Igor Tolkov

Mount Snow West Ridge via Mt. Sqoyaw and a Direct Ridgeline Descent

Sep
30
- Oct
4

2020

Mt. Snow West Ridge comprises four peaks: Mt. Flint, Mt. Eaglehead, Mt. Daxue, and Mt. Zhongxue. In addition, hikers following the typical route will ascend Mt. Snow East and Main peaks, making a total of six Baiyue.

I did not follow the typical route. Instead of hiking up to Mt. Snow from the east via the East Peak, I hiked from the South via Mt. Sqoyaw. I also hiked a variation on the last two days. As a result of the variation, I did not summit Mt. Zhongxue on this hike.

Itinerary and Permits

Here, I will describe a non-typical itinerary that most closely resembles mine but does not involve any exploratory trails. A park entry permit for this itinerary can be applied through the Shei-Pa National Park application portal. A mountain entry permit is not required. 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.

West Ridge via Mt. Sqoyaw
Day 1(525 min) Trailhead of Zhijiayang → Sailiangjiou Campground → Piaodan Campground
Day 2(565 min) Piaodan Campground → Zhihjiayang Mountain → South Peak of Xue Mountain → former site of Xue Mountain Cabin → Main Peak of Xue Mountain → Cuei Pond Hut
Day 3(895 min) Cuei Pond Hut → Sia Cuei Pond → Huoshihshansia Campground → Huoshih Mountain → Huoshihshansia Campground → Danan Mountain → Sian Campground of Danan Mountain → Gongshuei Campground → Gongshuei Mountian → Ouying Mountain → Cijyun Mountain → Qijun Mountain Campground
Day 4(715 min) Qijun Mountain Campground → North Peak of DaXue Mountain → DaXue Mountain → Pipida Mountain Dongan Campground → Pipida Mountain → 28K Campground → 26K Campground → Jhongxue Mountain → 26K Campground
Day 5(660 min) 26K Campground → 17K Campground → Entrance of Mt.Xishi forest road

A more typical itinerary starts at Wuling Farm and traverses the east ridge of Mt. Snow. Fast walkers can make it to Cuei Pond Hut (Emerald Pond Hut) in one day, avoiding the lottery for Saliujiu Cabin (Three-Six-Nine Cabin).

West Ridge via Mt. Sqoyaw
Day 1(620 min) Trailhead of Xue Mountain → Qika Cabin → East Peak of Xue Mountain → Saliujiu Cabin → Main Peak of Xue Mountain → Cuei Pond Hut
Day 2-4As days 3-5 above.

If you are not a fast walker, you should split the trek from Cuei Pond to 26K Campground into three days instead of two. Then you will not be in a hurry and can take your time to enjoy the splendour of the west ridge.

Transportation

There are three buses each day in each direction serving Wuling Farm. 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

To hike via Mt. Snow East Peak, alight at Wuling Farm - you will need to pay the entrance fee when the bus stops at the ticket booth. The bus will drop you off at the visitor center, and you will need to hitchhike the remaining distance to the trailhead.

To hike via Mt. Sqoyaw, alight at Huanshan. If riding from Yilan / Luodong, do not pay the entrance fee at the Wuling Farm ticket booth. The trailhead is a short walk through the village as desribed in this guide.

The other end of the hike is by the Tianchi Visitor Center at the Daxue National Recreation Area. It is served by Fengyuan Transit route 252 with two buses departing there at 15:25 and 15:30 on weekends only. If taking the bus, you have to time the hike to exit on a weekend - that, and don't miss the bus. You should also reserve a spot on that bus ahead of time, although if you don't, it's okay - only a limited number of seats are reservable.

Fengyuan Transit route 252 will drop you off at a town called Dongshi. There you can change to a bus that serves Taichung HSR for high speed rail or one of the more frequent buses that serve Fengyuan Railway Station for the regular train.

Day 1: A rainy climb

10:25Arrive Huanshan Village, also known in the local Ataylal language as Qalang Sqoyaw. (Culture note: the Mandarin gloss is for how the tribe name is translated into Mandarin. It is horribly butchered. If you want to know how to pronounce the tribe name, there's a song Qwas Qalang Sqoyaw which you can use as a guide.) Anyway, I go to the nearby 7-11 to buy some food and eat, and to change into hiking clothes.

11:00I set off on the hike. Immediately I notice that my GPS isn't working. It records a few track points, then stops. I try resetting it, but that doesn't help. The only thing I can do is keep the screen always on, which seems to work. There is rain in the forecast for the afternoon, so the delay is unwelcome.

12:00I arrive at the Sijilan Creek suspension bridge across Dajia River which separates the villages from the mountains. Sijilan Creek flows into Dajia River just north of the bridge.

Past the suspension bridge, the trail cuts up a hill away from the creek, then across an farm.

12:43Trailhead, at the far end of the farm.

13:303.1K campground. I have a snack and fill up my water. I bring some water for the evening, but not too much, anticipating rain. At 13:45 I begin climbing, and soon the rain begins.

14:45Some distance past 5K, a group of hikers pitched tents on a flat part of the trail, calling a day early.

16:15Sailiangjiu Campground. Many camping spots here are flooded.

17:30Piaodan Hut. The hut has a dirt floor with some rags and old sleeping bags lying on top. Hiking groups who want to use the hut can do so but should bring a ground tarp. I settle on a relatively clean-looking old sleeping bag. However, my shoes and clothes are completely wet. It was tough going up in the rain, but I knew that there would be a hut waiting for me and pressed on.

It is Mid-Autumn Festival weekend, so I brought moon cakes.

Day 2: Sqoyaw and Snow

The next morning, Piaodan Pond has plenty of clean rainwater. I have breakfast while waiting for my clothes to dry a bit in the sun.

This is Piaodan Hut. If you don't like it, there are camping spots nearby.

09:40Depart. It is a sunny morning, but after a day of rain there is a lot of evaporative condensation which blocks the views.

10:02Mt. Sqoyaw Reference Peak, 3289 m. This is a case when cartographers decided to place their reference marker at a point of than the mountain peak. Technically, it isn't even a peak, just the point where a ridgeline becomes steep. But many people think that a refernce marker always goes on a peak, so they call this "reference peak".

10:43⛰️ Mt. Sqoyaw, 3345 m #44, i.e. the actual peak. Past here the trail enters some tall arrow bamboo. I have to put on raingear to cross it, otherwise I get really wet.

11:50Lunch spot at 9.9K. After lunch, the trail goes flat to the right of the ridge, while I keep following the ridge up to Mt. Snow South Peak. There isn't a trail from the south side as nobody really goes to the South Peak.

12:30⛰️ Mt. Snow South Peak, 3505 m. There is a very faint trail to the north, although it's steep.

12:50Site of the old Mt. Snow Hut. Before Wuling Farm was developed, this was the approach to climb Mt. Snow, and this hut was the base camp. Now it's a nice camping spot. There is a water source nearby.

13:20The trail passes next to a creek bed, where because of the previous day's rain there is water. I fetch water. In drier weather, I would have to take the marked water trail downstream.

13:30Begin the steep uphill. The trail partly scrambles up the creek bed, partly climbs to the left side of the creek. There are many steep rope sections.

14:45Trailhead 12.0K, summit 0.5K. The incline is very steep here. It reminds me of the Central Range Point, except now I have a full pack. To my right is a juniper graveyard, to my left a field of broken rock, under my feet a slippery, sandy trail.

15:21⛰️ Mt. Snow, 3886 m #2.

15:45Keep going. On my way down I observe a halo and Broken spectre, which is literally spectacular.

16:00Saddle. Behind me is Mt. Snow, ahead is North Corner, which is just six meters lower. I go left, in the direction of the west ridge.

16:31Emerald Pond Hut.

A yellow-throated marten came down for a drink on the opposite end of the pond, then ran uphill. Meanwhile, I lost my USB charging cable and searched everywhere for it. I asked around if anyone had seen it, and it turned out someone did pick up a USB charging cable - a different one, but it fit.

Day 3: Flint and Eaglehead

I wasn't supposed to sleep at Emerald Pond Hut, so I camped. However, that night it was very cold.

06:40I depart.

07:05Lower Emerald Pond.

09:30Flint Campground (my intended camping spot for the previous evening), where I catch up to a group of three, and we go up to Mt. Flint together.

09:40Depart lightweight.

10:15⛰️ Mt. Flint, 3310 m #51, so named because of its appearance. We spend about 10 minutes here.

10:44Back at the campground.

10:59Depart. The trail cuts down sharply, then there is a series of steep ups and downs.

12:20The trail disappears under a large tree. We search for the trail, then realize that we need to take the tree. Past this tree, there is another similar tree.

13:10Danan Campground. It's tiny, but there's stream water here.

13:15We sit under a tree for shade and eat lunch together.

13:40Steep uphill to Gongshui Campground begins. There are two trails: one zigzags, another goes directly up.

14:15Gongshui Campground. There are a few dispersed camping sites among the arrow bamboo.

14:25The trail past the campground is flat, slightly downhill. Suddenly there is a sharp turn to the right. Ahead is a sudden drop off a cliff. I imagined that if anyone wants to jog down this trail, they should keep in mind the turn and the cliff.

15:11The flat trail is over, and we have to climb again.

16:27⛰️ Mt. Eaglehead, 3510 m #26

17:06Depart for Mt. Qijun.

17:28⛰️ Mt. Qijun, 3519 m. We watch the sunset.

17:54Head down to camp.

18:03Qijun Campground. It's really nice to hike with others - by the time I pitched my tent, someone had already fetched a bunch of water. We then made dinner together and shared our extra food.

Day 4: Zhongxue from the rear

It was a beautiful camping spot. Unfortunately, it wasn't protected from the wind. I went out to find some large logs and placed them next to my tarp - only then could I sleep. There was also quite a bit of trash. In the morning, while others were having breakfast, I walked around and picked up trash - this would become a routine of mine. Unfortunately, I left my utensils, including chopsticks and titanium spoon at the campground.

07:46Depart. Soon we reach the water spot (creek with running water) and fetch water.

08:00Leave the water spot.

08:11Forest campground. It's protected from the wind and is a good alternative to Qijun Campground. Past the campground, the forest opens up again.

08:53⛰️ Mt. Daxue North Peak, 3437 m.

09:13Depart.

09:54⛰️ Mt. Daxue, 3530 m #23. We spend 30 minutes here.

10:34Pipida Campground.

10:40⛰️ Mt. Pipida, 3440 m. After Mt. Pipida, the trail enters arrow bamboo and begins a steep descent.

11:35Junction. We have lunch. Here I say good bye to my hiking mates of the last two days who are taking the traditional route. (There are a few camping spots here.)

12:20My new friends begin down the trail toward Forest Road 230. Meanwhile, I go straight ahead. There are no trail markers at first - a precaution to prevent hikers from being lured off the main trail. Then trail markers appear, but are very sparse. I don't make too much of an effort to look for them. This is probably a mistake, as the markers do follow a trail, even if a faint one, and it's much easier to follow the trail.

12:55⛰️ Mt. Kehan East Peak, 3027 m.

13:10Kehan Pond, full of fresh water from the recent rain.

13:45⛰️ Mt. Kehan, 3075 m. Somewhere past here my tripod falls out of my backpack. (I lost a lot of things on this hike.)

Past here, the trail descends to an old logging road that's not marked on maps. The trail follows the logging road around Mt. Zhimahan North Peak (there is a spur trail to the peak at 14:00). At some point the trail leaves the logging road and climbs to Mt. Zhimo.

15:15⛰️ Mt. Zhimo, 3145 m. There is a campground here, on the top of the peak. I quickly repack light and head for Mt. Zhongxue.

16:15About to descend from one of the intermediary peaks, I am unable to find the trail. (I later learn that there is a faint ribbon tied on top of a high tree branch marking a sharp turn to the right from an exposed hillside into bamboo.) As it is already getting late, I give up on Mt. Zhongxue and turn around.

17:06I return to Mt. Zhimo to camp.

Day 5: Lost in bamboo

07:55I depart, thinking this would be a short day. It wasn't short.

08:41I take a spur trail to Mt. Zhimo West Peak.

08:54⛰️ Mt. Zhimo West Peak, 3100 m.

09:08Back at the junction.

09:34A nice lookout. Somewhere around here the trail turns right and descends into a dry steram bed. I havent seen any trail markers, so I spend some time searching for the trail.

10:20Xiaopanchi Campground. It looks cute, but has no water.

Past the campground, follow the stream for a bit more, then there is a marked route to the left - along another stream bed. Where the trail goes after that is a mystery. I ended up making my own trail to Mt. Shiwan.

11:50⛰️ Mt. Shiwan, 2905 m.

The trail after Mt. Shiwan is marked on maps, so I thought it would be easy to follow. It wasn't. It was only slightly better than the trail I had just followed. There were still plenty of wrong turns in the bamboo. All these wrong turns waste energy. The trail wasn't easy, either: I had to descend into a saddle, then climb back up. As for the trail markers, you can't see them from a distance, but you will feel relieved when you do see them.

12:23Some aboriginal ruins.

13:09Cache of water. This was very welcome, as I was almost out.

14:23Observation tower ruins, 2988 m. The difficult trail ends here, and an easy access road begins.

14:38Access road exits to a paved forest road that leads to a military radar. Follow this road down to the visitor center at Tianchi.

15:15Tianchi. I make the bus with only ten minutes to spare.