Challenge AliShan Route Summary:
- Starting Location: ChuKou Visitor Center, ChiaYi (觸口遊客中心, 嘉義).
- Length: 57km. Highest elevation: 2225 m.
- Hill profile: Medium: steady uphill with two flat sections in between.
- WARNING: this route (State #18 台18線) has many big buses, and they can be aggressive (repeat honking, forcing you to the side). So pay particular attention and recommend right in groups.
- WARNING: you can see a lot of previous hill slides along this route. Pay particular attention when riding during rain/typhoon seasons.
- Good for:
- Long steady uphill training.
- Route Highlights:
- Great MeiShan-like multiple peak terrains but in a larger scale.
- Great cliffs.
- Tea fields.
Many Taiwanese people complain about a reduction of foreign tourists (from a certain country) this year. For me as a cyclist I’m actually happy with it, and have had a nice experience reclaiming the Sun Moon Lake.
This time I joined an event to ride another tourist attraction greatly advertised in that country: AliShan (阿里山) (which means Mt. Ali). AliShan is actually not a single mountain, but an area featuring many peaks. It is famous for its steep terrain, sunrise and cloud seas (雲海).
With now being the winter season, it was still dark when I drove to the starting point and searched for a parking spot.
Beautiful new aboriginal village near the starting point. It holds the families who lost their place during the big 2009 Typhoon Morakot Disaster.
Morning traffic regulator.
The main event was held not right at the visitor center but few hundred meters away at a grass field park with a tourist trap store
Glowing red tail-light in the dark.
Like Sun Moon Link, AliShan is very famous also in Taiwan, attracting a lot of cyclists.
The building at the background is a former cement plant.
Just endless people.
The ride started.
As always we walked through the timing gate.
A small slope up to State #18 main route.
The park’s grass field. It’s very beautiful. I just wish they stop trying selling products that nobody wants.
The double mountain will be our road mark along the way.
The town center of ChuKou (觸口) was situated at the river valley entrance, guarding the passage toward AliShan.
A pedestrian bridge along with the main road bridge. The bridge is called “Love Forever Bridge (天長地久吊橋)”, which has absolutely nothing to do with local culture and history.
That colorful swag building on the left is a temple.
After crossing the bridge we began the first climbing section and a battle with big trucks. There were constantly big touring buses going up this route, emitting smoke along the way. If you enjoy fresh air while cycling this is not your route.
That blue truck really made breathing difficult for a few hundred meters.
Like MeiShan, the AliShan area’s terrain is consisted of sand stone and therefore less stable. Together with greater height among the peaks, the AliShan area are very prone to land slides. Former slides can be seen all along the way.
First former slide seen along the way. Many more to come.
This guy powered his bike by hands.
Two more slides, one far left and one at right. The orange construction plate marked the place where the roadside was washed into the river.
Treated former sliding area.
Distant former slide.
Some team “Titoni” got a vintage Porsche supporting vehicle…
While prone to slide, the unstable also creates great views, featuring cliffs and many, many peaks.
A closed detour on the left.
As we rode closer to the double mountain, we began climbing switch backs along the right peak side.
Morning light created multiple colors at the mountain peaks.
Curly road that we have been through.
A truck with betel nut picking ladies riding at back. Obviously seatbelt laws are not enforced here.
Thumbs Up from the betel nut ladies.
Some sort of bamboo fortress in front???
“Mountain Goat Old Trail (山羊古道)”.
Betel nut trees and mountains.
Tea field at switch-back.
At a southern point State #18 was connected by County #169, the route to several aboriginal villages and a valley called DaNaYiGu (達娜依谷). The main aboriginal group in the AliShan region is Tsou People (鄒族).
Beautiful mountain valley.
Many mountain peaks in a distance.
Tsou People styled real-wood barbecue. I regret I didn’t grab some grilled sausages.
There were many villages (Han or aboriginal) along State #18. The first one we passed after entering the mountains is XiDing (隙頂).
A restaurant sign.
XiDing town welcome sign.
Someone released the drone.
A self-served fruit stand.
Tea field with mountains.
XiDing Elementary School.
A tea making workshop. Unlike those in MeiShan that focus on making tea, here they seem to be more oriented to receiving tourists.
A great cliff area after passing the town.
Modern Tsou cultural sign. I personally think it was lack of taste but whatever.
A few km ride we entered our first resting stop at the outskirt of Lalauya (樂野.)
Empty big buses parking space. Why do you need so much space here in the first place?
Perhaps convert this space into a barbecue place?
Lalauya is a major traffic intersection in AliShan. Here State #18 intersected with Route 169 that went to FenQiFu train station (奮起湖火車站), a major midway station for AliShan train. Another Route #159 also intersected here: it also began from ChuKou and climbed from the mountains north of State #18.
LalauYa is also a major tea field area. But most of the tea fields are not visible from State #18.
Riding through town center.
Sign to Route #169. The red sign below said “Severe congestion to FenQiHu”.
As we left LaLauYa, the route went through a forest section.
The “Confusion Trail (迷糊步道)”
National Forest welcome sign.
Here the hillside is composed of many different kind of trees and tall grass.
A bamboo forest.
A lone tree.
The forest disappeared as the hill side became facing east. Here was another major sliding area on State #18.
Here the tunnel has some aboriginal patterns.
At one hand the cliff looked cool and powerful. But at the same time the cement enforced cliff looked ugly and unfit.
Along the way a red bridge crossed through a big sliding hill side.
Get the f**k out of my way!
Another 700m climb at front.
Although the tunnel looked pretty, it really felt unsafe riding through it with the big buses, especially when two big buses met each other inside. Many times the big buses would just squeeze through and force cyclists to the very side.
A rest stop was setup right before a tunnel.
Likely a victim of land slide…
As we approached the 2000 meter elevation mark, forest re-appeared with familiar cedar trees.
AliShan bus stop.
Gas station at high attitude.
Big buses, the main hazard for cyclists on State #18. As the warning said in the beginning, these buses not only pollute the air but can be aggressive on the road.
After a few more strikes we finally arrived to our destination: AliShan National Scenic Area.
Some building still under construction. Probably a new visitor center.
The Ending gate. If we continue on this route we can go to Tataka.
A cool cliff near the park entrance.
Main park gateway.
Closer look at the forest.
Due to the big bus hazard I arranged transportation back to the staring point. It was ridiculous that I spent equal amount of time going uphill and waiting/taking the bus downhill.