by Robert Minor
Climbing the North and Main Peaks of the famous Mt. Qilai (Chilai) (Mandarin: Qi Lai Shan) is doable in two long days. Mt. Qilai has a bit of a dark reputation in Taiwan as a haunted mountain full of ghosts due to multiple accidents and death by hikers over the years. However, most likely these incidents have been due to the foggy/cloudy weather conditions that can roll in quickly on the mountain and impair visibility along steep ridges.
Above, Mt. Qilai and her peaks on a fabulous day! North is on the left and Main is on the right.
Nowadays, however, Taroko National Park has laid out a clear trail with kilometer markers to the two peaks. There are several cabins where hikers can stay but all need to be reserved before your trip. If bunk spaces are full, hikers can carry a tent and camp at the top portion between the two peaks. Many people enjoy the hikes on these mountains, but one should always remember to be smart and prepared for any change in mountain conditions.
Below, the Mt. Qilai Trailhead.
We climbed the Qilai North and Main Peaks over two long days on a sunny October weekend. The views were spectacular and we hardly had any cloud cover (a rarity). Here is a step by step to get you up these peaks.
Peaks: Qilai North Peak 3605 meters (#16 on the 100 List) & Qilai Main Peak 3560 meters (#20)
Distance: 6.6 km to the camping area. From there, 1.7km to North Peak and 3km to Main Peak.
Time: 2-3 hours to Chenggong Cabin #1 or 5 hours to the camp spot. From camp spot, 1-2 hours to North Peak and 2 hours to Main Peak.
Difficulty: Difficult. Steep and long hiking days at high altitude.
Let's get started. First off, you will need to get permits and organize your bed space for the hike.
Here is a Google Map Link to the Qilai Trailhead. It starts at the old ski lodge called Song Xue Lou. It is in the Hehuan Mountain Region just a few kilometers past the Wuling Pass on Route 14. There is a big parking lot at the visitor center for your car.
Below, the Song Xue Lodge just before the Qilai Trailhead.
Police Permit: Getting a police permit for both Qilai Peaks is easy if you can navigate the website. We have a step by step here. If not, you can stop at the police station at Renai Township on Route 14 on your way up the mountain and apply with your ARC or passport.
Taroko Park Permit: The Taroko Park Website is where to apply and get your booking. You can apply up to 30 days in advance. There is an English site and it looks easy but getting your route down in the tricky part. The designers of the site didn't make it too clear in my opinion. But, basically, get there and follow the directions. Before you can fill in the team members info, you must have the route set. Keep clicking "OK" on "Schedule" until your route has you going in and up to the peaks and then back out. Then the site will allow you to fill in member information. When all else fails, send the park an email. Many times, they are happy to help out.
Below, the trail map at the Qilai Trailhead.
Option 1: Chengong Cabin/Most hikers will get to the Cheng Gong Cabin #1 mid afternoon if they have reserved a space. It is a 2-3 hour walk in. However, you must start off at 3-4 am the next morning to make it to both peaks. It is a long day. Then, many of those will stay at Chenggong Cabin #1 a 2nd night and walk out the next day. You could of course, power on and walk out the same day as well.
Option 2: Camping/ Day 1, start out earlier and make it to the Qilai Cabin which is between the two peaks on top of the ridge. From the trailhead, expect 4-5 hours to get there. The Qilai Cabin books up quickly as there are a very limited number of bunk spaces. However, many people camp up here (we did). If you camp, you don't need to worry about booking a cabin space. Get your permit and go. Of course, you need to carry a tent. There is a water source down the hill behind the Qilai Cabin. Ask around to find it.
If all else fails, you probably could crash at the older Chenggong Cabin #2. It is about 30-60 minutes above Cabin 1. It seems not many people stay there much as it is old, small, and apparently haunted......
Once you have reached the Song Xue Lou Lodge, you are just a few meters from the trailhead. You will see a large stone sign, and a detailed map of the area. You are ready to go.
We did Option 2 (see above) which meant that we are camping at the 6.6 km camping area. Expect 5 hours to get to here. It is better to LEAVE EARLY. The clouds and fog roll in early afternoon. You don't want to be roaming around in thick fog or at night along these ridges.
Below, the view, hopefully, as you take your first steps. That's Qilai North Peak looming in the distance. As I said before, we had perfect hiking weather.
The trail is well marked with signs and distances. It is difficult to get lost. The trail is clear most of the way.
There are clear signs to all the major spots along the trail.
The beginning of the Qilai hike is quite enjoyable. However, it doesn't last long. You will start to ascend up to Little Qilai (see below) and then head straight down about 500 meters in elevation into the valley.
After descending, you will come to the Black Water Hut. It is possible to stay here, but no one does at it's too close to the trailhead and too far from the peaks.
You will now start your ascent up to Cheng Gong Cabin #1. You will be walking through bamboo grass and forest up 300 meters in elevation.
Below is Cheng Gong Cabin #1. Most hikers stay here and you need a permit. There is a stream nearby and bathrooms.
A view inside Cheng Gong Cabin #1
If you are not staying at CG Cabin #1, then you have another 2 hours of uphill to get to the camping area. Starting out, you need to follow along the rocks up the stream to find the trail.
45 minutes or so later, you will find yourself at a turnoff for Cheng Gong Cabin #2 (see below). This yurt like structure is funky and surrounded by tall bamboo grass. We stopped and had lunch there. There are some ghost stories about this hut. Apparently, a young couple will arrive at night, and then, after dinner, walk out of the cabin and disappear off the cliff. Believe what you want.
As you continue your hike, you will be gaining altitude. The views of the valley below look great.
You'll soon come to a steep portion of boulders, shale, and ropes. There are still kilometer markers, but this is a treacherous and tiring part.
Eventually, you will start to see signs for the Qilai Cabin. Follow the arrows in this direction. This is where the campsite is. Other hikers will head straight to North Peak from here.
You've arrived! The grassy area has flat places to pitch your tent. You are literally next to a ridge. The views are great. You can see the Qilai Cabin below.
The sign marker at the fork and campsite. You are at about 3100 meters.
A view of the Main Peak in the distance.
Below, the Qilai Cabin. Frankly, I think camping out would be more comfortable than staying here. It is mostly made of metal, and has very small bunk spaces.
Another view of Qilai Main Peak.