Sunday, November 08, 2009

Riding to the heart of 921

Saturday morning I drove out to Nantou with my friend Drew and met up with Todd Alperovitz from The Daily Bubble Tea in Chunghsing Village. From there we began climbing....

Here is the route we took (an interactive version may be found at We started by climbing up Jiufen Ershan, about 1000 meters, then went down 300 meters to the memorial area for the 921 earthquake. We then descended from there to 147, which runs north-south in the area northwest of Sun Moon Lake. On 147 we climbed back up to the ridgeline at around 700 meters, and then descended again to 131. From there it was downhill all the way to Chunghsing Village. Great ride, over 90 kms of lovely farms and imposing earthquake damage.

Nantou county is a major producer of betel nut.

Along the way there were plenty of this lovely butterfly...

...and this harmless whip scorpion, who went into his defensive posture when he saw us.

Looking back. The ride up Jiufen Ershan was extremely steep, pretty much 7-10% grades the whole way.

Drew and Todd confer.

We stopped for a rest, and watched this spider wait patiently as this butterfly exhaust itself struggling to get free. Scientists recently found the world's oldest spider web.

Nearby caterpillers struggled to come forth from a cocoon.

At the summit of Jiufen Ershan were several tea farms.

Beetles grab a meal.

Along the crest of Jiufen Ershan is a set of natural and human memorials to the awesome power of the 921 quake, whose epicenter is near the top of the mountain.

We rode along that rode on the left there at the bottom of the ridge. When the quake hit, the whole face of the mountain slide away, 10 hectares in area, and fell into the valley below, where it dammed two rivers. That's right, the flat area there is a gigantic landslide scarp. The government immediately constructed a spillway to prevent flooding. Brave fellows, whoever those workers were.

A couple of hundred meters from the epicenter are some extremely disturbed chunks of strata. Here Todd poses. There's a small eatery where a simple lunch can be had. The owner has pictures from the quake aftermath there, which is happy to explain to you.

Very disturbed.

A few smashed buildings remain.

Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.

Drew and Todd contemplate the view. We descended from here through lovely farming scenery to 147.

Two species say hello. At 147 there is a small deer paddock in the village of Nangang ("south port"). Nangang township's symbol is the deer.

Taiwanese love to use old styrofoam containers as planters.

Not a good day for photos, but you can get a sense of the gorgeous valley that 147 pushed through.

Todd and friends.

147 linked to 131, another lovely ride through farms. We took 131 downhill to Nantou past the reservoirs at the top of the Choshui River....

....and stopped in Shuili for slushies. Todd and Drew looking great after a wonderful ride.

Shuili market.

In Shuili local kayakers were out practicing.

Further down Rte 16 Drew spotted this boundary stele dating back to the Qing period.

The famous leaning tower of Taiwan, a relic of 921, which you can see from Highway 3 on the way through Nantou. The area is littered with such sights, and the maps and tourist spots advertise a "921 Earthquake Tour" of them.
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vin said...

Amazing fault-line landscape. Thanks for those pictures.

Michael Turton said...

You should bike by it -- it's frightening, you can't help thinking that nothing is holding that mountain up, and more should be coming down any minute. Theyre not in the picture, but the giant free-standing boulders in the center of the landslide scarp don't help. Any one of them could crush a house.


Don said...

Thanks for another enjoyable proxy scoot through the countryside for those of us too time-management-challenged to do much of this ourselves!

I had a look at Jiufen Ershan soon after the quake and all you could see left right and above the slip zone were betel palms. Most likely it was an illegal plantation that got shrugged off the mountain that day. Have always wondered if the responsible landowner or planter or officials from the Forestry Bureau or local land management office got called to account for the resulting economic damage (and probable loss of life). If the authorities had set an example back then it could have made a difference preventing avoidable horrors like the destruction of Hsiaolin Village.

Anonymous said...

Why is the Nantou government still tolerating Betel Nut Plantations in such an unstable land and earthquake belt?


Todd said...

Glad you two could finally make it out here for a ride. I'm really happy we continued to Shuili instead of turning around at Jiufen Ershan!

Michael Turton said...

Todd, me too!! A very memorable and enjoyable ride. Even if Drew did make us climb another @*#&$^ ridge :)

147 really kicks ass. I'm looking forward to doing it on a day when it isn't so hazy!


Michael Turton said...

Don, I don't understand why the government permits that either, but years of complaints in the press have brought no change.

Michael Fahey said...

Cool. More interesting central taiwan routes. My vow to cown for a ride by the end of the year is not forgotten!

vin said...

"You should bike by it..."

I know, I know. Bike to be bought in late winter. Sometime later, I hope to catch up with you Tour de Taiwan guys.

Carlos said...

As a structural engineer, I'd say a plantation is exactly what you want over a fault - anything that isn't a building! In California, where space isn't as scarce as in Taiwan, the rules are no structures within 50ft (15m) of active faults, and more stringent design values if you're within a few miles of one. If land were cheap, you'd stay away from faults. It isn't, so we just try to account for them.

As for land management before the earthquake... the fault there was designated as inactive prior to 921. It was a sad surprise to learn that it wasn't.

john said...

Is that pylon the infamous 921 "single pylon" that took down the main north-south transmission line bringing power north from the Kending nuclear power plant, thus blacking out most of northern Taiwan for about three days?

If so, then I'm sure its location is now well marked on PLA maps..

Anonymous said...


The "single pylon" incident happened in July, two months prior to the 921 earthquake. And yes, 40 years of the KMT requisitioning as much as 85% of the GDP for military and defense against a Chinese invasion, one pylon brought down 3/4 of the national power grid.