Igor Tolkov

Jade Five: The Five Near Peaks of Mount Jade

Dec
6 - 7
2020

You probably know that you can pay a lot of money for a two-day fully supported trip to the highest peak of Taiwan, Mt. Jade. But you should also know that there are not one but five peaks in the near vicinity of Mt. Jade, and with a bit of preparation you can do that hike on a budget - while still supporting the Indigenous people of Taiwan.

Permits

Both a park and mountain entry permit is required. The park entry permit is applied through the Yushan National Park application portal. The application must be submitted at least one month in advance and enters you into the draw for a bunk in Paiyun Lodge, which is the biggest obstacle to Taiwanese people applying for this hike. Often there are ten times as many applications as bed spaces.

Foreigners, however, are eligible to skip the draw by filing an advance application. This application must be submitted at least 35 days before the hike date, and assigns up to 24 beds on a first-come-first-serve basis. (There is no waitlist - all other applications join the regular draw.) Futhermore, a Taiwanese hiker may join a team of 1-5 foreigners; two Taiwanese may join a team of 6-10 foreigners. The advance application is a great way for foreigners to see Taiwan's highest peak, and you can bring a Taiwanese friend along, too.

There are a few restrictions, though. Only nights before work days are eligible (no weekends or holidays), only one application may be submitted per year per person, and only a two-day itinerary with an overnight at Paiyun Lodge is eligible. Also, the number of Taiwanese among the 24 spaces may not exceed four.

A two-day hike with an overnight at Paiyun Lodge is enough time to visit all five near peaks. However, the second day will be very tiring. You can do any subset of the peaks, however.

Here is a suggested itinerary that transits all five near peaks.

Suggested itinerary
Day 1(540 min) Paiyun Mountaineering Center → Tataka Trailhead → Mt. Jade Front Peak → Paiyun Lodge → Mt. Jade West Peak → Paiyun Lodge
Day 2(775 min) Paiyun Lodge → Mt. Jade North Peak → Mt. Jade Main Peak → Mt. Jade East Peak → Mt. Jade Main Peak → Paiyun Lodge → Tataka Trailhead → Paiyun Mountaineering Center

Apply for the mountain permit with a single click once you get the park permit approved.

Before the hike, you must check in at the Paiyun Mountaineering Center, presenting your permit and an ID. They will check and stamp your permit. You can then take a shuttle to the Tataka Trailhead for NT$100. On arrival at Paiyun Lodge, you will hand the stamped permit to the lodge staff on duty.

Lodging

Paiyun Lodge is a staffed mountain lodge that offers meal and sleeping bag service. Thus you don't need to bring food (except snacks) or a sleeping bag to hike to Mt. Jade - as long as you order these one week before the hike. It is a good idea to order meals from Paiyun Lodge because cooking is not allowed inside - you'll have to take your stove outside and make dinner in the cold otherwise. As this is a staffed lodge, there is a fee of NT$480 per person per night, more for meals and sleeping bag rental.

Dongpu Lodge is a staffed mountain lodge conveniently located next to the Paiyun Mountaineering Center where the hike begins. It has bedsheets, hot showers, and meal service. It is recommended to stay there the night before the hike in order to acclimatize to elevation and reduce the possibility of developing acute mountain sickness. If taking the bus, you may want to spend a night at Dongpu Lodge after the hike as well. The lodging cost is NT$400 per person per night. Dinner is NT$200; breakfast and early breakfast are NT$80 each. To reserve, e-mail dongpusky@gmail.com.

The lodges are staffed and serviced by Indigenous people of Taiwan. For example, you will likely see porters slowly carrying the food up the trail to Paiyun Lodge in white styrofoam boxes. The fees you pay directly support the local Indigenous community.

Transportation

There are two buses each day in each direction between Sun-Moon Lake and Alishan, serving the Tataka trailhead. Two buses depart in the morning (08:00 and 09:00) from Sun-Moon Lake, and in the afternoon (13:00 and 14:00) from Alishan. The trip to Tataka takes about 30 minutes from Alishan or about two hours from Sun-Moon Lake.

Yuanlin Transit 6739
08:00Departs Sun-Moon Lake, arrives Tataka 10:30-11:00
09:00Departs Sun-Moon Lake, arrives Tataka 11:50-12:10
13:00Departs Alishan, arrives Tataka 13:40-14:00
14:00Departs Alishan, arrives Tataka 14:40-15:00

Seats on the bus can be reserved online, and it's a good idea to make one to guarantee your spot. Reservations are free and made for the entire segment - you'll pay the correct fare onboard. However, this is a problem if you're boarding the bus at Tataka. It may be a good idea to call the morning of your ride and let the driver know to leave a space open for you.

Variations

The most common itinerary by far is to only visit Mt. Jade Main Peak:

Main Peak only
Day 1(260 min) Paiyun Mountaineering Center → Tataka Trailhead → Paiyun Lodge
Day 2(465 min) Paiyun Lodge → Mt. Jade Main Peak → Paiyun Lodge → Tataka Trailhead → Paiyun Mountaineering Center

This itinerary is short enough that you may consider not staying at Dongpu Lodge at all, taking the same-day morning bus to Tataka and the same-day afternoon bus back. However, the day before the hike you would still need to stay overnight at Sun-Moon Lake, as there is no way to get to Sun-Moon Lake by 08:00. Counting on the return bus to Sun-Moon Lake is also risky. You could, for example, decide to get a good night's sleep and hike to the Main Peak later in the morning, and then it will be too late for the afternoon bus.

If taking the bus to/from Sun-Moon Lake, expect a few stops to get out and stretch along the way, including a chance to buy some souvenirs.

Day 1: Front Peak, West Peak

I didn't stay at Dongpu Lodge or take the Yuanlin bus because I went with a friend who gave me a ride. But this means we started the hike later than we would have otherwise.

09:45Paiyun Mountaineering Center, check-in. We present our IDs and park permit. They stamp the permit to show that we've checked in. We then queue for the shuttle bus to the Tataka trailhead. It costs NT$100 / person.

10:10Tataka trailhead, where we start the hike. The trail climbs the south side of Mt. Jade's west ridge, so there will usually be a view to the south. Along the trail are many wooden bridges. These are numbered in increasing order, with a total of 86 along the trail to Paiyun Lodge.

10:44Monroe pavillion. Immediately after it is a toilet. There are so many hikers on this trail that the park has installed toilets.

11:05Junction with Mt. Jade Front Peak trail. We start climbing Front Peak. The hike is short, but steep.

11:52⛰️ Mt. Jade Front Peak (3239 m) #69, spend 10 min here then go back down.

12:35Back at the junction, rest for a bit then keep going.

13:33Second pavilion with a nice view on a more sunny day.

15:05Paiyun Lodge. Here we check in, handing the stamped park application to the staff on duty. They check that we paid and show us to our beds. Interestingly, we seem to be in a room for foreigners. And we get really lucky - we get our own beds in the corner, while the others have to sleep shoulder to shoulder.

15:35We set off light for Mt. Jade West Peak. It's actually not a long hike, and there is not a lot of climbing, although the trail passes over a few hills before reaching the peak.

16:25⛰️ Mt. Jade West Peak (3518 m) #25. Just past the peak is a replica of a Shinto shrine.

16:55We start heading back to the lodge.

17:40We arrive at the lodge around dusk but don't need to pull out our headlamps. Because we didn't order food, we have to cook outside, but then bring the food back inside to eat. There is boiled water provided at the lodge, so at least we don't need to go outside to boil water.

Day 2: Yushan North Peak, Main Peak, and East Peak

Hikers usually wake up early on the second day and try to make it to the summit by sunrise. The summit of Mt. Jade Main Peak is therefore very crowded around sunrise. However, North Peak is further along. So, if the goal is to visit all the near peaks, it's better to get up earlier and start with North Peak.

Hot water is provided for breakfast. Because we get up later than everyone else, the water isn't very hot, and there isn't much of it left, but enough for a cup of tea. It also helps that our breakfast doesn't need cooking, otherwise we'd have to go outside to cook again.

04:07Depart Paiyun Lodge lightweight, but packed for the whole day. This is a very late departure time - most people leave between 02:30 and 03:30. We catch up with them, though, on the switchback trail uphill to the Main Peak. For many Taiwanese, this will be the first high peak, so they will walk up the hill slowly, possibly with a headache or other acute mountain illness symptoms.

05:05Junction with Mt. Jade Main Peak trail. Most people go right to summit the Main Peak. The trail straight is a steep downhill to the saddle. Tread carefully here. You can hang on to the metal guide fence on the right or zigzag down.

06:01The sky dawns. We are almost to the summit with the North Peak weather station solar arrays close by.

06:14⛰️ Mt. Jade North Peak (3858 m) #4. We watch the sunrise from here.

06:38We depart for North-North Peak. Most hikers don't go to North-North Peak, as it's not on the "baiyue" list, but it's only 10-15 minutes each way.

06:48⛰️ Mt. Jade North-North Peak (3833 m). We spend 15 min here, then go back.

07:15Another 10 minutes at the North Peak because my friend wants to do a headstand photo. I notice that there are people having tea inside the weather station. They have a panorama window with a view of Mt Jade Main and East Peaks. That's so cool!

On the way back to the Main Peak junction, I take photos I didn't get to take when it was still dark.

08:30Junction with Mt. Jade Main Peak trail.

08:42⛰️ Mt. Jade Main Peak (3952 m) #1. Spend 40 minutes here.

09:20Depart for East Peak. The last part of this leg involves holding on to metal chains and scrambling up the rocky wall of the East Peak.

10:20⛰️ Mt. Jade East Peak (3869 m) #3.

10:58Head back.

11:44Back at Mt. Jade Main Peak. Rest for 10 minutes, then begin the descent.

12:06Junction with Mt. Jade Main Peak trail for the third and final time.

12:40Paiyun Lodge. Repack. Depart at 13:03. We speedwalk / run down the trail.

14:20Junction with Front Peak trail.

14:55Tataka trailhead. We take the shuttle for NT$100 - it drops us off at the parking lot on the highway. My friend gives me a ride all the way down to Tainan.