Distance: 4km – from the bus stop back to the bus stop and including a small diversion in the park.
Time: an extremely gentle 3½ hours – this included multiple snack breaks, a toilet break and hundreds of pauses to watch small reptiles.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 1/10 – just some steps.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 3/10 – the only difficult part of this trail is the steps, it’s 1km up and 1km down, not too challenging but if you don’t like steps you won’t like it. The path is easy to follow and the whole thing is well marked.
Water: I drank 0.6L on a slow spring afternoon hike, although admittedly about a third of that was a direct consequence of eating radish cake with a generous serving of spicy sauce.
Shade: patchy, I took an umbrella which I used on and off.
Mobile network: good, I think it was there the whole way.
Enjoyment: 8/10 – not because the walk was particularly exciting by itself but because of all the wildlife we encountered along the way.
Mount Shamao Trail Map
Link to a map which is downloadable can be found here.
We got off the bus at the Teachers’ Center bus stop and headed downhill a bit.
Just past the Teachers’ Center we took the first road on the right, it wasn’t sign-posted but after about 100m or so we arrived at the park entrance which was extremely lively on a Sunday afternoon. There were about a dozen food stalls selling street food, two of which were selling vegetarian fare. My hiking partner is no one to pass up an opportunity to have a snack so we stopped. I had a helping of radish cake and she had a bowl of noodles – fuel for the walk.
After we finished our snacks we headed left down the road which runs along the side of the park. We diverted into the park for a quick toilet break but that extended into a watching-the-squirrels break and then a watching-old-people-sing break. The park was full of people making the most of the spring weather, there was a song circle with an elderly matriarch conducting about 15 singers and two old guys with instruments. They were singing old Taiwanese songs. We saw dogs playing, dogs in pushchairs, dogs in bags, (even a cat in a pushchair). We watched a dog getting vexed by the squirrels’ ability to disappear into the trees and another crafty squirrel stealing food from the singing people and hiding it in a tree. Kids were skating, playing ball, a circle of them gathered around what was either a small dead snake or a lizard’s tail. Someone had brought a massage table into the park and was busy dispensing of his services. We could have spent our afternoon there people watching but decided to stick to our hiking plan.
We continued down the the end of the road where a sulphurous waft indicated that we were close to one of Yangmingshan park’s hot springs. Sure enough, just to the left of this picture there were public hot springs.
From the start of the hike, Yangmingshan park’s native fauna kept us entertained. This column of ants was busy moving house, each ant going left-to-right accross the path was carrying one of the colony’s eggs.
Not long after starting up we became aware that our passage was setting off rustles in the undergrowth. At first I was worried that we were surrounded by snakes but it quickly became clear that we’d stumbled into a giant skink party. They were everywhere! Sunning themselves on the path, basking on the rocks at the side of the trail, lounging on logs – you could barely go ten paces without startling one of them into dashing for cover. From researching the local wildlife after I got home I’m pretty sure that these are Indian forest skinks – whatever they are, they’re super cute and stopping to observe them probably doubled the time it took us to complete this walk (well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration).
The path isn’t anything too strenuous – although the steps did get us sweating a little in the 30 degree heat.
This giant caterpillar was the next creature to catch my attention – I saw a few of them during the course of the walk – they really are huge! There were also some other really, really hairy ones which looked kind of like an old man’s eyebrow but unfortunately looking at pictures of moths and caterpillars online makes my skin crawl in a way that the real thing doesn’t actually do, so I’ve been unable to identify them.
As we neared the top the path flattened out for a short way and passed a couple of old gravesites – they’d recently be cleaned, presumably their descents had visited during Qingming festival a few weeks earlier.
The top is marked by a viewing platform with a map which explains that you’re looking right at qixing shan, the tallest mountain in the park and its neighbour datun shan. The weather at the top was doing this weird thing, to our left the sky was bright and sunny but to our right it was gray and dark. A quick check of the local weather suggested that a possible thunderstorm was heading our way so we thought it prudent to make our way off of the peak.
When we left the viewing platform we followed the sign pointing towards Dapu hiking trail entrance. We passed a trig point for Mount Shamao and we passed the remains of the Prince’s pavillion, it was built for Japan’s Crown Prince Hirohito’s 1923 visit during Taiwan’s period under Japanese rule. A sign there says that although Hirohito visited Yangmingshan, he never had time to visit nearby Mount Shamao (apparently he was more interested in visiting the hokutolite stone in Beitou).
We also passed a shit ton of skinks. This one was a rare skink who seemed to think that staying still was a better way to stay hidden.
The path on the way down is a lot more slippery than on the way up, I guess this side is more shaded. We encountered one of Taiwan’s many old men who are entirely undeterred by hazardous walking conditions, and who in fact, laugh in the face of treacherous surfaces by wearing flipflops to hike.
This cool chap did not care one jot about us. There were a few of these tree lizards around and compared to the skittering nature of the skinks, they just seemed too cool! They’d nonchalantly let us observe them, just turning their heads a little to make sure we weren’t getting too close.
The final member of our nature crew to introduce themselves was this large, fat toad skulking in the depths of a tree trunk. It was only Teresa’s obsession with peering into holes that discovered him.
The 1.2km trail down from the peak terminates at a spot which is kind of nowhere. There are bus stops a little along the road in both directions but we decided to turn left and head back to where we came from since the bus there would take us back down to where we’d parked.
The road section isn’t that nice, we had to cross over several times to avoid being in a blind spot for cars. This being Taiwan, we weren’t alone in our road walking, we passed plenty of Sunday hikers and amblers doing the same as us.
However, there were views of the university campus to the right to keep us entertained, (and a couple of paths which headed in that direction). A little while back I walked the tianmu old trail which I’m pretty sure is over there somewhere.
As we neared the starting point I crossed over a grate in the road and felt a rush of hot air combined with the sulphur smell – looking down we saw a steaming river falling away to join a stream.
We passed the police station on our right and turned right onto Yangming Road. The building on the opposite corner of the road is the women’s public hotspring. It’s free so it was swarmed by a load of not-so-young Taiwanese ladies waiting for their afternoon dip. We stopped to watch them stretch and get massages whilst we are our fruit which was distinctly disapproved of by one of the aunties in charge, she seemed to think we were planning to dispose of our waste (there was none) on the floor.
After being scared away by the grumpy aunty we continued along Yangming road then turned left at the junction. This put us back near where we’d started and next to the bus stop which would take us down to Jiantan station.
How to get to Mount Shamao Trail
Google maps address: Mt Shamao Trail, near No. 123-3, Shamao Road, Beitou District, Taipei City, 112 – you’ll be able to find scooter parking easily but it might be a bit harder for cars on the weekend.
GPS location: N25 08.997 E121 32.880
My new words learnt on this hike were:
- 折扣 / zhékòu / discount
- 打折 / dǎzhé / discount
- 你們第二杯有折扣嗎？/ Nǐmen dì èr bēi yǒu zhékòu ma? / Do you have a discount on the second cup? – this was in response to different discount offers in a convenience store.
- 香菜 / xiāngcài / coriander (and maybe parsely)
- 蟾蜍 / chánchú / toad