Hiking In Taiwan: Pingxi District (平溪)

I've lived in Taiwan for a little over a year now, and as we are getting ready to pack up and move to South Korea next month, I wanted to document and share some of my favorite places I've visited.  Hopefully this will be helpful to anyone else who happens to make it out to this great country and it will also help avoid the headache of having to find some of these places like I did.  

I love being outdoors, and Taiwan is heaven when it comes to an abundance of unique and challenging hikes.  The same aspects that attract me to cycling have also recently drawn me to an increased desire to hike and be in the mountains, forests and wildernesses.  As we (as a society) develop and create new means of travel and enhance the technologies that assist us to reach our destinations we are significantly reducing the time it takes to travel from Point A to B.  But I still advocate for taking the long road.  I feel that part of the destination is the journey you take to get there, and given the option my vehicle of choice is more often my bicycle or my own two feet.  These human-powered modes of transportation allow for a much more immersed experience.  They are quiet so you can not only see your surroundings, you can hear them, and because there is nothing between you and the air you can feel, taste and smell them too.  

Located about 30 mins outside of Taipei, Taiwan is the rural district of Pingxi (平溪).  Although it's most famous for it's yearly lantern festival, this is also the location of one of my favorite hiking areas in Taiwan.  What attracts me to this place is not only the beautiful lush landscape, but the thrilling ridges and crags that are to be explored in this area.  

 Coming down of the summit of  Mt. Putuo .  One of the famous Pingxi Crags. 

Coming down of the summit of Mt. Putuo.  One of the famous Pingxi Crags. 

BEFORE YOU GO

I will say this hike is not for the faint of heart.  For those who are scared of heights or are proclaimed vertigo sufferers there are a few sections that can be a little sketchy.  However, you are not required by any means to climb to the peak of each trail as most are an out and back kind of thing.  That being said it can still be a fun day out for all levels of adventure seekers.  Most of the trails here are actually steps carved into the rock faces, so be prepared to to do a lot of climbing, it can be quite a workout if you keep a decent pace as you climb higher out of the forests.  When I hiked Pingxi (平溪) it had rained a little bit in the morning and the areas under the tree cover were still damp.  I will say these trails can get pretty slick when it's wet, so make sure you bring appropriate shoes or hiking boots.  

GETTING THERE

Getting to Pingxi (平溪) is quite easy if you have a car, but almost equally as easy if you don't as there is a train station right in town in which buses and trains run to for most of the day.  If you want to take the scenic route, I would suggest taking the train which actually loops around and enters Pingxi (平溪) from the East.  For directions and train/bus routes to the Pingxi Station, simply search for it in Google Maps, but just for fun here is a quick breakdown of the steps...

  1. Head to Taipei Main Train Station.   
  2. Buy a ticket to Ruifang Train Station - it will set you back about 48NTD
  3. At Ruifang exit the station to the ticket counter outside the gate and buy a ticket to Pingxi - This was under 100NTD
  4. The ticket for the Pingxi train is all day, so you can pretty much get off at any of the stops and get back on to explore the sites along the way. 

Once you are in Pingxi (平溪) the trail head starts less than 0.5km from the station and I've done my best to pin the exact starting location in the map below.  

 

THE HIKE & TRAIL MAP

I only had time to really explore the famous crags.  Rumor has it these steps were hand-carved into the mountain faces by the retired bodyguard of Chiang Kai Shek (the leader of the Republic of China from 1928-1975).  With the time I took snapping a couple pictures and enjoying the views it took me around 2.5 hours to hike up and down the 3 main crags near the trail head.  Unfortunately I didn't have time to do the back half of the trail network which goes up over Zhongyang Peak. But I had a ton of fun during my trip, and I would highly recommend spending a day out here.  It can be quite thrilling hiking up the faces of the crags, and the views are just phenomenal.  I would say the only complaint I had about this hike is that the forest is littered with lanterns that are constantly being launched from the Township.  It seems to be a year long attraction these days.  

 The Pingxi District Trail Map

The Pingxi District Trail Map

A FEW PHOTOGRAPHS

I'm hoping to upload a slew of images to my flickr account when I have time to go back and edit them all, but for now here are a couple of great images showing the uniqueness of this wonderful place to spend an afternoon. 

 Chutes and Ladders to the top of Mt. Xiaozi 

Chutes and Ladders to the top of Mt. Xiaozi 

 On my way to the top

On my way to the top

 A quick look back before committing to the top of Xiaozi Peak 

A quick look back before committing to the top of Xiaozi Peak 

 Looking back at Xiaozi Peak on a foggy day in Taiwan 

Looking back at Xiaozi Peak on a foggy day in Taiwan 

 A statue standard guard on the peak of Cimu Peak 

A statue standard guard on the peak of Cimu Peak 

If you have any questions please comment, or send me an e-mail.  You will not regret taking the time to get out here and explore the crags.  Also, I was surprised at the lack of people on the trails, it seems the attraction of launch lantern keeps most visitors in town.  I was here in the heart of the weekend, with decent weather and I was one of maybe 12 out and about exploring this hikers + photographers paradise. 

Introducing FBBER V2.0 + FBFER V1.0

It's been a long road and I appreciate everyone who's sat in the passengers seat with me.  Life is a scale, and it functions best when balanced, but more importantly when loaded within it's limits!  Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.   I've personally been "brake-checking" a lot of projects coming out of FARR Frameworks because I believe that the quality of these parts should be second to none.  For some of the builders that buy this tooling, it's a matter of putting money in the bank and feeding their families.   I take this very seriously and only want to deliver products that I can be proud to put my name on.  With that said, I'm finally to a point where FBBER V2.0 (The FARR Bringheli Jig Backend Replacement) and FBFER V1.0 (The FARR Bringheli Jig Front End Replacement) are now available.  

The FBBER V2.0 features subtle changes to the design that make it a more refined package.  Details like machine-chamfered edges, a laser-engraved chainstay marker, washer-couterbores, a new industrial stainless steel BB-Drop scale, and most importantly an adjustment system that allows for precise fitting on any Bringheli Frame Jig.  From FBBER V1.0 I quickly found out that not all Bringheli's are created equal.  Each C-channel has varying dimensions in width.  Therefore, instead of using shims, like in the previously design, V2.0 uses specialty set screws with wear-resistant brass tips to adjust the width of the FBBER to fit any c-channel dimension from 2.875" - 3.250".  This range is quite a bit larger than necessary, but the space will allow users to better see the adjustments they are making.  

The FBFER is a completely new animal.  I've been through a couple CAD design revisions up to this point, and even made a BETA version that I've used myself for the past 2 years, but this is the first official release.  This design comes from learning from FBBER V1.0, listening to current Bringheli users, and of course from my own experiences using the Bringheli jig.  Originally, I was thinking the best way to design this piece was to add three new components that control - Independent X, Independent Y, and Independent Ө (angle) respectively.  This would allow a system similar to the Anvil or Sputnik Frame Jigs, where the lower HT center point is at X-Y from the BB and rotates around Ө.  However, the Bringheli's foundation is not really designed and built to support this method with it's fixed Z-Type base.  This means that additional components would need to be added to separate these movements completely.  This stacking of components on top of one another would result in stacking tolerances that have a high chance of affecting the HT center-line.  A quick survey of Bringheli users revealed that using Dave Anderson's Tutorial is the best way to setup this jig, and that the major headaches lie in the silly Rod + Cone design and the fact that X-direction movement and Angular movement are coupled. 

After the scope was decided, one of the main things I wanted to accomplish when designing the FBFER V1.0 was to limit the amount of NEW unique pieces I had to design and manufacture.  This lead me to the idea of using the same vertical piece used for the Backend Replacement for both HT supports on the FBBER V1.0.  Since I had already designed this part, proved that it works, dialed the tolerances to be paired accurately with extrusions, and could also produce higher quantities it seemed like the best option.  It also meant I could use the same stacked component widths to ensure the HT and Rear-Triangle are on the same center-line.  Some added benefits beyond this include: Laser-Engraved Angle Indication, the same adjustable mounting system used on the rear replacement piece, and a super rigid main beam with the virtual center-line machine engraved.  There are also 3 locations (100mm apart) for pivot point relocation.  This allows framebuilders to produce extreme sizes, without increasing the size of the length of the main beam.     

I guess the next step would be to design a replacement for the BB + Seat Tube Tower.  After that it might be time to go direct to Bringheli and see if he would be interested in adding these as an up charge option for those framebuilders purchasing new jigs from him.  Anyways, if you are interested in either of these modification, please send me an e-mail.

-Todd Farr   

Bringheli Mods

It's been a while since my last framebuilding/tooling update.  I'm still plugging along over here working on bike stuff while trying to balance a day job and traveling with my wife.  It's been a fun/fast year and I'm excited for what 2015 will bring.  I'll keep this brief as time is usually in short supply...  The popular Bringheli Mods are coming together, and these should be ready to ship by next week.  Although most are already pre-sold,  I do have a couple extra slots available.  Below is a quick picture of some of the parts straight off the VMC.  They are being finished up at the anodizing company as we speak!  I hope to update this post with finished parts and when everything is together!   Thanks for your patience as I work to get everything setup over here in Asia!  Hope everyone had a wonderful New Years!

- Todd Farr

Chikong Waterfalls - Kenting, Taiwan

While traveling in Southern Taiwan, my wife and I heard about this really cool waterfall called Chikong, which basically means 7 waterfalls.  After scouring the internet for information, we had a rough location, and a 300 word paragraph describing how to get there.   We decided to rent a scooter as the 9 passenger VW can be a little gnarly on the narrow jungle roads. I will also mention I don't have the best track record driving that beast in Taiwan.  Both my wife and I were surprised at how cheap you can rent a scooter for in Kenting.  400NTD (about $13.00 USD) gets you a 100cc two-wheeled powerhouse for 24 hours.  It just so happens you get the rust and blown out shock absorbers as an added bonus!  It's probably actually a good thing we ended up with one a little rough around the edges, as my wife decided to take the thing ditch diving....more on that later...

 My wife the Motorcycle Cop, and me the dorky guy with a big head and small helment

My wife the Motorcycle Cop, and me the dorky guy with a big head and small helment

The main purpose of writing this blog is to help other find this amazing place.  Trust me all the other blogs on the interwebs do a horsetrash job of explaining how to get here.  I'm going to do my best to set the record straight.  Start the journey by driving to Hengchun, and turn East on Country Road 200.  Follow this road past the Chuhuo Eternal Flame, you can stop by if you'd like, but in all honesty I've seen more exciting fires in a Yankee Candle Store... Anyways here is where my blog shines above the rest.  Instead of describing where to turn left off Country Road 200, I'm going to show you... 

 After about 5-6kms past the Eternal Flame you will see this intersection.  Turn left at this light. 

After about 5-6kms past the Eternal Flame you will see this intersection.  Turn left at this light. 

One blog we read had a bunch of BS about a sign post and the turn being 4kms past the Eternal Flame.  This lead us on a wild goose chase up every left turn road from 3-5kms past the Flaming Rocks.  Simply put, just turn left at the blinking yield lights.  Once you are on this road you will follow it to the top where you will pass an abandoned toll gate.  Although you don't have to pay a toll here, you will have to pay once you get to the parking lot.  It seems like it's just some random guy who's capitalized on the situation, but you must pay him to use the trail.  For a scooter it was 20 NTD.  After you park, visit the man in the house, and give him the money.  He will say some things in Chinese and all his friends will laugh, and you are free to go.  He kept pointing to our shoes.  Maybe I'll bring him a set from the employee store next time we are town.  

If you are planning to make it to the waterfalls you will need some decent shoes, and be ready to mountain climb a little bit.  The trail is pretty steep, but there are ropes all the way to the top so it's fairly easy with only a few sketchy sections.  There were only 4 other people at the base of the falls, and they didn't go any higher so my wife and I had our own private pool to swim in.   

 Audrey trekking to the top of the Falls

Audrey trekking to the top of the Falls

It really is a wonderful place, and while we didn't stay for that long, you couldn't definitely spend 2-3 hours messing around and swimming in the various pools.  Also a little public service announcement.... this is in the heart of the jungle.  These tropical environments are shaped by evolutionary patterns where the big, strong and gnarly survive.  During our trek we encountered plenty of these creatures that are not to be toiled with.  On the way down from the hike, out of the corner of my eye I saw a spider the size of a drink coaster going HAM.  The sucker was sprinting like and 8-legged Micheal Johnson and jumping around like a Chinese Gymnast from boulder to boulder.  It scared me so bad I almost fell over, as I thought he was in attack mode.  But after further examination we realized he was in flight mode, because out of no where the largest WASP I've ever seen in my life swoops down out of the sky like a Peregrine falcon.  As a scene from the Bug Wars YouTube channel is acted out in front of us, we can hardly believe what's happening.  The two creatures were locked in a NatGeo worthy battle for about 15 seconds before the WASP delivered the "Finish Him" Mortal Kombat style death blow.  Within another 5 seconds the spider lay motionless as the WASP began tending to his minor injuries.  At this point I'm thinking okay, this can't get any crazier.  Next thing you know the WASP grabs hold of this monster spider carcass and drags his lifeless pile of flesh away like it's a feather.  Later we come to find out that these WASP's are mean SOB's and poisonous to boot.  So if you make this trek just be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye for these mothers!

Dakeng Scenic Area - Taichung City, Taiwan

With all the traveling lately, my wife and I haven't had much opportunity to explore our current residence of Taichung City.  August provided us with two solid weekends home, the first double set in a long time.  The first weekend we just spent recouping from the many hours of breathing recirculated airplane air and the countless nights away from our memory foam bed.  However, the second weekend we agreed to do some exploring.  I was able to finally get my Taiwanese Drivers License which opened up some possibilities, since public transportation in Taiwan is hit-or-miss.  We had been wanting to go to Dakeng (大坑) for a while now, but finally had the means and motivation.  Audrey is not the most avid hiker on planet earth, but I convinced her to go and spend time with me anyways.  It's not that she doesn't like hiking, in Korea she does great, but add in the element of the Giant Wood Spider in Taiwan and she becomes a little more reluctant to go.   For those of you who don't know about this beast, they are commonly the size of a human hand and have the spindly 8 legs and creepily-unique body shape nightmares are made from.  Her fear of this creature came from another blog about Dakeng, in which the writer stated they are quite common in the mountains of Taiwan.  However, I convinced her to go anyways, thinking to even myself the odds of encountering such an arachnid were minimal. 

dakeng_trail_No_4

The drive out of the city wasn't too bad.  We live near SOGO department store in the heart of Taichung, and there was plenty of signage (in English) guiding us out of the city.  However, the second you leave the city.. and I mean by a millimeter your English signs are gone.  We spent about 1 hour driving up every possible jungle road until we found out how to get to the trail we were looking for - Dakeng Trail No. 4.  I recommend getting clear directions from a local, or even bringing someone who has been here before along for the ride.  Google Maps does not do a very good job of getting you to the right place, in fact it puts you about 4-5kms down the road of where you really want to be.  

Now that we were on the right road and were confident that we were heading the right direction, my wife yelled out something along the lines of, "Sweet Mother...No....NO! Seriously...That is not cool!"  I was already on edge driving our 9-passenger VW Bus up a twisty, single-lane jungle road so I started to panic asking what was wrong.  Her mouth was full of disbelief, so full in fact, she couldn't fit any words in there to tell me what was the matter... Finally clearing her throat and wiping off her sweaty palms she cried, "THAT IS THE BIGGEST SPIDER I'VE EVER SEEN!" Low and behold as I swung my head around to view what she was pointing at, it was the biggest spider I'd ever seen as well.  Hovering mid air on a web that would make Spiderman jealous was Hubert (Audrey named him) the Giant Wood Spider.  No lie this guy's leg span could easily cover the face of a full grown man and the picture does not properly represent his size.  

giant_tree_Spider.jpg

After this encounter, Audrey's outlook towards the hike would forever be changed.  I should have known something was up when we exited the van and she immediately started emptying all 720ml of deet-packed, heavy-duty bug spray onto her skin as fast as she could!   She glistened like she had just gone for a swim in a pool full of J&J baby oil.  As if the thought of these spiders wasn't enough a recent rabies scare (ask her about that one) and a sign saying "Danger Monkey" just added to the whole anxiety filled experience.  Still determined by her bravery, and the fact that we had come this far, we ventured on!  The hike started out wonderfully with a wide path that headed up through the jungle mountains.  After a pretty awesome suspension bridge crossing, a small cement staircase led to the famous wooden log-steps seen in all the Dakeng photographs.  At first we thought the steps would be relatively short, but it turns out the lead all the way to the top of the ridge, kilometer after kilometer of these narrow and steep log-steps.  For those of you who are squeamish around all things creepy and crawly this may not be the hike for you.  The space between the logs have become perfect breeding grounds for spiders, ants, butterflies, lizards, mosquitoes, snakes, etc.  and the handrails have become their super-highways for traveling from each of their established insect/creature kingdoms.  I grew up camping so for me this was not a big deal, I've come to expect these encounters!  However, for my lovely wife, on edge from the Hubert incident, she was not so keen on the amount of scurrying and movement taking place around her limbs.  I was able to capture the perfect picture to sum up how she was feeling.  Notice the bug spray locked and loaded, ready to combat any foe that may approach...

audrey_vs_dakeng.JPG

All in all we had a great time!  Audrey did an amazing job with her arachnophobia, and we were able to make it quite a ways up the ridge!  In fact we made it past the entire stairs section to a flatter gravel trail.   This is where the hike ended for us, because coping with spiders and ants by your feet is a little different than coping with Giant Wood Spiders by your head.  One section of the trail there was no way to pass unless you came face to face with one of these monsters, no less then about 20 inches from your head.  Granted we could have probably tucked and ran underneath, but for the sake of Audrey's health and knowing that we still had to make it down we decided to call it a day.   Looking back we made some great memories and can laugh about the whole situation now!  

Being a former sufferer from arachnophobia myself I know how crippling it can be.  When I was in college, I lived in my friends basement in Idaho.  It had been about 2 years since the room was occupied, so a ton of our 8 legged friends moved in.  No lie, we placed a Hobo Spider Trap (the sticky kind) in the room before dinner that first night, and by the time we where done, you could no longer see the trap.  This 4" x 8" glue covered cardstock was complete covered.  Needless to say I slept in the fetal position with poorly constructed defenses made from dirty clothing and shoe boxes.  The concept in my mind was similar to how pioneers circled the wagons... Anyways, 1 year in that room cured me, not completely as they still freak me the freak out, but I'm much more poised and logical in make my decisions around them now.   

dakeng_pano.jpg

In conclusion, if you are looking for an adventure close to or nearby the Taichung area, Dakeng is a great place to spend the day.  However, consider yourself warned on what or who you may encounter!  And if you do make the trek, please make sure to say "Hello" to Hubert and his family.  Tell him, "the Farley-Farr's are thinking about him."