Mount Jade and Snow Mountain | Taiwan
It may lack a coastline, but Nantou County has more than its fair share of splendid landscapes. In addition to Sun Moon Lake, the county’s borders cross the summits of both Mount Jade, and Xiuguluanshan, Taiwan’s third-highest peak. Taiwan’s highest surfaced road – a spectacular stretch of Highway 14-Jia some 3,275 m above sea level – is in the county’s north, and it provides spectacular access to Taroko Gorge.
Nantou is also a tea-growing region of importance. There are tea plantations in Lugu and Xitou, both of which can be accessed via the very scenic Road 151. Tea harvested from Lugu’s Mount Dongding – where foggy conditions ensure exceptionally tender, flavourful leaves – sometimes sells for more than US$1 per gramme.
Yushan (Mount Jade) National Park
Set up in 1985 to protect northeast Asia’s highest peak, 3,952 m (12,966 feet) tall Mount Jade, and the strikingly rugged highlands that surround it, Yushan National Park covers 105,490 hectares, or about 3% of Taiwan’s land area.
No technical climbing skills are required to hike to the country’s highest point, but it goes without saying that the park offers a great deal more than a single mountain. There are enough high-altitude trails to keep trekking enthusiasts busy for weeks – including one multi-day route that goes right across the park from west to east; enough animals, birds and insects to galvanise eco-tourists; and so much gorgeous scenery visible from the few roads that enter the park that even those who stick close to their vehicles will find their breath taken away. The drive from Alishan to Tatajia is splendid, and if you continue northward on the New Central Cross-Island Highway toward Sun Moon Lake, you’ll see plenty more stunning vistas.
Shei-Pa National Park
Covering 76,850 hectares, Shei-Pa National Park embraces two of Taiwan’s most iconic peaks – Snow Mountain, (known variously as Xueshan, Sheishan or Mount Xue) and Dabajianshan (also Mount Dapachien). The former is Taiwan’s second-highest peak at 3,886 m, while the latter (3,490 m) is famed for its distinctive barrel shape. The park has 49 other summits higher than 3,000 m, so hikers never lack for options.
The ascent of Snow Mountain is very beautiful indeed and many experienced hikers prefer it to the slightly higher Mount Jade. It can also be the final summit of a multi-day trekking route known as The Holy Ridge, so named because the scenery is sublime.
In terms of fauna, Shei-Pa’s most unique asset is the Formosan Landlocked Salmon. It’s not the only landlocked salmon species in the world, but it’s the only type of salmon that lives anywhere near the tropics. It’s regarded as especially precious because it’s a holdover from the last Ice Age. Thousands of years ago, it habitually migrated to the ocean and back, but as the climate warmed, it retreated deep into the mountains.