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A Foggy Hike in Yangmingshan 陽明山

These photographs were taken in early October 2013 while hiking around Yángmíngshān National Park 陽明山國家公園. After meeting up with a friend we took a bus from Jiantan Station 劍潭站 in Shìlín District 士林區 to Lěngshuǐkēng with the intention of checking out Milk Lake 牛奶湖 (pinyin: Niúnǎichí). Racing up the meandering mountainside roads we soon found ourselves immersed in an interminable fog. Debarking at the bus stop, with hardly another soul around, we decided to wander around and see what we could make of our time in Yangmingshan.

Our first stop was Jīngshān Suspension Bridge 菁山吊橋, not far from the parking lot. I hear that this is ordinarily a good place to see Milk Lake but we could hardly see more than a few meters in any direction. The trails were almost completely empty and the fog was beautiful so we decided to look around and see what else might be seen. Across the main road we climbed the short distance to Mènghuàn Pond 夢幻湖, literally “Dream Pond”. Fittingly, the pond was named for its surreal and wondrous appearance in the wintertime fog.

Beyond the radio broadcasting tower begins the ascent toward Qīxīngshān 七星山, or Seven Star Mountain, the highest peak in Yangmingshan at 1,120 meters above sea level. It is also an extinct but not completely quiescent volcano, which should explain the preponderance of hot springs and steaming fumaroles on its flanks. The trail up and over the peak is, for the most part, a long stone stairway that snakes along the rolling topography of the mountainside. Forest cover gives way to long grass and occasional segments where hikers are completely exposed to strong winds.

These photos may give the appearance of a tranquil climb into the clouds but it was rather harrowing at times. Slick stones make for slippery footing, particularly in the gale force blasts we experienced, and progress was slow and uneven. At one point my friend shouted at me, “Are you sure this is safe?” To which I replied, “I have no idea”.

We spent little time at the peak, stopping only to take a few photos by the wooden monument that marks the summit, before descending the western flank to the steaming vents at Xiǎoyóukēng 小油坑. Along the way we passed several active fumaroles at the side of the path. Noxious gases escaped the earth’s crust into the misty atmosphere with an eerie hissing sound. Where rainwater had pooled over a vent the sound was that of water brought to a simmering boil. In the gathering gloom of late afternoon this part of the trail had even more of an alien and dreamlike appearance than what we had already passed through.

Eventually we reached the parking lot on the far side of Xiaoyoukeng and our journey across the highest peak in Yangmingshan came to an end. Waiting for the bus back down the mountainside to Shilin Night Market 士林夜市 I wryly mentioned that I absolutely love crazy and unusual weather conditions that I live through. I’m not sure if I can recommend hiking Qixingshan in the fog—but I certainly enjoyed the experience.

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