The Southernmost Big Mountain of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range
Text & Photos by Stuart Dawson
Mt. Beidawu (3,092m) is the southernmost of “Taiwan’s top one hundred peaks” (98 peaks above 3,000 meters and two slightly below). It is a prominent mountain, standing at the southern tip of the Central Mountain Range, and offers commanding views in every direction.
In the past Mt. Beidawu could be tackled with a good two-day hike, but an enormous landslide caused by Typhoon Morakot in 2009 cut off access to the original trailhead. Determined hikers can still do the hike in two pretty tough days, but three days gives you time to enjoy it at a more relaxed pace.
Getting to the trailhead takes a bit of time. On a recent two-day trip, we first had to drive to the small indigenous village of Taiwu on Pingtung County Road No. 106. There’s a police station in the village where hikers need to apply for a mountain-entry permit. It’s a simple process that only takes around 20 minutes, and ensures that the authorities know you’re up there.
After driving to the new trailhead, we geared up and began walking. It’s a very steep climb, and even though we were hiking in winter we got very hot very quickly. The fauna on the first section of the hike is typical of northern Taiwan’s lower elevations, with lots of large ferns and rice-paper trees. It was interesting to see it change to tall pines and red cedars as we climbed higher and higher.
The fairly relentless climbing made us glad of the shade provided by the forest. After about four hours, we finally came to a crest of a hill from which some fabulous views towards the west coast are enjoyed, and after a quick rest we pressed on to the Cypress Valley Cabin (4.2km from the trailhead), where we would spend the night.
The fairly relentless climbing made us glad of the shade provided by the forest. After about four hours, we finally came to a crest of a hill from which some fabulous views are enjoyed
The cabin is set in an idyllic spot. Around it are terraced areas for camping, with large red cedars for shade. We learned from a signboard that the area had once been the site of a Paiwan tribe village, and that the cabin was originally a school for children. The villagers have all long since left the area, heading down the mountain, and I could not help but think about how tough it must have been living in such an isolated spot.
After dinner, we headed back to the crest we’d passed earlier, to take in the sunset. We could easily have spent hours there looking at and photographing the stars, but we needed to make an early start the next day, and so we headed back to the cabin earlier than desired.
Having decided to do the hike in two days, we needed to be up at 3 am to make sure we had enough time to reach the summit, hike back down, and drive off the mountain before it got dark. A handy tip for cabin stays is to always have earplugs with you. This night was no exception, with some snoring by other hikers that was so loud it could easily have been mistaken for the growling of the Formosan Black Bear!
After a tortuous night’s sleep, we wearily arose and began the climb to the peak. Hiking in the dark can be quite exciting, but care must be taken on a trail like the one on Beidawu. There are some big falls along the way, and stretches with fixed ropes help hikers to negotiate these sections. After a few hours we arrived at the Ruins of Dawu (8km from the trailhead), where there is a small Japanese shrine. During the 1895-1945 Japanese colonial period the Japanese built a shrine right on the summit, but the people of the Paiwan tribe protested, and after the shrine had been struck by lightning several times it was moved to its current location in 1931.
The sun still wasn’t up when we arrived, and we were so tired of hiking in the dark that we considered waiting at the shrine for more light. The cold was soon pressing in on us, however, and we continued on, walking the ridge line.
A beautiful orange glow began to appear on the horizon, and we thought we were going to be regaled with an exceptional sunrise, but just as we arrived at the peak (9km from the trailhead) the clouds that had been below us for the whole hike rose up and blocked our view. Still, it had been an exciting hike, and well worth the effort to reach the peak.
The Cypress Valley Cabin can be booked via the website of the Forestry Bureau (http://recreation.forest.gov.tw/askformonhouse/AskForMainB.aspx; Chinese). If you can’t get a space in the cabin, take a tent along and camp.
English and Chinese
Central Mountain Range 中央山脈
Cypress Valley Cabin 檜谷山莊
Paiwan tribe 排灣族
Ruins of Dawu 大武遺址
Mt. Beidawu 北大武山
Taiwan’s top one hundred peaks 台灣百岳