Before this assignment I knew very little about the tiny island of Taiwan, more specifically just how stunningly beautiful and underrated this part of the world is. From the moment you arrive in the bustling capital of Taipei it is clearly evident that Taiwan’s mountains are a prominent feature of the landscape as it seems no matter where you look there are numerous peaks dominating the horizon. It is estimated that Taiwan has more than 200 peaks over 3000 metres in elevation making it the perfect destination for trekking adventures and mountain climbs.
Words: Nicholas Heard
Photos: Nicholas Heard, Sonny Royal, Ryan Hevern
Suspension bridges make it possible to trek into otherwise unreachable terrain
Nick taking in the sights across the outstretched valley below
The three of us set out to hike the Batongguan Historical Trail, which traverses the mountainous Yushan National Park from Dongpu in the East of Taiwain to the Walami Trail near Hualien in the West. Constructed during Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the trail was built to follow an elevational gradient allowing for easy hiking. The sites of old police substations now serve as rest stops and remote cabins for weary hikers. The ever changing landscape is carved by landslides caused by earthquakes and the ever growing mountains making some sections of the trail rather hair raising, even for those with plenty of experience. In previous times Yushan National Park served as important hunting grounds for the aboriginals of the region. To successfully master this landscape required such finely tuned skill that few would know in this modern age.
As we trekked higher into the mountains the cool air would become thick with mist turning the forest into an unworldly place
Small remote cabins now occupy areas that were once police outposts during Japanese occupation
The multi-day trekking aspect provided the perfect opportunity to put our bags to the test as, apart from the camera equipment, we needed to carry everything from clothing to camping gear, food and water. Walking along the intimidating cliffside trails, rockslides and up into the mist layden wooded mountains made for some heart stopping moments and breathtaking scenery. Today the trails are maintained regularly and are fitted with bridges and walking platforms to ensure safety. However in times gone by this was not the case. A section of the trail was named the ‘Father & Son’ trail because father nor son could save one another if things were to go wrong along this steep section of cliff.
Landslides at times cover the trail, making for a heart-thumping dash across the steep loose ground
On more relaxing ground, Sonny and Ryan taking a rest next to one of the many waterfalls along the trail
When you are on the trail you are forced to strip things back to the bare essentials providing an opportunity to get to back to basics and appreciate the simplicity offered by nature. Exposed to the elements we needed to be able to adapt to a wide range of conditions from the warmer sections of the trail at lower elevations to the colder reaches once we were hiking up into the mountains. One of the features I found incredibly useful during this trip was the Gatekeeper Straps allowing us to go beyond the capacity of the bag by attaching equipment externally. This was incredibly useful for carrying sleeping mats and tents.
Bags packed and ready to go for another day of trekking
One of the many waterfalls that we encountered along the trail
The sun sets upon a picturesque skyline with the full moon in the background
Setting up for some morning shots of the mountains, notice the enormous landslide in the background
With any multi-day trekking you need to be sure that your gear isn’t going to become uncomfortable or cause any issues when carrying a heavy load for an extended period. Some days we would hike up to 10 hours for longer sections making for a tough day of trekking. Thanks to a well thought out harness design F-stop bags can be adjusted to distribute weight across your body to reduce fatigue and overuse of muscles when carrying a heavy kit. Requiring more gear to deal with the range of weather conditions meant packing light with the camera equipment. Needing to allow for more internal bag space for warmer clothing and sleeping bags was important as it would be stowed away during the day and used at night when temperatures would sometimes border on freezing.
Although a change from the hot and humid jungles of Borneo trekking in Taiwan offered the opportunity to explore new locations and completely different scenery setting the stage for a unique experience like nothing else.
You can find more of Sonny Royal's work here, more of Nick Heard's work here, and more of Ryan Hevern's work on his Instagram, and website.