2014年10月18日 陽明山系小觀音山 - 茄苳坑採金古道 Mt. Xiaoguanyin - QiedongKeng gold mine old footpath

On the Qiedongkeng old trail, the No.1 gold mine opens its entrance on the left. A waterfall is visible in the distance.
Hikers of several nationalities at the summit of Mt. Caitoulun 



Start from the south and go all the way to mountain foot of Beixinzhuang
Yangmingshan (陽明山) mountain range is pretty close to the metropolitan Taipei. The most of its area is designated as a National Park. It can be called a kind of backyard of the busy city and quite a few citizens as well as visitors love to go there for hiking or recreation. The national park maintains series of good hiking trails over the entire range. These trails are paved with stone tiles and signs are installed at all important junctions. Majority of casual hikers only follow these trails. If you go along these trails, you can find some small dirt footpaths leading into bushes or woods. These footpaths quite often can take you to places that the official trails cannot.

mainly downhill walk
The national park area is actually a part of the habitat of local people and they have roamed there for generations. As they walked in woods or bushes, footpaths were formed. After car roads were built and the people drive cars, the ancient footpaths were abandoned and left for decay. Recent enthusiasm of hiking has brought a new twist to these ancient trails. Experienced hikers love to follow the old footpaths as they can enjoy more beautiful sceneries and less disturbed natural environments. Some of them are willing to cut out grasses or add signs along old paths for the benefit of other hikers. The course that we followed in this activity is exactly what these footpaths made possible.

At car park, Mt. Xiaoguanyin is just in front, a path leads from the edge
Mt. Xiaoguanyin(小觀音山) is a series of peaks in row formed by volcanic eruption millions years ago, and located next to Mt. Qixing(七星山), the highest peak in the park and Mt. Datun(大屯山), the second highest. You can easily identify Mt. Xiaoguanin as it has many antenna towers and communication / radar facilities over its top. It has a driveway nearly up to the main peak as the communication facilities there need regular maintenance. But the rest of the peaks were almost out of reach because thick bamboo bushes prevented easy access. In the recent months volunteers came in and literally cut bamboo and grasses and made out footpaths. I once met one of the volunteers, Jixiang(吉祥哥) who contributed a lot to this, just cutting bamboos with a pair of hand scissors. The other volunteers worth big credit is a team of Lantian(藍天隊, blue sky), and they opened new paths up to the west peak of Mt. Xiaoguanyin two months ago. We went up to the west peak through this new path.

A view from the slope of the west peak, the car park is visible at the foot of Mt. Datun
The activity is hosted by Manjiduan(慢集團, a group of slow-but-steady-paced hikers). This is also a group of volunteers and they organize hiking activities almost every weekend. I am myself a member of this group and take participants to various locations as a guide.The activities are open to all members and announced through its Fasebook event page. The activity this time requires no charge of money. The participants of course have to take care of transportation, food and equipment. We had 54 of them for this time.

at the ruin of Mountain Lodge
Most of the participants meet at MRT Jiantan station (捷運劍潭站) at 7:00 and take a R15 bus (紅15)  up to Yangmingshan bus terminal (陽明山總站). We then take another bus No. 108 to Anbu (鞍部) bus stop. Some of the members were already there waiting for us. The 108 is a small bus and we wait a few more minutes for the rest of members unable to take the same ride. When all members are there, then we walk to the nearby car park. I make a brief explanation about the course and Mr Wang (王老師) leads a warm-up exercise.

Imitation money along the path
At 8:40 we start walking and go down a small dirt footpath leading from an edge of the car park area. The West peak of Mt. Xiaoguanin is just up there as if waiting for us to come. The path goes gently upwards and a few minutes walk brings us to the ruin of Shanzhijia (山之家, mountain lodge). Now it only remains a stone chimney. This house was built in the 1930's under the Japanese colonial government of the time. It designated the area, which includes a big part of the current Yanmingshan National Park, as a first national park in the island. The house was built for visitors to the park. After the defeat of Japan in the war several decades ago the whole house was left for dilapidation and turned out to be the current sad situation. We take a group picture there.

slippery slope in bamboo bushes
From the ruin two paths diverge. The left path is a traditional route that leads to another path going up on the west ridge of the 1056 peak, westernmost peak of Mt. Xiaoguanyin, while the right one is a newly opened direct route to the west peak. We take right and walk on the new path. After a short while, the path increase its incline and we keep ascending. A another path merges from the right side, which comes from the drive way to the mountain top where the antenna facilities are located. A bundle of imitation money for the next world (冥錢) is placed here and there along the path. This path is originally used for farmers who collect bamboo shoots. I suppose that they leave the imitation money for the mountain deities as payment.

A view from the west peak, peaks of Mt. Xiaoguanyin are just across the valley
Around 9:10 we go into the bamboo bushes which is far taller than a man. The path is very steep and slippery as there was rain fall last night. Bamboo cut edges are pretty sharp and you have to pay close attention not to stamp on them. Climb in the bush lasts about 20 minutes and the right side is cleared. The view of Mt. Datun comes in sight. The car park is right down there. We have come up a lot! Another 10 or so minutes climb in the bush bring us to a wide path over the main ridge of Mt. Xiaoguanin. Turn left and a two minutes we come to the west peak top (elevation 1043m). It took about one hour from the start, which is pretty good for the size of this team.

Paved driveway in thick mist, a dirt trail starts at the bottom of the tower
I start for the next peak before the rest of the members come up. The peak top is not big enough to accommodate such a big group like today.  The footpath over the main ridge is very wide and well maintained. I walked this place last year for the first time. It was then narrower and covered more with bushes. Obviously this place has became very popular and more hikers visit lately. I wait for the last part of the troop catching up and continue the path. Going over a small unnamed peak and going down. Into cedar woods we go and turn left to the drive way. When all the members come out onto the paved driveway, up we go along the road.

Looking back for the north peak, fog is just cleared a shot while
The weather turns foggy and all scenery is now in thick mist. Mt. Qixing is just across a valley but unfortunately is not visible. We walk up to an entrance of the radar facility just at the end of the road. We then take a small dirt footpath opening at the bottom of a concrete tower beside the road. This is a path to the main peak of Mt. Xiaoguanyin. Through cedar woods we come out into bamboo bushes. This wide path is a result of volunteer Jixiang's hard work. It goes along the slope under the military radar facility. After a short climb up to the ridge and we comes the far side of the facility wall. Turn right and arrives the top of Mt. Xiaoguanyin main peak (elevation 1070m). If the weather is good, you can have a very wide view there, but today everything is in mist. It is 10:40. We are making good progress.

A view from the point just below Mt. Caitoulun, the peak is Mt. Ganweilun
Slippery downhill between bamboos
From the main peak we walk along the ridge path, going down and up again to the north peak, which has no marking but it is easily to recognize as there is no other higher hump on the ridge. At a few meters ahead of it, a steep downhill pathway goes down on the left side to Datunxi(大屯溪) creek. We keep on the wide ridge footpath, which goes between tall bamboo bushes.The trail is super because the volunteer has cut each bamboo stem one by one, which I suppose took him many days to complete. We really appreciate his contribution. We come to another intersection where a path from Mt. Ganweilun (竿尾崙) merges. We see another peak ahead of us and a few hikers are waving for us. We go up to the peak, Mt. Caitoulun (菜頭崙, elevation 1039m) and find that they are four of our participants, who has come up via Mt. Ganweihun and waited for us. We have a long lunch break there, as there is no large area in the next half of the activity for such a large group to rest together. It is rather pity that we cannot have a good views of surrounding peaks and valleys just until we leave the peak when a whole west side is cleared up momentarily.

Steep descent continues
At 12:00 after a half hour of rest we start descending a path between bamboo bushes to Jiedongkeng (茄苳坑溪) creek. The path is very steep and slippery. A few minutes decent bring us to a point where there are huge rocks and no bamboo bushes. Mist is temporarily cleared and the wide area of mountain foot is visible. A tall memorial tower of Yuanshanding (圓山頂) is discernible at a faraway hilltop on the slope down there. Another half hour of decent is necessary to get out of the bamboo bushes, by then we have come down 150 meters in elevation. A path from the right side merges in woods, which is another old trail, Wujiaosong (五腳松古道).  Down we go very steep incline where ropes are affixed to help hikers go down. Around 12:50 we finally come to a point where this steep downhill ends. I wait for the rest of the troop to catch up as as such a large group would take time to come down.

waiting for the rest members coming down
Along the hillside we go a gradually descending path to an abandoned gold mine. Back in 1930s the colonial government tried to find gold in this area as it belongs to the same volcanic geology structure as the famous Jinguashi  (金瓜石) and Jiufen (九份), which produced the largest volume of gold in Asia at that time. They came deep into the valley and dag five mines in total. The gold seeking project failed at last as they did not find gold and the miners left. The whole project was put aside as a page in a history book. The defeat of Japan in the World War II closed its fate. No one cared for this matter and a few decades passed unnoticed until 10 or so years ago a group of adventures came in this valley and discovered the historic sites.

Crossing the Qiedongkeng Creek
Qiedongkeng old trail goes along the valley
The gold mine in front of me is the fifth hole and at the highest location of them. It opens its mouth besides the path and water is pouring out from inside. The stream bed is in yellowish color and suggests presence of minerals. After a moment of picture taking, we continue the path to another junction where Qiedongkeng old trail diverges to its right. The path to left is Yuanliu (圓柳古道) old trail, which goes alongside the slope of Mt. Ganweilun. We go down to a stream of Qiedongkeng and crossed water. We then crossed it several times from right to left of the stream and back again as we go down.

Abandoned old pool for dye making
Stone monument of 1938
At 13:35 we come across an abandoned empty pool for making indigo blue dye. Natural blue color dye was produced from flowers of Indian Sesbania which is pretty common in mountain valleys of Taiwan. Blue dye was once one of important products for export besides tea leaves until cheap chemical dye took over it. You can see same kind of abandoned pools at various locations in mountains.We continue a path along the stream and come down to the mine hole No. 3 and 4. Their entrance is located at either side of the stream. Another few more minutes we come to a wide open area. The mine hole No.2 opens its entrance close to the area. Just beside it stands a small stone monument which reads "Protecting God of Taiwan Mountains" and a date inscribed on its side reads December 1938. That was the high time when Japan put more energy in war effort and badly needed funds as preparation of war.

Platform is visible with piled up stones
I wait for all members to come down to the flat place, which is actually platform built onto the steep valley wall. Countless stones were piled up by hand to make this platform. It must have been a huge construction project. At a side of the platform a stone stage is erected. On the top of it stands a round stone with an inscription "Tomb of Spirits". It is considered a grave of unknown solders who fought with Japanese troops in 1890s right after Japanese acquisition of Taiwan. They probably died unattended in the valley and nobody took care of them. When the gold hunters came in a couple decades later and found bones, they buried the remains and erected this monumental stone. There was supposedly a supporting facility for mining activities on the platform back then. All members arrive and have rest, then I explain to them the past history along this old trail.

going further down along the stream
Crossing the stream just in front of a small water fall
A tall waterfall of a branch strream
At 14:10 we resume walk down the trail. It goes down along a tall water fall and passes a mine hole No. 1 just across the stream.  This section is a highlight of the trail as there are four mine holes and two water falls located closely together. If you look back up the valley you will notice that the platform walls are made of many stones of different shapes and size. As we go further down the trail and cross a stream just in front of a water fall. The trail then goes higher up above the stream and passes over a branch stream. Water flows over to a very tall waterfall and plunges way down into the deep valley. As we continue the trail, water pipes show up and go along the trail. A narrow footpath diverges and goes straight. This one leads to Yuanliu old trail. We make right turn to follow the original trail. After crossing the stream again, the trail entrance is no more far away. When we reach an open area where a stone house ruin remains and take a final rest.

A wide open area with a stone house ruin of huge size
We finally come to the trail entrance on Jingshan (青山街) Street at 15:35. Walk on a dirt footpath is now over. What is left is walk to a bus stop of Yuanshanding. We walk up along the driveway and go down to the bus stop where the memorial tower stands nearby. Bus service here is very scarce and there are only a few trips a day. A next bus is supposed to come around 17:00. Some members check their smartphones for the bus schedule. They find that there will be no bus service until around 17:30. So we decide to walk another two kilometers to Beixinzhuang (北新莊) where there is more frequent service. We arrive there around 17:30 and soon comes a No. 807 bus.

Group picture at the trail entrance
The activity of group with this size takes much more time than a group of a few members. When I walked the almost identical route with just two friends, it took only six hours and a half while it took nearly nine hours this time. The activity members are all physically fit and no one claimed any fatigue during the hike. This is simply because you have to wait for many members passing difficult sections and this adds up to more time. This course goes along interesting historic sites and good vantage points though you have to take close attention for trail junctions and steep downhills. I recommend it to those hikers with experiences, but not casual hikers. The rating of the course itself is level 3 (of the maximum 5) and physical is also level 3. Visit in February may be the best time as you can enjoy cherry blossoms along the Jingshan Street.

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