Monday, June 24, 2013


Above is a pan of Puli on Saturday morning, taken from the Cheng Pao hotel. Full size.

Third time is charm, they say. The last two tries at Hehuanshan I failed to make it past Tayuling, unable to sleep above 2000 meters. But I had done them from the Taroko side, which everyone says is harder. This time I did it from the Puli side, which is clearly easier. Would I make it? Click on READ MORE below to find out!

Truth is that altitude terrifies me. This time I decided to sleep at 2000 meters, picking an expensive but restful place right next to the 7-11 at 2000 meters above Cingjing Farm. That meant 1500 meters of climbing on day 1 up Rte 14, most of which is not difficult, followed by another 1300 on day 2 to get to the top. Again, the grades are not that difficult. I wanted my friend Michael Fahey to come, since he has been so inspirational for me, and he suggested we avoid the 14 before Wushe and swing out south to Wujie, and climb back to the 14. That sounded nice on paper, but it turned out to be a grave error for me. I should have listened to my instincts and taken the 14.

Steve Fenton, doing his first overnight ride with me, puts together his bike in Puli after we got off the bus. We rode around for a while and found a hotel.

We stayed at the Cheng Pao. They were kind enough to reduce their stratospheric prices to merely obnoxious for us. At the hotel the local Falungong was having a conference, and they spent the evening yelling up and down the hallway at each other, because everyone knows that conversations cannot be held at less than 100 decibels after 9:00 pm.

In the morning we swung south out of Puli on Zhongzheng Road to pick up the Nantou 71. That road climbed to 1000 meters, went through a tunnel, and then descended into a beautiful valley on the other side. Here Mark Caltonhill and Steve Fenton follow me.

As soon as you leave Puli you're in some lovely countryside.

Saturday is the day for good times.

The opening ramps on the Nantou 71 were pretty, but brutally steep.

Six in all.

The road is hemmed in by vegetation, but there are a couple of places where it breaks for nice views. We were fortunate to have an overcast day. The road is exposed and the sun would have been fearsome.

Mark Caltonhill poses. Mark is one of the best people I know, easy to talk to, funny, smart, and great to hang with.

We waited by the tunnel entrance at about 1000 meters for Peter (blue).

Steve disappears into the distance.

Once you pass through the tunnel you're in a gorgeous valley.

I didn't think much of the descent, punctuated by these ridiculous steel grates at regular intervals. Here Mark goes to help Steve, whose bag has fallen off. Very annoying.

We stopped in this little aboriginal hamlet, full of children.

Steve rests by a lovely little waterfall.

Around one of the two reservoirs on the ride.

Amazing views.

More nice views.

Small roads in Taiwan are frequently wiped out by landslides and bank slumping and collapse. Here Steve threads his way through a construction area. These disasters provide employment for locals, repair being a perpetual motion machine.

If you haven't done this road, put it on your list.

The road runs along this reservoir for a while, very enjoyable.

We got to Wushe about 1 pm and then headed up another 150 meters to a small restaurant that sat above Wushe town, with excellent views. That little climb was the hardest of the day. But even more importantly, we had gotten to Wushe via Wujie, which had cost us an extra 700 meters of climbing that we didn't need to do, on the long detour through Wujie.

Steve charges out of Wushe.

We climbed up to Cingjing at about 1700 meters and as we took a break at the 7-11 6 kms from where we'd eaten lunch, it started to pour. We waited that out, then started climbing. A few minutes later the clouds blew away and we saw the stupendous views along this stretch.

Steve grins. What a lift beautiful weather is!

We stayed at the Greenfinger. There are cheaper places up there, but none as close to the 7-11 at 2000 meters.

In the morning I was ready to attack Hehuanshan, but also dreading it. What would happen to me at altitude?

By 8 am, when we left, the 7-11 is already crowded with cyclists who are "doing Wuling." Haha. They take a van up to Cingjing, sleep there, then ride up to Hehuanshan with nothing on their bikes, not carrying anything. They summit and then turn around and roll back down to their vans. Steve and Mark laughed at them. "Don't worry Michael," they reassured me, "we'll be passing those guys walking in a few kilometers." They were not wrong. We passed them later, walking at like 2300 meters, then at about 2600 meters they were getting into vans.

The moths up there are special and beautiful. I might have to go up again just to take pictures of them with a good camera.

Mark rolls out towards the summit at 3275 meters.

Plenty of cyclists on the road. Some already walking, and we're not even up very high.

Mark and Steve, powerful riders, bull forward. Alas, the gorgeous weather didn't last.

Mark snapped this. Many thanks, man!

Some excellent views from up there.

Nearing 3000 meters, Mark takes a drink. I was becoming more and more nervous. 2600 meters.... 2700 meters... 2800 meters. When would I break and start gasping for breath? For the truth was that I wasn't feeling a damn thing. It didn't feel any harder to pull up those slopes than it did 1500 meters lower.

At 3000 meters, just before this point, I finally conked out. I wasn't feeling the altitude, but rather, simply ran out of energy. I had climbed over 2000 meters in total the day before. 300 meters short of the top, I ran out out of gas and walked the remainder. I was really frustrated -- if I hadn't done those extra 700 meters of climbing on brutal slopes the day before, I might have been able to get to the top on the bike. I had also done another stupid thing -- I climbed a long section of the road on Sunday on my second-biggest ring, not on my granny, needlessly burning energy. Hadn't slept well either, as usual. Insomnia plays hell with my cycling. But I wasn't feeling any altitude effects, no nausea, headache, troubled breathing.... though the fatigue might have been due to the altitude.

We stopped at 3100 meters at the little eatery and park station up there. Mark posed for me. He and Steve did a great job taking care of me going uphill. I give them my most heartfelt thanks. I couldn't have done it without them.

Here is the last picture I took. As I walked up from the restaurant, clouds blew in to shroud the top, there at the extreme right, less than a km away. A mighty thunderstorm exploded and rain dropped from the sky. Temps plummeted. I made the top dripping like a walrus plucked from the ocean and I was so frustrated and demoralized that I had done it walking and got soaked for my pains that I nearly didn't do the obligatory picture of the 3275 meter marker. Felt like a complete failure. Eventually Mark talked me down and I felt a little better. I had really been hoping to do it on the bike. Needless to say, I am never doing this stupid mountain again.

Of course all my worry about altitude was for naught, I didn't feel a thing. I had no trouble walking fast and no trouble breathing. An anticlimax, like all my fears.

The thing was that the rain also terrified me. Descending on slick pavement is dangerous and on the Taroko side, if you hit trouble, there is nothing and no one up there. We rolled down the sleep slopes on the other side, creeping at a slow pace to avoid an accident on the slick surfaces. The cold was biting and at 3158 meters I stopped to put on an underlayer. Even with it I started having the shivers and teeth chattering. I could barely concentrate on the road. It was an accident waiting to happen.... We hit a long dry patch and rolled into Tayuling....

Note: Tayuling basically no longer exists, it's been knocked down. All the buildings either are gone or are going. The only place to stay now is at the CPC Youth Hostel in Guanyun. Mark your books accordingly.

...after Tayuling it started to pour. Fortunately after the climb back to about 2600 meters the downward slope is gentle and we rolled safely if wobbly down to 2150 meters. From there, defeated by the awful weather -- descending in that crap was super dangerous, and besides, the Taroko side on a clear day was the reward we had been expecting -- we flagged down a passing van that took us into Hualien. I was miserable -- cold, tired, and beaten. Steve's Garmin calculated that we had done over 3700 meters of climbing in the two days. I was still cold in my bones even after a hot shower in sunny Hualien city....

An ok trip, except for the ending, but I really enjoyed the company. Thanks to Mark and Steve I made it to the top. Love you both!

UPDATED: Steve's garmin map. We hopped in van at Shen Mu at 2150 meters on the Taroko side.
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MC said...

you did Wuling!
(don't listen to that **** in the back of your head; you did it)

but never say never to doing it again

Domenic said...

Hats off to you, Michael. You made it up as far as I am concerned- those extra km and climbing shouldn't be considered part of the climb. Feeling proud. Oh and, and think the fatigue was the altitude. Where it got you seems to be right where it got me.

Anonymous said...

Cheers! There's always a next time!

Andrew Kerslake said...

I remember the first two times you tried and said you'd never climb that mountain. You were done with Wuling and Hohuan Shan.

I have been waiting a long time for those pics atop Hohuan Shan. Now, you have the honor of saying, "I'll never climb that F-ing mountain ever...AGAIN!"

I'm sorry I couldn't be there for it.

Bill said...

nice read, and great pic's

Paul Sharpe said...

Don't be so harsh on yourself. I sometimes walk - ha ha - when I am tired. No shame in it. You did great. You, like me, don't ride to compete, you ride to enjoy. So enjoy! And I think you might do it again. I am training to do it now. Just need to make sure the knee is ok.

Anyway, nice write up and do take care.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your journey ~ great commentary + photos. (as usual!)

Unknown said...

Time to recall fir the rest if my life

Anonymous said...

I was with Michael on the trip and it was also very special to me, cant thank him enough for getting me to do it.

Cheer buddy.


Steve Fenton said...

Here is the profile of the ride if you dont believe we climbed up to more than 3000 mts

Peter Stewart said...

Yes, you did it. Your "terrible" experience is just giving a greater itch to get up there. I haven't done it yet.