Up and Down from Xincheng - Two Days in Taroko Gorge - CycleBlaze

August 16, 2022

Up and Down from Xincheng

a hiking trail past Tianxiang

  We became concerned about the weather last night, as it rained again at about 7:00 while on our way back from dinner. Apart from getting some nice, colourful snaps, rainfall in the steep-sided gorge is a serious problem because it can sometimes dislodge and wash down rocks. Even on yesterday's short hike, a bit the size of a Brooks seat fell onto the trail very close to where we were. If it had hit one of us, it'd have likely proved fatal. 

 Before we went to bed, Debbie set her phone's alarm for six, with the plan being to get an early start before the heat kicks in and the forecasted rain arrives at about noon. The idea being that after going back to 7-Eleven for a hot coffee and a bagel or whatever they have left, and with the rear panniers stored in the hotel's reception, we'll ride up the gorge for about 17km and fit in a couple of easy hikes before returning to get our train at nearly five. 

 When we open the curtains, it's a clear sky and two roadies cruise by in the dim light. And we thought we were getting on the bikes early. 

We have coffee and bagels in the 7-Eleven close to our hotel in Xincheng before 7:00
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 There's very little traffic and while humidity is high, it feels relatively cool when we step outside the hotel and unlock the bikes. Last night's rain may have helped with that. The forecast predicts it'll be about 36°C by nine. 

 The 7-Eleven a few hundred metres away along Highway 8 has a couple of young customers aged about 20 hanging around their large-cc motorbikes. We get our coffees and sit by the window and watch them smoke. For breakfast, I have a microwaved bagel with blueberry jam in it. It's rubbery.

 We ride off along the 8 and cruise through the entrance to the gorge, which has an ornate gateway topped with a two-tiered roof, and start a very gentle climb, one that we know will last about 17km. Thankfully we're in shade, with the sun still low and just some far-off ridges bathed in weak sunlight. To me, it feels like it's just below 30°C right now = about 86°F.

The sun is still coming up as we ride into the gorge
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Looking back east, where the Liwu River flows into the Pacific
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White Sand Tunnel
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It was quiet for the first hour, with very little traffic on the road
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It's about 17km up Taroko Gorge to Tianxiang - just a few homes, hotels and a 7-Eleven
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A short tunnel on Highway 8
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 We pause for the odd photo, but it's hard to capture the splendor of this gorge, even with a wide-angle lens. You really need a drone. There are stark shadows and lots of contrast, with either semi-darkness or bright sunshine, and while the sky is a wonderful blue, there's not much of it in view from the road unless you strain your neck and look up.

 We stop when we reach a place called Swalow Grotto after maybe 10 kilometres of pedalling. A fairly new tunnel carries most traffic with the original road going through a series of rough-cut tunnels. 

 There's a hiking trail that starts at its southern end, accessed by a long suspension bridge spanning the water, but it requires advance online reservation and it gets booked up weeks and weeks in advance. Photos show it's a dramatic trek that veers up and along a high corniche, with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet and no handrail. You wouldn't want to tackle it with young children.

 We take a few shots posing along the dim route and then keep going, as it's well gone eight and the sun is now pretty much out in force. It's good that most of the road is still in shade thanks to the high sides of the gorge, which loom straight up and at times hang precariously right across the tarmac. Pockmarks show where falling rocks have impacted the surface.  


We paused along a winding section of old road that goes through Swallow Grotto
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Debbie explored this footbridge, but couldn't see if it actually led anywhere
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Up past the 171km mark of Highway 8, which ends after 187km back at coastal Highway 9
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 We ride by one elevated trail called Lushui and insead of exploring it now, we opt to do so on the way back. That's because the sun is still a bit low to get good shots, and besides, there's a 7-Eleven a couple of kilometres away in one-street Tianxiang and we're running low on energy.

 Stepping inside is nice, as the AC feeling good on our sweaty bodies and we get cold drinks, have a bite to eat and relax on stools by th ewindow for 10 minutes, looking outside to see a coupele of guys on road bikes standing around chatting. I get the impression they're going to ride all the way up the gorge and beyond to the highest section of road in Taiwan - Wuling Pass - that's over 3,270m above sea level. I can't help but mentally wince. 

 As we continue to pedal up Highway 8, we pass a few people walking, not much slower than us. They must be heading where we are - to the entrance to Baiyang Trail. 

 Access to it is via a 300m tunnel that goes from a covered section of the highway, less than a kilometre from the 7-Eleven, and a sign at the start says cycling is not allowed. We join other visitors in walking through the long, dark, wet passage, with our LEDSshowing the way. Riding woul dbe a bad idea anyway, as it's a stiff incline and the water covering the rough concrete road surface. 

We went through a side tunnel where that columned protection is to get to Baiyang Trail
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Debbie on the Baiyang Trail, which has seven dark tunnels
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  We lock the bikes up beside a bridge once out of the tunnel and I smear sun cream on my arms and face as it's now gone nine and we're out in the sun and it's hot.  

 The trail has a number of people on it and we imagine it must get very busy at weekends as it's an easy trek with no steps or noticeable incline that lasts for just 2km. Most of it has been paved with concrete, but we find a couple of rock falls have demolished that in places, together with the steel I-beam handrail suports that would prevent anyone from tumbling to their death over the precipice. We inch towards the edge to peer over, but get a sense of vertigo and instinctively step back to a safe distance.

 There are seven tunnels to go through and we use our LED bike lights. A small group of bats are clinging to the roof of one, but it's difficut to take a photo in the semidarkness. 

 We reach the head of the Baiyang Trail and venture over a suspension bridge which affords a glorious view of two, high waterfalls. The top one seems to be perched on a distant ridge and makes me wonder where the flow is actuaally coming from.  

 Another tunnel takes us to what's known as Water Curtain Cave. In my mind I see a waterfall that people can walk behind, and we have a foldable umbrella to use. However, a couple of women at its entrance tell Debbie it'll be useless in the strong deluge and that we need to take off our shoes and socks, and wear a plastic raincoat. We get handed ones that people have already worn - they're flimsy polythene ones that you can buy cheaply in 7-Eleven. These are not what anyone wants to don in this heat as it feels that I've become a boil-in-the-bag meal.

 The information is all a bit confusing and taking photos now seems like a bad idea, as my new camera will get soaked. I'm in two minds whether to bother going in or not, but the women say I'll regret it if I don't. 

 With our shoes and socks come off and inside the thin hooded raincoat, with my camera under it, we walk into the dark cave.


There are two waterfalls at the top end of Baiyang Trail
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The very last tunnel on the Baiyang Trail is called Water Curtain Cave - raincoats required
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 The cave turns out to be actually a short tunnel, perhaps 100 metres long, with a path a couple of feet wide running along one edge, about thigh-height above a foot-deep stream. There are long cracks on the roof where water is gushing out, cascading down into the stream. It's noisy with echoing people's voices and the sound of the curtain of falling water. The umbrella would have been useless.

 I use my LED to show the way and kick myself for not bringing my tripod, which is back with my shoes and socks. It's a case of placing the camera firmly against the wet side of the cave and trying to take shots that have a quite short exposure, but it's hard work and there's a real chance my camera will get wet. They're underexsposed, but maybe Photoshop will redeem them.

 Once out and in our shoes, we retrace our steps back through the various tunnels and get to the locked bikes, then walk them down through the long wet tunnel to Highway 8.  

 There's the other trail to explore, just past Tianxiang.   

Heading back to the coast - Debbie over yonder in pink
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It's a nice freewheel for almost 20km from Tianxiang
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 Lushui trail is one that I briefly looked at a couple of years ago when I droped through Taroko Gorge. It was blocked off then, just after a totally dark, narrow tunnel, but hopefully it's nowfully  open and accessible.

 We leave our bikes near some government buillding where the trail begins and soon see a sign saying the trail is closed ahead, but decide to see what it's like. Hopefully we can get to a dramatic section that overlooks the highway. 

 The trail is taped off much earlier this time and it's clear workers have been building a section of retaining wall from rocks. It's just above knee height and from surveying the slope above, it doesn't look as though our lives will be in any real danger, so I dip under the tape and soon beckon Debbie to do the same. 

 We get to the small, bending tunnel and once out of its darkness can see the situation hasn't really changed from two years ago. Ahead, bending around in a curve, the two-foot-wide trail hugs the side of a vertical cliff and is littered with stones. It looks dodgy, so we agree it's best to go back. 

 However, as it gives a super vantage point of the highway and a section of white water, I tells Debbie to return and then cruise past to the mouth of a nearby tunnel. It takes at least 10 minutes before she appears, but I get a handful of decent photos before trekking back to my bike.

We explored Lushui Trail, but it was blocked due to a rockfall
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Now lower down the gorge and the sun has gone
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There's no access to the Liwu River
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It'd be really nice to have a cool dip
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More dramatic scenery as we return to Swallow Grotto
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Us in Swallow Grotto
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 It's an easy ride back along Highway 8 with it being mostly down to the coast and our speed is decent. After Swallow Grotto the sun goes behind clouds that have appeared from nowehere and taking photos becomes less of a priority, but we do stop a few times just to admire it all.  

 We've plenty of time to get our train at five and ponder going back to the trail we did yesterday, but feel it'd be a rush, so instead head down a side lane to the coast to hopefully get sight of the Pacific.

 There's a concrete defense wall to get onto and on top we see the long stretch of sand is totally deserted. The sun magically reappears here, while rain clouds hover low over the mountains rising up behind us. It's hot.

 Xincheng Station has clearly been expanded in recent years, but there's no AC and the lobby is like a green house. It must be at least 35°C and my clothing is soaked in sweat. It's no cooler outside in the shade, as there's no breeze and humidity feels close to 100 percent. 

 We check in the bikes at the luggage office and get told they'll arrive in Zhongli very late tomorrow night. It's OK. We just want to get on our train, sit down and feel its cool AC.

Derelict pre-War villa in Xincheng
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We had time to ride to the Pacific before getting our train home at near 5:00
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There's a short section of defense wall - maybe just 3km long
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It took a while for my article to get published in an airline magazine
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Today's ride: 40 km (25 miles)
Total: 48 km (30 miles)

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Scott AndersonThis really makes me want to return to Taiwan some year. We biked partway up the gorge back in 2014 and stayed over at Taroko Village. I’d love to see it again.
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1 year ago
Graham FinchIt is a special place and we would like to go back again. The hike along a trail that is high above the river looks amazing.

I've cycled down the whole gorge a few times and it's somehing you should think about.... probably coming from Lishan via Highway 7.

Taroko Village (Tianxiang) has a couple of places to stay.
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1 year ago