Nenggao has been the ‘nemesis’ ride for the group for the last two years, attempts thwarted by typhoons and bad weather on two attempts: last year we even made it about a third of the way in before we had to turn around and high-tail it.
One of the highest trails in Taiwan, it climbs from about 1900m to 2950m, into the clouds. The trail itself, while well maintained for Taiwan, is beset by landslides. The bits that are not about to fall into oblivion, however, are very nicely graded, which is nice when you are climbing at high altitude and your lungs are trying to escape via your mouth.
Anxious e-mails were traded in the week leading up to the ride. Heavy rains were hitting Taipei in the afternoons, and we were not comfortable with the idea of being caught-out on the hill. Mark, Martin, Peter and I decided to go for it, planning to wake up at 5am and get to the top before the clouds were set to come in. Waking up at 5am, we were greeted with clear skies and cool air; it was now or never!
Reaching the police station at about 6:00am, we discovered they were not yet open for business, displaying only a sign that mountain permits were not being issued, and that vehicles and bicycles were not allowed to enter the trail. Ignoring the warnings, we ascended up to the trail head (a challenge by itself in a 2WD bus), prepped the bikes, loaded packs with food and water and began the long drag up, Martin clearly smoking EPO cigarettes and showing us a clean pair of heels.
The climb is about three and a half hours, broken with some scary sections of major landslide and rockfall. Legs were not quite calibrated with lungs and heart; they were able to put in far higher effort than the cardiovascular system, which would conk out unless you kept the effort at a moderate level. The cool air, clear skies and occasional views across the mountains kept the motivation up, though.
Reaching the top at about 10:30, we high-fived and whooped when we saw an almost flawless vista down to the smaller hills above Hualien down below. Clouds were forming quickly, however, so we ate lunch, and were engulfed in cloud within half an hour. Perfect timing. Negotiating the slipperiest segments of landslide in the dry, we were treated to 13km of sublime single-track descending; fast, slippery and technical. Minutes went by in a trance of speed and kicked-up mud. This is why we are mountain bikers.
We were all reasonably fit and riding bikes that were pretty well suited to hours of climbing in the saddle. I would not really recommend taking anything heavier than an ‘all mountain’ rig, since you will need to be happy carrying it in some sketchy situations. We were lucky and had no mechanicals or injuries, but had packed a spare tyre and multiple tubes and other spares. I almost had my rear dérailleur ripped off by a piece of bamboo and had a spare drop-out packed; we left the spare dérailleur in the van since someone turning around and heading back to the van would be able to coast with few problems.
Pack a range of clothes, nutrition, sun tan lotion (we are at almost 3000m remember) and whatever spares you are happy to carry. Start early, and enjoy!
My iPhone batteries ran out at the 19km mark, and it was not picking out the whole trail since it was relying on GPS alone, through the trees.
- Forestry Department Information – Nenggao
- Nice pics of Nenggao from Neil Wade
- Hiking Taiwan – Nenggao
- Flickr Photos of Nenggao
Keep an eye on the weather; look how quickly things change Taiwan Central Weather Bureau
Some videos from others around the internet – gives a good idea of the trail, or at least the descent. The first one from Inmotion Asia:
The second one gets interesting after about 1 minute in: