Every couple of weeks I have a Saturday or Sunday afternoon off to relax by myself without having to worry about my son (my wife gets the same deal). Lately I’ve been trying to turn these afternoons off into little adventures by finding hiking trails that are reasonably challenging yet short enough that you can finish them in a couple of hours. As a busy dad, I find that this kind of hike is a perfect way for me to clear my mind and make my body comfortably tired. So far I’ve been on two such mini adventures

The Xianshan Ridge

About a year ago the whole family hiked to the peak of Xianshan. We could see that the trail continues from there, but we we had no idea where it would lead so we decided to head back down again. I was curious what the rest of the trail would be like and asked some of my friends who do a lot more hiking than I do if they knew anything about it. None of them had been there before and I couldn’t find much info on the internet either, so I decided to go back and check it out myself.

The trail to the Xianshan peak is fun with several good scrambling sections that make you feel like you’re actually climbing and not just going for a walk. It is quite short however, when I wasn’t carrying a toddler it only took me about 30 minutes to reach the peak. From there the trail follows a ridge line that’s clearly visible on a topographical map; as best as i can tell it goes all the way to Nanzhuang.

Topographical map showing the ridge line

The trail goes through the forest with only a few spots where you see more than just a glimpse of the view, so it gets pretty monotonous after a while; just a narrow path edged by trees. There are a few scrambling sections along this ridge as well, which is fun but they are too few and too short to really make it interesting. The main thing the breaking the monotony, at least for me, are the colors. A lot of the rocks scattered along the trail are covered in bright green moss, and here and there the cliff that forms the backbone of the ridge pokes through the earth, it’s sides covered in vivid orange lichen. This kept the photographer in me busy trying to capture the colors, the green side by side with the orange.

Eventually I reached the next peak. I could have continued a bit further but it was getting late and since I had to go back down the same way, I decided to turn back. If you arrange your transportation a bit better you could turn this into a day hike from Xianshan to Nanzhuang but I feel it’s unlikely that the landscape would change much and you would eventually get bored with taking photos.

Lidongshan Old Fort

One day I was randomly scrolling around on Google maps and happened to find Lidongshan Old Fort. It looked like just the kind of place I would enjoy so I resolved to go there one day. The trail up to the fort is quite short, only about 1.5 kilometers to the peak, but the thing that makes hiking it a bit of an adventure is the fact that the trail head is rather deep in the mountains. To make the whole thing even more of an adventure I decided to ride my motorbike instead of taking the car.

I happened to select a day that was uncharacteristically cold for the season, with the rain threatening to come at any time. The ride started out pretty chilly and got colder as I climbed higher, forcing me to stop and put on the clothes that I, fortunately, had brought “just in case”. Soon enough a thick fog rolled in, obscuring not only the view, but also the road ahead. There is something about that kind of situation that I find very refreshing; that sense of riding into the unknown, or in this case unseen, makes me feel alive in a way that’s hard to put into words. As I climbed even higher the fog cleared up a bit – just enough to give me some fantastic views of distant peaks shrouded in mist. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to stop and take photos.

My best “misty mountain peak” photo from this adventure.

After more than two hours I finally reached the trail head. At the trail head there is a kind of home made visitor center that seems to be run by the local aborigine tribe. There’s a little box where you are supposed to pay a 20 NTD entrance fee. For that you get access to a bathroom (the only public one in quite some distance) and you can borrow a bamboo hiking pole. I’m normally not a fan of paying entrance fees to go hiking but in this case I think it’s fair.

There are actually two trails up to the fort, one which is flatter and longer – you could probably drive up with a good four wheel drive vehicle – and a steeper and shorter nature trail. I of course took the nature trail. Unlike Xianshan trail it doesn’t require any actual climbing but the trail is narrow and uneven which means it still feels like proper hiking. The nature trail keeps criss crossing the easy trail so if it gets too tiring you can easily switch but I stuck with nature trail all the way. It was foggy the whole hike so i didn’t see much of the view, on the other hand the mist made for a sort of dream-like, almost spooky, atmosphere that I tried my best to capture.

The fort itself is not particularly interesting , just a square courtyard surrounded by concrete walls and turrets with rifle ports in the corners. However, the mist made this simple scene far more atmospheric than it would be on a clear day.

On the way down I took the longer, easier trail because I find the steep ones are not so fun when descending. I came back out to the road a couple of hundred meters from the visitor center. I didn’t mind because it’s an easy walk but if you plan to do the easy trail you should note that the start point is different. By this time the fog had cleared up a bit so I was able to open up the throttle on the motorbike a bit more and enjoy the winding mountain roads. I think this was a fun little adventure but only because the weather was “bad”; on a clear day it would be a lot less fun.