Thursday, December 4, 2014

Taroko Gorge and Zhuilu Old Trail

It's good to get an early start when you are in Hualien, in order to make the most of the daylight hours to see all the outdoor sights. We started the morning at around 7am, and look how bright the sun was already! The streets around the train station reminded me of the vintage ideal of an old town in the American West, with the mountains in the background.

We went to Taroko Gorge on the second day, arguably the most popular attraction in the area. It's a national park in Taiwan, with lots of geological features like cliffs, valleys, and rivers. The park is located about an hour away from Hualien, and there are numerous buses that will take you into the gorge. 

We decided to hike the Zhuilu Old Trail - possibly the most challenging of the hikes in the gorge. It's 3 kilometers to the top of the cliff, and the path all the way up is quite steep and rocky. The trail starts at the Swallows Grotto point of Taroko.

We started off the hike quite easily - across a narrow bridge strung across the gorge. 

It's basically all uphill from there! I took some photos of the scenery as we ascended, though most parts of the trail had dense trees and shrubbery that blocked the view. We were lucky, as it was a beautiful breezy morning.

Here below is the 1km point. I felt pretty despondent, as it had already been a really tiring climb and we were only one third of the way up!

I could only hope that the views at the top would be worth the effort. We slowly ascended, one foot at a time, taking multiple breaks for water and snacks to keep up our energy levels. 

Finally, at a little shy of 2 kilometers on our climb, we reached the rocky part that hugged the cliff face.

The path turns a bit narrow but the ground always felt steady underfoot, and there are railings most of the way through for safety. 

I took a shot upwards at the cliff - look at how beautifully blue the sky is!

Here's the 2.8 marker - almost there! The last part of the hike wasn't too bad because of the flat terrain and beautiful views.

The trail actually ends for past the 3.1 kilometers, but when we visited it was closed off. The end is a nice shaded resting area with some benches, a good place to recuperate before starting the hike down.  
Finally we made it back to the starting point! I felt so good to be back on level ground after the difficult way back down to the bottom.

It's quite a difficult hike, and it took us perhaps 4 or 5 hours, including break times. I think it's worth it if you enjoy hiking and have some endurance, and want to see great views from the top of the gorge! There are other interesting sights in Taroko as well, and some decent but easier hikes. Tour buses usually stop at most of the popular locations, so you just need to make sure you get the bus times to plan out your day. One last note - for the Zhuilu Old Trail, you will need to apply for a hiking permit ahead of time in order to be let onto the trail.

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