The most iconic of Taiwan’s cycling climbs is the Taiwan KOM (King of the Mountains). Locally, cyclists in Taiwan call it simply ‘Wuling’, which refers to the location of the summit at 3,275m. It is also called the Central Cross-Island Highway or Hehuan Mt. because of the numerous 3,000m+ peaks that are accessible from the road.
First a note on altitude and climate
Regardless of age or fitness, altitude is the great equalizer that any cyclists can succumb to. Some people can ride up to 3,000m with no ill effect. They are the lucky ones. The oxygen concentration in the air decreases 8% for every thousand meters you ascend. This translates to about 24% less oxygen at 3,000m than you have at sea level. The effects of altitude sickness are well documented, lack of breath, nausea, headache, and disorientation. We cannot stress enough the benefits of putting in proper training before embarking on an ascent as dramatic as the Taiwan KOM. This is one of the most grueling hill climbs for any cyclists. Ideally, the rider will spend time at altitudes between one and two thousand meters to help acclimate. The solution to altitude sickness is simple – go down immediately, even descending 500m can be enough to recover.
Temperature at altitude while cycling Taiwan’s KOM
The general rule is that the temperature at altitude is 6 degrees centigrade cooler for every one thousand meters you ascend. This is something that catches riders off guard riding up to Wuling. It could be 30C. in Hualien by the coast, but it will be at least 18C. cooler up at Wuling and this would be in perfect conditions. The mountains are more exposed, the Hehuan area is almost guaranteed to get snow in wintertime. So, don’t let the fact that you are living in a sub=tropical climate of the lowlands of Taiwan catch you off guard. From experience, I can tell you that one winter riding up to see snow on top the forecast was -20C for early morning. I was anticipating this and had full winter thermals with me for the ride.
Preparation and equipment for cycling Taiwan’s KOM
It has attracted international attention because of the formal race event which starts at sea level at Cisingtan Beach in Hualien on the east coast to Taiwan’s highest paved road. The race event covers a distance of 105km – the first 20km or so is neutral until it reaches the entrance to Taroko Gorge.
The best way to access Taroko Gorge and the Wuling climb is first to get to Hualien. Ideally, the rider will overnight somewhere in the vicinity of the gorge rather than Hualien City, which is 30km from the gorge. The nearest train station is Xincheng, this is a very popular tourist area and there are plenty of guest houses and hotels to choose from. The road that the KOM is on is Provincial Highway No. 8 – the 189km marker tells you that you are at its eastern end point. Eighty km further up the road it meets Provincial Highway No. 14A, which after 10kms takes the rider to the glory of the highest point.
Cycling the epic King of the Mountain
Now to the ride itself. For a start, I would advise any cyclist attempting this as a one-day ascent to start at first-light. With a start time of 6am the rider has to judge exactly how long it is going to take to reach the top. At a moderate pace for the average rider that could be 7 – 9 hours allowing for breaks. I would advise a summit time no later than 2pm in the afternoon and this will allow enough day light time to descend to a safer altitude. This is especially important if you are returning to Hualien. On the east side of the Central Mountains there are very few options for an overnight stay. There is much more by way of accommodation on the west side of the mountains.
The toughest question the rider has to ask themself is how long will it take to ride approximately 90km uphill with a total ascent of 3,500m (there are two short downhill sections along the way adding to the total climb). There is only one major feed station on the road and this is at the top to Taroko Gorge proper. Just 20km into the ride you’ll find a 7-11 Convenience Store on the right-hand side of the road and this is the best opportunity to buy food and drinks that will carry you through the day. Although there are a few mum and pop shops higher up they can’t be relied on to be open regularly. There is one coffee shop which serves food at Bilu Big Tree, which is 60km into the ride at 2,150m. The Taroko National Park HQ has a snack shop 85km into the ride at around 3,000m.
Although the gradient of this climb is moderate most of the way, 5 – 8% this should not fool the rider into complacency. The toughest part of the climb is the last 10km to the top. At 80km into the ride you reach Dayuling, 2,565m, this means there is still 700m of ascent to the finish and the gradient in some places is over 20%. The road is also completely exposed with few places to shelter.
About this climb:
The world-famous Taiwan KOM, aka Wuling (武陵) is listed as #001 of the Top 100 Cycling Climbs of Taiwan. Truly a sea-to-sky cycling experience those riding Taiwan’s KOM will ride exclusively within Hualien County (花蓮縣) and be treated to jaw-dropping scenery throughout Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園) and Taroko Gorge.
Map & GPX File
How to Get to Hualien
Driving to Hualien (花蓮): If you are driving, you can set this as your location – HERE. The drive to The Stele of Taiwan’s Geographical Center 臺灣地理中心碑 takes approximately 50 minutes from downtown Taichung.
Taking public transportation to ride the KOM: The nearest train station is Xincheng Train Station (新城火車站) just north of Hualien City. Another option is to take the train to Hualien City and ride up to the Xincheng area to stay overnight. This is a very popular tourist area and there are plenty of guest houses and hotels to choose from.