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June 24, 2017

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Along the knife-edge: Zhongyang Point

The solitary line of a narrow, overgrown trail heads off into the distance. Jagged, pointed peaks rise up in front, sheer cliffs of bare rock plunge terrifyingly from the trail into the valley far, far below and fantastic, slowly changing panoramas open up over the unlimited expanses of mountainous country laid out below.

There's a wealth of magnificent mountain scenery in Taiwan's central mountains, but for many hikers, it doesn't come much better than the long and spectacular ridge walk linking two of Taiwan's most popular mountains, Snow Mountain (雪山), the second highest on the island, and the spectacular pyramid of Dabajianshan (大霸尖山) to the north.

Following this awesome route, commonly known as the 'Sacred Ridge' (聖陵線) remains a dream of many keen hikers such as myself, especially after hearing about the adventures of a couple of hiking friends (fitter and less timid than I) who actually did it.

Walking in the steep little mountains around Taipei County is a far cry from the dramatic splendor of the Snow Mountain Range, yet it certainly has its moments, and many hours of tramping along the seemingly inexhaustible multitude of trails that ply the wooded heights of northern Taiwan has revealed some very impressive landscapes. One of the most impressive of all was a recent discovery, made on an unseasonably fine Saturday in early January.

The area around Pingsi (平溪), southeast of Taipei, has long been one of my favorite tramping grounds in the Taipei area, not least because of the area's rather eventful landscape. The little village is surrounded by a series of sharp, rocky little peaks (22 of them, apparently) rearing out of the forested hills above the village, and with trails to the top of most of them (often with the help of various exciting extras such as ropes, footholds cut in the rock or even ladders) there's plenty to explore here.

Among the finest longer hikes in the area are the trails to the top of three of the highest peaks nearby, which together are known simply as the Pingsi Three Peaks (平溪三尖). It's a shame, perhaps that two of them have recently been tamed somewhat after the local authorities improved and in places rerouted the once steep and sometimes strenuous trails.

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