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May 30, 2017

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Hiking Yushan once more

I don't remember being this cold for years as I stand outside the little 'A' frame mountain hut, trying to find the most sheltered spot out of the worst of the biting, sub-zero blast of wind that buffets us. We're watching the sun rise over countless mountain peaks and valleys in what, I realize, must be Hualien (花蓮) County, and it's perishingly cold out here.

As I stand, shivering vigorously, watching the orange glow rise over a distant cloud sea, it's my dearest wish that I'd bought a thicker, down jacket instead of the cheaper artificial fiber jacket that I'm slowly freezing in. Even the thermal underwear I slapped on last night doesn't seem to make an ounce of difference to my comfort.

The mountain hut is clean and new, but it's been a mind-numbingly long night: over twelve endless, sleepless hours trapped in one of those slender, body-hugging sleeping bags that give about as much freedom of movement as a straitjacket. It seems as if I've hardly slept a wink, and my brain is reeling from the strain of trying to keep the rest of me from expiring from boredom. It's been an unusually bad night in the mountains.

It's been several years since I've climbed in Taiwan's high mountains, and until last night I'd forgotten the one and (as far as I'm concerned the only) downside to these multi-day hikes: the sometimes uncomfortable, long nights. One thing is certain though: a spot of insomnia and boredom is a small price to pay for the joy of hiking in Taiwan's great outdoors, the magnificence of the terrain, getting to know fellow hikers en route, and of course the exhilaration upon finally standing atop the conquered summit.

I'm at the foot of the magnificent, craggy mass of Yushan (玉山) South Peak, just an hour or so off the main walkers' highway to the summit of Northeast Asia's highest peak, but seemingly in a different world. It was the promise of getting off the main route during our three-day hike around the Yushan range that convinced me to take a couple of days off work and do, once again, this most popular of all mountain hikes in Taiwan.

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