Taiji Canyon Waterfalls (太極峽谷), Zhushan (*****)

The spectacular Taiji Waterfall, the higher waterfall in the middle canyon (presently difficult to reach)

Taiji Waterfall, the higher waterfall in the middle canyon (presently difficult to reach)

Until it was closed following an earthquake-triggered landslide in May 1986 that killed nearly thirty hikers, Taiji Canyon was one of Taiwan’s most amazing scenic spots, with a combination of rugged, wild beauty, extraordinary scenery and a healthy level of challenge that made it one of the finest day hikes on the whole island. The gorge is divided into four parts. The Lower Gorge has the highest walls, which close in like pincers, and a lofty waterfall on a side stream plunging over the cliffs. A little upstream, the main way into the gorge used to be via the Middle Gorge, courtesy of another tributary stream which cuts through the otherwise sheer or overhanging walls. Once down to the river a narrow ledge above the water led upstream to the first of the two main waterfalls in the canyon (photo below), beside which a pair of long metal ladders led up to the most famous part of Taiji Canyon: the Inner Gorge. Here the canyon widens greatly at first, with a couple of gaping caverns in its walls. Then the gorge makes a sharp “S” bend, narrowing suddenly, and concealing the fantastic Taiji Waterfall (photo above), plunging into a huge and very deep pool hidden in the cleft beyond. The towering, sheer walls here make any further progress (into the Upper Gorge above) impossible from this direction.

The lower waterfall in the Central Gorge

The lower waterfall in the Central Gorge

 

Another view of the lower fall (print, taken in the mid 1990s)

Another view of the lower fall (print, taken in the mid 1990s)

Reached by a different trail, the Upper Gorge was always the most accessible part of Taiji Canyon to reach, and features another fine fall (Qinglong Waterfall, photo below) and an impressively deep and very narrow stretch of gorge called A Thread of Sky, once crossed by a vertiginous footbridge but now spanned by a long suspension bridge.
Adventurous parties with a guide and ropes still occasionally explore the lower three sections of the canyon, but presently these parts of the gorge are sadly inaccessible to the general public. There were once rumors that the trails into this magnificent place may one day be opened once more, but unless that day comes, the only part of the canyon that can be visited without mounting a mini expedition is the Upper Gorge. The famous Heavenly Steps suspension bridge here (opened in 2005), has made this part of Taiji Canyon one of the most popular tourist attractions in central Taiwan.

ACCESS: Upper Gorge and Qinglong Waterfall is quite easy to reach, along a very well-made surfaced path (lots of steps) and trackways. The photos of my visits date from several trips made into the canyon in the 1990s, when it was still accessible without too much difficulty. The dirt trails that once led in were washed away in huge landslides caused by typhoons in the early 2000s, and getting in now requires ropes, a guide and some risk. Ladders that once scaled cliffs on the way up the gorge, and were already rusting in the 1990s, are probably now completely unusable, adding to the challanges of reaching the great main fall. Several accounts (in Chinese) of people who’ve been in can be found on the Net.

Trailhead (upper canyon and Qinglong Waterfall): 23.669116, 120.734130

Qinglong Waterfall, the uppermost of the four waterfalls in Taiji Canyon, and the only one presently accessible

Qinglong Waterfall, the uppermost of the four waterfalls in Taiji Canyon, and the only one presently accessible

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