At 13 kilometres, 雪山隧道 is one of the longest road tunnels in the world. It cuts underneath the Xueshan or Snow Mountain massif and connects Taiwan's capital Taipei with Yilan. Conveniently, it also brings Jiaoxi's hot spring and hiking trails within less than an hour of Taipei Main station.
At least that would be the case without the traffic jam I get stuck in because I forget to factor in that it's Election Day. Many travel back and forth to their hometowns, adding to the usual weekend traffic.
My hiking friends bailed out the night before, worried about the weather forecast for Yilan, so I meet them for breakfast instead. I've had some prejudice about the chorizo hotdog the place is famous for, but it turns out surprisingly yummy.
Slightly delayed, I arrive at Jiaoxi bus station. I tried to reach Quezishan from here a few days ago. The wet trail, stray dogs barking in the distance and a lack of time after taking a few wrong turns before locating the trailhead made me choose to turn around halfway. This time, I take a cab up to a Buddhist temple (圓通寺) along the old road to Taipei and make the short hike to the top.
The weather is decent, a baby blue sky scattered with clouds. For a few moments, the sun peeks through. In Yilan, that's already more than I could have hoped for during this time of the year.
The trail is simple and pleasant as I ascend the grass-covered Quezishan hill, zig-zagging to the top. Turtle Island can be seen just off the coast of Toucheng.
Dark clouds have accumulated, hanging ominously over the ocean. A strong breeze blows over the ridgeline.
I descend on the route I attempted the hike earlier in the week. After some time, I meet a local who seems lost. I tell him I'm going to Jiaoxi, and he follows me. It's my second time on this mountain, but I'm already guiding a local hiker in the right direction.
The trail follows a little stream downwards, crossing it at various points. It's a gorgeous hike through the forest, more exciting than the straightforward path on the other side.
After a while, I hit the spot where I have turned around last time. It has been a wise decision as it would've taken me at least another 45 minutes to the top from there. Today, it's less slippery, and my new friend and I soon reach the road and make our way down towards Jiaoxi.
On arrival, I pay another visit to the Jiaoxi Hot Spring. Unlike my go-to place in Beitou, it's a quaint outdoor bath with both hot and cold pools. A local visitor warns me that the water isn't as clean as elsewhere. He might be correct, but my tired hiking legs still enjoy a good soaking.
An hour later, another bus carries me back home. This time, there's no jam as we ride through the Xueshan tunnel cruising into Taipei's Saturday night.