Early summer 2021 has been a time of very little travelling for me. Normally I’d be using my time off to travel to new trails or revisit old favourites, but with Taiwan currently trying to stem the domestic spread of Covid-19, myself and the rest of the population have been minimising unnecessary journies to try and get things back to normal as soon as possible. However, outdoor exercise isn’t prohibited, and if you’re willing to be responsible about it then you needn’t entirely cut yourself off from the great outdoors. I have continued to get my walks in, but with a few tweaks to make them safer (from an epidemic prevention point of view). For a start it’s worth noting that some places are currently off limits – national parks and some popular trails in tourist areas have been temporarily shut, (so obviously rules around avoiding those must be followed), but a lot of quieter, everyday walks remain open. I have further restricted myself in that I no longer take public transport, choosing only to walk where I can arrive on foot or by bike or scooter from my apartment. I make sure I buy and prepare all of my provisions in advance from places in my neighbourhood so as to minimise contact beyond my immediate neck of the woods. I stick to routes that I’m familiar with and walk carefully – the last thing I want to do at the moment is to place an extra burden on the emergency services or hospitals by getting lost or hurt. And finally I choose quiet times to walk: early mornings, midweek and at night. The latter, night walking is something I have done much more of this summer than at any other time in my life. Not only is it a good way to get the required dose of nature without running into others, (aside from one or two more popular trails, night hiking is still a relatively niche pursuit around here), but it is also a great chance to see a different side to a place.
What follows is a write up of one of these night walks.
Distance: a little under 2km.
Time: the whole journey took about two hours, but one hour of that was spent lounging at the summit.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 1/10 for a walk in the daylight, add a little more if you plan to do it at night.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 3/10 for a day time walk – more or less the whole trail is steps, and there are plenty of side-tracks, but it’s well signposted so it should be easy to stay on track. If you’re new to night hikes, perhaps it would be a better choice to try a trail with lighting first, this one doesn’t have any.
Total ascent: about 150m.
Water: we took 0.5L each for a summer night – you might want to take a picnic too.
Shade: not much in daylight, but at night there’s no sun to worry about!
Mobile network: clear except for a short stretch close to the university.
Enjoyment: 10/10 – a beautiful night view which was free from people and easy to get to.
Other: you’ll want to bring your own torches – phone torches will probably suffice on a bright night.
Permit: none needed.
Battleship Rock Trail Map
GPX file available here.
We parked our scooter on Shipai Road, Lane 315 a little before 9:30pm. This is by far the latest that we’ve ever started any of our walks, and it felt almost as if we should be going to bed instead. I hadn’t visited this particular trail up the Battleship Rock myself, but Teresa had been before, so she knew to duck through the tiny little alleyway on the left.
The alleyway has motion sensor lights which come on to light up the way, and it soon lets out onto a wider lane lined with old houses. A family were playing table tennis on a full sized table that had somewhat improbably been stuffed into their living room.
At the junction we stopped to fish our headlights out of the bottom of our packs before continuing to follow the lane as it curves left. The sign here suggests that it should take another 30 minutes to reach the top.
The lane winds around the back of the little community and past a private temple/residence. There was a group of people sat around a plastic table in the temple courtyard having a natter.
There are a couple of houses beyond that, but it wasn’t long before we reached the start of the walk proper. From this point on there’s no lighting, so we turned on our headlights and got climbing. (Later on we would return via an easy to miss track on the left here.)
At the start there is a little more tree cover. Our torch beams illuminated the undersides of the leaves, some moisture-conserving white, others more standard greens. The abandoned brown mass of a wasps’ nest in one tree caught my eye.
As did the Mickey Mouse shaped ears of this prickly pear cactus. Somewhere around here we became aware of a bizarre, repetitive yelping noise coming from what we guessed to be the high point of the trail. We came to the conclusion that it was most likely a grandpa getting in some late night exercise we proceeded anyway.
Before long, we were taller than most of the vegetation to the side of the trail, and this meant that it was possible to get a good view every time we turned back. This same feature makes this a pretty good novice night hike. Unlike some of the more tree-lined routes (which are admittedly better from a nature-observation perspective), this trail has an open and comfortable atmosphere, it’s not in the least bit spooky.
Speaking of nature and wildlife, we didn’t see a huge amount on this trail. Just a few fat geckos and plenty of bug life. (And we heard what could have been squabbling monkeys for about ten minutes when we were at the top.) This seems to be some type of antlion using its ovipositor to lay eggs.
It’s face is really rather cute up close, and those wings are so beautifully detailed. We saw quite a lot of these along the side of the path, their eyes glinting like jewel in the beam of our headlights.
Shortly before the summit there is a little junction, just keep heading straight up and you’re almost there.
By this point, the yelping we’d heard earlier had ceased, but we did indeed find an exercising grandpa on the weatherworn sandstone around the base of Battleship Rock. He had moved on from vocal exercises to tai-chi, silently flowing his way through each step. He seemed surprised to see us there, but not unhappy, and after offering a greeting he got on with his workout.
Up at the top it was so bright with the light from the moon and the city that we didn’t need our headlights at all. We turned them off and settled into a perfectly seat-shaped hollow near the triangulation stone to watch the lights and the clouds dance their dance above and below us.
At some point tai-chi grandpa bid us his farewells and headed off down the trail. We heard him making his way down, resuming his vocal exercises as he went.
We spent about an hour sat there the top, longer than the time it had taken us to climb up. But why not enjoy it while we were there? It’s not every day that you get to feel like you have a secret view of the city that’s just yours and yours alone. Looking west I saw planes heading over the northern coast as they made their final descent into Taoyuan airport, and saw the profile of Mount Guanyin silhouetted on the horizon.
We decided to return via a slightly different route, leaving the rocks via a trail on its southwestern corner, (the one we’d arrived from was in the southeast).
As with the way up, it’s very easy to see where you’re going, you just need to stick to the main trail and it’s paved all the way which makes it hard to take a wrong turn.
On the way down we saw a bit more bug life than we had on the way up. There were several of these huge huntsman spiders. Over the past couple of months I have become more familiar with these vast hunters than I ever wanted to.
Another example of the bug life was this huge, well camouflaged caterpillar.
Ignore the turning on the right here and follow the sign heading towards the university. As the trail cuts down closer to the hospital and the university it becomes more covered and there was the sound of water. In the dark I couldn’t work out if it were from a small stream to perhaps from a building’s cooling system. (Looking at the map I think it’s probably the latter.)
Then just as we approached the road, we had our most exciting wildlife spot of the night: a newly emerged cicada.
I don’t know if it was because it was freshly out of its larval exoskeleton, or perhaps all of this particular species are this vivid, but the bug was extremely beautiful, all gold and bright green, and the gold parts shone like polished metal. As we watched it stretched its forelegs as if trying to work out how they moved.
From there we hit the road, then followed it down and to the left. Near the entrance to the university we disturbed a pack of timid street dogs.
Before you arrive at the hospital campus you have to pass through this bright orange tunnel. Our voices and footsteps echoed eerily in the quiet of the night.
At the far end of the tunnel we ducked through the barriers and took the higher left hand road that runs along the back of the hospital. There’s a little ditch running alongside this road which was full of the sound of frogs – one of which took a flying leap when we got too close.
We followed the road for a few minutes then just before the road curved right and downhill, Teresa directed me left down another ominous looking little alleyway. At the far end we found ourselves back at the point where we had started climbing the trail.
From here we just followed the lane back to where we had started. Back past the now silent and dark temple, back through the collection of houses where most people seemed to have turned in for the night.
It was about twenty to midnight when we got back to the scooter. By far our latest ever adventure. In non Covid times, I would have suggested a stop at a soymilk shop for a Taiwan style nightcap, but instead we headed sensibly home.
How to get to Battleship Rock Trail
Google maps address: we started from Lane 315, Section 2 Shipai Road (here-ish) but it would be just as easy to do the walk in reverse and start from the trail head close to National Yangmingshan Jiaotong University (here-ish).
- Entrance to the narrow lane – N25 07.410 E121 31.310
- Starting trail head – N25 07.420 E121 31.235
- University trail exit – N25 07.430 E121 31.020
Public transport: it’s easy enough to walk here from Shipai MRT Station, although there are a few bus stops nearer to the trail head which run at various times throughout the day.
Further reading: I’ve been to (or at least close to) Battleship Rock a number of times, and have previously written about two different trails in the area. One takes in a lovely old Japanese era shrine, and another skirts around one of Taipei’s top rock climbing spots. It’s definitely worth checking out the route in the daylight first so that you have a good idea of where you’re going.
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