Igor Tolkov

Mount Zhongxue and Neighboring Peaks

Nov
7 - 9
2020

Mt. Zhongxue is the last of the baiyue on the Mt. Snow West Ridge, and since I didn't make it to the top on my West Ridge hike, I went back a second time. I was also looking for my tripod, so in addition to hiking up Mt. Zhongxue, I hiked a loop of its neighboring peaks: Mt. Zhimo, Mt. Kehan, and Mt. Zhimahan North Peak, retracing my steps from last time. It was a challenging hike as it involved a lot of walking: 74 km in just three days.

Information

It's best to hike Mt. Zhongxue as part of the Mt. Snow West Ridge, as doing it alone requires walking 26 km of Forest Road 230, twice. Once you're at the 26K trailhead, the trail to Mt. Zhongxue is short, and the view from the top isn't great. As for the other peaks in this guide, I don't recommend them. It is very easy to get lost. Even on the trail to Mt. Zhongxue you have to be careful. As it turns out, while I was there, a search rescue operation was underway for a missing hiker who strayed from the trail on the way down and got lost. Despite a US$50,000 reward, they were never found.

Day 1: Forest Road 230 Uphill

I take a morning HSR to Taichung, then a bus to Dongshi, and finally the bus to Daxue National Recreation Area. Turns out, that bus waits at the Daxue Visitor Center for a long time before continuing to Tianchi. There is no point in waiting, and I begin the hike from the visitor center.

11:03I start walking along the well-developed trail, unhappy: not because I have to walk extra, but because I didn't realize that the government promotion of one free entrance ticket to any national recreation area in Taiwan, valid until the end of 2020, applied to non-citizens. I paid the NT$100 entrance fee.

11:47⛰️ Mt. Anma, 2666 m. The peak is inaccessible, as there is a military facility with an alert guard dog on site. It's a paved road from here to Tianchi.

12:07Old tractor, parked right outside Tianchi.

12:19I start on Forest Road 230, and right away am greeted by a Reeves muntjac.

The first section of road is passable by car, although only emergency and service vehicles may enter.

14:05Washout. A few cars were parked a few minutes before here. There are some ropes along the washout and a high trail. I take the high trail.

14:21Other end of the high trail.

16:20Mini-washout. There are plenty of these along the trail. Ahead of it is a campsite, also common along the trail. This one is advantageous as it has easy access to creek water.

16:33Remains of a house.

It gets dark soon. I keep walking in the dark, looking for a place to camp. It's advantageous to camp early, as that would make my lightweight day 2 longer and the heavyweight day 3 shorter. But I need water, which none of these campsites have.

17:52I make camp around 22K.

Day 2: Zhongxue and Neighboring Peaks

I wake up to the sound of a giant yellow hornet buzzing around my head. I get out of the tent immediately.

08:33I depart lightweight. I collect some plastic water bottles to fill with water. A third goal of this hike is to leave a water cache at the top of Mt. Zhimo. I took advantage of a water cache on my last hike and would like to pay the favor forward.

09:0426K trailhead.

Some distance up the trail I noticed a water cache. I thought it was a strange place to leave water. I didn't realize there was a search and rescue operation underway! In addition to these water caches, there were tents apparently placed on the road to support rescuers, although I don't remember seeing them on those days.

This is what the trail looks like. Tip: if you get lost on a mountain trail, go up, not down, and you'll soon get back on the trail.

11:19⛰️ Mt. Zhongxue 3173 m #79. Most people turn around here. Don't go on unless you know what you're doing.

11:49Mt. Zhongxue is not known for its peak as much as a memorial that requires walking a bit further to the south. The view from the memorial site is much better, too.

12:06I reach the point where I turned around last time. Well, the hidden trail emerges from the bamboo, and is only marked by a faint ribbon up high on a tree branch. There are no flags on the bamboo marking the entrance. See for yourself: can you find the ribbon?

Nice views just uphill.

12:28Saddle point, where the bamboo clears, and I can show you what the trail looks like.

12:53⛰️ Mt. Zhimo, 3145 m. I have a brief lunch, leave my water cache in the shade under a rock, then keep going.

13:08The south side of Mt. Zhimo is briefly free of tall bamboo - but not for long.

13:51Junction with Mt. Zhimahan North Peak trail.

I take the side trail to the peak. I dislike the trail. It is steep, the bamboo is very dense, and there isn't any view from the peak.

14:15The only pretty part, and even here I'm preoccupied finding the trail.

14:34⛰️ Mt. Zhimahan North Peak, 3085 m. The name means "man who knows his horse" but that probably refers to the main peak, which is lower and not accessed from this trail. I snap a quick pic and make haste back down.

15:02Back at the junction.

15:22⛰️ Mt. Kehan, 3075 m. I did not find my tripod. But on my way down from here I find a Tiger thermos! Ahead, Kehan Pond is dry.

16:09Finally, the junction with the main trail. Now that I hiked to all the 3000+ peaks here, I don't need to ever come back to this arrow bamboo jungle... right?

16:45I'm jogging downhill, but it's steep, and there are a lot of washouts where the trail detours.

17:02The closest I get to a sunset on this hike.

17:20Water! I wash the bamboo off my hands, arms, legs, and face (it sticks to everything). If it were earlier, I would have gone for a swim, but I'm in a hurry to get back to my tent.

18:47I return to my 22K campsite.

Day 3: Forest Road 230 Downhill

05:55I depart. I didn't think to take a photo of the campsite, unfortunately.

07:13I pass a group of campers.

Here are some prettier parts of the road. Mostly it was a long, boring walk. I passed time by picking up trash.

10:01Big washout. This time I take the direct trail. It feels fine. I don't think there's any reason to take the high trail here.

10:10From here, the road is passable to cars. No more washouts.

10:52National Park sign.

11:48Tianchi. The small bag to the left is my personal trash; the rest is trash I picked up along the trail.

12:24Trail down to the visitor center. It's Monday, so there are no buses here.

13:00I arrive at the visitor center.

I have lunch first. After lunch, my plan is to keep walking another 10 km or so, down a ridge trail to Guguan where buses run every day. Before embarking on that plan, I first ask the front desk if anyone can give me a ride. Turns out there is a car that was just about to depart, and they take me all the way to Dongshi! We see a Swinhoe's pheasant out the window.

At Dongshi, I try taking the bus to Fengyuan instead, then the regular train. This saves me money, but costs time - almost an hour layover in Fengyuan.