Igor Tolkov

Twin Ears

Sep
4 - 6
2020

Twin Ears, precisely the Big Ear, is iconic, clearly distinguishable from many vantage points within Taiwan's mountains. The name is a translation of the Atayal name for the peaks, "Babo Papak". The mountain is holy to both the Atayal people and the Saisiyat who call it "Kapatalayan". In Mandarin, since as early as the 1880s the peaks have been known as "Daxiaoba", or "big and small overlords", although how the name came to be is unknown, and it might also have to do with "Babo Papak". Before that, the Chinese refered to it as Wine Barrel Mountain owing to its appearance.

Both the Atayal and Saisiyat refer to the Twin Ears in their nations' origin legends. A Saisiyat legend says, one day a prophet came to a man in a dream and said that one month from now a great storm would come and flood all the land. He was to build a boat to survive. He set out to do this, but others did not believe him. When the month passed, and the storms came, people believed the man but had nowhere to go. Then in another dream the prophet told the man to take his people and head for the highest mountain to the east. They did so and survived. After holding ceremony to appease the Heavens, the rain stopped and the water receded. A giant eel then led the people down from the mountains. Where the eel passed, a river formed, feeding the nation for generations to come.

Due to the mountains' cultural significance, and possibly also safety considerations, it is strictly forbidden to climb the Big Ear. Climbing the Small Ear is allowed, however.

There are two more Baiyue along the way: Mt. Jiali and Mt. Yize. They're really easy to pick up as the trail passes right by them.

Permits

The park entry permit is applied through the Shei-Pa National Park application portal. A mountain entry permit is not required. 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(610 min) Trailhead of Daba Peaks Trail → Trailhead of Madara Creek → Jiujiu Cabin
Day 2(630 min) Jiujiu Cabin → Jiali Mountain → Yizhe Mountain → Jhongba Hut → Dabajian Mountain → Xiaobajian Mountain → Dabajian Mountain → Jhongba Hut → Yizhe Mountain → Jiujiu Cabin
Day 3(560 min) Jiujiu Cabin → Trailhead of Madara Creek → Trailhead of Daba Peaks Trail

The park entry application will reserve your bunks in the Ninety-Nine Cabin. The cabin is staffed and even has rudimentary showers, so there is a small lodging fee.

Variations

Walking 17 km along a forest road, twice, isn't for everyone, but this isn't the only way to see the Twin Ears up close. An alternative is hiking to the Twin Ears from Wuling Villa via the Xinda Hut and Banan Hut. This is known as the "Xiuba" approach. Xiuba is difficult in its own way, as it involves a lot of climbing.

More experienced hikers will want to hike the Holy Ridge, particularly the "I" or "Y" treks that include the Twin Ears.

Transportation

There is currently no way to get to Guanwu, where the trail begins, by public transit. There are plans to add bus service, however.

Day 1: To Ninety-Nine Cabin

We stayed the previous night at the Guanwu Yunshan Guesthouse close to the trailhead. It was a typical budget accomodation with two beds, a private shower, and breakfast.

05:45After breakfast we drove a bit to the gate. It was early, and there was no guard on duty, so we checked in on-line.

06:41We set off along the Dalu Forest Road. It's a 19-km walk to the Madala Creek Trailhead. Along the way there are some picnic tables to rest and two huts to explore (or, potentially, as shelter in case of rain).

09:57Dongxian Waterfall, 14.5K.

10:55Madala Creek bridge. Right before the bridge, at 17K, the road makes a long bend, and there is a shortcut. The road then circles back and crosses the creek. The trail goes in the other direction, past Madala Creek Cabin, and then along a footbridge across the creek. Break for lunch.

11:55Set off across the brigde. This used to be a suspension bridge, but that was destroyed by a typhoon in 2013, causing the trail to be closed for three years until the new bridge was open.

12:12After the bridge, the trail climbs from 1900 m to Ninety-Nine Cabin at 2700 m (and keeps climbing past there, but we saved that for the next day).

15:10We arrive at Ninety-Nine Cabin.

It's more like a village than a cabin. There's a large dining space, a large dormitory, small private yurts, a bathroom with running water, showers, and administrative offices. Yes, there are showers, although the water is cold and comes out of a rubber hose. The house with the red roof is the bathroom. A trail up a hill leads to an Internet cafe and a view of the sunset. (Not an actual cafe, by the way, just a place with cell receiption.)

This is me cooking dinner. I brought enough food for all three of us, and the others brought some for themselves, too, so there was plenty to eat.

Day 2: The Twin Ears

That night I saw a mouse rummaging through my neighbors' trash left in the open. I wasn't really bothered by it and quickly fell back asleep. The next day I told the neighbors about the mouse. They said they know and are moving to the upper bunks to avoid it!

04:00We depart Ninety-Nine Cabin lightweight, and in darkness, trying to reach at least the Big Ear before clouds gather and block the view. (We failed at that.)

05:50The sun rises sometime after we pass the junction to Mt. Jiali. Our plan is to get to the Twin Ears first, then visit Mt. Jiali and Mt. Yize on the way back.

06:52This view.

07:05Zhongba Hut. These days few hikers spend the night here. However when Dalu Forest Road was open to vehicles, it made for a good base camp for a two-day hike to the Twin Ears.

07:40We start getting really good views of the Big Ear to the left and Small Ear to the right.

08:00⛰️ Big Ear, 3492 m #28. Technically, we can only reach the base of the Big Ear, at around 3350 M. Climbing the rock is forbidden.

After photos we continue to the Small Ear. While it's not allowed to climb the rock, you can walk right next to it and touch it. Then, the Small Ear is to the right while the Holy Ridge trail continues to the left.

09:02⛰️ Small Ear, 3418 m #36. When Leah and I got to the top, it started to rain, and we wondered if Tiger was coming, too, but soon he joined us. Getting to the top of the Small Ear requires scrambling, not ideal for rainy weather. Then the rain stopped and the clouds parted a bit uncovering this mystic view of the Big Ear.

09:26At the base of the Small Ear there's a platform. It's a nice destination for those who don't want to scramble to the top.

09:46We head back.

10:40The trail passes a lot of lush forest (it rains a lot here). There are mushrooms everywhere, including boleti, although they were probably not edible (red underside that turns ugly brown on contact).

11:23Mt. Yize junction.

11:35⛰️ Mt. Yize, 3297 m #53. No view because of the clouds.

11:47Back at Mt. Yize junction.

13:24Mt. Jiali junction.

13:47⛰️ Mt. Jiali, 3112 m #86. Also no view because of the clouds.

13:59We start back down.

14:10We turn off the main trial to follow a secondary, unofficial shortcut. It leads us through some thick bamboo.

14:57Back at Ninety-Nine Cabin.

Day 3: Descent

06:28Depart.

08:10Back at the Madala Creek Suspension Bridge.

09:00At the top of the shortcut (short steep uphill), at 17K of Dalu Forest Road. From here, it's 17 km of flat road. Along the way, we saw a Mikado pheasant, and I saw a brown snake (but Leah was too far behind and Tiger was distracted by something). We talked about a lot of things, including politics, to pass time.

13:24We arrive at the parking lot. The guard checks us out and offers some water for the road.

We have a very good dinner in Beipu.

Some photos by Leah Wang.