烘爐塞山 Nanshijiaoshan

31.10.2021

I have a conflicted relationship with hiking bucket lists. Creating a list of “the” 100 peaks to “conquer” can motivate people to get out in the mountains. Still, it also creates a problematic incentive where bragging rights become more important than the process of climbing itself. There are two such lists in Taiwan: the original Baiyue, a collection of 100 peaks above 3000m in height, and the more recent Xiaobaiyue, meant to list 100 more easily accessible city hikes.

I didn't know about the latter until recently. Unsurprisingly, it includes a few mountains I've already been to. My usual way of deciding where to climb next is an eclectic mix of factors. Looking at a map, skimming through online reports or just seeing a hill one day and asking, “what is this mountain, and how can I climb it?” It's a strange, random process, and I like it that way. I find it funny how it seems to have led to much overlap with the “official” Xiaobaiyue list.

That being said, I have begun to run out of obvious destinations for short hikes around my current home base in Banqiao. I finally turn to the Xiaobaiyue list for some inspiration. The map looks somewhat messy, with 100 markers scattered across all parts of Taiwan. I'm surprised to find one very close to home. 烘爐塞山 Nanshijiaoshan in Zhonghe District is a 304m high peak I've never heard of before. Like many 山 in Taipei, this is a flat hill on top of a forested mountain ridge rather than a “proper”, whatever that means, mountain peak. That doesn't mean it's not worth visiting.

It could be a short walk up from the MRT station with the same name. I realize that trails connect all the way from Tucheng, so, instead, I make my way to 清化里 Qinghua Village and plan to do a quick 10-kilometre “recovery” hike before taking the MRT back home. In front of a Hilife convenience store, not far from Taipei's Juvenile Detention House, Qingyun Road leads upwards towards the trailhead. I'm listening to another podcast. Joe Rogan talking to musician Jewel about her truly wild life story becomes the backdrop for my hike.

What I like about these lesser-known trails in Taipei is the solitude you can find there. It's also a more honest and basic trail, none of the well maintained, elegant stone stairs you'll see in places like Yinhangling or Xiangshan. This is a cool, no-frills trail perfect for a quick afternoon getaway.

The path leads up through a forested hill and follows the ridge to 烘爐塞山 Nanshijiaoshan. The frequent clearings offer pleasant views of Taipei's skyline, including 101 in the distance. There's karaoke music in the air from one of the villages below. Sometimes I hear the crackling of the high voltage lines running over the ridge.

Every so often, I pass a shelter with a handful of chairs and benches. Some of them even have wooden swings hanging from tree branches which locals must have brought up here to enjoy their time in nature. There are many outdoor gyms with pull-up bars and machines made of curved metal bars and rubber tyres, which I assume are meant to be used for some form of abs routine. One of the shelters has a bicycle ergometer left to the elements. It looks like it has already been accumulating rust for a few years. It's all empty and a bit desolate, and I wonder whether it's the wrong day, wrong weather, wrong season, or these things have just fallen out of fashion.

I reach 清水大尖山 Qingshuidajianshan and pass close by 五尖山 Wujianshan (I have no idea why I missed to take this obvious detour). From here, my trusted map tricks me into a trail that ends in a dead-end with a big private property sign. You know there's no messing around when a random Taiwan hiking trail has warning signs in English. It turns out the official trail leads, quite literally, through the small Taoist temple 三清宮 instead. From here, after a few minutes along the road, another trail leads up towards 烘爐塞山 Nanshijiaoshan.

From the top, Taipei 101 is clearly visible in the distance. Today, only a family of three is up here with me; their son gazes curiously through the binoculars on top of the viewing platform.

The descent is short and straightforward. As darkness begins to fall, I cross over Ankeng Tunnel, which leads a busy freeway through the hill below. Around 6pm, I reach the trail exit near the Hwa Hsia University of Technology. The solitude is gone as I walk the last few metres through the streets of Nanshijiao to the MRT station.

The podcast concludes with a performance of “Who Will Save Your Soul”, just as I enter the train station, a fitting closure to a memorable 3-hour hike that flew by in no time.