Hehuan West Peak, 3145m
The west peak is the most strenous day-hike in Hehuanshan Forest Recreation Area!
But as my two good friends and I were looking at the trail topo over a feast of icy chicken at a restaurant in Wushe, we simply had no idea how vicious of a climb it was going to be. I can still hear my friend Mathieu: "Only 3145m... piece of cake... 6 hours max, really... looks easy!"
For sure he was optimistic. I was reluctant. It had been raining for the past 6 hours in the area, so I proposed to only go if it stopped raining for 15 minutes. It stopped for good after a minute. Thank god it did...
We kicked off our expedition at 22:00 and marched our way up the south slope under a bright milky way. At 23:30 we pitched our tent by the lip of a hairy col, right after Hehuan North Peak.
The trail starts 3.5 km east of Hehuan Cottage on the left of the highway, and I recommend you get there as early as possible. ( I know, I know, who am I to advise you on this now...) Hehuan West Peak is a long climb and you want to be able to do the descent in daylight - the mountain often gets wet and windy in late afternoon.
The path first takes you up to the crest of Hehuan North Peak, which lies at 3422 m. Just below that summit is a broad plateau where you can camp. At that point, you'll face a crossroad, keep your left.
Things start getting interesting once you pass the north peak. First the views... The north summit is the highest point of your journey and the spectacle is awe-inspiring on all sides. Look to the south and you can even see Yushan (Mt. Jade) in the distance.
From there, the trail plunges along a sharp and steep ridge with fixed ropes. To your right (or left if you're down climbing facing the slope) is an impressive ravine where you wouldn't want to fall. Stay clear of the edge. Then it's up and down 4 more humps - sometimes along the exposed hillside, sometimes deep into bamboo forests. Look for wildlife - we saw a gang of monkeys up in some trees.
If the prospect of completing this grueling adventure in a single day doesn't appeal to you, know that there are two small clearings between the north and west peak where you can spend the night. We did the climb in October and there was water nearby both campsites. A water filter is a must as you can see from this picture...
Once you pass the second campsite, you'll meet another junction, keep your right. You're almost there. You'll be looking around for a rewarding summit, something sharp, something... high... or rocky at least! Nope. Sorry. All there is is a featureless hill that happens to be at the end of Hehuan chain. And it's lower than most of what you just hiked. Not even a gust of wind when we were there. But I'm not complaining...
I'm just saying that I think the three of us were feeling: "that's it?" when we got there. Still... It was a memorable experience in good company and I highly recommend this trip to anyone.