Hot springs & waterfalls – a hidden paradise in Wulai, Taiwan

Wulai was without a doubt my favorite part of Taiwan.  Sure I only had a long weekend to explore but everything I loved about Taipei was in this quaint mountain town’s market too.  But the real attraction of Wulai isn’t the night market you can find in the capitol, its the lush natural surroundings & friendly locals.

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Directions to Wulai
849 bus from Xindian station (end of the green line.)
Bus fare – $15 NTD ($.50US)
Taxi fare – $600 NTD ($20US)

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Upon first arriving in Wulai its impossible to miss the stunning bridges criss-crossing across the river augmented by the Wulai Waterfall.  A column of water 80 meters high plummets to the river (making it Taiwan’s largest waterfall) just across from the natural hot springs where you’ll find locals inviting you to join them for an afternoon soak.

 

 


Wulai Bridge


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Jirisan – The Descent

Descending Jirisan is no simple task.  After relaxing on the peak for nearly an hour and seeing a helicopter rescue we finally decided to get moving.  Before we actually climbed down we had a few kilometers of trail to cover on the ridgeline.

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Traveling among the clouds we enjoyed the youthgiving mountain air and stunning views. To the horizon and beyond all you could see were mountains and valleys.  Although Spring was blooming below it was oddly dead at this altitude.

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The ridgeline’s steady downgrade only had a few uphills thrown in.  It made for a wonderful stroll before we got to the first shelter.  While there we had a chance to refill our water, sit in the shade and enjoy a few “choco pies” from the quartermaster.  Silly me only brought a giant bag of trail-mix thinking I’d be able to pick up gimbap along the way.  I devoured a few of these snacks before beginning the real descent and seeing my first greenery of the day.

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Steps after steps; for some reason we forgot that 1900+ meters up also meant 1900+ meters down:(    At least there was a babbling brook to follow.  By now all the animals of the forest had woken up and birds and insects joined the river’s beautiful symphony!

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Playing with my tripod & long exposures

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Playing with my tripod & long exposures

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Playing with my tripod & long exposures

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In the Shadow of Mount Olympus – The Hoh Rainforest

When most people hear rainforest they immediately think of a tropical one, perhaps The Amazon, in Costa Rica or a tropical island.  It turns out a rainforest is based on how much precipitation falls and has nothing to do with proximity to the tropics.  I know crazy, right?  There are in fact tropical rainforests like most people think and temperate rainforests such as the Hoh Rainforest at the base of Mt. Olympus.  In the Hoh between 12 and 14 feet of precipitation fall each year, making it one of the wettest places in the US!

Precipitiation chart

I flew into Seattle and with a quick stop at my brother’s apartment to make my luggage a little more “camping-friendly” we were off.  We promptly got caught up on brotherly things and began discussing our upcoming adventure.  The plan was to head to Olympic National Park where we could camp near the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center, enjoy a few hikes and then head to Hurricane Ridge.  Driving along the coast we stopped at many scenic overlooks as the dense forests worked their way up to the Pacific.  A quick trail from the highway took us down to the beach.  Walking between malformed trees you could taste the salty air as the waves grew louder.  Instantly the path opened up to a marvelous view of the ocean and a beach strewn with massive white driftwood; a firm testament to the ocean’s strength.

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Our next stop took us to the first of many tremendous trees.  We learned that the world’s largest spruce tree is a whopping 191 feet tall and nearly 59 feet across it.  That means it would take 10 people to give this guy a proper tree hug!  A quick photo op, some more rock albums, a vampire-free drive through Forks, WA and we came upon the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center.  After setting up camp we took a stroll down the Hall of Mosses sporting a river that shone like emeralds and moss covered trees.

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Envisioning moss monsters and treants lumbering down the path I came to the subtle realization at how peaceful it was.  Immediately I knew that these would certainly be benevolent creatures if this were in deed the fantasy world it seemed to be.  The trail continued a few miles before the loop brought us back to our campsite.  We ate a hearty dinner to prepare for a full day of hiking in the the heart of the Hoh!

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We rose early, hoping to get on the trail before the heat of the sun.  It was a quick walk to the visitor’s center where the Hall of Moses met with the Hoh River Trail.  Along the way we saw postings letting us know that we were entering “cougar country”, no not that kind of cougar, the dangerous wild cat that could tear you to shreds.  A quick read informed us that sitings were in quite rare and gave us a few tips just in case.  As we started down the Hoh River Trail we realized that the Hall of Mosses was merely the tip of the iceberg in this magnificent rainforest.

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At first the path was accented by logs and planks clearly placed by park rangers.  There were regular footbridges to help cross streams and gulleys.  Every tree in sight was covered with hanging mosses making the greenery shine like an emerald.  The forest floor was filled with all kinds of plant life, everything from ferns to clover with shrubberies in between.  A variety of fungi could be found wherever a dead tree lay; mostly massive mushrooms, we didn’t dare find out if they were edible.

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We came across minimal wildlife, scaring a green snake, it slunk away before I could snap a picture.  Insects on the other hand were everywhere; mosquitoes erupted near muddy patches in the trail and gargantuan black slugs were never far from decaying trees.  The path was well trodden and we passed a handful of hikers but the man-made bridges were no more.  We crossed the next stream using a downed tree as we traversed deeper into the Hoh; the serenity of nature continued to grow.

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A humongous tree had fallen across the path with a section carved out for safe passage.  The tree so large that the crack running up its core was more than enough room to take a nap.  Before long we heard the distant sound of rushing water.  Sure enough there was a beautiful waterfall feeding the stream that crossed our path.

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Near the gushing water stood a huckleberry bush; a passing traveler mentioned that they were delicious and we decided to try a few.  They were juicy and full of flavor; too bad he picked most of the ones on this trail.  Just ahead a grove of towering redwoods made for some excellent climbing before we continued on.

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The rushing water grew louder; perhaps it wasn’t the waterfall we heard but the enormous Hoh River that the trail was following.  As we rounded the next bend there it was before us.  A massive waterway bringing glacial flow to the valley showed its power with uprooted trees, now white with decay.  Under the shade of an enormous oak we broke for lunch within view of the river.

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44-_DSC3852.NEFThe sun already coming back down in the afternoon we decided to go a few more miles before heading back to camp.  Coming across even more moss laden trees and incredible greenery we passed the Happy Four Campsites.  If we didn’t have plans for Hurricane Ridge tomorrow perhaps we would have stayed the night.  With our shadows growing longer we reluctantly began retracing our steps.  Our trip into the Hoh proved as magical as we had hoped, witnessing the beauty that nature can produce when left to its own devices.

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Read about the next day in Olympic National Park here!