The Holy Ridge 雪山聖稜線

The Holy Ridge 雪山聖稜線 is one of Taiwan’s most famous big hiking trails.  It’s a stunning hike along a long ridge line that usually takes about 5 days.  It crosses several high peaks, including Taiwan’s second highest, Snow Mountain 雪山 (Xueshan) at 3886 m (12749 ft).  The ridge is so long that three full days can easily be spent at over 3,400 m.

My friends and I hiked The Holy Ridge recently in a four day blitz.  We achieved this by starting at midnight and hiking in the dark for an hour, then skipping the Snow Mountain Peak.

A Hiker Above the Clouds

A hiker looks out on a sea of clouds on Taiwan's Holy Ridge, a hiking trail on and around Snow Mountain (Xueshan).

Day 2 – The Hard Slog

If Day 1 was the night hiking, Day 2 was the hard slog.  We climbed about 1,500m vertically over the course of about 8km.  All while carrying nearly 30kg (~60lb) packs.  I should mention now that we actually did the hike in the reverse direction that most people do it.  The usual way is to go counterclockwise, to be able to descend the four cliffs that are encountered on it.  We went clockwise.

The second day actually wasn’t that difficult until we came to a very steep scree field covered in snow.  The scree field was about as steep as it could be and we climbed nearly 300m on that one push alone.

At the top, we finally arrived at the ridge line, which we thought would be an easy, flat walk to the Xuebei Cabin. It turned out to have many steep slopes, lots of snow and wind, and was covered in juniper bushes that seemed to have claw-like fingers grabbing us and pulling us back.  To make matters worse, night was setting in and we had no idea how long it would take us to get to the cabin.

My first walk on the ridge was probably the two hardest hours of my life.  I can’t begin to tell you how tired your mind, body and soul can become after such a difficult day.  Carrying 30kgs and ascending so much, and the further stress of not knowing how much farther the cabin was, was almost too much to bare.

But, we came to the cabin just at dusk and collapsed on the floor.  “Fatigued” doesn’t even come close to how I felt.  As I passed in and out of consciousness throughout the night, I really didn’t think I would be able to walk, much less carry my heavy pack the next day.

Hiker in good light

A hiker stops for a rest on Taiwan's Holy Ridge hiking trail.

hey pretty bird

I always wanted to be a wildlife photographer!

Lost!

Stu and Ross pretending they know what they're looking at.

Hiking Snow Mountain in Taiwan

Hiking through Snow Mountain's Black Forest in Taiwan.

Hiking a ridge line in the fog

This was the end of Day 2, about when the fatigue and bad weather really started to set in.

Xuebei Cabin

Inside one of the mountain cabins.

Day 3 – Rejuvenated Spirits

To my utter surprise, I (and my companions) awoke feeling… not too bad!  Honestly, I wasn’t even that sore!  We had awoken to a spectacular morning that had refreshed our spirits, and our conviction, to finish the hike.  All that, and the fact that we knew we only had a four hour hike to the next cabin, energized and motivated us, and away we went!

self portrait

Day 3 on The Holy Ridge offered nice weather and lots of portrait opportunities!

Day 3 on The Holy Ridge offered nice weather and lots of portrait opportunities!

The Holy Ridge 聖稜線

Day 3 on The Holy Ridge offered nice weather and lots of portrait opportunities!

The Holy Ridge 聖稜線

Little scrambles like this became common place in the Holy Ridge Trail. One mistake and a long, long fall awaited you.

The Holy Ridge 聖稜線

This photo is not an optical illusion. The trail really goes almost straight up.... and on forever.

The Holy Ridge 聖稜線

Day 3 saw our first of five cliffs. This one was more of a difficult scramble than a cliff, but it still had a long fall if anyone made a mistake.

We found that we had the next cabin (Sumida) to ourselves, so after setting up shop, we had enough time to hike to the nearby Mutelebu Peak.  Unfortunately, as often happens in the late afternoons in Taiwan, the weather set in and we had to be content to watch the clouds swirl and hide the fantastic views that we had been seeing earlier in the day.

The Holy Ridge 聖稜線

The end of Day 3 the weather started to move in, but left our packs at the lodge and hiked up to a very exposed peak with long drops on either side.

The Holy Ridge 聖稜線

There were a lot of forests similar to this one, with small pine trees and junipers to climb over and under.

Day 4 – The Supidest of my Life

The weather on the morning of Day 4 had been like the night before: foggy and a bit windy.  We set out early, knowing that it would be another difficult day… we had no idea just how difficult…

After about an hour, we came to what would be the first of 4 dangerous cliffs we had to climb that day.  We had difficulty on the very first section as we had never climbed cliffs like this before with full packs and we had a little trouble getting comfortable.  Add the wind, fog, snow, ice, loose rocks and sketchy ropes, and you’ll know why I yelled back to my friends as I got to the top, “That was the stupidest think I ever did in my life!!!”

The truth is, despite the fact that we are all very experienced hikers, with the confluence of all these bad weather conditions, we were pushed to the limits of our abilities.  On a clear, dry day, this, and the cliffs that followed, wouldn’t have been a problem.  But at about 1ºC (35ºF) with rain setting in, we were fucked could barely manage.

I actually yelled back that they should turn around and not attempt the last part of the cliff because it was too dangerous, but this would have split us up at a very dangerous part of the trail… and would have left me on my own, in a high-mountain-very-bad-place.

They finished climbing the cliff, and we pushed on.  We knew there were still the three Pintien Cliffs ahead: two infamous 20 meter walls and one at 10 meters. What we weren’t expecting were the ever-present 1,000 meter tumbles down the sides of the ridge that could have taken our lives anytime the knee-deep snow might have decided to give way.

This was the first day of my life that I spent the entire day in fear.  Fear for my own life and that of my friends.  Each of us had a moment or two of such deep fear and doubt as to think that we couldn’t go on.  But we all stayed strong and helped each other through the difficult moments.

The Holy Ridge 聖稜線

We knew day 4 would be the most difficult, even without the snow, ice and rain.

Day 5 – Did we Really Do That?

The hike down was sunny, warm and uneventful.  It seems that we had bad luck and bad weather for just that one day… go figure.

The Holy Ridge

Day 5, and the hike down was quite peaceful.

Have a looks at Stu’s account over at Hiking Taiwan.

You might be wondering why I don’t have many pictures or video illustrating all those bad cliffs that we encountered on Day 4.  At the time, I though I just didn’t have the motivation to get the equipment out in the bad weather.  But, as I reflect on that day, the truth is that I just didn’t want to have the footage of one of my friends falling to their deaths.  I guess principles are sometimes more important than telling a story.

Cheers,
-Neil

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Categories: Hiking, PHOTOGRAPHY, TAIWAN, Video | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

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33 thoughts on “The Holy Ridge 雪山聖稜線

  1. Pingback: The Holy Ridge – 聖稜線 « Hiking Taiwan

  2. Shane T

    Great stuff Neil! Thanks for sharing for those of us on the east coast sitting behind a desk right now looking for something new to daydream about. Great shots too… looks like a must-do on the bucket list!!!

  3. Beautiful & breathtaking. Made my day! Nice to have mountain cabins for hikers! Thanks & regards!

  4. Wow amazing trip! You guys went for it, thanks for inspiring.

  5. Fantastic views, I stayed in Taiwan 4 years but never went far into the mountainous bits. I would love to do this trek but I am scared of heights :)

  6. Richard

    I’ve been wanting to do that trail for years. That film only made me want to do it more, but in summer!

    • Hi Richard. Yes, do it in the summer… and be sure to go counterclockwise, so you can go DOWN those cliffs!

  7. Fantastic post! I’ve done a lot of day hikes, but nothing even remotely like what you guys have done. Great job!

  8. Nicolas Owens

    Hey, I really wanted to do this trail. Any tips on how to get permissions and good maps, etc.

    • Ask Stu over at Hiking Taiwan. He’s my good friend and he usually sets up all the permits and stuff. That said, you can definitely find maps in the hiking stores near Taipei Main Station on Zhongshan Rd.

  9. That first photography, the sea of clouds, is absolutely breathtaking!

  10. Chun

    your article and video are really really amazing and inspire me!! Love it!!

  11. Love the pics! Thanks for sharing. Makes me want to visit (again). Check out my blog for opportunities in Taiwan for youth and young adults!

  12. wow, that hike is amazing, but it looks so tiring, 4 days, wow!

  13. I wish i would visit this beautyfful mountains very soon … you are a lucky person to see such beauty live.

  14. MAY

    無意中看到你的網站相片,覺得台灣高山真美,當你們爬雪山聖稜線
    時真替你們捏了一把冷汗,正如你所說第四天是生死交關的一天,但
    慶幸的是你們成功的克服了,最後謝謝你的分享

  15. well worth the slog getting up there, stunning shots.

  16. Although I haven’t done this hike, your Day 4 recap outlines a familiar dread. I’ve felt that way briefly on day hikes around Taiwan, and in other countries. Thanks for sharing this awesome content. My friend is thinking about this hike for next year. I’m going to send him the link.

    • Thanks Mike. Bad luck with the weather can happen to anyone, anytime in the high mountains. The trick is to be prepared for anything. If you or your friend has any questions about the hike, feel free to ask.
      Cheers,
      -Neil

  17. A group of coworkers and I are hoping to do this trail during
    Thanksgiving break this year–as teachers this is the most time in one
    go that we can manage. Is that too late in the year or is November
    still acceptable? In addition, I have done the Jiaming Lake hike–which
    I found exhilarating though a wee bit difficult–and the others have
    done various Rocky Mountain hikes in the States and smaller hikes here
    in Taiwan–Chia La Hu being the most recent. With these varied
    experiences in mind, do you recommend that we still have a guide or
    would it be okay for us to trek it on our own? Thank you for your time
    and advice.

    • The Holy Ridge is a very difficult and dangerous hike. You will need to navigate two 20 meter vertical cliffs, and at least three others that are very dangerous. In November, it will be VERY cold and there’s the chance for snow, so you’d have to take crampons and all the necessary winter gear. This is a very serious mountaineering expedition, not just a hike. It’s impossible for me to tell you if you can do it or not, but I can tell you that I own a hiking guide company along with three partners, and we’ve decided that we’re never taking customers up there because it’s too dangerous. If you have any more questions, I’d be happy to help.

      • Well this year I won’t be jetlagged whilst attempting to hike–that was part of the problem last year–and I will also be in much better shape. However, I can’t vouch for the fit levels for all members of our group–though as a whole we’re fairly fit. So based on the varying levels of experience, and given that we have 5 days of vacation to kill, what would be a difficult–though not death defying–hike that you’d recommend?

  18. Martijn

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks for the info Neil! We just had a great hike. A friend and I just finished the holy ridge in 3,5 half day, including Tao and snow mountain. Just after the typhoon one part was really sketchy because a small part of the trail was eroded resulting in a really steep cliff with no clear path at 3200 m. I would recommend a light backpack 15kg max 20 kg because of the steep cliffs. GPS with trail location is recommended in case of a situation as mentioned above.

    Best regards, Martijn

  19. Jolyn

    Hey Neil, just came across your blog while trying to find information on the holy ridge. Quick question – did you attempt this in march? And was it difficult to get the permit for just two people? Thanks (:

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