The gentle giants of Beidelaman
By Richard Saunders, Special to The China Post May 25, 2009, 9:29 am TWN
The path immediately starts climbing, and there's a quite a long ascent (400 vertical meters) in store, although the beauty and intense quiet of the forest takes the mind off the climb. About twenty minutes into the hike a sign in Chinese announces the beginning of the "Slope of Real Men" (好漢坡), a long and unremittingly steep slog all the way to the ridge, another forty minutes away.
Near the top, the path passes beneath a bluff of rock known as Echo Valley, and a few meters later wooden steps carry the path up to the narrow spine of the ridge below Mount Niaozui, marked by a striking, jagged rock formation.
With the main climb of the hike out of the way, the hike becomes both easier and more exciting, as the trail follows the spine of the ridge, sometimes a pleasant stroll through the woods on a soft and remarkably springy bed of peat, while in places negotiating some rocky and very steep terrain with the aid of a series of wooden boardwalks and rustic ladders hammered together from sturdy tree branches.
The first two ancient trees stand beside the trail in about half an hour, surrounded by protective wooden fences (the roots of these trees, which, like most of Taiwan's oldest and biggest trees, are red cypress, often lay just below the surface of the soil and can be damaged by tramping feet).
It's hard to get a realistic idea of the scale of the trees without walking right up to them, but pressing on up the trail a minute or two further, the third tree stands in splendid isolation in a small clearing, rearing up over 30 meters into the air, a truly impressive sight.
The trail now strikes uphill for a tiring, twenty-minute clamber, but at the top lies the biggest and most impressive of the trees at Beidelaman, the enormous specimen we would choose as an imposing backdrop for our group photo.
The great, gnarled trunk is flat and curved, almost like some monstrous stick of celery looming out of the forest floor, the result of a lightening strike which blew half of the trunk away.
The remaining half of the tree survives to this day, although the black scorch marks are clearly visible. Happily those black marks aren't the result of burning by a thoughtless camp fire, a fate which befell one of the giant trees at Daguan Mountain some years ago. That tree died and its sad skeleton remains — a warning to hikers to behave responsibly when in the mountains.