Monday, June 21, 2010

Riding Taroko Gorge

Friday afternoon a group of us met at the Sincheng train station in Hualien County for another ride up Taroko Gorge. The plan this time was to bike the 25 kms from the train station to the Catholic Hostel at Tianxiang at 480 meters of altitude, overnight there, then bug out at 7 or so in the morning and climb 50 kms and 2100 meters to a hostel in Tayuling.

I met my friends Dwight and Jeff at the train station as the sun was setting.

We headed up 8 for Taroko Gorge.

The first westerners to see this side of the island marveled at the dramatic cliffs so close to the ocean. Today we still do.

Taroko Gorge is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but light was failing at this point.

A bend in the gorge.

Jeff takes in the views.

It soon grew too dark to take pictures.

Rough and ready accomodations at the Catholic Hostel.

The morning sun confirmed that the day was going to be sunny.

Right outside of Tianxiang was this enormous landslide, which had taken out the road. A new road had been built over its detritus.

Resting in front of a tunnel.

Further up in the gorge Jeff makes a friend. The apparatus behind him enables the village(rs) from the village atop the ridge to get themselves and their things down to the road.

At Shibao at 915 meters. The opening section to here is the steepest part of the road, with grades I think were between 7-8%. The local school is here; the children board and go home on weekends.

The road climbed

At 1117 meters I stopped to get some peaches. On a climb like this you can never have too much food.

Jeff and I take a breather.

Keep this bridge in mind. There's a story....

Jeff, Dwight, and Drew taking a break.

Just before the set of switchbacks at around 1500 meters there is a small shop that sells snacks. We grabbed water, down a Supao, and dined on tiny bananas smaller than a thumb. Yi kou jiao! punned one of the locals after we commented on how you eat one at a single bite.

In the switchbacks.

Taiwan's tough weather and constant landslides mean constant need for road repair.

The peaks are awesome.

Resting at 1644 meters.

I didn't even know Taiwan had dung beetles, but I spotted this one by the side of the road, hard at work. UPDATE: After I posted this I thought I would check Google to see what information there was on Taiwan dung beetles, and found that my post had become the seventh hit, so lacking is information in English.

So I video'd his furious struggles.
Above the switchbacks the road levels out to a 4-6% grade, not difficult at all, but still work.
We stopped to enjoy some butterflies and a group of people photographing them. One of the men named them all in Chinese for us.
Bees busy.
I showed the resident expert this fellow resting in the leaves, but he dismissed it with a wave. "It's just a moth," he said, adding that Taiwan has hundreds of species of moths but only 400 kinds of butterflies.
At 1995 meters we grabbed another Supao and rested in front of a small stand. Alas, the B&B that used to be there is now a wreck.
As we rested, we took in the superb vistas.
At Shenmu ("God Tree") at around 2200 meters there is a restaurant.
We devoured cups of coffee and a bowl of noodles. Exactly what we needed at exactly the right time, remarked Drew. Thus powered, we surged forward.
Dwight shows his power.
The road bends around the mountain to over 2500 meters at this point. The views are vertigo-inducing.
Dwight and Jeff have a chat.
In front of the two tunnels at 2600 meters.
At Kuanyun at 2375 meters. The final climb of a couple of hundred meters was still in front of us.
We stayed at this place in Tayuling at 2564 meters, which has a very secluded little hostel space at $300 a pop. We were the only people there.
Unfortunately I have severe problems with sleeping at altitude. Although I came ready to go over Wuling and down to Puli, after a sleepless night I decided to go back down to Sincheng the way we came. Jeff went with me. It was a lovely day, and a very enjoyable ride. Going downhill with gravity doing most of the work enabled us to notice many things we missed on the way up while focusing on the work of the climb.
A pheasant crossed the road and then I managed to get a picture of him as he watched us from the bushes. Jeff identified him as a Swinhoe's Pheasant (Wiki), but a commenter below says he is a Mikado Pheasant (Wiki).
Downhill on the pleasant grade.
It took us about ten tries just to get this crappy shot.
Another clear day.
The road to Wuling.
We stopped again at Shenmu for coffee. The owners of the restaurant are really nice people.
Here's another one of these bridges. We counted three red ones, and at the bottom of the gorge, there is a similar one in yellow.....
Their story is told in this plaque. The bridges were made by the Gustav Eiffel engineering company in France for Vietnam in 1954. Then this happened. They were installed here in Taroko in 1966, according to the marker to the left of the bridge in the photo above this one. Waste not, want not.
The mountains aren't any less awesome because you are going downhill.
One of the advantages of biking is that you come on everything silently, meaning that you see a lot of wildlife you would have missed had you been in a car or (god forbid) a large motorcycle. We surprised innumerable monkeys on the way down.
Down into the green gorge we went.
We reached the steepest part of the road, about 600 meters above Tianxiang, that little clump of buildings in the center of the picture.
Below us the river continued to make new gorge.
As we entered the gorge, the traffic picked up. We took a breather here by a ruined bridge. The sign warned about wild cattle on the paths, but I figured that any cattle that can manage to wander on those steep rocky trails must be godlike creatures that I would humbly submit to pounding me to a pulp.
The trail is closed.
Welcome to Taroko.
This accident totally snarled the road. We had trouble with big motorcycles the whole ride down. The drive up as fast as they can -- never did we see motorcyclists stopped above the gorge, enjoying the view or watching the animals. They are louder than an advancing army, terrifying the local wildlife. Worst of all, they pay no attention to anyone else and "turn" corners by cutting them, with the predictable results shown here. Although the SUV drivers appear to have all signed a pledge saying they will drive with the center line under their hood ornament at all times, for sheer wanton selfish road hogging, the big motorcycle drivers win all awards. They are an unredeemable menace. I seriously think they should be banned from park roads.
As we were coming down we ran into these boys walking in the middle of the road. With us on the side and cars racing down the road, there was no place to go, so I shouted them over the side of the road. Later we met in front of 7-11 in Sincheng, to mutual amusement. They proudly showed off the shrimp they'd caught, and one boy explained to me how to barbecue and eat them. The shrimp, I mean.
The station in Sincheng.
Plenty of food for thought. You could contemplate this Falungong display right in the waiting area, I guess aimed at Chinese tourists. Or.... could try and figure out what this sign meant, if you didn't read Chinese. We boarded the train, the ride over, but the pure joy of it lingering.
With men at work on a hot Sunday afternoon....
....we cyclists were bound for home. _______________________ Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Todd said...

Awesome pics Michael! I wish I could have joined you guys!

Joe said...

Wow! Michael, this post is awesome! You are the man! I love those photos and the story is great. I'm only about half-way through now. I definitely want to go next time!

Dwight said...

Ditto. And I was there! Thank you for making this happen.

Ryan said...

This post makes me sad. I need to do that ride this summer.

Sage said...

Beautiful pictures and a very interesting bit about the bridges.

Looked like perfect weather, thanks for sharing.

Michael Fahey said...

What beautiful weather. Taiwan riding at its best.

The only thing you can do about the motorbikes is get up really early They are lazy bastards.

And a Swinhoe's Pheasant! Major bonus!

Michael Turton said...

@joe -- I was the slowest guy going up. The others were more awesome than I!

@Dwight, it was such a pleasure to have you along.

@Feiren, as soon as I saw that pheasant by the side of the road I knew the bike gods were sending us a wonderful day. What a magical moment that was! And he even waited for me after he hid inside the bushes.

I am so fortunate to have that opportunity.

@Ryan, I'm pretty sure there will be another one in August.


NONE said...

August? Whew! I'll try to get into fighting shape to do this again. I really love this ride.

Mad Minerva said...

Lovely photos! As always you make me envious that you're there and I'm stuck at school stateside!

Simon said...

Thanks again for these wonderful pictures taken and amazing story telling along side it. Always a joy reading them.
Can't wait for your next adventure in Taiwan. :)

Cara Lin Bridgman said...

Nice ride! Nice picture of a pheasant, but it is not a Swinhoes Pheasant. It is a Mikado Pheasant (/Syrmaticus mikado/).

Michael Turton said...

Thanks for the ID, Cara! I think you are right. He was a bit too high for a Swinhoe's, but the right altitude and attitude for a Mikado. He waited for us and let me watch him and take half a dozen pictures. The markings look the same too. Good spot!

mx said...

Awesome pics and story Michael, thanks for sharing.

Mike80 said...

hi michael. i would like to know over at taroko how did u manage to rent a bike? is it you do it there or wat? cause me and my group of friends are heading to taiwan in oct and plan to go taroko also and now i'm currently doing research.. i hope you can help me out..Can you email me if it's not a trouble to you. i hope to hear back from you and your picture are great by the way....

Michael Turton said...

Email sent!

Erin De Santiago said...

Nice pics and blog. Found you from the comment you left on the Taiwan photo gallery on CNN. I am a food and travel writer here in Taipei (US Expat). I had two of the photos on their gallery - I gave them a number of other shots and definitely more scenic ones (Taroko, Nanya, Yehliu, etc) so I am rather surprised and disappointed at what they went with for the whole gallery. Unfortunately though, they did not have a lot of decent offerings it seemed like. I think the purpose/goal of these weekly galleries is to showcase "real people" travel photos, not professional ones, but they could've chosen more to really represent what Taiwan is about.

Nice to find the list of English blogs. I am trying to promote Taiwan more in my articles as I am shocked at how little many people know about the beautiful island here.

BTW, we were in your neck of the woods today - traffic was a nightmare and we spent over 3 hours in traffic trying to get back to Taipei. Uuuugh.

Look forward to reading more of your blog!

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Erin! Hope to talk one of these days.


Anonymous said...

hi Michael,

great photos :)

I'll be making that ride in a couple of weeks, but I can't find Tayuling on Google maps or internet. Do you know another spelling or name or the name of the hostel?

thanks in advance,

Michael Turton said...

Tayuling is right where the tunnel is that splits 8 off from 14. A few km back toward Hualien is the CYC hostel. Contact me for details if you like.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mate,
Great photos!! I can't wait to see the Gorge!

For anyone who is looking for more info on Taroko Gorge, this article is pretty informative too: