29 Dec 90


I have planned to spend the New Year long weekend at Hohuan

Shan.  I thought I would walk up from Tayuling and then down to

Wushu returning to Taipei. As the bus from Hualien to Tayuling

will leave only at 730am, it did not really matter if I leave

Taipei late on Saturday.


That timing was fateful, as was the can of Pepsi I bought.


I took the 11.43pm train from Taipei to Hualien.  I bought some

snacks and a Pepsi from the Station.  Finished the snack and

fell asleep on the train.


30 Dec 90


They woke me up at Hualien.  That can was still unopened.

Taking that with me,  I slung on the backpack and walked out of

the station.  Pulled the tab and strode on into the cold morning

air of Hualien City.  I wanted to go to the nearby park to watch

the dawn breaking over the city.


Walking past the bus stop, I thought it would be more

comfortable to sit there and finished the Pepsi first.  There

were some Taiwanese there sleeping and sitting at the bench when

I made my way to a seat.


A conversation started up with three guys there.  They had

backpacks all over, and I think people with backpacks always

find others with backpacks to be fascinating to each other.

While we may have different dreams and routes, we share the same

urge to explore and find out a bit more of our world.  That

curiosity extends to people as well.  Besides, talking about

routes help to pool information for any later plans.


They knew I was not a local from the way I talked.  They were

intrigued by the way I wandered around by myself here in

Taiwan.Told them also of the way I checked out other parts of

the world by myself. 


The talk switched to philosophy and political world.  I guessed

that failed when they brought in one more member of their group

as interpreter.  She told them I was talking on 'Eastern Europe'

and not 'Eastern neu-rou' and that have nothing to do with

neu-rou mein or neu-rou chang (this is directly translated to

'beef place', a place where pretty girls will sing two songs

each, the first song will be sang in beautiful elegant outfits,

and the second song with just their shoes and a smile).


The disparity of what I was saying and what they thought they

were comprehending was so vast. That knowledge of the standard

of Chinese I commanded depressed me. I wondered that perhaps my

earlier conversation with them on philosophical matters must

also have taken on warped undertones as well.  I reckoned if I

try to set that right, even greater damages may result.  I gave

a big sigh deep inside my mind.



Her name is Amanda and she has a friend Chin-hua with her( I

tend to pay more attention and remember girls' names better).

It was getting about 5am, I suggested we could perhaps walk on

to the bus station about 1/2 hour away.


They woke up the rest of the group, a guy with his newly wed

wife, her sister and boyfriend, and a girl with a most

enchanting voice like notes tinkling from wind-chimes.  A

pretty  girl with delicate Chinese features and who smiled from

her heart.


I gathered they were going to walk on an old road at the Taroka

Gorge though I was still not clear of the details yet. I

gathered the road was somewhat above the existing road that the

traffic runs. I thought it was going to be a fairly easy walk.

I enjoyed their company, and I thought where I wanted to go  can

still be done another time by myself.  A trip on their route may

not be possible on my own.  They readily accepted me when I

asked to join them.


Shortly after breakfast, we left on the local bus to Taroka

Gorge.  It was driven by a very friendly man who became even

friendlier and talkative when he heard from them where they

intended to go.


We dropped at the bridge shortly after a dam.  We clambered 20'

down rocks,a little bit different from the 'old road' I expected

to 'walk' on.  I thought that's only the start, and that it

should get easier later on.  Never was I more wrong.  We crossed

the bridge to the other side of the Gorge.  We then climbed up

more boulders, pushed through some under growth, and down onto

the river bank.  I cracked my right knee on the first jump, just

what I need to add to my  left ankle, still wobbly after the

wrench it received 6 weeks back.  Grit my teeth , told them no

problem and continued. The pain eased after a while.


I knew I dressed wrongly, having thermal undershirt on with

thick T shirt and padded shirt.  Also had on my old pair of

jeans meant for walking.  That was with me for over 15 years and

we have been to many treks together.  It was too tight to allow

me to bend my legs freely to climb up or down.  I thought I was

going for a walk in the cold air of Tayuling to Hohuanshan in

the first place.  Stripped off my shirt as I was over heating in

the climbing up and down of the boulders along the bank.  It was

fun still.


The boulders appeared so deceptively small when seen from the

roadside.  They were the size of big buses and cars we have to

climb over.  At one place, we had to take off our shoes and

socks to wade in the swift cold water of the river.  The

smoothness of the boulders,despite their size, gave an idea of

the force of the river at its peak flow.  Powerful as the river

was, the driftwood packed twenty feet above the water line

showed what it could really do.  Those boulders must have been

washed along like pebbles.  The banks were molded out of granite

and marble.  History of powerful events of long time past where

recorded in the striations.  They were further twisted and fused

by the forces of the tectonic plates grinding and heating them.

Pages of the history of the world written in a way befitting to



To add to the fun, at one point, some yellowish metallic

particles were found in the sand.  One of the guy collected a

fair bit of that.  I thought they were probably mica.  However,

when examined through a magnifying glass, they appeared to be

granular and not flaky.  I did not see any quartz normally

associated with gold, should that really have been gold.  If I

had, I would have collected some myself.  I thought also if all

those shining stuff have been gold, people would have been

mining and panning for those stuff as well.


We climbed up and down, transfering backpacks.  I felt

embarrased at the weight of those three leaders' pack.  They

must have packed a lot of gear.  My own pack was light,

consisting mainly of warm clothing. I noticed those three were

normally in front actively seeking out the route.  I wondered

why are we looking up at people at the road above us when we

should be looking down on them far below as briefed earlier.


They did their best, but it was not passable.  We turned back

the same way we came by to the bridge.  We rested at the

northern tunnel which seemed to be abandoned half constructed.

It had chinese words saying it was connected with hydroelectic

power.  Still, looking at the construction, it contained certain

characteristics and seemed to be designed for military uses.  I

have build and seen enough of such features.  They pulled from

the packs stoves, pots and pans and cooked up a meal of instant

mee.  Very tasty too. Also showed a little bit why the packs

were heavy.


After a short rest, we carried on by the main road.  Looking

back across where we tried to travel, we could see why it took

us two hours to get to a point where the main road on the other

side took us 20 minutes.  At the point where we turned back, not

even a mountain goat could get through.


Just before Yen-chi-kou, there is a spidery suspension bridge of

steel wire and bamboo spanning the river 200' below us.  The

leader pointed us to go down.  By now I expect  the unexpected.

I peered over the road edge to see a series of flimsy ladders

going down.  It moved with my every step.  I thought it to be

dangerous.  When I finished with the trip, I would have consider

that to be so ridiculously safe. 


The bridge could take us across one at a time.  The swaying

could get you queasy but it was fun in its own way.  The other

side have broad paths of cobble stones.  The way water were

seeping out from the wall, a series of pools of clear running

water were formed like fountain terraces backed against the

cobble paths where they seeped through in turn.


It was a beautiful day with little wisps of clouds and a nice

warm sun.  The green trees and bushes marching down the gorge

slope made us linger on a while.


I was fascinated with the tadpoles in the pools.  Acid rain and

other pollutants have apparently wiped out a lot of the frogs in

Europe and North America. As amphibians they seem to be most

sensitive to the effects of man.  Whether we shrugged off their

departure or we take them as canaries used at mines where their

deaths will give early warnings to miners is up to us.  I am

happy to see them around.


As we gathered to move on, I offered to switch the heaviest pack

as I felt guilty.  They declined assuring me it is ok with them.

We went up the slope on a little path. Zig and zag up the side.

The trees and undergrowth were thick and cannot be seen through

to a distant.  Now and then, yellow trail markers were tied to

indicate the path. 


It was tiring and hot.  The nice warm sun that felt so nice

earlier seemed to be making its effect even through the cool

leaves.  I was glad no one took up my offer to switch packs.  15

minutes took us to  another suspension bridge spanning a chasm.

I thought the 'road' would start there as that was a big red

bridge easily seen from the main road.


There was no 'road'.  If one look carefully amonge the bushes to

the side after the bridge, a little path can be seen.  Seems

like the bridge was build big and painted a nice red so pretty

pictures can be taken of it by tourist in their buses on the

main road.


The uphill climb continued.  The mountain slope is a good 65-70

degree.  The path twist and turned upwards. 


The air must be cool.  After all, it is supposed to be winter,

on a mountain slope with air filtered by green leaves. Others

are wearing thick sweaters and moving on smoothly.  I only feel

my sweat coming out, flowing down my back.  I breath heavily, to

draw in more cool air.  I meditate on ice orange juice .  I

switched to thinking of wind-swept Artic winter.  I imagined the

soaked thermal underwear and T shirt to be evaporating and

cooling me.  My legs kept moving.  I looked above at the swaying

hips of girls and imgagined how the rest of their bodies would

looked like to distract myself.  My body could not transcend to

those thoughts.  I poured  and poured sweat.


Then the upward climb ended after rounding a group of boulders.

We reached a meadow where we rested.  I could only think of

water to drink.  After a long draw at the bottle, my mind then

recovered enough to look around. 


Before us, stretched a field of waving 'Maung chow' grass in

full flower.  The sloping light of the sun backlight the bushy

tops in a soft silvery glow.  On a gentle rise just behind the

field, humble dwellings of two families can be seen.  Then the

ground rose again into a knoll.  Two jagged mountain tops appear

behind them with white scars tracing where parts broke off into

screes dusting lower parts of it.  Clouds flow past them playing

a game of hide and seek .  Right of the clearing, the forest

grew rising and dipping carpeting the slope in different shades

of green towards the top. Now and then, maple trees with red

leaves made crimsom splashes in that sea of green.  Standing on

the boulder, the other side of the gorge loomed upwards.  The

main road  and traffic could just be made out at the foot far

below.  Yes, I could see that we are way above them now.


We walked on to the huts.  That place is called Pata-Kang.

There were two families there from the Tai-yah-chu hill tribe.

Their traditions were fast fading.  They lived off the land on

sweet potatoes and other crops they grow.  The youngest is a

toddler about 3 years old.  One of them was said to be near one

hundred years old and looked like it.  She have a broad black

band tattooed across her mouth.  They allowed us to camp and

presented us with some sweet potatoes.


Three tents were quickly set up.  Stoves, pots and pans and a

staggering amount of food poured from the backpacks.  That

explained the weight of some of the packs.  The girls got

organised and I tried not to get in their way.  We ate and ate.



Fruits were Mandarin oranges and tiny hill peaches taken off the

orchard nearby.  Flickering flames from a big wax torch lit up

the night while we glutted ourselves.  The tattooed lady joined

us producing a bottle of rice wine.  I bribed her with

cigarettes to get a share.  It tasted so nice in that cool night

air. None of the other guys wanted it.  Yu Hwa, the girl with

the tinkling voice liked the aroma and joined us two in enjoying

the wine.


We sat around and talked away in the warm afterglow of a good

meal and our sense of achievement of that day.  They still

thought I was a bit unusual in traveling so much on om own.


Then a voice broke in on us. 


My jaws dropped along with the others at the sight of this guy

walking nonchalantly into the circle of light with his backpack

and a small torchlight slung over his shoulder asking if he

could join in.  It was tough enough during daylight hours to get

up.  He came in alone in the middle of the night like he was

strolling to the 7-11 store.  When asked how he felt about

coming up alone at night, he said "oh yes, it was a bit scary".


We laughed at his understatement breaking the ice, if any.

Quite a good looking slim guy and charming too.  It was

interesting to see Amanda (the interpreter) and her girfriend

Chin-hwa talking to him like probing his suitability as a

boyfriend.  I must say that is my guess from the body languages

expressed as they were using their normal chinese too rapid for

me to understand and not the simple one they used with me.


The others soon prepared to go to sleep.  I declined their

sincere invitations to join them in the tents.  I have been told

by friends I snore and I do not wish to strain the new

friendships I have made.I also do not sleep early.  The night

was really too beautiful up there by the mountainside.  The moon

was nearly full, lighting up the surrounding with its silvery

beams, almost bright enough to read by.  The air had just a

slight nip of chill.  The down sleeping bag I was in  would be

enough.  The canopy of the sky was comforting . It was one of

those rare moments in life where it is good to sleep under the

stars.  I took out a candle preparing to read Barry Lopez's

latest book, 'Crossing Open Ground' before I sleep.


Lone Ranger joined me shortly.  Found he is better known as

Chen-hung.  He lectures in software and 'C' language when he is

not roaming around the mountains on foot or on his mountainbike

normally on his own.  He decided too that the night is too

beautiful to sleep in the tent and dragged his sleeping bag out

as well.  We talked on for a long time, sharing our experiences

and philosophies, too complex to put into words here.  Went to

sleep  as we did not want to disturb others too much.  I think

we may see a bit of each other after the trip.


31 Dec 90


Woke up from a good sleep I have had.  The wind blew up a bit

during the night.  I was aware of it in my dreams.  Nice to be

wrapped up in the sleeping bag and cocooned  by the raw

elements.  Felt good to have been near and intimate with Mother



We all packed and prepared to continue on.  Chen-hung said his

goodbyes and continued on while we carried on with the

breakfast.  We then loaded up with water and went on.  The trail

snaked up behind the fruit trees at the back.  I got an inkling

from the day before and stripped down to a T shirt and jeans

this time as it was hot work walking up.  Got to know better

what we were doing too. 


I first thought we were going on some road build in the Ming

dynasty because of the name . It was Mingkuo chu liu nien

(translated roughly to 6 years from the start of the present

rule started by Dr Sun Yat Seng) or 74 years back.  It was the

only way through the gorge before the new road was carved out



Now the old road is used mainly by hikers.  Not many hikers

here.  We did not see anyone else coming or going on this way

unlike the normal 'renshan renhai'(mountains of men and seas of

men) that packed and jammed others places I have been to here in

Taiwan.  I shortly understood the reasons why.


The climb started upwards sharply again after the little knoll.

We got into the  rythmn .  Consisting of weaving our ways up the

forested slope on the path marked out by other groups.  Couldn't

see much of the woods for the trees so to speak.  Compared to

the later part of the day, the morning climb had no difficult

spots to speak about other than the physical task of taking

yourself and your pack up the slope. 


It was tiring work.  The heat build up in my body wasn't so bad.

We stopped for welcomed short breaks now and then.  We could

then look around and admire the view if there were breaks in the

trees.  During the walk up, one have to concentrate on the foot

holds and the surroundings could not be taken in well.


The dynamics of the group was getting clearer to me as well.


The first three guys I meet took us all up.  Lee Wen-hwa, the

leader of the group took up the rear.  He seemed serious and

wrapped in his thoughts as the trip went on.  Lee Chinghai and

Ting Huakuan took the front actively seeking the path markers.

They were more relaxed , possibly less burdened with the

responsibility of the group. 


Amanda bubbled along with energy ,quite expressive with her

voice and gestures as to her likes and dislikes.  Chinhwa, her

goodnatured friend was more quiet and always seemed happy.  Hsu

and Shi kept much with the Lin sisters in their quiet little

group.  I concentrated on absorbing as much as I could of the

feeling of this place.


About midday, the steep almost continous upwards climb ended.

We came to an overgrown rough path which could be seen easily

unlike much of the trail before.  It turned sharply right

punching through an outcrop of the moutain. It was a short

lenght of tunnel that we would have camped in last night if not

for the time lost in the morning. 


Beautiful place where we had a short break.  A maple tree was at

the edge.  The sun overhead shining behind it made its red

leaves glow like rubies.  The richness of the red against the

light blue skies can only be captured in the mind's eye.


We walked on.  I was already deliriously happy with the

exquisite beauty of such a place.  Then after another turn in

the trail, the true grandeur and the magnitude of the trail

broke on me. 


The trees fell away as the side of the mountain plunged into an

85 degree drop.  The tiny  path was hacked and blasted as a

little niche in the sharply sloping granite walls of the



The mountains marched motionlessly on to the horizon.  Down,

down at the bottom of the gorge the river flowed as a tiny

trickle of water. A thin ribbon of black with just barely

discernable box like objects was the road with their tourist

buses.  The mountains we were on were accompanied by the

mountains on the other side of the gorge.  They seemed alive

infused with a bemused air at us.


Stillness of the Tao and motion without motion.  The mind expand

and the body falls away as the consciousness struggled to take

it all in.  That subconscious attempt conflict with yet another

part of the mind yearning to stay in the comfort of a smaller

world where the Id is tangibly bigger in comparison.


Like a frog taken out of the well to see the world and finding

how small it actually is against that scale,  then struggling to

get back in preferring the more comforting illusion the whole

world is in the well.


Tiny bushes, flowers and ferns clung on to life even on the bare

granite walls and the path we were on.  I walked in small

measured steps half in reverence for that place and to savour

the feeling in the air. 


Also, perched on that 2 feet wide path suspended 2000 feet above

the ground below by an almost vertical granite wall doesn't make

you want to take very wide steps.  Helped also by the granite

chippings which skid a bit now and then.  And thinking of the

earthquake which struck Hualien with a force of 6 on Richter

scale only a weekback.  And that 600 over earthquakes struck

Taiwan every year.  I was happy no strong winds were blowing to

add in the fun.  I recalled a walk on a similar path a few years

back after Jomosom in Himalayas where I faced winds gusting

between force 2 to 5.


That was a very long 400 meters stretch.  When then path turned

around the shoulder, I was relieved to be back in a more

sheltered stretch .  The slope wasn't vertical allowing soil to

support trees growing there.  Nice for this frog to be back in a

well.  Then, the path twisted out again.  With the road far far

below , and we were walking on the ledge once more.


Earthquakes did not hit us then.  But over 67 years, it hit the

trail many times.  It is a measure of how well it was build by

those brave people way back then that the trail remained intact

most of the way.  It is only in a few places where the mountain

cracked and tumbled down, taking the trail with it leaving empty



At those places, the 2 feet wide track I thought to be scary

looked so safe and comforting to be on when you crossed the

gaps.  They span them with little pieces of wood tied up with

thin wires.  I looked at my lifeline etched in my palm to reassure

myself many times that day.  I became very conscious of the 105

kilo I packed into a pair of shoes.


At times, we have to make our way down across debris of granite

and marble boulders and clawed our way back up again.  Or up

over the break and down again to the path.  At places, thin

steel cables were in place to assist.  If your footing gave way,

those cables would slice into your palms.  Movements have to be

made very slow with fingers feeling for every fissure and feet

placed very carefully.  Had to expand the consciousness to

heighten the awareness of the environment and every movement

made with slow deliberation.  At lips of overhangs, the path was

the dust which gathered on the tangled roots of grass.  They

gave slightly with every step.


In addition to those plastic strips of trail markers, we looked

for 'lohans' or little rocks piled up to show the way.  The knee

hurt a bit especially on the downhill parts across the debris.

It would be a bad place to have further injuries.  The jeans I

wore as I  thought I would be walking did were difficult to

climb with.  I should have just changed them but never thought

of it then.  Stiff-legged myself down by the seat of the pants

over rocks the size of small cars and inched up again.


Those three guys have been incredible in getting us all across.

At bad places, they got over and ferried the backpacks to the

other side.  I found it tough enough without the packs and they

crossed with that on.  Of the three, Ting was the mountain goat.

Small size but really tough guy.  My heart dropped to see him

move at some places.  He have an incredible eye for ledges and

footholds which do not exist till you see him like walking on



People seating in cushioned comfort in buses and wooing and

wowing at the river a few hundred feet below them and probably

thinking that was all to it at Taroka gorge could not imagine

the drama played 2000 feet above them.  They may, but I wasn't

looking at them.


At one part, the pieces of wood I was worried about have been

longed for.  One strand of wire hung down from the other side.

An earthquake took out our side leaving a gap of about 15 feet.

They got the packs over.  Positioned themselves to pass the

girls across.  I have to say, the girls were courageous.  Anyone

panicking will not panick for long. 


I crossed last.  I spend the time in re studying the foot and

hand holds, replaying that over in my mind a few times to make

sure my movements would be smooth.  I had to depend on myself as

I do not want to take the chance of pulling anyone..  Taking

faith in that only the good die young, I moved through like a

wraith in a dream. 


That was a very very long two seconds in my life.


Anyone of those crossings will be enough to flavour the trip.

Just like a little bit of chilli will be nice with  food, but a

lot of it really spice it up to the stage that the whole mouth

becomes numb.


It was like that on that trail.  What would have been dangerous

were became routinely expected.  The already tremendous

experience from the view transcended further into one  where we

walked with our souls.


We have been lucky.  The weather was fine. If it have had

rained, some of those crossings would not be passable.


We ran short of water.  I sweated a lot and the dehydration was

getting in on me.   We have been moving with very little stops

since morning when we set out. No lunch either except for the

beef jerky and chocolates and caramel sweets I had with me that

we shared.   We wanted to get to a place with water for the

night. Exhaustion was setting in as well.  In the late

afternoon, every stop would have me out completely in a

dreamless sleep, sometimes not even taking off the backpack.


Night came. We carried on a while with torchlight.   The

concentration required to walk on safely cannot be sustained

with the fatigue and using torchlight.   Those three must have

came to the same conclusion.  They called a halt where the path

broaden a bit.  I dimly recalled pulling out the sleeping bag,

changing out of my sodden clothings and sleeping immediately.


Woke at 11pm with most of the fatigue gone.  Found the three

have courageously gone on to try to get water.  The rest of us

were resting across the path shrouded with trees on both sides.


So many times I woked up on New year day with hangover vowing I

will spend a 'dry' New years eve.


I got to do it this time, the last day of this decade.  I

thought of my friends who would be drinking away wondering where

they are and the cheers they would be exchanging.  It would be a

New year eve I will always remember.


Tried to bring comfort to the girls assuring that those three

would be safe as time went on and they did  not return.  I felt

they must have been tired also and would be back in the morning.

Spoke to Shi taking turns with him to keep watch.  Some

moonlight filtered in through the trees allowing a bit of

visibility.  It would be comforting place, but the absence of

those three gave me a deep disquiet and troubled all of us.


1 Jan 1991


Light broke.  I decided to stay in the trackpants I used for

sleeping.  I knew I could not take the girls across the way

others did.  In case they did not get back, I have to assume the

worse and go down myself to get help from other people.  I threw

the jeans down the slope among the trees and bushes.  It will be

a fitting rest for it from the trips we shared together.  It

also lightened my load.  If necessary, I might abandon  the

backpack as well.


The others wanted to leave that place.  I told them those three

would have started at day break.  It may take 1 1/2 hours. That

place we were at have been the best place to rest since the

whole afternoon before.  We should wait for them there. If they

did not get back by 730am, I would go down while they stayed.


I felt good when at about 7am, we heard a whistle.  Then their

shouts from across a valley.  I never wanted to be a hero.

Heros are good guys and they normally die young.  Especially

since by doing so, it would have meant that those three have met

with accidents.  They got back with the water 20 minutes later.

They got down allright.  Lost their way getting back.  They were

tired and rested till daybreak before getting back.


That water was important.  We cooked breakfast and drank to our

hearts' content. Giving us the strenght to continue on.  We

still had to make a few more dangerous crossings.  I would have

hate to do it by myself even in the morning without the food and

drink.  It would be very dangerous when done at night.  Only

they could have done it.  It exceeded by far what the other guy

have done the night before.  After that, it was all downhill.

We took all together about 3 hours to get to the spring water at

the bottom of a  valley strewn with huge marble boulders the

size of houses.


From then it was easy.  We made our way to the main road.  Got

out near a bridge.  I forgot the name, but on the other side of

the bridge is a gigantic boulder with a little pavilion build on

top. Thumb down a lorry which gave us a lift to Tienchi a few

kilometers down the road.  While forest and wilderness are nice,

I must say so is civilization where there are restaurants and

cold drinks.  Interesting coincidence was the bus driver taking

us back to Hualien was the same stout friendly driver who took

us there originally.  Found he was called Mr Yen.  He detoured

the bus to drop us at the railway station.


I have to say it was a real good trip.  I do not know if I get

such experiences again.  But one thing for sure, I will find