Hiking to One of the Most Remarkable of Taiwan’s High Mountains
Mt. Dabajian (3,492 m) is one of Taiwan’s most distinctive peaks. It is a huge barrel-shaped rock that protrudes from a ridgeline, and provides great 3-day hikes.
By Stuart Dawson
In the past this mountain, located in the easternmost corner of Miaoli County, was much more accessible. In fact, it was so accessible that it could easily be done in a weekend from Taipei. However, the old forestry road that leads out from the village of Guanwu was deemed unsafe for vehicles a number of years ago, and now hikers must first trek the 19km of this abandoned road just to reach the trailhead proper. Whilst many see this as a great hindrance, I personally think it’s a blessing. The number of people climbing the mountain has been dramatically reduced, and the forestry road makes for a very pleasant beginning to the adventure.
On my most recent Mt. Dabajian excursion, I set off early in the morning on a summer day as part of a team of four. We made good progress on the road. There are a couple of waterfalls along the way, and plenty of flora and bird species to identify. We arrived at the Madara Creek Camping Ground near the trailhead in time for lunch. Just as we were about to set off for the 99 Cabins (2,700m) camp the heavens opened, as so often happens on summer afternoons in Taiwan. Rather than trudge through it, we hid under the balcony of an old administrative building, and after a couple of hours of waiting we headed out, arriving at the 99 Cabins bone dry.
The 99 Cabins is an impressively large complex. At one time it accommodated up to 400 hikers a night, but numbers are now limited to a little over 100, which means there’s plenty of space for everyone. We were lucky enough to be given one of the small, stand-alone round huts, perfect for a group of four.
Thinking about the rain we had encountered, we decided to hit the trail again early the next day so as to avoid any afternoon thunderstorms. It can be surprising just how cold it gets in the high mountains in Taiwan during the summer. When we left Taipei on Day One it had been a scorching 37°C, but when we woke up at 4am on Day Two our hut was down to a chilly 5°C. We quickly got dressed and began the steep walk up to a spot known as Gaodi (“high ground”). Most hikers head to this spot to catch the sun rising behind Mt. Dabajian, but we were too slow and missed the moment. The views were nevertheless spectacular, and in the clear morning air we could even see as far as Yangmingshan, on Taipei’s north.
We found ourselves at the base of the mountain, and close up it was even more impressive than it had been from a distance
We then followed a ridgeline, passing in and out of beautiful pine forest. After a couple of hours we found ourselves at the base of the mountain, and close up it was even more impressive than it had been from a distance. Hikers are no longer permitted to make the dangerous climb up to the summit, but you can skirt around the peak under its great cliffs and continue on to nearby Mt. Xiaobajian (3,418 m). The xiao means “small,” and so it can be thought of as being Mt. Dabajian’s little brother (da means “big”). It’s a tough scramble to the little brother’s top, and a good head for heights is needed.
The trail ends on the peak at an abrupt 800m drop. We spent a bit of time taking photos and soaking in the views, then started the long trek back to 99 Cabins, on the way back bagging two other area peaks, Mt. Yize (3,297m) and Mt. Jiali (3,112m) – and doing so quickly, for the weather was closing in, with the prospect of another thunderstorm. These two peaks are not far from the main trail. We then made a dash for the safety of the cabins, making it just before the rain began.
Day Three involved nothing more than an easy hike back out along the forestry road. Arriving back at Guanwu, we were struck by how distant and small the mountain now looked, and it was hard to believe we had been standing below it just the day before.
Hiking Mt. Dabajian
You need a mountain permit to hike Mt. Dabajian , which you can apply for through the Sheipa National Park administration (www.spnp.gov.tw). Be sure to do this well in advance, as competition for spaces can be strong on weekends.
For more about hiking in Taiwan, visit hikingtaiwan.wordpress.com.
ENGLISH & CHINESE
99 Cabins 九九山莊
Madara Creak Camping Ground 馬達拉溪營地
Mt. Dabajian 大霸尖山
Mt. Jiali 加利山
Mt. Xiaobajian 小霸尖山
Mt. Yize 伊澤山
Sheipa National Park 雪霸國家公園