The 7 day Taiwan North First Section Traverse Hike had been on my list for a few years as I continued to complete ascents of all the 100 Peaks of Taiwan.
The North First Section (Bei Yi Duan北一段) is the most northern collection of peaks on Taiwan’s 100 Peak list and includes the famous and quite stunning Mt. Nan Hu 南湖山 area which many casual hikers can do in 4 days and head back out while enjoying 4 peaks and some gorgeous mountain scenery.
When hikers continue on to complete the back end of the North First Section, however, they are met with intense multi-hour river traces along with steep shale covered routes up to the majestic 3,705 meter Mt. Zhong Yang Jian 中央尖山. Add in several ridge and boulder walks and the hike turns into an intense one.
Prepping for the North First Section
The North First Section is not the hardest of Taiwan’s 6 main traverse sections, but by no means is it easy. I joined a group of 15 led by a trusted Taiwanese guide I had hiked the 10 day South 3rd Section a year previous. (an extremely vigorous hike)
By no means should anyone take on this hike alone. It is too treacherous after Day 3 and chances of a fall or serious accident are too high and without support would be life threatening. If you are new to Taiwan, or new to Taiwan high mountain hiking, I also recommend you get some experience on a few other shorter and easier peaks before venturing out on North 1st. The best bet for any hiker is to join a group with a knowledgeable guide. The river areas of Days 5 and 6 change each season after the rains, and thus routes that were there a year before may have now been altered.
Be safe and do your due diligence when preparing.
Permits and Itinerary for the North First Section
The 7 Day itinerary for North 1st is as follows:
- Day 1: Walk from Sheng Guang Trail Head and stay at Yun Ling Cabin (6 hours)
- Day 2: Walk to Nan Hu Cabin (2 peaks along the way) (7-8 hours)
- Day 3: Round Trip day hike to Mt. MaBiShan passing through Mt. Nanhu East Peak (12 hours)
- Day 4: Move on to Zhong Yang Jian Cabin passing 3 peaks. (Mt. Nan Hu, Mt. Nan Hu South, and Mt. Baba) (11-12 hours)
- Day 5: Round Trip to Mt. Zhong Yang Jian (12-13 hours)
- Day 6: Trek out of the river and back to Yun Ling Cabin (6 hours)
- Day 7: Return back to the trail head (4 hours)
Hikers apply for permits through the Taroko National Park Website.
Day 1: Starting the Taiwan North First Section Traverse Hike
Where is the trail head exactly? The official trail head is not the one groups use anymore. You can now can start at the Sheng Guang 勝光 trail head at the 50km marker of route 7甲. This route starts steep up a farm road through cabbage farms and then meets up with the trail. It cuts 2.5km off the original trail head route. Recommended!! Here is the map link and a photo below.
Depending where you are coming from, you need to make sure you are on trail early enough to reach the Yun Ling Cabin before dark.(Unless you could care less.) Expect a conservative 5-6 hour hike on the well maintained trail to the cabin. The route is clear with quite a few long ascents. There are markers on the trail and the Yun Ling Cabin is at 11.7 km.
The Yun Ling Cabin is a bunk style cabin with kitchen space. You need to have a reservation of a bunk and bring proof of that as the cabin is often full. There is an outdoor bathroom nearby. There are also a few tent spaces that can be booked as well.
Day 2: The Nan Hu Cabin and Famous Cirque
The hike from the Yun Ling Cabin to the Nan Hu Cabin is full of spectacular unobstructed views of many of the North 1st Peaks, including Mt. Zhong Yang Jian. The walk gently rises and passes the trail heads of Mt. Shen Ma Chen (3141m) and Mt. Nan Hu North (3536m) where you drop your packs and walk a few minutes up to the peak for some photos.
It is here that the trek passes over 3,000 meters and hikers will remain at this altitude for the next few days.
Cross Over the 5 Cliff Ridge on the Taiwan North First Section Traverse Hike
The hike passes the well known “5 Cliff Peaks” 五岩峰 where the trail leads hikers over 5 rocky, craggy, ridge humps where chains, ropes, and posts drilled into the rocks help hikers cross over. On a clear day, the views are wonderful and Mt. Nanhu is in clear view. Actually, the 5 Cliff Peaks are fun to cross but hikers need to take caution.
After the 5 peak ridge, hikers continue to the Nan Hu Cabin. At the 20.5km marker, you are met with the first view of the cirque (bowl) where the cabin sits below in the center. This area included a polar ice cap at one time and 3 glaciers carved the sharp and pointy mountains that now populate the area. The cirque acted as a snow bowl, and melted and flowed down into the now dry area. It is a cool site to see.
From above, the walk is a steep 30 minutes down to the cabin. The Nan Hu cabin is a bunk bed dormitory with a small kitchen. There is lots of tent space outside. An enclosed is across the way and a fresh water source is nearby. Hikers need to book in advance.
Day 3: The 12 Hour Round-trip to Mt. Ma Bi Shan- Love it or Hate it
An early wake up awaits after your first night at the Nan Hu Cabin. Day 3 of the North First Section includes 2 light pack round-trip days to a peak. From Nan Hu Cabin, hikers start early and venture to Mt. Nan Hu East peak, (1 hour) and then continue along the ridge line for another 5 hours east to the Mt. Ma Bi Shan peak.
The upper route to the peak follows a ridge line that includes boulder walking and forest walks. It is a fun jaunt and includes a section of bright white boulders and a pointy and picturesque Mt. Tao Sai.
Mt. Ma Bi Shan (3211m) eventually comes into view, and after several false summits, the trail opens up to a grassy peak with 360 degree views. We arrived on a nice sunny late morning and enjoyed the sunshine and rest.
The return route heads back the same way you came up , but there is a sign and intersection which sends hikers down 1.2km to the He Ping Nan river bed.(和平南溪）The low route back to the Nanhu Cabin is a bit easier to navigate and gives you a low angle view of the upper ridge you just walked over.
Day 4: Two Peaks and a Steep Down to the “rustic” Zhong Yang Jian 中央尖 Cabin
After 2 nights at the Nan Hu Cabin, it’s time to head to the back section of the Taiwan North First Section Traverse Hike.
We had another 4:00 am chilly start under clear starry skies. Our first stop was Mt. Nan Hu Main Peak (3742m).
The trail from the cabin to the peak is easy to navigate as it is part of the Nan Hu only 4 day trek that most hikers go up there for. We arrived at the peak just after sunrise (took about 1:30). You can leave your big packs at the intersection below. From the top are magnificent views with a complete view of the cirque and the Nan Hu Cabin below.
This long day 4 continues along forest paths, ridge lines, and boulder walks. Eventually, hikers will drop their heavy packs and make the 2 hour walk out to Mt. Nanhu South Peak (3449m) and beyond to Mt. Baba 巴巴山(3449m).
A Final Drop
It’s already a long day in, but it ends with a 3 hour 1,000 meter steep drop down to the river and the rustic 40 year old Zhong Yang Jian Cabin. Two nights will be spent here and the next day will be the 12 hour round trip trek and slog up 1,300m to reach the awesome Mt. Zhong Yang Jian.
About 14 can squeeze into this creaky old wood cabin. Apparently mice will visit during the evening looking for a few loose snacks left out by hikers. There is ample tent space where most of our group stayed under a fly sheet.
The sound of the river is soothing and fresh water is ample for drinking or washing up. Our leader cooked up a great dinner and got us ready for another early start and what ends up being the most challenging portion of the hike.
Day 5: It’s all about Mt. Zhong Yang Jian!!!
I slept in the cabin that night. It was a bit cold, so I think the mice took a night off. But, our group was up at 3:00 am for a 4:00 push off through a rocky river bed that rose to almost 3,300 meters.
The first 2 hours of the river bed walk were flat yet for 2 wall type climbs, one of at least 100 feet, straight up with ropes and cables…in the dark.
A Windy Route
We wound and wove our way through the mostly dry river bed, but need to traverse through the water several times. I wear rubber rain boots for these Taiwan treks, but if you have normal hiking boots, make sure they are waterproofed.
After 2 hours, the river bed starts to rise slowly. The water disappeared, but the rocks and shale didn’t. I can only imagine after a lot of rain how much water and power flows down. There are massive rocks we meandered around and climbed over. The Zhong Yang Jian saddle lay way up on the distance.
At about 9:00 am, 5 hours since we started, we made it to the saddle. A right turn takes you 20 minutes through a lovely sloping grassy area to the rocky top of Mt. Zhong Yang Jian (3,705m). A left turn takes you to the east peak. (we didn’t bother.) After a quick rest, we headed to the peak. Mt. Zhong Yang Jian is the 10th highest in Taiwan.
It was a lovely walk. It felt good to get there. After much celebration, we started the 5 hour descent.
Day 6: Climbing out of the River Valley
Another night at the Zhong Yang Jian cabin (no mice, again) and feeling great after a plunge into the river, our group felt the enthusiasm as we were climbing out of the river area and back up to the ridge line and back to “civilization” at the Yun Ling Cabin.
This day starts with more rock hopping, a little stream slopping, and then slowly rising and walking through a beautiful pine forest.
After the pine forest section, the trail heads down again to the Nan Hu Xi (Nan Hu Stream) where we lunched in the sun next to the fresh and flowing water.
From here it is a 1 hour straight shot up along another down flow water way full of boulders, fallen trees, and moss. It is a tiring slog up but you know that the end is near and the nice pine tree laden (and relatively flat) ridge line trail awaits.
Day 7: Home, Sweet, Home (your knees will thank you)
After a final and festive night at the Yun Ling Cabin, our group was allowed a “late” 5:30 wake up and 7:00 push off. It’s about a 4 hour, mostly down, walk back to the trail head.
Feeling weary yet accomplished, our group trudged along and enjoyed the November foliage of the area.
The North 1st section may be my favorite of the 6 major sections of the 100 peaks of Taiwan. Unlike other sections like South 2nd, North 1st takes you through different kinds of scenery and hiking routes on a daily basis. One day you are on an open ridge, and the next you are scrambling over boulders along river beds.
My Favorite of the Sections
The Taiwan North First Section Traverse Hike is best done in the dry seasons. If the rivers or down flows are high, the trip can be much more precarious. Also, not having to carry a tent is a plus. Book early and get that bunk space.
Enjoy Taiwan’s mountains and be safe!