History of Mountaineering in Taiwan

The history of hiking and mountaineering in Taiwan is long and interesting. The story is one that every mountaineer who treks here will find both interesting and romantic. Whether you are joining a hiking tour or trekking on your own, Taiwan offers visitors and residents more than just a spectacular adventure. You are walking in the footsteps of the past that have shaped the present. Here is a little history of mountaineering in Taiwan to whet your appetite for adventure.

Recent picture of Jade Mountain, also known as Yushan or 玉山. This is Taiwan’s tallest peak at 3,952m.

Early Mountaineering in Taiwan

While inhabited by aboriginal natives for thousands of years, ethnic Han Chinese people did not begin to immigrate to Taiwan until the Ming (明朝) and Qing (清朝) dynasties, beginning in the 1300s.

Beginning in the Qing Dynasty, exploration of Taiwan’s high mountains started, and the first development of trails and maps began.

It wasn’t until a passing Portuguese merchant ship sailed past Taiwan in 1544 that Taiwan really began to gain international recognition.

Noting the island’s lush mountain topography, the Portuguese that passed by Taiwan in 1544 dubbed it “Ihla Formosa”, or “Beautiful Island” in Portuguese.

Dutch Map of Ihla Formosa (Taiwan), circa 1640.
Pictured: Dutch Map of Ihla Formosa (Taiwan), circa 1640. Image Source: Colonialvoyage.com

Japan Takes Control

Over the years, control of Taiwan changed hands several times.

Finally around the turn of the 20th century, China lost the First Sino-Japanese War (甲午戰爭), and Taiwan was handed over to the Japanese, which had a profound effect on the mountains and mountaineering of Taiwan.

Even today, Japan’s colonial control of Taiwan continues to have a resounding impact on the cultural fabric of Taiwan, both on and off the mountain.

Under Japanese control, the development of Taiwan’s mountains continued to grow.

It’s important to understand that throughout Taiwan’s history, the ethnic aboriginals who called the mountains home had a tumultuous and often violent relationship with colonizers, and Japan was certainly no exception.

Japan quickly identified Taiwan as a potential source of economic resources (in the form of lumber), and used mountaineering as a guise for exploitation of Taiwan’s limited natural resources.

As Japan’s demand for Taiwanese lumber continued to increase, so too did their encroachment into mountain aboriginal communities. Conflicts, massacres, and forced deportation were the norm for the time, and many lives were lost on both sides.

For most of the early 20th century, exploration of Taiwan’s mountains was purely done as a means to identify sources of lumber, and not as a form of recreation.

Japanese Exploration for Taiwanese Lumber

In 1896, the first expedition to explore the highest peaks in Taiwan began. Nagano Yoshito (長野義虎) a Japanese army lieutenant, went deep into the mountains of Taiwan to learn about the customs, language and culture of the local aborigines, as well as to investigate Taiwan’s mountain forest resources and geographical environment.

Teamed up with aboriginals, his 17 day trek included the first summit of Jade mountain, and was the catalyst that propelled interest in mountaineering in the mountains of Taiwan.

The Taiwan Mountain Society was formed in 1905 as a direct result of this expedition.

A team of three Japanese conducted the first private summit of Jade Mountain:

  • Ozaki Hidema (尾崎秀真)-A Japanese journalist and newspaper editor.
  • Otsu Linping (大津麟平) – A Japanese politician.
  • Fujii Shisuke (藤井乾助)-A Japanese judge.

This team’s private ascent of Jade mountain, combined with their political and public power, jump-started interest in exploring the mountains of Taiwan. As interest continued to grow, the first mountaineering club in Taiwan was formed in 1913.

An old image of Jade Mountain, Taiwan's highest mountain peak
Pictured: Very early photo of Jade Mountain. Image Source: tonyhuang39.com

Despite all this, at the time it was still very difficult to explore the mountains of Taiwan if you weren’t a Japanese military officer, a public official, or a scholar doing research work.

Beginning in 1926, the laws began to loosen and the mountains started to open up to the public.

During World War 2, exploration of Taiwan’s mountains waned. When control of Taiwan was ceded back to the Republic of China, known then as the Guomindang (國民黨), it began to recover.

During the late 1940’s, the Chinese Civil War broke out between the Guomindang and the communist CCP parties (中国共产党). At this time, martial law was invoked and access to the mountains was heavily restricted. It wasn’t until 1951 that Jade Mountain was summited again.

Beginning of the Bai Yue 百岳

Its impossible to talk about Taiwan’s Bai Yue (台灣百岳) without first looking back at the history of mountaineering in Japan.

In 1964, Japanese mountaineer and writer Kyuya Fukada (深田久彌) wrote and published “The 100 Peaks of Japan” (日本百名山).

The book was designed as a mountaineering research project, dedicated to mountain geography, history, and the cultural and literary history of the 100 greatest mountains in Japan.

Even today, this book is still regarded as the bible of Japanese mountaineering, and had a profound effect on mountaineering in Taiwan.

In 1971, the Mountaineering Association of the Republic of China decided to organize a long-distance trek across Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range (中央山脈). This trek became known as the “Great Vertical Walk” (中央山脈大縱走).

Mt. Xiugulan (秀姑巒山) the highest peak of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range and a hiking experience in Taiwan.
Pictured: Mt. Xiugulan (秀姑巒山), the highest peak of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range.

The purpose of this hiking trip was to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the R.O.C. . The trip included climbing 60 peaks above 3,000 meters across the mountain spine of Taiwan.

Forming Taiwan’s Bai Yue

Drawn up by Lin-WenAn (林文安), the founding father of Taiwan’s Bai Yue (台灣百岳), the plan included two separate teams. This would include a blue (sky) team, and the white (cloud) team. These teams would start at opposite ends of the mountain range, and meet in the middle at Qicai Lake (七彩湖). Naturally, porters and re-supply points were used.

Upon completion, this became one of the most important events in the history of mountaineering in Taiwan.

Pictured: The two teams meeting at the midpoint of the full traverse.

The following year in 1972, the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Taiwan’s Mountains (台灣岳界四大天王) worked on a list of 100 mountains. These were selected by these “Godfathers” due to their unique shape, beauty, height, aboriginal significance, danger, or prominence.

The "Four Heavenly Kings” of Taiwan’s Mountains (台灣岳界四大天) and legends of hiking and mountaineering in Taiwan. 
Pictured (from left to right): Ding Tonsan (丁同三), Lin WenAn (林文安), Cai Jingzhang (蔡景璋), and Xing Tianzheng (刑天正). The four Heavenly Kings” of Taiwan’s Mountains (台灣岳界四大天. 

This new list was dubbed the Bai Yue (百岳). It was on December 5th, 1972, the Four Heavenly Kings (among others) formalized the list atop Mt. Yantou (羊頭山). 

Summit of Yangtoushan (羊頭山), where the list of the Bai Yue (百岳), Taiwan's list of 100 best hiking mountains, was formalized.
Pictured: The summit of Mt. Yangtou (羊頭山), where the list of the Bai Yue was formalized.

The list, however, was met with some controversy. Debates over mountains that were included (that shouldn’t have been) or excluded (that should have been) ensued. Although at least 1 peak has since been measured under 3,000m, the original list remains to this day.

 Upon completion of the list, finishing the Bai yYue immediately became the primary goal of all serious hikers in Taiwan.

Sadly, Lin-WenAn died in the mountains three years later in 1975, but interest in mountaineering continued to grow.

Monument of Lin-WenAn (林文安殉難紀念碑), one of the fathers of mountaineering in Taiwan.
Pictured: The Monument to Lin-WenAn (林文安殉難紀念碑) near the peak of Mt. Zhongxue (中雪山), not far from where he passed away.

Since the 1970’s mountaineering has become much more well documented and commercialized.

All major peaks have had trails established and mapped out, and construction of new mountain cabins continues to this day.

Today there are countless books, blogs, and other media dedicated to climbing or hiking nearly every high peak in Taiwan.

Ultimate Guide to Hiking – Everything you need to know about hiking in Taiwan.

Bai Yue (百岳) – Taiwan’s Top 100 Mountains for Trekking and Advanced Hiking.

Xiao Bai Yue (小百岳) – Taiwan’s top 100 hikes for novice and beginner hikers.

Plan your hiking trip to Taiwan – Consulting Services coming soon.

Parkbus Taiwan: No hassle transportation to great hiking destinations across Taiwan.

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Published by Taiwan Outdoors

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