Continued from the previous post. After Shuwen and her sisters were gone, I was left on my own to explore the trails of Tianzhong Forest. I can tell you that it is quite a strange feeling when you can’t speak the language, don’t understand what people are saying, and – unlike Roman/Indogerman languages – can’t make the slightest sense of even bits and pieces of it. Needless to say, can’t read it either. It leaves you deaf, mute and blind, in terms of communicating with others.
Thankfully, maps speak a somewhat universal language, and since this was a recreational area, I quickly found a simplified trail map that showed me the loop would only be about 3km – piece of cake! Right?
What the map didn’t show was the elevation change: in the 1.5km up the ridge, the trail climbs almost 500m (1500ft). I don’t know if that officially qualifies as steep, but I can tell you that hiking it up in the afternoon sun and humidity of a nice March day in Taiwan, with the camera and a backpack containing 1.5l of water, snacks, the tripod and two more lenses, makes it feel very steep. 😛 (best of all, the trail was so narrow that setting up a tripod would have meant completely blocking it – it was totally useless, and just ballast).
I must have looked pretty ridiculous. The locals do this with just a bottle of water and a towel (to wipe off the sweat, and sweat I did! good thing I always have a towel in my backpack – I guess it’s one of the few good things that I learned while doing my mandatory service in the German military). Old people do this hike to stay fit. These folks don’t use two trekking poles, but only one – the 2nd trekking pole is their umbrella! They use the umbrella as a sunshade in exposed spots. I’ve seen that many times actually, it looks very funny to our “Western” eyes, and I wouldn’t want to use the umbrella as a “real” hiking aide and put my weight on it (I guess it’s ok for many Asians, ahem).
The trail itself is simple awesome – and insane! No one in Europe or the US would build and maintain a trail in such a location. It winds up along a razor-thing ridge that is fully overgrown with trees and ferns and whatnot. Most of the trail on the way up has handrails on both sides because the drop left and right is steep. When the handrails began, I first thought that they are ridiculous, but as I continued, I began to appreciate it, not just for the safety it provides – since I didn’t have any trekking poles, I could use my hands to drag myself up along them.
The fact that the locals do this little loop hike very lightweight and without a pack adds humiliation to humidity: being overtaken by what seemed like a 70 year old grandma with an umbrella… just… didn’t… feel right. 🙂 But then again, these people are totally used to the humidity – and I wasn’t! About halfway up, I took off my undershirt because it was soaked in sweat already. And when I say soaked, I don’t mean damp and maybe wet in some spots. I mean wet, really wet. Never happened to me before. Crazy.
Nevertheless, it was an awesome experience. Reaching the top of the ridge gave me a great sense of accomplishment. The trail swings around atop a deep green canyon and connects to the other ridge, where it goes down again (not as steep, I’d like to add). The vegetation and views were just incredible.