extremely rewarding. There are of course more difficult hikes with more beautiful scenery in Taiwan but this one is the highest and you are sure to enjoy yourself if you have the chance to do it. I've done this hike three times now and it is still at the top of my list of places to go when I have vacation time. If you have the opportunity, don't hesitate to take your chance to stand on the highest peak of one of the most beautiful country's in the world!

Gallery / Flickr (High Res Photos) 

Xingang (新港) - Beigang (北港) Temples

Xingang (新港) - Beigang (北港) Lunar New Year Markets

The Lunar New Year is one of the most important times of the year for people in Taiwan - For students, it is the time when they have their month-long winter vacation (寒假) and for adults, the government mandates at least a week or more off of work to celebrate the holidays giving people a much needed break. 

This means that, like in other parts of Asia, there is a mass migration of sorts with people travelling from the place they work to their ancestral homes. It also means that highways, roads and tourist sites all over the country are jam-packed with travellers who use their time off from work and school to the best of their ability. 

I've been in Taiwan for over a decade now and it has become somewhat of a tradition of mine to use my free time to travel during the holidays. I travel to different places every year but the one constant through all the years is that I always make my way down to Xingang (新港) in Chiayi County (嘉義縣) and its neighbour Beigang (北港) in Yunlin County (雲林)

Historically, both Xingang, which translates as "New Port" and Beigang, "North Port" were important and existed as coastal staging areas during the Dutch occupation of the island. Later, Beigang became one of the most important ports in the 17th Century and brought a lot of prosperity to the area. 

Today, the two villages are most well-known for their famous temples which date back to the 1600s. The Beigang Chaotian Temple (北港朝天宮) is visited by more than a million people each year and the Xingang Fengtian Temple (新港奉天宮), which claims to be the first Mazu temple in Taiwan. Coincidentally these temples being as old as they are, as well off as they are and as close as they are had somewhat of an unhealthy rivalry that went on for decades. This rivalry only ended recently when the Mazu statue from Fengtian Temple visited the Chaotian Temple as a show of reconciliation. Oh, religion. 

Chaotian Temple (北港朝天宮) 

Chaotian Temple

The Chaotian Temple is around 300 years old and is pretty much THE most important Mazu Temple in Taiwan. The temple is important not because it is the biggest but due to the fact that it takes a leading role when it comes to Mazu worship in this country. The temple is therefore very popular and also very well off. During Lunar New Year the temple becomes extremely busy with people from all over Taiwan visiting to get the blessing of the "Heavenly Mother" (天上聖母) and a visit to this temple during the Lunar New Year holiday is a pretty awesome cultural experience! 

Fengtian Temple (新港奉天宮) 

Fengtian Temple awning with the market in front. 

Fengtian Temple (奉天宮) claims to the the first temple dedicated to the goddess Mazu in Taiwan and despite being built almost 400 years ago, it has met with destruction a few times due to earthquakes and other natural disasters. The current temple is almost a century old and is an extremely large and beautiful temple. Fengtian Temple serves as the last stop on the Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage (大甲媽祖遶境進香活動) and is typically a very busy temple during the rest of the year. A market is set up in front of the temple with several local restaurants and vendors selling local produce and foods from Chiayi. During the Lunar New Year both the market in front of the temple and the inside of the temple are quite busy with people who have travelled from all over Taiwan and looking to receive a blessing from the goddess Mazu, also known as the "Heavenly Mother" (天上聖母) who serves as somewhat of a patron saint for the people of Taiwan. 

My next post will be coming very quickly and will be about the massive Taiwan lantern festival (台灣燈會) that is being held here in Taoyuan this year. I've finally gotten back on track with work and have finished working on all the photos that I took over the long holiday! So expect me to be back on my normal schedule of posting a few blogs a week over the next few months.