On the slopes near Snow Mountain, we find one of Taiwan's most marvellous day hikes. The name emanates smells of pizza and the taste of strong espresso. Still, Roma ridge has nothing to do with Italy. It's the abbreviation of 羅葉尾山 Mount Luoyewei and 馬武佐野郡山 Mount Mawuzuye. Take the first character of each, and you have 羅馬, the Chinese name for Rome.
We sleep in a lodge in 南山 Nanshan, next to the Family Mart, which many hikers use as a final place to restock before heading to the mountains. Water drips through the filter of my 4am morning coffee, and while I might have gotten the most sleep in our group, I also seem to look the most tired.
My eye bags quickly disappear once we arrive at the trailhead and begin the hike just before sunrise. We cross a small stream and make our way up through lush and wet forests. Every time I turn around, I see a sea of clouds hanging over the valley below. The rain and moisture from the previous days create this beautiful scene. Fortunate for us, it doesn't rain today.
The colours are out of this world. Dark green, yellowish-green, yellow turning into orange and red, reddish-purple and every tone in between. It seems like all seasons come together in one time and place. They meet under a sky of blue, blanketed in a sea of clouds, illuminated by the morning sun gently pushing its way through. I make sure to slow down; I take in with my eyes what my camera won't do justice to.
We reach 羅葉尾山 around 9 o'clock and join in the summit photo ritual a few other groups have already started. Serious face, smiley face, solo photo, group photo, thumbs up, victory sign, portrait holding an orange, portrait pretending to kiss the orange. It's an Instagram party on top of the mountain. I walk a few steps back to where the trail reaches the summit and watch the clouds float across the sky behind us. In their dance with the sun, no victor has prevailed.
After a while, we continue down the ridge in the opposite direction. Wet bamboo is bending across the trail. I push through with my arms. I learn that it doesn't require rain to get soaking wet. The trail continues through a beautiful green forest, downhill through a few slippery and muddy sections. I don't even want to imagine this part when it really rains.
Soon, we reach the first of many moss-covered thousand-year trees, each an excuse for either a snack break or another photoshoot. I have to admit some of them turn out nice, and they are a lovely reminder of a great day.
What must these trees make of us tiny humans posing next to them? What stories can they tell of distant times they've witnessed? The last two years of the pandemic felt like an eternity to many. Looking at the enormity of these ancient giants puts things into perspective. Time slows down when you wander through a forest.
Finally, the last photos have been taken, and we get closer to the edge of the forest. Once I step out of it, the landscape changes. The greens get darker, accompanied by the light brown of the reed. In the distance, the high mountains of the Nanhu range appear. A few minutes later, we reach the top of 馬武佐野郡山. There are still clouds in the sky, but 雪山 Xueshan is visible in the distance, and it looks like it's doing its name justice by having some 雪 snow on top.
The trail leads all downhill from here, a beautiful but tiring descent. At its end, another river crossing awaits us. This one is a bit trickier, at least if you want to keep your shoes dry. I decide that the easiest way is to carry my shoes and walk barefoot. 2 minutes later, we reach the road. The trail arrives 5 kilometres from where we have embarked on our adventure. We have parked some of our cars here in the morning, so we don't need to walk back.
This has been one of my favourite treks in Taiwan. It's a nice challenge but nothing too crazy. It's relatively accessible but not too crowded. Most of all, it's beautiful beyond words.
While the rest of our group makes its way back to Taipei, I settle in for a short night in Yilan, preparing for the second hike of the weekend.