by Tyler Cottenie
HIKES IN THE KAOHSIUNG AREA:
If you find yourself in the South of Taiwan and are looking for a nice day in the mountains that isn’t too strenuous, consider 井步山 (Jingbu Mountain) in Pingtung County’s Wutai Township. You might have actually seen Jingbu Mountain before if you live in Kaohsiung. On clear days when you look out towards Pingtung you can see Jingbu Mountain, alongside its larger partners Wutou and Beidawu Mountains.
It’s a bit of a drive to get there, but the scenery along the way makes it well worth it. You will be following Route 24, which starts at the edge of the plains of Pingtung and snakes its way up deep into the mountains, offering views of cliffs, mountain streams, Aboriginal villages and more. The Jingbu Mountain trail itself is well trodden, not very steep, and takes less than 2 hours to go up. The unique thing about Jingbu Mountain is the old steel forest fire watchtower that is still present on the peak. Provided you aren’t afraid of heights, you can climb up it to get some breathtaking views of the surroundings.
After going through Sandimen, you will come to a police checkpoint at 26.8K. Park on the side of the road and go fill out a form. Just show the police officer your ID and, if they ask, tell them you are climbing Jingbu Mountain (井步山) and you should have no problem. (As of the time of writing, the police still allow you to go there.) You should be through the whole process in just a few minutes.
Further up the road you will cross the main river on the Guchuan bridge. This bridge’s main deck is raised higher over the riverbed (99 meters!) than any other in Taiwan and is a treat to ride over on a motorcycle.
Next you will come to the village of Wutai proper just after the 40K marker. This unique village is full of Aboriginal flavour. You will find Aboriginal art and architecture everywhere and the writer would definitely recommend exploring the village for a while on foot to really soak in the atmosphere. Grab a bite to eat at one of the shops here that serve traditional Aboriginal dishes.
It’s probably best to do this exploring after the hike, however, on your way out. The earlier you get up (and down) the mountain, the better your chances of having good weather for the hike.
As you approach the end of Route 24, the going gets a little rough. Ordinary cars and scooters can certainly still make it through; just expect to being driving slowly on stony road surface for a few minutes and expect your vehicle to get a little muddy. Recent landslides are still being repaired here.
The precarious position of this highway does make for some beautiful views, so enjoy!
Route 24 ends at the village of Ali. This village was officially shut down and the residents were forced to relocate after typhoon damage made the place unfit for permanent habitation. However, it is still a popular destination for tourists and if you go on a weekend you will no doubt encounter others going to have a walk around Ali. If you go during cherry blossom season you will be treated to vivid pink flowers on the trees throughout the area. The writer went at the end of January and they were in full bloom at the time.
To find the trailhead you stay on what looks like the “main” road when you come to any junction. As you round a bend just before the village you will see a welcome sign that says 阿禮 in Chinese in Sabau in English. There is a fork just after this: stay right on the more well-paved road. Later you will come to the village itself and you will see another fork in the road at a green building. The left fork is barely passable for vehicles, so obviously stay right on the wider road. At the next intersection, you will see the main road continuing ahead on the left, a private drive ahead on the right, and the trail to Jingbu Mountain beside/behind you on your right heading backwards and up the mountain. There are two wooden signs here marking the trail, one of which says 阿魯彎古道.
Park here and walk up the old overgrown road. At an old water tank, there is a switchback in the road where you make a 180-degree turn to the left. Continue walking about 5 minutes and keep your eyes peeled for the turnoff into the trees on the right hand side, marked with ribbons.
Follow this dirt path. It joins up with an old concrete path again, which makes for some easy walking.
Eventually it turns into a dirt trail again. The trail is quite obvious all the way and there are no other trails branching off to the side at any point so you can’t really get lost. Do keep following any ribbons you see.
After about an hour of walking you will come to the saddle (low point on the ridgeline connecting two mountains) where there is a bit of a clearing. From here you can now see over down the other (south) side of the mountain. If it’s a clear day, you may be rewarded with a nice view of Beidawu Mountain, Taiwan’s southernmost peak over 3,000m and Pingtung’s only Top 100. We were lucky that day:
This is a good place to stop and have a rest if you need it. The only major fork in the trail is right here in the saddle. If you look to the right when you arrive here, you will see a very obvious trail going up. This will take you to Jingbu Mountain and this is the one you want to take. If you look ahead and to the left, you will see two other trails. DO NOT take these.
One goes to Wutou Mountain and one goes to Jiuhaocha Village. Both are overnight trips and are absolutely not suitable for a casual or day hike.
From the saddle it’s about a 45-minute walk to the peak of Jingbu Mountain at 2,066m. At the peak, as on many of Taiwan’s mountains, there is a surveyor’s triangulation point. There is also an enormous Catholic prayer stone erected by locals.
Most importantly, there is a steel tower that you can climb like a jungle gym to obtain a 360-degree view. It is still in very good shape, not rusting or falling apart, and has so many footholds and handholds you will be up to the top in no time. Once you’re up there have a seat...
...and enjoy the views! On a clear day, you will see Beidawu Mountain to the south on the right...
...layer upon layer of mountains to the north...
...the Aboriginal villages of Wutai...
And on a very clear day you will see the plains of Pingtung and possibly Kaohsiung to the west. Unfortunately it was a bit too hazy on this day to see this.
When you’ve had your fill of scenery, head back down the way you came. Remember to turn left in the saddle now; don’t go straight or to the right. On your drive out, don’t forget to check out Wutai village, or stop in Sandimen for a meal. The sunsets along the 24 or from Sandimen overlooking the plains below can be quite dramatic.
How to get there:
Google Map link:
From Kaohsiung by car (allow 1hr 30min)
1. Get on Highway 10 going east.
2. Turn onto Highway 3 southbound (Pingtung direction).
3. Get off at exit 400 for Changzhi長治.
4. Follow the signs for Route 24 (blue number) to Sandimen 三地門.
5. Continue on Route 24 through Sandimen, through the police checkpoint, through Shenshan and Wutai and finally to Ali.
6. Stay on the main road until you see the two wooden signs marking the trailhead on the right.
From anywhere else by car
1. Take Highway 3 towards Pingtung.
2. Follow steps 3-6 above.
From Kaohsiung by scooter (allow 2hr)
1. Take Route 1 (blue number) toward Pingtung.
2. After the big bridge but before you’re really in Pingtung City you will come to a fork in the road. Signs will tell you the right fork is Route 1 while the left fork is Route 3. Take Route 3.
3. After another 2 or 3 minutes there are signs showing that you need to turn left to stay on Route 3. Instead of turning left at that intersection, go straight. You should see a sign above you now indicating the beginning of Route 24.
4. Follow the signs for Route 24 all the way to Sandimen.
5. Follow steps 5-6 above.
What to take:
After Wutai village you won’t find much of anything for sale, so make sure you have all you need before that. You should have:
1. Water, 1.5L per person or 2L in hot weather.
3. Sunscreen. The higher altitude makes the UV rays stronger and you will burn more easily.
4. Good walking shoes, preferably hiking boots. This is a dirt trail, steep in parts, so flip-flops are a no-no.
5. Unless you have very sensitive legs, shorts are probably OK as the trail is not really overgrown.
6. A wind jacket. Mountain breezes can sap the warmth out of your body quickly. This applies even more so if you are driving up by scooter, in which case you should consider bringing gloves.
7. Warmer clothing. This peak is over 2,000m so take the temperature in Kaohsiung and subtract 12 degrees. Prepare clothing accordingly.
8. Rain gear. Mountain weather is unpredictable and you should prepare for rain any day no matter what the forecast says. The worst thing that can happen is to get drenched in rain when you’re two hours up the trail and hours from your warm, dry house so come prepared!
1. As the road is built on loose terrain, avoid typhoon season or any time that rain is forecast. You don’t want to get trapped on the far side of a road washout while you’re hiking.
2. When driving, keep your eyes on the road. There are missing guardrails in places. If you must stop for a picture, don’t do it right beside a blind curve and stay out of the way of traffic.
3. Tell someone where you’re going and don’t hike alone. Although there will likely be one or two other groups on the mountain that day if it’s a weekend, you also might not see anyone. If you run into trouble while alone you could really be up the creek.
The writer has always done this trail with a Taiwanese group member who gave an emergency contact number to the police. If you are a group of all non-Taiwanese, you might (?) be required to provide a Taiwanese emergency contact person. Try having that written down before you go. And remember, the less you say, the quicker the process should go.
Time estimate to and from Kaohsiung:
Drive in (1.5hr-2hr) + trail, round trip (2.5hr-3hr plus breaks) + drive out (1.5hr-2hr)
= 6 or 7 hours total. With some time in Wutai or Sandimen it can be a full day.