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June 27, 2017

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Jhuilu Old Trail: A spectacular new viewpoint on Taroko Gorge

The trail is less than a meter wide and five hundred meters long, but as our group gingerly follows the narrow strip, suspended halfway up the sheer face of Taroko Gorge's highest cliff face, I think the feeling is unanimous that this is probably the most spectacular, easily accessible hike in Taiwan.

The weather has done us proud, and a clear, deep blue sky forms a magical backdrop for the breathtaking, sheer walls of Taroko Gorge, plunging from our feet for almost five hundred meters straight down to the waters of the Liwu (立霧) River, which from up here is just a narrow ribbon in the depths of the canyon. Beside it lies an even narrower thread, the Central Cross-island Highway, and the colorful bodywork of a convoy of coaches (it's a weekend) can be made out, although they look far smaller than Matchbox toys from this elevation.

This incredible half a kilometer long stretch of trail is part of the Jhuilu Old Trail (錐鹿古道), itself a small section of a 145 kilometer long Japanese built trail cut between 1914 and 1933, linking Taroko Gorge with the village of Wushe, over the mountains in Nantou County, as part of the Japanese attempts to subdue the island's aboriginal inhabitants. Various parts of the trail have been restored and can be hiked, (including several stretches in Taroko Gorge) but none are nearly as famous as the 10.3 kilometer Jhuilu Old Trail, named after the stunning vertical face of Jhuilu Cliff, across which the trail is cut.

Almost all of the keen hikers in Taiwan will have heard of Jhuilu Old Trail, (it has a great reputation) yet for almost a decade no one was able to follow it. Damaged by the great earthquake of 1999, the trail remained closed until park authorities decided to reopen the trail to hikers with permits in July 2008. Less than a month later, the first of last year's three devastating typhoons closed the trail once more, and that way it remained until, after a nine month wait, it reopened a couple of couple of weeks ago. Let's hope this year's typhoons don't wreak similar havoc on this amazing place.

The trailhead lies beside the mouth of the road tunnel at the eastern end of Swallow's Grotto in the central section of the Gorge, marked by a locked gate and a long and graceful suspension bridge which spans the chasm high above the water, a great improvement on the series of makeshift bridges that took hikers across the Liwu River here pre-1999, and which were regularly destroyed by typhoon floodwaters. Not quite so welcome, perhaps, are the painstakingly made but rather intrusive steps which climb the steep side of the gorge on the far side of the river.

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