We had already been in Taiwan for a couple of days and had taken to the mountains as soon as we landed at the bustling capital, Taipei. The island’s rapid transport and road network allows relatively quick and easy access around the coast, but getting into the mountains would require a car – or a very athletic cycle. The island is blessed though with a network of roads built by the Japanese when it was part of their then expanding empire, though they can be extremely narrow, with hairpin bends and require a sharp eye and nerve for dealing with on-coming cars.
We started at the spectacular Taroko Gorge – one of the natural highlights of the country, with its dramatic drops along a spectacularly tight gorge and intermittent temples and suspension bridges. However, it is very touristy and there is a steady stream of cars along the whole gorge. As you drive up the gorge though you’ll come to quieter areas, with the bridges and temples easily viewed.
Our party though was aiming for rather loftier peaks and having left Taroko Gorge, set off to make base camp under Mount Bilu (also frequently written as Pilu – quite a height at 3,371 m or 11,060 ft ). An eight kilometre walk along the mountainside (a good track, with a very old rusting motorbike half way along it) took us to an attractive camping site nestled between two rivers and also allowed us to get used to the extremely well made ropes to help you get up and down some of the more vertical drops that were to become such a feature of our whole trip.
The following day we set off for the very steep ascent of the mountain. With ropes constantly at our side, we headed up through the thick vegetation on a very clear path all the way up the top. One slightly higher vertical drop with ropes caused some concern, along with the rather unrelenting clambering, but it was well worth it for the views.
The steep descent (back on the ropes) took us back to our initial camping area – and a brief opportunity to cool back off at the rivers, before the long trek back to the main road.