Igor Tolkov

North Section 1, Nanhu Peaks and Central Range Point Loop

Jun
1 - 6
2020

I did this hike over 6 days between June 1 and June 6, 2020 following a typical itinerary but with a few deviations. The loop is typically hiked in five to seven days.

Permits

Both a park and mountain entry permit is required. The park entry permit is applied through the Taroko National Park application portal. For planning your application, start with the itinerary below. Note that the English names used in the itinerary are taken from the application system and are not the same as the names used in the rest of this guide.

Suggested itinerary
Day 1(420 / 375 min) Siyuan Pass / Shengguang → 6.8K Trailhead → Mugan Saddle → Yunleng Cabin
Day 2(435 min) Yunleng Cabin → Mt. Shenmazhen Trailhead → Mt. Shenmazhen → Mt. Shenmazhen Trailhead → Nanhu North Mountain Junction → Nanhu North Mountain → Nanhu North Mountain Junction → Nanhu N. Peak → Nanhu Cabin
Day 3(675 min) Nanhu Cabin → Nanhu E. Peak → Taosai Peak → Mt. Mabishan → Former Site of Taosai Cabin → Nanhu Cabin
Day 4(605 min) Nanhu Cabin → Nanhu Main Peak Saddle → Mt. Nanhu → Nanhu Main Peak Saddle → Nanhu Main/S. Peak Junction → Nanhu S. Peak → Mt. Baba → Nanhu S. Peak → Nanhu Main/S. Peak Junction → Zhongyangjian River Cabin
Day 5(525 min) Zhongyangjian River Cabin → Mt. Zhongyangjian Saddle → Mt. Zhongyangjian → Mt. Zhongyangjian Saddle → Zhongyangjian River Cabin
Day 6(695 / 665 min) Zhongyangjian River Cabin → Old Mushroom Hut → Nanhu River Cabin → Mugan Saddle → 6.8K Trailhead → Siyuan Pass / Shengguang

The park entry application will reserve your bunks in Yunleng Cabin and Nanhu Cabin. The Zhongyangjian Creek Cabin and Nanhu Creek Cabin are on a first-come-first-serve basis as far as cabin bunk space. If there is space, you can sleep in the cabins, but you're expected to bring a tent just in case. It is also possible to apply for Old Mushroom Hut, which is between Zhongyangjian Creek Cabin and Nanhu Creek Cabin. This is a really nice campground, but there is no hut there.

Variations

Many people who do this hike only go to Nanhu Main Peak. This can be done in three days: to Yunleng Cabin the first day, to Nanhu Cabin the second day, and all the way down the same route on the third day.

Mt. Nanhu in three days
Day 1(420 / 375 min) Siyuan Pass / Shengguang → 6.8K Trailhead → Mugan Saddle → Yunleng Cabin
Day 2(635 min) Yunleng Cabin → Mt. Shenmazhen Trailhead → Mt. Shenmazhen → Mt. Shenmazhen Trailhead → Nanhu North Mountain Junction → Nanhu North Mountain → Nanhu North Mountain Junction → Nanhu N. Peak → Nanhu Cabin → Nanhu Main Peak Saddle → Mt. Nanhu → Nanhu Main Peak Saddle → Nanhu Cabin
Day 3(630 / 600 min) Nanhu Cabin → Nanhu N. Peak → Nanhu North Mountain Junction → Mt. Shenmazhen Trailhead → Yunleng Cabin → Mugan Saddle → 6.8K Trailhead → Siyuan Pass / Shengguang

A four-day itinerary is more comfortable and allows exploring the Round Valley on day 3. You'd hike to Nanhu Main Peak, East Peak, and possibly Taosai Peak (not a baiyue but a very impressive peak) on the third day.

Round Valley in four days
Day 1(420 / 375 min) Siyuan Pass / Shengguang → 6.8K Trailhead → Mugan Saddle → Yunleng Cabin
Day 2(435 min) Yunleng Cabin → Mt. Shenmazhen Trailhead → Mt. Shenmazhen → Mt. Shenmazhen Trailhead → Nanhu North Mountain Junction → Nanhu North Mountain → Nanhu North Mountain Junction → Nanhu N. Peak → Nanhu Cabin
Day 3(435 min) Nanhu Cabin → Nanhu Main Peak Saddle → Mt. Nanhu → Nanhu Main Peak Saddle → Taosai Peak → Nanhu E. Peak → Nanhu Cabin
Day 4(630 / 600 min) Nanhu Cabin → Nanhu N. Peak → Nanhu North Mountain Junction → Mt. Shenmazhen Trailhead → Yunleng Cabin → Mugan Saddle → 6.8K Trailhead → Siyuan Pass / Shengguang

Transportation

There are three buses each day in each direction serving the Shengguang and Siyuan Saddle stops where the hike begins. Two buses depart in the morning from Yilan and Luodong, and one afternoon from Yilan.

YilanLuodongShengguangWuling FarmHuanshanZhongxing St.Lishan
Kuo-Kuang #176407:0009:1209:2509:4309:5110:05
Kuo-Kuang #175107:3009:5010:0410:2710:3710:50
Kuo-Kuang #175112:4015:0315:1915:4215:5316:06

In the other direction, three buses depart from Lishan.

LishanZhongxing St.HuanshanWuling FarmShengguangLuodongYilan
Kuo-Kuang #175108:3008:4708:5609:1809:3312:00
Kuo-Kuang #176413:0013:1713:2613:4914:0316:17
Kuo-Kuang #175113:3013:4713:5614:1814:3317:00

It is possible to take one of the morning buses and have a late start around 10 AM, arriving at Yunleng Cabin by evening. Alternatively, one can spend the night at a guesthouse in Shengguang.

In the opposite direction, if you can make it down to the trailhead by 2 PM, you can take a bus back to Yilan / Taipei the same day. Otherwise, spend a night at the Shengguang guesthouse and take the 09:33 bus the following morning. Make sure you're at the stop well in advance of the estimated call time.

Day 1: Taipei - Shengguang - 13.2K Campsite

I left my place aroud 5 AM, had breakfast, then caught an early bus to Yilan.

06:00Board Kamalan bus 1915 at MRT Technology Building Station for Yilan (ticket must be purchased at the adjacent ticket office). Trip takes around an hour.

07:30Board Kuo-Kuang bus 1751 at Yilan Bus Station for Lishan (can pay with transit card). The bus makes a 10-minute rest stop at Nanshan where you can alight and stretch. There's a FamilyMart there, which is the last chance to buy anything before starting the hike.

09:45Arrive Shengguang. It is also possible to start the hike from the official trailhead at Siyuan Saddle. The difference is: Shengguang is lower, so the first part of the hike is steeper, but the distance is smaller.

10:15I set off. Pack weight 24.7 kg, including 6.5 kg of food and 3 kg water. The first part of this trail is steep uphill along a farming road.

10:55Trail enters the forest. There is an irrigation pond on the left side.

11:40⛰️ Mt. Shengguang (2285 m). I take a 20 minute break here.

12:05Junction with the Siyuan trail, sign says Siyuan 4.8K. The Siyuan trail is a forest road, so going becomes easier.

12:456.8K campground. If you want to arrive in the evening and get an early start on the hike, this is a good place to spend the first night, as an alternative to the Shengguang guesthouse. The forest road continues straight and soon crosses a creek - the water source for the campsite, whereas the trail to Nanhu leaves the forest road and climbs up. I take a 15-minute break here, then begin the uphill.

14:008K, trail climbs to the top of the ridge and begins to follow it.

14:20Fork and rain gauge. Go left at the fork.

14:30⛰️ Mt. Duojiatun Front Peak (2711 m), 10 min. break.

15:15⛰️ Mt. Duojiatun (2794 m), 15 min. break, trail begins to descend.

16:25Approaching Mugan Saddle. There's a few big logs here. A good place to take a break. Problem is, it's really late in the day now, and I'm worried about getting to Shenmazhen before dark.

16:5511.7K Yunleng Cabin appears packed. When I applied, it was full, so I applied to Shenmazhen instead. However, it's quite a distance ahead. I keep going.

Yunleng Cabin has rainwater tanks. There is an alternative creekwater source some distance past the cabin. I go there to fetch water.

17:05Arrive old water source junction, put down pack and descend.

17:15Arrive old water source. Water is barely flowing, but I was able to fill up 2 liters.

17:35Return to old water source junction. Pack weight now exceeds 25 kg. I keep climbing but am very tired, resting every few steps.

18:55Arrive 13.2K flat ground. It's possible to pitch a few tents here. I camp here for the night.

So, the moral of the day is don't pack so heavy and always carry a tent or tarp. Also, if taking a bus in the morning, don't plan for so long of a day.

Day 2: 13.2K Campsite - Nanhu Cabin

My original plan was to arrive at the Round Valley in the morning and therefore have a spare day. But I fell behind, so now I had a whole day to get to Nanhu Cabin.

06:50Depart 13.2K.

08:15At 14.7K the trail is no longer so steep, and a view opens to the right of Nanhu Main Peak and Central Range Point.

09:13Junction with Mt. Shenmazhen.

09:15⛰️ Mt. Shenmazhen (3141 m) #83. I spend 10 minutes here. The summit is a very short walk from the main trail. There is no view from the summit. People typically leave their bags at the junction and eat snacks there, as is obvious from the large amount of trash. (I picked up some trash.)

09:40Trail enters the Shenmazhen grassland. To the right, on the west ridge of Mt. Nanhu, a white spec is visible. It turns out to be a crashed helicopter. I later found out that the helicopter crashed in 1989, and fortunately all six occupants were unhurt.

10:10Fork to Shenmazhen Hut.

10:20Shenmazhen Hut. Break for lunch for 50 min. Very few people stay at this hut, and it has plenty of water. I filled up. Actually, I filled up way too much, as there is also a reliable water source at Nanhu Cabin.

11:30Return to main trail.

12:40Junction with North Mt. Nanhu. Drop the bag here and ascend.

12:55⛰️ North Mt. Nanhu (3536 m) #22,rest 15 min.

13:15Return to junction, where there is even more trash than Mt. Shenmazhen.

13:40Begin the Five-Rock Cliff, so named because you have to climb over five rocks. There are ropes to hold on to the entire way.

14:45⛰️ Mt. Nanhu North Peak (3592 m),which is different from North Mt. Nanhu to the north. There is a memorial plaque to a person who fell to their death in 1992 crossing the Five-Rock Cliff just north of here. I rest for 20 minutes. The only thing left to do is descend a rocky slope to Nanhu Cabin.

15:20Arrive Nanhu Cabin for the night.

This is the Nanhu Round Valley Cabin. There is a creekwater source upstream the rocky creek bed from the cabin. The water suddenly appears among the boulders and just as suddenly disappears. The cabin itself has separate cooking and sleeping areas. The cooking area, though, it often occupied by tour groups.

In the evening it rained, then fog covered the valley. The fog disappeared after night fell, but behind the mountains to the east clouds gathered and a thunderstorm brewed. Every few seconds the clouds lit up with lightning. However, the Round Valley and the cabin were protected.

Day 3: Mt. Mabishan

I met another solo hiker, Vira, the previous night, and we decided to hike the Mt. Mabishan loop together. It was a long day - we departed at 5 AM and only returned at 6 PM.

05:10Depart.

05:35Junction, left for Mt. Nanhu East Peak.

06:08Little saddle, right for the East Peak. One can simply scramble up the boulders to get to the top, but we circled around to the back side instead. I'm not sure which way is safer.

06:18⛰️ Mt. Nanhu East Peak (3632 m) #14. In front is Nanhu Main Peak, the Upper Round Valley, Central Range Point, and behind it the Black Peaks, Mt. Hehuan, and Mt. Jade. Behind is the ridge we will follow today.

06:35Trails from here down to the X-junction traverse the rocky slope and are hard to make out, as is the main trail along the crest. Sometimes the trail enters the forest, but quickly exits back to the sun-baked rocky ridge.

07:12We suddenly come to the grand west wall of Taosai Peak.

07:30Taosai Peak junction, left to Taosai Peak. We didn't notice the trail to the right and went left by accident. A good thing, as it's a great view that's not to be missed.

08:07⛰️ Taosai Peak (3450 m). At 7:54 my camera ran out of battery, and I hurried down to the pack to grab a spare. The final push to the peak is along a flat rock incline. From the top we could see Turtle Island to the east.

08:27Back at the junction.

08:38Another junction, Southeast Peak to the left (up). I'm not sure where the path straight leads. At first we thought it was another out-and-back hike to the Southeast Peak and put our packs down, but then realized it's going to be a through hike, and went back to retrieve our packs.

09:15Boulder field. There are stacks of stones directing the way, but we still had to figure out how to best scramble across them. Bouldering practice in the gym can be useful in Taiwanese mountains.

09:30⛰️ Mt. Nanhu Southeast Peak (3462 m). After taking photos we began the long descent to Mt. Mabishan. On the way back it will be a long ascent, which is why many hikers skip Mabishan.

10:25Junction. Some inconsiderate hiker left a broken trekking pole here.

11:50⛰️ Mt. Mabishan (3211 m) #72. Break for lunch 55 min.

13:50Return to the junction and take the other branch "down" to Heping South Creek. "Down" is relative - actually the trail is flat and even uphill in places.

14:26There's a downed tree here. You can walk along the tree for a bit here.

14:40Arrived at the dry creek bed. A brief trail to the left leads to an old hunting campsite. We were too tired to check it out and went right.

15:35Trail leaves the creek bed and climbs. Many downed trees across the trail. However if you continue along the creek for a bit, you'll come to a waterfall. The water shoots out from a slit in the rock above, drops down to the creek, and disappears again.

16:21Remains of Taosai Hut. Past here the trail descends to the creek bed again.

16:40Pools of water. The water is clear, probably from the rains a few days ago. I already drank all of my water and refilled here.

17:46X-junction. The typical path in the guidebooks is to go left here, but that is a longer way back to the hut. It is faster to go straight, descending into the upper round valley.

18:23Back at Nanhu Cabin.

Thanks to Vira for joining me on this leg. Especially thanks for giving me some of her high-mountain oolong tea when I was out of water.

Day 4: Nanhu Cabin to Zhongyang Creek Cabin

I set out later in the morning as Vira and I decided to hike another day together. She had her period the previous morning after setting out for Mabishan, yet still walked the whole way. In the evening she was too exhausted to eat and went straight to sleep, but got up around midnight to make some food. She slept a bit later, thinking she would rest another day, then walk back down, but in the morning decided to keep walking with me to Zhogyangjian Creek Cabin.

07:30Depart.

08:30Main Peak saddle.

08:50Main Peak junction, where we dropped our bags to summit Nanhu Main Peak. Along the way to the main peak we lucked upon a Taiwan serow very close to the trail.

09:30⛰️ Mt. Nanhu Main Peak (3742 m) #8. Amazingly, Nanhu rhododendrons, a subspecies of a plant I'm used to seeing in people's front yards in the US, grows up here, right on top of the mountain, and they were in bloom. From the summit, we could see a beautiful view of the entire Round Valley, the surrounding peaks, far-away peaks, and even Taipei 101!

10:18We returned to the junction, picked up our bags, and kept going.

10:45Nanhu Pond Campground and remains of the old Nanhu Hut. Before the new hut was built, hikers had to camp here and drink the yellowish water from the pond.

11:30We passed by a rock Vira said is good for outdoor bouldering practice. Next to it was a cave that I obviously checked out.

11:45Here the trail begins climbing a large boulder field. The trail is like this almost all the way to the junction with Nanhu South Peak.

13:15South Peak junction, where we dropped our bags and took the trail toward Nanhu South Peak and Mt. Baba. As this is a longer out-and-back (about 2 hours), I took some water.

13:40⛰️ Mt. Nanhu South Peak (3505 m) #29. Keep going.

14:40⛰️ Mt. Baba (3449 m) #32. The trail between the South Peak and Mt. Baba involves a false summit and a few scary transverse rocky field crossings.

Geography note: the South Peak and Mt. Baba are on the Central Mountain spine. The trail, however, goes the other way, dropping down to the Zhongyangjian Creek and following it up to Central Range Point (see the next day's notes). If you search on the internet, you may find that some people hiked the spine from Mt. Baba all the way to the Central Range Point - it's a dangerous exploratory trek that neither I nor they recommend.

16:15We returned to the South Peak junction and continued down the trail. I discovered that I lost my bag of nuts somewhere on the trail. To compensate for leaving trash on the mountain, I picked up a can of red bean soup that another hiker inconsiderately left in the bushes.

16:40Rocky slope - go slightly uphill here, following the ribbon. There's another ribbon downhill. I don't know where that path goes, but it's not the main trail. After this point, the trail crosses a tall grass field with a bunch of criss-crossing animal paths. Go straight through that section. And then the downhill begins. In all, you drop from the junction at 3476 m to the hut at 2436 m. The trail enters a coniferous forest, and the ground becomes covered in needles - they are slippery.

18:30Final downhill section. It starts getting dark, so we take out our headlamps. Near the bottom of the downhill we saw a snake, identified as an Asian tiger snake.

19:15Forded Zhongyangjian Creek and arrived at the hut.

Day 5: Central Range Point, Mushroom Campground

In the hut we met with two other hikers who were about to head down from the mountains. In the morning Vira went with them, and I went up to the Central Range Point.

This day is often considered difficult, but I found it refreshing, enjoyable, and not as tiring as the Mabishan day. I brought a separate pair of sandals precisely for this day, as climbing to Central Range Point involves going upstream a creek.

06:44Depart with a light pack, wearing sandals, carrying the hiking shoes, but not bringing much water. My pants somehow ripped the previous day, so I wore my wool sleeping pants.

06:50Zhongyangjian Creek Falls

07:00Detour uphill for 10 minutes (steep, has ropes, and you need the ropes)

Many, many cascading waterfalls along the trail...

08:50Last water source. Technically, the last water source is a bit upstream of here, but I didn't want to backtrack and filled up my water bladder here. I also changed into hiking boots, leaving the sandals behind.

Past the last water source is the second part of climbing Central Range Point: the rocky slope. They say for every three steps up you slide one step down. (Some people say "one step up, three steps down" but if that's the case, you should just give up.) Stepping carefully reduces the amount of sliding.

11:00Central Range Point saddle: main peak on the right, East peak on the left. West peak is very close, but it's not a baiyue, so most people don't climb it. (I didn't.) I rested for 20 minutes, then kept going the remaining distance without my pack.

11:50⛰️ Central Range Point (3705 m) #10. North Section One peaks complete! From here, you can see the West peak as well. That peak is part of the North Section 1-2 through hike. It is very difficult. For once, hikers need to carry their full packs and extra water up over the Central Range Point. After arriving here, they have to cross the "Ridge of Death" to get to the West Peak. And they don't call it "Ridge of Death" for no reason.

12:10Start back down.

12:40Central Range Point saddle, start down the rocky slope. Hikers not accustomed to downhills will go very slowly and tire themselves out on this section. I sort of ran downhill, further taking advantage of the sliding broken rock.

13:07Already at the last water source. Changed back into sandals. The next part I walked slowly, enjoying the frequent water crossings. Suddenly, the sole of one of the sandals started coming off. I fixed it with some tape, which lasted part of the way down. Oh well.

14:25Back at the Zhongyangjian Creek Falls and its clear blue pool. I took advantage of being alone and went for a swim in the pool (about 20 min), then returned to Zhongyangjian Creek Hut.

15:30Depart after repacking. It was still early, and I decided to keep walking to the Mushroom Campground downstream.

This section has a number of uphill detours. There are also giant logs lying in the creek bed, including one you have to walk on and one you could optionally walk on. It's a reminder of what the forest looked like before it was logged to the ground.

17:00I arrived Mushroom Campground and set up my tent with a side door overlooking the creek. As evening came, I cooked dinner, at the same time looking out toward the river with camera at the ready.

Eventually I saw a large male sambar just across the river from me. The sambar was eating grass. Then he saw me and stared at me for a long time.

Day 6: Mushroom Campground - Shengguang

05:40Depart early, wishing to make the bus back to Yilan. As I started uphill, I noticed that someone was camping in the bushes. I wonder why they picked that spot, given how nice Mushroom Campground is.

07:20Top of the first hill. There is a campground up there. But no water. The upside: cell signal.

08:05Nanhu Creek Cabin. Rest here for 30 min.

08:35Ford Nanhu Creek and begin another uphill up a creek bed.

09:55Mugan Saddle (not yet the top the hill), rest here for 20 minutes.

11:07Mt. Duojiatun (top of the hill). Around here I ran out of water in my bladder.

11:556.8K campground. I went to the water source to look for water but didn't find any. So, I drank up my emergency water reserve (the bit that's in the drinking tube) and kept going.

12:30Mt. Shengguang. I caught up with Vira and her two mates shortly past the summit. That was a nice surprise. As I suspected, Vira got a ride with them - sadly, there wasn't room in the car for one more person, so I had to take the bus.

13:10Shengguang, with plenty of time to go. I was really thirsty, so I took the first of two buses, alighted at Nanshan, and spent the next 30 minutes at the FamilyMart having lunch, then took the second of the two buses the remaining distance. I didn't arrive back in Taipei until evening.