by Tan Yee Lee
At the other side of the hall, the girls (they always woke up first) were groping about for something which is always not around when needed. With their torchlight flashing, tip-toeing and avoiding the masses of bodies (some motionless & some snoring), they left the hall to do their things in the darkness outside. A member sleeping besides me yelp as one of the early birds stepped on his foot, probably the ankle or his little toe by the sound of the cry. I looked at my watch, pressed the light button it read 4.30am! Why the hell did they wake up so early for? I never had more than five hours sleep each night since my arrival in Taiwan. I rolled myself on my stomach, pulled the sheet over my head, locked my eye-lids and continued with my dream. All of a sudden, many voices shouted ‘the sun’, ‘beautiful’, ‘is coming out!’ It was still dark in the hall, more flashlight lid up. I look for mine, bad luck; the biggest guy in our group had borrowed it last night. I put my hand into the haversack pulled out a plastic bag. It contained toothbrush, toothpaste, face towel and soap. Everything I need was there! Something must be wrong I thought, this never happened before. I went out the front door, turned to the back of the building where the only facility available was a standpipe. There wasn’t enough space. Five out of six people were taking pictures of the sun, peeping over the mountain we going to climb later. We had camped the night in this old Police Station (new one across the road) situated between Alishan and Jade Mountain.
Breakfast was disappointing, we had porridge, preserved vegetables and roasted peanuts. Filling no doubt, but not lasting. There were tempting biscuits and snacks on the shelf of the little shop house. As usual I always choose the wrong decision (we dearly regret later). I didn’t buy any, neither did the others. We all scrambled aboard a ‘sardine box type’ of truck with our fully packed haversack. When the van was filled we found 3 guys were left outside the van. We got everyone out and repacked the members. They packed two-tiers this time – bugs better leave the van to avoid being crushed. The journey to the starting point of the climb was like a one way ticket to hell. I was wondering what terrible crimes we had committed to deserve such punishment. The driver wasn’t having a good time either, he had to avoid rain-filled potholes as large as the truck, landslides, rock slides, giant boulders, blind corners, crevices and an overload truck. Edges of cliff were so steep that we dare not stick our head too far out in case we tipped the truck over. Once we even had to get out and help to push the truck up a slippery slope.
At the starting point we had to use our hands and knees to crawl out of the trucks. Once out of the truck we had to massage, stretch and even pinch our numbed legs so we can make use of them. The tourist mentality returned, out popped the cameras and the habitants of H.D.B. began to imitate Ah Meng’s pose at Mandai Zoo.
The climb starts at 8.30am. It was an easy trek. We were more troubled by the poison ivy, sharp blades and thorns of vegetation than by the steep slopes of the path. We had an early lunch at the ‘Climber’s Hurricanes Shelter’ a small metal hut held down by steel wires at the side of the path. The packed lunch re-vitalised our strength as the porridge food we had for breakfast had long vanished. We cursed, sweated, sung, bluffed, joked, laughed, prayed, etc. till we reached the base camp called ‘Pai Yin’ Cottage. Physically, it was the same as climbing Mt. Ophir, only more dangerous and the vegetation was more pleasant – some exactly like those we have seen in Chinese Paintings. About half a dozen of us suffered mild mountain sickness. After a satisfying Singapore dinner (Thai rice, curry chicken, bake bean, sardines and a bottle of wine), we prepared out things, stoked up the fire place (temp 9 degree C) and went to bed early (8.00pm) because we had to be up by 2.30am tomorrow morning to scale the summit.
After a meal (I don’t know what to call it at 3.00am) armed with torchlights, thickly dressed from head to toe we the ascent. As we move upwards we could see thousands of starts in the sky, almost telling us that it’s going to be a fine day. At 5.00am we were almost reaching the top when suddenly a ray of sunlight shone straight into our eyes. The Eastern side of the mountain was lighted up and we were like movie stars under the spot-light. We smiled, laughed, shook hands and took pictures of each other. A group photograph was taken with the flags of Taiwan, Singapore and our own SAC banner. In a joyous mood we went down the mountain to Pai Yin Cottage in 45 minutes.
A quick breakfast and after many goodbyes to our hosts at Pai Yin Cottage, we were on our way back to the starting point of our climb. There, we rested for 30 minutes, changed to track pants and long trousers. We were told by our Taiwanese Guide that this route was snake-infested and the distance about 20km (which turned out to be 40km). Happily we descended to the valley. It was wet, slippery, over grown with weeds and creepers. Certain areas the track disappears. Fortunately or unfortunately in our group there was a big silent joker who caused us to have stomach cramps through laughing at the way he slipped and fell – style we probably seen in cartoon movies. We had to stop and let him changes his jeans which was torn 30cm wide. After going down for more than 4 hours through the thick undergrowth, flooded, slippery and non-existing path, we came to a dead end – the bridge across a fast flowing stream was washed away. We had no choice, so we cooked lunch, washed ourselves and had a well deserve rest.
At the beginning of the trek we were laughing, half way through we were crying, I just could not imagined the ending – that’s adventure! You go through the whole spectrum of ecstasies. At 4.30pm we cross the stream which was knee deep and it cool our tired feet. We were still in the jungle, the footpath became wider. We heard a gunshot; we whistled and shouted afraid that they might mistaken us for a wild animals. There were silence again and it could be an illegal hunter. After many stream crossing we came to a beautiful waterfall, no pictures were taken – the scenery does not thrilled anyone anymore and besides it was too dark. We were weak and hungry. We had used up all our rations. Our Moses immediately took out two packets of dry longan. We continued our journey with longan power this time. We had to use our torchlight. It was complete darkness at 8.30pm. At one stretch of trek we found a dozen large fire flies lighting the bushes. It takes our mind of the drudgery of walking. We make a turn to the right, in front was an old suspension bridge which we had to cross one at a time. We could not see the bottom but we can hear the sound of rushing waters. From the bridge we could see the light of our destination the Huang Poo Hot Spring but it is up a hill 200m high. Oh No! Some more climbing to do! Using an adventurer’s motto, “if there’s a mountain we will climb it” – this time we had no choice. While we were stripping ourselves of sweat smelling clothes it was announced that dinner will be ready 10pm. ‘HURRAH!’
To think of it now I believe that every one of us enjoyed the unique experience of an 18½ hours trek.
Leader: Allan Tan