Travel

The ultimate bucket list: Hiking Taiwan’s 100 mountains

Aug 13, 2019

In Taiwan, a list of 100 mountains has become something of a Bible for avid hikers.

Called the Baiyue, the list was the brainchild of outdoor enthusiasts who wanted to promote high-altitude hiking in Taiwan. The trails vary in difficulty and view, but they’ve all been chosen for how well they represent the island’s diverse landscape.

The peak of Jade Mountain, the tallest in Taiwan.
The peak of Jade Mountain, the tallest in Taiwan. / Photo: Shutterstock

Hiking is a popular pastime in Taiwan, where it consistently ranks among the top forms of exercise. Over half of the island is covered with mountains of at least 500 meters, making Taiwan one of the densest hiking spots in the world.

And since the island is subtropical, the changes in scenery are dramatic, from snowy mountain caps to beachside knolls and hidden hot springs.

“Hiking is a way for us to build a connection with our land.”

“Hiking is a way for us to build a connection with our land,” says Yu Tu, a software engineer who grew up in Taipei and has tackled many of the Baiyue trails.

How the list came to be

The list, which means “100 peaks” in Chinese, was inspired by a similar one in Japan called the Hyakumeizan, which was compiled by climber Kyuya Fukada in 1964 and instantly became a hit.

In 1968, a group of Taiwanese mountaineers decided to start their own list. They set a minimum height of 3,000 meters—twice the minimum of the Japanese list, they noted—which left them with 267 peaks.

Over half of the island is covered with mountains above 500 meters.
Over half of the island is covered with mountains above 500 meters. / Photo: Ray Ngan

From there, 100 were chosen based on criteria such as beauty, uniqueness, and challenge.

The list was published in 1972—and almost immediately drew responses from people who had opinions about which mountains were and weren’t included.

Some argued that a handful of mountains on the list couldn’t rightly be called “peaks” because their summits were little more than an elevated plateau on an already high ridge.

Others questioned the “beauty” judgement, pointing out that some summits were surrounded by dense brush that covered the view, making the spots lackluster and prosaic.

(Read more: That time I saw a dead body while hiking in a Tibetan town)

Adding insult to injury, a survey of the peaks in 1987 revealed that two of the mountains on the list didn’t actually meet the minimum height requirement.

But criticisms aside, the Baiyue has largely earned praise from Taiwan’s hiking community, which has embraced the list as a welcome challenge. To this day, it remains unaltered.

Getting to 100

Almost 50 years after its initial publication, the Baiyue is experiencing a surge in popularity, due in part to social media.

“People see pictures of these unique and beautiful mountains and want to experience it themselves," says Huang Yu-hsiang, an outdoor enthusiast who has climbed 92 of the 100 peaks and himself documents his adventures on Instagram.

“You see more hikers on the trails these days,” he says, “and you have to plan lodging long in advance.” In some cases, the wait is several months.

(Read more: The mountain town that looks like a Chinese painting)

Many of the trails are well-maintained and the information available is comprehensive, making them good places to get familiar with high-altitude hiking.

Huang’s personal favorite is Nanhu Mountain. At a staggering 3,740 meters, it’s the fifth-highest peak in Taiwan, and its windswept ridges are reminiscent of a lunar landscape.

Nanhu Mountain’s windswept ridges are reminiscent of a lunar landscape.
Nanhu Mountain’s windswept ridges are reminiscent of a lunar landscape. / Photo: Shutterstock

The 3,490-meter Dabajian in northeastern Taiwan is beloved for its craggy domed top, a feature made iconic by its appearance on Taiwan’s $500 bill. 

And then there is Jade Mountain, the island’s highest peak at 3,950 meters. Summiting it is considered one of the three challenges that every Taiwanese person should complete, along with circumnavigating the island by bicycle and swimming across Sun Moon Lake.

But hiking the Baiyue is not without risks. While the easiest peaks can be scaled in an afternoon, others are technically challenging, and can test the skill and endurance of even the most seasoned hikers.

Eighty people lost their lives while hiking Taiwan’s mountains between 1997 and 2005, and earlier this year, a Taiwanese hiking celebrity, Gigi Wu, also known as the “Bikini Hiker” for her provocative summit selfies, died on a hiking trip.

Wu had scaled all 100 peaks in four years, but she met her end when she fell into a ravine while on a long-distance solo hike. Bad weather reportedly prevented a helicopter from reaching her in time.

Weather conditions are notoriously fickle in subtropical Taiwan. Torrential rain, strong winds, and sudden fog pose serious risks for hikers.

“We don’t get many vacation days, so we only have one or two chances a year to attempt high-altitude hiking," says Peng Maolin, a high-end fruit retailer in New Taipei City and father of two. “Many times, we’ve had to cancel due to bad conditions.”

Peng goes on annual expeditions with a group of friends and has climbed 11 of the 100 peaks. But for him, finishing the list is not all that important.

“If we do, it probably won’t be until I’m 70.”

“We might not have time to climb all 100 peaks,” says Peng, “and if we do, it probably won’t be until I’m 70.”

Instead, he says the hikes are simply a way to catch up and bond with friends.

His sentiments echo that of many Taiwanese mountaineers, who feel the Baiyue is a good reference point for high-altitude hikes.

But the real treasure lies in finding beauty and serenity in nature, at whatever altitude it might be.

TaiwanEnvironmentAdventuresOutdoorsHiking

Credit

Producer and Narrator: Clarissa Wei

Videographers: Nicholas Ko and Emma Arkell

Editor: Nicholas Ko

Mastering: Victor Peña