|Northeast coastline of Taiwan from Teapot Mountain|
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous and occasional lack of English signage
Access: Frequent public transit to Jiufen and Jinguashi from Taipei
Jiufen is a popular destination along the coast of northeast Taiwan that draws throngs of Japanese and mainland Chinese tourists; visit the vendors selling taro balls along the Jiufen Old Street at midday and you're guaranteed to be overwhelmed by the mass of humanity in such a small cramped space. But the freedom of the hills awaits for anyone who wants to escape the crowds: the thrilling ridgeline hike and scramble along the spine between Teapot and Banping Mountains starts just meters away from some of the most crowded tourist sites in the area. Atop these two peaks are views of rocky crags topping lush, green mountains that tumble down to the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Although neither the length nor the elevation gian of this hike are excessive, the hike is quite difficult for multiple reasons: the hike itself contains many roped scrambling sections that can be a bit difficult to navigate, it is difficult to find adequate maps of the area, signage often lacks English, and those who want to continue on to Jiufen from the summit of Banpingshan will have to walk along a section of a fairly well-trafficked mountain road. You'll want to bring a decent map as the road walking section of this hike is not intuitive or well-marked.
Jiufen and Jinguashi are two towns that once boomed from mining: there was once gold in the mountains behind the towns. The gold craze only lasted so long before the two towns, one built high on a hillside on Keelung Mountain and the other in a valley just above the sea, finally began to fade; but the picturesque towns caught the attention of filmmakers. Jiufen was either the setting or the inspiration for the Taiwanese movie City of Sadness and Miyazaki's Spirited Away, both of which brought Jiufen back into the public eye. In the last few decades, inns and teahouses have sprouted all over the town's narrow, steep streets and tourists from all over Asia have poured into the town, Jiufen being just an hour out of Taipei.
There are many ways of getting to the trailhead in Jinguashi from Taipei; I recommend taking the direct bus from Taipei. To catch this bus, get off at the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station on the Bannan MRT line and wait for Keelung Bus 1062 heading to Jinguashi outside exit 1. The fare is around 100 NT (~US$3) as of late 2014; take the bus for over an hour to one of the last stops, Cyuanji Temple in Jinguashi. Alternately, you can take a bus or train to the town of Ruifang and catch a bus towards Jinguashi from the Ruifang train station; trains are a little more expensive. Coming back in the evening was a pain during my visit: few tourists take the early buses from Taipei to Jiufen, but everyone is trying to get on a bus from Jiufen back to Taipei at 5 or 6 PM; I ended up having to wait an hour to get on a bus to Ruifang and then took another bus from there back to Taipei.
I hiked this trail on a blue sky December day that still had its fair share of Taipei smog. After an hour on the bus from Taipei- partially spent on the freeway, but mostly spent navigating Taipei traffic and the windy mountain roads between Ruifang and Jiufen- I hopped off the bus at Cyuanji Temple, which is a stop down from the Jinguashi Geological Park. I checked out the temple briefly; the temple itself lacks the ornate detail that can be found in some more prominent temples, but the temple did have a remarkably large statue of Guangong, a historical figure from the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history who is now revered as a god of war and wealth. I started the hike from a staircase just downhill on the road from the temple, which led uphill (to the right when coming away from the temple). This path yielded a nice view of the Guangong statue before quickly meeting a second road; I turned right onto the road and followed it briefly until I saw a staircase head off to the left of the road. At the start of the staircase, a sign indicated that Teapot Mountain was uphill; I followed the stairs up.
|Statue of Guangong near Jinguashi|
|Staircase up Teapot Mountain|
The trail up Teapot Mountain continued near the end of the road: the road itself lead towards a small pavilion lookout, while the path branched off to the right, starting a climb through a valley of silvergrass. The silvergrass itself was quite a sight when backlit by the morning sun.
|Ascending Teapot Mountain|
The trail doesn't actually lead to the summit of Teapot Mountain- instead, it leads through the rocky teapot, with a scramble that allows you to go through a rocky cave and pop out on ledges just short of the summit itself. The scramble was a bit challenging as the boulders which I had to traverse were pretty large, but the entire section had ropes, making things a bit more manageable. Although the ropes continue leading up to the left after entering the cave, the actual path through the teapot heads to the right, soon emerging back in the daylight on ledges along the north face of the teapot. At that point, the summit isn't too far away, but I don't recommend trying to scramble up as this section is quite exposed.
|Rock scramble through the teapot|
|Keelung Mountain from Teapot|
|View of Banping Mountain from Teapot Mountain|
|Teapot Mountain viewed from the saddle between Teapot and Banping|
|Final roped scramble up Banping Mountain|
I eventually settled on having lunch at one of the multiple summit humps, taking in the wide views of the Pacific and the mountains around Jiufen. Looking to the southwest, it was possible to see some of the northernmost peaks of the Snow Mountain Range; unfortunately, the air was generally quite smoggy and faraway views were unclear to say the least.
|Summit view from Banping Mountain|
I turned right onto this road and began following it back towards the direction of Jiufen. This section of road walk was fairly flat and uneventful except for the views back to Teapot and Banping Mountains on the right.
|Banping and Teapot Moutains|
There's no trail from the trail's intersection with Route 102 back to Jiufen, so I followed the road for the next 2 kilometers or so to the edge of town, passing by more views of Teapot, Banping, and Keelung Mountains. There's not too much of a shoulder on the road and it's a pretty windy mountainous road, so be careful if you choose to hike this option. After passing a cemetery to my right and then a temple, I came to Jiufen itself. The road switchbacks through Jiufen; to make my life easier, I got off the road and followed a set of stairs downhill into Jiufen's winding maze of pathways and stairways.
|The touristy Old Street of Jiufen|