Meet John Arvin Ramos, an avid hiker who likes to spend his time taking groups of friends to memorable mountains in different parts of the world. Here he shares with us his experience when climbing Mount Yushan in Taiwan, and a detailed itinerary and travel guide if ever you plan to make your way there. John also helps out plan itineraries, so if you want to contact him directly, his contact details are at the bottom of this post.
What made you decide to climb Mt. Yushan?
Mt. Yushan is one of the three (3) distinctive mountains that comprises the goal of completing the “Asian Trilogy”. If you’re eyeing to fulfill this challenge, one must summit the three major peaks of East Asia namely Mt. Fuji of Japan in Northern Eastern Asia, Mt. Kinabalu of Malaysia in Southeast Asia, and Mt. Yushan of Taiwan in Central East Asia. These three great mountains are the highest in their countries and are a good introduction in transitioning to high-altitude mountain climbing. Moreover, Taiwan is in close proximity to the Philippines. It only takes around two hours of flight time to reach the island country of Taiwan from Manila.
How many days was the hike?
The entire journey back and forth ranges from three to five days, depending upon the plans of the group and their time allowance. Some hikers do day hikes, some do overnights, whilst a few even stay for more than a day in the mountains. However, in my group, we always make sure that everyone does the five-day itinerary to ensure that everyone is relaxed and there is ample time to rest for every leg of the trip. The climb proper itself, if going for the traditional backtrail route, takes only two (2) days – one and a half day for ascent, and a half-day for descent including sleep, stops and breaks combined.
Was the mountain scenic – if yes, what did you see?
One of the main reasons why I don’t get satiated with my annual trips to my Yushan is that, the trails are very tranquil and scenic, and every time I return, changes and surprises keep on unfolding – the more I go back, the more I appreciate its beauty and the more I learn about the mountain’s behavior. The mountain offers various scenes depending upon the season. As you go along your way, trails are changing and each view is unique as you gain altitude.
The first few hours of hiking offers panoramic sights of pine trees and vegetation. During the winter times from January to April where the snow is thickest, this is transformed into a pleasant taiga trail. The endless horizon of cascading mountains are what can be seen lall around you. Also, information boards can be seen at certain areas where additional knowledge about the flora, fauna, and the immediate surroundings are found – a good read as you proceed towards your goal of reaching the summit! If you need to use the toilet, there are only a few decent ones that can be used throughout the hike. Remember to take a deep breath though before entering the latrine (you’ve been warned)! The entire 8-kilometer trail is usually composed of cliffs, gullies, and wooden pathways. There are also bridges that are intentionally built to bypass deep trenches along the passage. There are markers for every 500-meters hike accomplished and you’ll be able to monitor your distance by these. On the last 2-kilometer mark, you’ll find that the vegetation starts to get thinner and thinner. If you’re observant and lucky enough, you’ll be able to see endemic animals – birds and rodents that are unique to the mountains. At the end of the 8-kilometer mark from the trailhead, Paiyun Lodge can be reached and this is where Day 1 usually ends. The earth becomes obviously barren and trees are getting shorter as you near the summit. By this time, guide chains are being used to ensure that hikers do not get lost as they scale the wall of rocks. Once the summit has been reached, the well-known and celebrated marker can be seen, bearing the name of Yushan written in English and Chinese, together with the elevation label of 3,952 MASL (meters above sea level). Indeed, there are more than enough sights to behold within Yushan – a never-ending prospect of natural beauty!
Which was your most memorable climb?
One of the most memorable climbs was with my Yushan 2017 team. While we were trying to prepare for our hike on the day of our ascent, we were surprised that a local news team – the EBC News Taiwan – neared us and conducted an impromptu interview concerning our whereabouts of the impending climb. The team was overwhelmed with joy, confusion, and excitement, all happening during that time. We all did our best to be fine in front of the camera as we had this hunch that this might be shown in the local television nationwide. As a plain traveler in a foreign land, you don’t get the opportunity to be questioned and be televised, you know! Indeed, an unforgettable moment, it was!
What was your most hated part of the climb?
I’m not a fan of big crowds, frigid weather, and cramped summits. Hence, I can say that reaching the summit and waiting there for an hour to watch the sunrise is one of the best, yet one of my most hated parts of the climb. This is where all of the climbers take a picture to the well-known hallmark of victory – the stone tablet of the Yushan Summit. This marks the highest point of the of the island country of Taiwan, and given its fame, many climbers gather here for their turn to take their winning poses. There are chances where, due to the overwhelming combination of excitement, freezing temperature, and exhaustion, those climbers become impatient for their turn and this sometimes results in small conflicts.
Would you climb Mt. Yushan again?
It has already been my annual oath to allow travelers to experience what joy and victory I had experienced during my previous hikes. I felt that this is my way of giving back to the universe, of all the travel blessings that I’ve been having for the past decade. I may only be a freelance event organizer and an independent hiker without a group, but that won’t stop me from building my own “social responsibility” to let others relive that happiness that I had, provided that the participants of the hike will cover the overall costs of my trip. I am no rich man and my sources are limited, but I can guarantee them of priceless moments that they ought to recall someday. So to answer this question, I’d say YES! I will tirelessly return to Mt. Yushan, and the other mountains that I had, as long and as much as I can – for the good of the hiking community. Monetarily speaking, this is not a promising goal; however, nothing is happier than seeing dreams being fulfilled, and my own soul being contented.
How does an avid Filipino hiker get to Mt. Yushan?
First and foremost, there are a few things one must take into consideration before charging to Taiwan to fulfill their Yushan dreams. Here are the following:
- One must secure a “permit to hike” from the Yushan National Park Headquarters. This can be achieved by going to their website and following the prompts on how to apply to their lottery system to achieve a permit.
- Once you have obtained the permit, you are now set to apply for a visa to Taiwan; however, it has only been recently that Taiwan is allowing Philippine Passport holders to enter the country visa-free. As of this writing, Philippine Passport holders can enter Taiwan until July 2019 for 14 days without a visa.
- Now that you possess the permit to hike Yushan, and the visa (if needed by the time of entry) to enter Taiwan, you are now ready for the travel proper:
To reach Mt. Yushan, you need to take into consideration, the geographical location of the mountain – it is located almost at the heart of the island country. If you’re coming from the Philippines, you can either take a flight to Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan or fly to Kaohsiung, one of the next biggest cities in the south. In this article, I will specifically discuss the route coming from Taipei as it is more logical and practical to begin from there.
As soon as you land in the Taipei Taoyuan International Airport, one can take either a train or a bus to the Taipei Main Train Station. From there, you have the option to take a bus or a train to Chiayi Station in Chiayi County. I always take my group via train as there are fewer risks and delays than being on the road by bus. From Chiayi County, you may either ride a bus, or rent a car to Alishan Township. This is where I suggest that you buy all of your provisions that are necessary for the hike proper as this is the ‘last civilization’ before proceeding to the heart of the mountain range of Yushan. From Alishan Township, you can haggle with the local taxis or ride a mini bus to bring you to Tataka Visitor Center (some locals refer to the place as Tatajia) where lies the jump-off point to the main trail of Mt. Yushan. Every time I visit the Alishan Township, fewer improvements are being made and the layout of the facilities are being changed. Bus stations and taxi stands may change from time to time. Day One of the itinerary officially ends here in Tataka, and this is where I recommend that you rest the day before your allowed ascent. Dong Pu Hostel is the sole and closest accommodation at the foot of the jump-off point. Tataka Visitor Center is already a high location, around 2600 MASL to be particular. This enables the group to acclimatize before charging through higher altitude. Call it a day, and your climb proper officially starts the next day.
How do you suggest a hiker prepares for the hike to Mt. Yushan?
As mentioned earlier, Mt. Yushan is the highest mountain in Taiwan, and being such, certain precautions must be taken. It may not be as high as the ranges of the Himalayas, yet, its risks should not be taken lightly. Accomplishing Mt. Kinabalu or Mt. Fuji is a good test of fitness, should you decide to climb Yushan. It is not actually the trail that makes Yushan challenging, but the altitude and the extreme weather.
An altitude of 3,952 MASL can already pose some dangers that may result in lowered body temperature and altitude sickness. I suggest that every hiker who would like to scale the said mountain should know more about the knowledge of Hypothermia, and Acute Mountain Sickness and – its symptoms, treatment, and tips on how to avoid them. Read here on an article on how to avoid altitude sickness.
If you’re a Filipino and you’ve already been to the highlands of Benguet and the mountains of similar nature, one can be familiar with the ‘cold gears’ that you should prepare before embarking on a high-altitude climb. Proper layering system, gloves, and bonnets are a must! I also suggest that first-aiders should bring emergency blankets to warm hikers that are susceptible to the cold. The majority of the trail of Mt. Yushan is relatively easy to average in terms of trail difficulty, however, during the summit assault, there are parts where extreme care must be observed, especially when negotiating with the cliffs where handrails and chains are provided as a guide. High mountains often have their “microclimate”, and the weather may vary from time to time. Winter hikes require more caution and pose more risk than the warmer months. If climbing on a snow season, extra protection against cold is needed and the park may also require you to wear crampons and bring ice axes, depending upon the severity and conditions of the trail.
For the cost, I suggest that hikers prepare a bloated budget of Php 20,000.00 for a 4-day itinerary, excluding flight tickets, just to be safe. Add more to this figure if you are inclined to ‘splurge’ for more than the average expenditure.
Is there any Philippine mountain you can compare the difficulty with?
There is no mountain here in the Philippines that would exceed the heights of Mt. Yushan, hence the conditions may not be exactly the same. Mt. Yushan’s biome and environment is different from the Philippines’, given its global location and geographical condition; however, I’d say that Benguet Mountains are the closest thing that comes next to it. It is a mix of traits – the summit of Mt. Apo, the trails of Mt. Pulag, the ambiance of Bakun Trio, and the pines of Mt. Ugo. That is the closest description I can have to precisely how being in Yushan feels.
Regardless of how extreme the environments is, whatever the difficulty of the trails are, and no matter how high a mountain is, I believe that determination and proper preparation can bring anyone to the summit of their dreams. All you need to do is to believe in yourself and believe in others that you can succeed together as a team towards achieving your common goal.
If you’re up to the Yushan challenge and if you would like me to personally organize everything for you (minimum of five  persons per group), from bookings to guideship and permits, you may always contact me and I’ll be more than willing to assist you. You may reach me by sending a message to my email address: [email protected].
“Life is simply, only people make things complicated.”
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