Some might argue that 玉山西峰 Yushan West Peak isn't worth the effort, unless you spend the night at Paiyun Lodge and have nothing else to do while preparing for your summit run to 玉山 Yushan Main Peak, Taiwan's highest mountain, the next morning.
However, I learned to hike for the journey more than the destination, so I have no problem doing this peak as another long day trip from Dongpu. Just being in the midst of Yushan National Park makes it worthwhile.
I arrive at Dongpu Lodge the day before. After a sunny day, the mountains are covered in a beautiful sea of clouds. More importantly, the weather forecast projects a clear day tomorrow. In joyous anticipation, I cuddle under my blanket, trying to catch a few hours of sleep. At 1am, I hit the road.
I already know the drill, having made a similar trip to reach Yushan Main Peak in October. Time flies as I pass the police station, and I soon meet another group of hikers at the trailhead. There are noticeably more people on the trail than last time (probably due to better weather), and I'm also surprised to meet a couple of folks coming down the mountain. I wonder what itinerary they are doing to be descending at night.
I soon realize that I have miscalculated the time it'll take me to get to the peak. I reach 排雲山莊 Paiyun Lodge around 5am. I decide that it's too cold to take a longer break or slow down much, so I just keep going. The trail narrows and a few ropes aide me along. It's not hard, and there are no exposed sections. Still, I take a mental note that this is about as challenging a trail as I want to be doing solo and at night.
There's a cold wind blowing over the mountain. As I inch closer to the peak, the trail becomes more exposed to it and it gets pretty chilly. I reach the peak and quickly descend to a small 山神廟 Japanese shrine about 100 metres below. I was hoping to find shelter from the wind, but it's still pretty cold. I manage to change my sweaty shirt for a dry one and, like an onion, peel myself back into my multiple layers of clothes. Then, I quickly head back up to the peak and begin my descend.
After a few minutes, I come to a wind-protected part of the trail. I take a break and watch the day come alive against the backdrop of the massive main peak. In the distance, I watch dozens of hikers, like ants busying up and down the trail with their headlamps. I don't envy them too much; I enjoy the solitude.
It's still early in the day, and it becomes too cold to wait for the sun to rise above Yushan. After about half an hour, I continue down to Paiyun Lodge. The sky is clear, and the temptation to continue up to the main peak is high. I neither have strong enough legs nor the permit to do it today, so, after another short break, I make my way down the 8.5 kilometres back to the trailhead.
It's a gorgeous day, and, one by one, I strip off most of my layers and apply sunscreen on my face and arms. The views make up for the arduous hike in the darkness. It looks more like autumn than winter, leaves of all colours gently falling from the trees.
I meet many hikers on their way up. Some are confused why I'm coming down so early. There are confirming nods, astounded faces or thumbs up when I tell them I've already reached the top, if only of West Peak.
An eternity later, I reach the trailhead and knock on the shuttle bus window, waking up the driver from his nap. I clean up my things at Dongpu Lodge and embark on my journey back to Taipei by public transport. I have 20 minutes to wait for the first of many busses, so I decide to take a nap near the parking lot. Lying stretched out on the ground with my backpack as a pillow, I must have been quite the sight. 15 minutes later, my alarm rings and my speed nap is over. 6 hours later I'm back home.
Overall, it's been quite the effort for a single hike. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. North Peak is next.