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words & pic by GARRRETH BIRD
Taiwan is an island nation 180 kilometres off the coast of mainland China. Along the island’s spine runs a dense mountain range, so in a country just a little bigger than Belgium, there are 165 mountains over 3 000 metres high.
I had been wanting to travel for some time, to stretch the bounds of my western filter bubble. Considering how much of humanity lives in Asia, I realised I didn’t have a solid frame of reference for a large part of the world, and I have felt very far away from China – the tiger of that neighbourhood.
And there were fascinating things happening in Taiwan台湾. The Sunflower Revolution had seen huge groups of youths storm the legislature and shut it down, protesting the unilateral moves by the China-friendly president to more closely integrate with China’s economy. There was a vibrant energy in Taipei.
And there was also the small matter of a highly-regarded rock climbing area, these being on sea cliffs not far from the capital, with 500 sport and trad routes on offer. Taiwan sounded like a place where adventure could easily be found. I didn’t know a single person there, but off to the world’s fourth highest island I flew.
Taiwan’s main crag is Long Dong 龍洞. This raises many an eyebrow, but in Mandarin ‘long’ 龍 is dragon and ‘dong’ 洞 is cave, named after the largest amongst the cliffs. There are many crags, joined by short hops or scrambles, featuring a fantastic array of climbing: crimpy faces, cracks, bouldery corners and roofs, up to 2 or 3 pitches on a variety of sandstone that can feel a lot like granite. And tucked away up in an amphitheatre is the impressive Grand Auditorium, a mostly trad area.
It is a pretty spectacular setting for a crag. On days when it’s boiling hot, you snorkel in the turquoise ocean. Some routes are only climbable with the tides. Around typhoons, the ocean gets outrageously wild, and feeling the crimpers you are clinging to vibrate as giant waves slam into the wall below is an experience I shall never forget.