With a bit of planning, you could possibly do the three Xiaobaiyue peaks close to Keelung city in a single day trip. I take them slowly, one by one instead. Today, I'm headed for a small hill called 杠子寮山 Gangziliaoshan.
Starting from National Keelung Maritime School, a quiet trail winds up the hillside. I pass the student dormitories, orderly separated by gender, and can't help but wonder whether the campus parks and trails are a welcome place for students to mingle after class. They still enjoy their winter school holidays, though, so it's quiet today.
After a few minutes, I exit the forest and reach a gazebo along the roadside. Looking down towards the coast, I'm amazed. I haven't expected such gorgeous views after just 10 minutes of climbing.
Like many of the smaller peaks in Taiwan, 杠子寮山 Gangziliaoshan is misleadingly close to but not exactly on one of the well marked trails. It's easy to miss the small dirt trail that branches off from the paved road, but a few plastic flags and the all-to-common ropes give it away once I take a closer look. It has rained, and, for the most part, the trail is extremely slippery. Ropes offer a welcome assistance, as I carefully pull myself upwards.
A few minutes later, I reach the tree-covered peak. A small clearing opens up towards a blue ocean and an overcast sky. 基隆嶼 Keelung islet, is sitting prominently in the middle of the picture. The story goes that Shih-Yun, a female ghost inhabits the island, mourning the loss of her husband who died at sea. That didn't stop the Taiwan military to use it as a training base centuries later.
I soon wave goodbye to the island and start a short but slow descent, doing my utmost best to negotiate the slippery terrain back to the road. This side of the trail doesn't have any ropes, so it's a good test of my balance.
When I finally gain solid ground again, I head towards 槓子寮砲臺 Gangziliao Fort, a military area built by the Japanese after they landed in Keelung in 1904. Today, it's a peaceful place for people to enjoy some time in nature. A middle-aged local passes me shirtless, briskly walking to a clearing, turning around and continuing back with steely determination. His bare chest exposes the kind of body military discipline and training must create. A few minutes later, an ex-pat runner comes hurtling down a small hill. This must be a great place to exercise, I think.
I have no time to explore more of the side trails that I suspect expanding across the forest on either side of the main path. Instead, I continue to a more extensive clearing, marvelling at the views down towards 八斗子 Badouzi. I exit Gangziliao Fort passing a group of large, but mostly older, condominium projects. From here, I follow the main road down to 海科館 Haikeguan, the northernmost railway station in Taiwan. It's one of the few remnants of the Jinguashi Line which was built by the Japanese in 1936 to transport coal from the Shuinandong smelter near Juifen. Today, only three stations and a 4.6 km single track are left, operated as the Shen'ao line branch line connecting Badouzi and Haikeguan with the larger Ruifang station.
The afternoon comes to an end, and I don't want to miss the last train. I take a chapter from the book of the “military man” I passed earlier. Briskly walking, I reach the park next to the train station. I take a fleeting glance around just as a distinctive orange and yellow train comes around the corner.