Meteor Lake (JiaMingHu)

18 Nov

Meteor Lake - JiaMingHu

Meteor Lake, JiaMingHu in Chinese, in Taidong County is a place of incredible natural beauty that has long been a favorite spot for hikers looking for spectacular scenery.  It was given the name Meteor Lake because it is believed that it was formed by a meteor crashing into Earth many years ago (Of course, this being Taiwan, there is a more romantic story – that the lake is a sapphire that was lost by God on Earth).   At over 3000 metres above sea level and a good days hike from the nearest major road, Meteor Lake is remote enough to ensure that it is able to retain it’s natural splendour and continue to astonish those adventurous enough to make the journey there.

Our group chose the Chinese New Year vacation to make the journey south from Taipei.  First we took a long train ride through the East Coast Rift Valley down to the small town of ChiShang, famous in Taiwan for producing rice and of course the ubiquitous train-side ‘bian dang’ (rice meal served in a lunch box).  The East Coast Rift Valley is a truly eye-catching sight, nestled in between the steep slopes of the Central Mountain Range to the west and the Coastal Mountain Range to the East, the rift valley is crammed full of small towns and rice fields.  During the Winter months it is especially beautiful here when the fields are filled with rapeseed flowers after the rice has been harvested.  Local and foreign visitors alike, often take a break from the journey to pose for photographs in the fields amongst the bright yellow flowers.

East Coast Rift Valley - Field of flowers

 After a six-hour train journey, we arrived in ChiShang with grumbling stomachs and decided to make the most of our fleeting visit by trying out the famous local ‘bian dang’.  The most famous store had queues stretching not only out of the door, but way down the street and around the corner!  Normally, I’d take that as a good sign of quality and hedge my bets that it would be worth the wait, but we had a driver waiting to take us up to the trailhead at XiangYang, so we headed down to the next street and picked up our ‘bian dang’ from one of the many other stores offering, what to the uneducated eye, looks to be exactly the same fayre.  Six of us crammed into the back of the drivers SUV was always going to be a bit of a squash, then with our enormous packs too it was more than a little uncomfortable.  Not the best place to try and eat a meal with chopsticks, but somehow we all battled through and tried our best to edge our heads toward the windows to get our first glimpses of the magnificent mountains we were driving to.

The trailhead for Meteor Lake starts at XiangYang Forest Recreation Area on the Southern Cross-Island Highway.  I once heard a long-term expat here say that any visitors to Taiwan attempting to leave the country without having driven across one of the Cross-Island Highways should be turned around at customs and sent back!  I can’t agree more and in my opinion ‘Nan-Heng’ as it is known in Chinese is the finest of the three.  Travelling by bus or car isn’t a bad choice, but I would highly recommend two-wheeled transport.  For those fit and brave enough, cycling across this highway (the highest point of nan-heng is close to 3000m above sea level!) is a great achievement and the slow pace necessitated by the steep hills means that you have more time to look at the sheer cliffs, sprawling mountains and crystal clear streams running below.  If, like myself, you prefer the motorized two wheel drives, you will instantly fall in love with this drive and as soon as you get to the other side you will be aching to do it again.

Southern Cross Island Highway

It was late when we arrived at XiangYang Forest Recreation Area and we had just enough time to get our hiking permits and set up camp before the sun set.  Chinese New Year is the only extended vaction that the whole of Taiwan enjoys each year so it was no surprise to find the car park was filled wall-to-wall with tents.    The Taiwan people (still can’t get used to this) are always interested in talking to us when they meet us in remote places like this and the ever-present genorosity of the Taiwan people (this is getting ridiculous) is still extended in these parts.  We soon found ourselves snacking on freshly roasted sweet potatoes, washed down with a fine cup of high mountain tea (which was especially welcome given the temperature was slowly heading towards zero).

After a hearty breakfast, we hit the trail early in the morning ready for a full day of hiking.  Our backpacks (with tents, sleeping bags et al) were pretty heavy and that combined with the high altitude made it slow progress to begin with.  The trail begins in a dense pine forest, that eventually gives way to grassy hillocks of short arrow bamboo.  We sat down for a rest just as the sun began to shine through the trees and the soft, delicate scent of the pine trees drifted passed us it was impossible not to get lost in the moment.  I could have sat there for hours, but we had other plans and had to make it to the shelter before darkness set in.

XiangYang Famous Tree

After finishing the most strenuous part of the hike, we climbed out of the dense forests into the open and simply jaw-dropping views on all sides.  This tree (pictured above) is the XiangYang Famous tree, it owes it’s peculiar shape to the persistent strong winds that crash against it each day.  Even on this fairweather day, it was easy to imagine how strong the winds could be on this completely-exposed ridge and as we walked a little further down we couldn’t help but be grateful that the elements were seemingly on our side.

XiangYang Landslide

 This heart-stopping view was only a few metres from the trail that we were walking along.  It is quite incredible to look almost straight down to a road that is about 1000 metres below, that is higher than the tallest hill in England! (Sca Fell Pike 967m)  The brave amongst us (or at least those who wanted a photo) briefly looked down before scampering back to the trail and away from the treacherous edge. 

XiangYangShan - The final ascent

After a strenuous day of hiking, finally the peak of XiangYangShan (the first of two ‘bai yue’ we were attempting) was in sight.  We took off our backpacks and began the short ascent.  Taking off that backpack was an absolute pleasure and I soon found myself leaping and bounding up the mountain at twice the pace we had been walking all day.  The feeling was like what I imagine astronauts feel when they are in space, total weightlessness and freedom to move around!  Within a matter of minutes we were at the peak – a grand 3346 metres, not bad for a days work!  We took the mandatory photos with the XiangYangShan sign at the peak but, even though the sun was still blazing in the sky, the wind had turned decidedly chilly and even with our jackets we were still beginning to feel the cold.  A sure sign that it was time to make haste for the shelter before the temperature dropped anymore.

XiangYangShan Peak

 That night, the temperature went all the way down to a toe-chilling minus six degrees celsius.  One of the reasons I love going to the remote mountains is that when at night the skyline isn’t spoilt by artificial light and if the skies are clear enough you can gaze out over a million little stars.  I braved it outside until about 8pm when I started to lose feeling in my toes and ears and decided to say goodnight to the stars and jump into my warm (ish) sleeping bag.  The JiaMingHu shelter isn’t a five star hotel by any stretch of the imagination and there is no such thing as ‘a good night’s sleep’ here, in fact the most one can hope for is a couple of hours of shut eye to give them enough energy to make the final trip to the lake the next day.

Ice on the trail to JiaMingHu

Generally, in the high mountians, the nights will be very cold but when the sun comes out in the morning the temperature will rise quickly and soon become more tolerable.  Today was an exception.  The sun didn’t really come out and it was bitterly cold, with a sprinkly of light rain just to add to our toil.  However, we had come this far and nothing short of a full-scale typhoon was going to stop us from getting to Meteor Lake.  The lake is only a short two hour walk from the shelter and slope of the trail is faily gentle, with only a few steep sections.

SanChaShan - Final Ascent

Despite the adverse weather conditions, we made it to the final fork in the road in fairly good spirits.  The plan was to quickly hike up to the peak of SanChaShan and then down the other side to reach the lake.  The final 700 metre walk to the peak sounded simple enough but in reality was anything but that.  The path so far had been fairly well sheltered and only when we reached the fork did we realize how strong the wind was today.  We struggled the final few metres up the path, the wind lashing against our half-frozen faces, with out eyes stinging from the cold rain being blown into them.  At the peak we could barely stand up and could do little more than cower behind the odd bush that somehow managed to survive in this harshest of environments.  We soon realized that posing for photos was out of the questions and made a mad dash for shelter on the other side and the path down to Meteor Lake.  Just as our spirits hit their lowest ebb, all of a sudden the clouds parted and like an artists masterpiece being unveiled by the parting of a curtain, the Meteor Lake in all its grandious was revealed to us.

JiaMingHu - Meteor Lake

Sadly, it was just too cold for a swim in the lake – believe me if there was any possiblity I would have been in there.  We did spend a good few hours walking around the lake and surrounding areas and without even noticing I suddenly found that my camera’s memory card was full – with about 90% of the pictures being of the lake.  It is one of those sights that seem to look more amazing from every different angle and every time you move to a new spot you find your finger automatically reaching for the ‘shoot’ button on your camera.  I’d love to get a chance to come back here in the summer and camp out by the lake (we opted for the shelter as camping in minus six degrees didn’t seem too sensible).  At night the area becomes a play area for the normally shy Formosa Sambar Deer, during the day the only trace of these graceful animals is the kind that you step in and spend ten minutes trying to wipe off your hiking boots!

If you would like information on how to get to Meteor Lake please (or any other hiking trails in Taiwan) visit Hiking Taiwan.

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3 Responses to “Meteor Lake (JiaMingHu)”

  1. Pei February 21, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    Hey, just want to let you know I enjoy reading your blog so much. I’m a Taiwanese but haven’t been home for almost five years. Reading your blog entries just makes me feel I’m still very close to home!! I’ve shared your blog with many of my friends. It surely does help them to understand the culture and appreciate the beauty of it!! Thank you! Pei 🙂

    • taiwanstories February 23, 2010 at 2:36 am #

      Thanks, I should really make a bit more effort to get some more stories on this one!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Top Five – High Mountains « Taiwan Stories - August 22, 2010

    […] Five – High Mountains 1. Jiaming Lake – A stunning hike to an alpine lake formed by a meteor […]

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