The Cilai Mountain area offers some of the most challenging and enjoyable hiking in Taiwan.
Mt. Qilai (also spelled Cilai) is located in Eastern Taiwan’s Taroko National Park. On this page, I’ll do my best to show you how to get there, what to expect during your climb and how you can prepare for it.
Let’s begin with a disturbing adventure…
I first climbed the Cilai Ridge 16 years ago, in winter, when it was fully covered in ice and snow. My friend and I were the only one on the mountain and we didn’t even have a permit. Nor did we have proper winter climbing gear like ice axes and crampons.
And I almost died. Really. On the second day, I ended up in a steep and narrow gully just below the ridge line. My friend had taken another safer couloir.
The snow was too hard to kick my feet in so I had to use a sharp rock to cut some steps. Cutting steps in hard snow at 3000m, with a thousand feet of air below me was a bit disturbing. And I couldn’t turn back down. I was trapped. I had to get to the ridge.
And I made it. We then climbed Cilai North Peak, the range’s highest summit at 3607m. It was surreal, the entire thing was covered with thin black ice and we had to be very careful at every move.
I wish I had pictures from that adventure to show you but I didn’t have a camera with me at that time. The ones you see on this page were taken during my last expedition on the Cilai Ridge, in April 2009. I went there with two good friends of mine – Mathieu and Josh.
I assume you have been on an overnight trip in high mountains before so I won’t list all the obvious hiking equipment you should bring with you. If you’ve never hiked anything that high, consider something else. Really! Cilai isn’t a beginner’s hike.
What I will mention though is this: Cilai is on an island that gets both its fair share of typhoons and earthquakes. The ground is very unstable and trails are often washed out when it rains. Make sure you don’t go after a spell of heavy precipitations. Check the weather reports the day before you go!
At a Glance
Length: 18km round trip (to the Main Peak)
Height gain: 480m
Type: out and back
Hiking Time: 2-3 days
Water source: yes
Water on Mt. Qilai
There is drinkable water at the trailhead, in Mt. Hehuan Cabin. You’ll also find a clean stream right by Chenggong Cabin, midway up the mountain. There’s also a pond at the top of the ridge, but it’s quite dirty, so I recommend you bring a filter and some pills for the taste.
Black Pond Shack used to be a dirty little shed where I wouldn’t have slept for anything in the world. Last time we checked though, it had been rebuilt completely, seemed solid and even looked quite inviting. However, when you consider how close to the trailhead it is (4km), an overnight stop there doesn’t make much sense.
Chenggong Cabin, midway up to the ridge, takes about 3 hours to reach from the trailhead, and that’s where most people spend the night. The metal cabin has a capacity of around 50 people. It has no running water or electricity. A clear mountain stream runs beside it where you can get drinkable water. You should reserve the cabin online, at the same time you arrange your national park permit.
Camping is possible by Chenggong Cabin but level spots are scarce. The ridge is a much better option but be warned that strong winds, cold and rain are the norm up there. Be sure to have a decent 3 season tent with at least three strong poles. No, your cheap Walmart (or Carefour) summer tent won’t cut it.
Suggested itinerary to climb Qilai Main Peak
Day1: Start hiking around noon. From the trailhead, it takes about an hour and a half to get to Black Pond Shack, 370m downhill. From there, hike up 150 meters through thick forest, all the way to Chenggong Cabin (1.5 hours). Spend the night there.
Day 2: Get an early start – leave around 5:00am. Walk 440m uphill to the ridgeline. From the cabin, follow the yellow markers and keep your right when you reach a sign that says “Cilai North Peak” (unless you want to climb it). When you get to the ridge, take a right and follow the crest all the way to Cilai Main Peak, 4km further down south. Head back down the same way.
The advantage of doing it this way is obvious: you can leave most of your gear at the cabin and travel much lighter and faster. Don’t go too light, though. Weather can turn nasty without warning up there, so you should still carry warm clothes as well as a good waterproof shell.
North Peak: follow the previous itinerary, but turn left in the gully when you reach the “North Peak” sign.
To climb both peaks, you should have your own tent and make it to the ridge the first day. Hike up the two summits the second day, then head back to Chenggong Cabin or back to the trailhead.
View Nantou County in a larger map
You need two permits to climb in this area: a national park permit as well as a mountain pass.
Get the national park permit online here (Chinese). You need a Taiwanese ID number to apply and you must provide a detailed itinerary. You have to put in your application at least 7 days in advance.
You can get the mountain pass the same day you’ll start hiking, in person, at the police station next to the 7/11 in Wushe.