Living on the heavily populated and industrialised plains around Koahsiung it is difficult to believe that just 25 km away there exists a great mountain range that is hardly populated, clean and mostly untouched. That is not to say they are completely covered in virgin rain-forest. No, all the really good timber was removed years ago through logging, any flattish area is used for cultivating something and many of the slopes are covered in betel nut plantations or orchards. But large tracks of the Taiwan mountain area are completely isolated and only accessible by foot.
For the southern two thirds of the island there are really only two roads that allow west to east travel through the mountain range. The middle road passes over at Hehuan shan at 3200m . The southern road passes over at Yakou at 2722m.
Travelling these roads it is easy to see why there are only the two. Much of the roadways hug closely to the rock walls, or pass over large gullies and streams. There are continuous teams of excavators and rock clearers keeping the road passable. When a typhoon passes through, the roads are normally closed for a few days to weeks at a time as they clear the rockfalls, rebuild the washouts and carve new tracks into the walls that have slid away. A drive along highway 20 is a drive along a geological work in progress.
We travelled on a weekend when a north easterly had drawn cold and dusty air down from the Gobi desert in northern China. The dust made the vista views of mountains quite misty. The cold made us realise we needed warmer clothes.
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