Bilu & Yangtou Traverse

畢祿山 羊頭山

The sawtooth ridge of Bilu (left) as seen from Qilai East Ridge.

Difficulty: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Start: Dayuling 大禹嶺 (24.182089, 121.308341)

Finish: Cien Tunnel 慈恩隧道 (24.193591, 121.384113)

Distance: 20km

Type: Linear

Time: ≈15 hours over 2-3 days

Total Ascent: 1710m

Total Descent: 2030m

Maps: 1:25,000 ‘Sun River 8北二段縱走’

Baiyue: #39 Bilushan (畢祿山, 3371m), #100 Yangtoushan (羊頭山, 3035m)

Permits: Taroko National Park entry, Mountain Entry

Transport: 1141 Hualien – Lishan

Summary: Often climbed as independent day hikes, a jagged ridge connects the two peaks above the Central Cross Island Highway, forming a tough weekend jaunt high in Taroko National Park. The only reason to do Bilu and Yangtou as day hikes would be to avoid carrying the necessary gear for an overnight mission, as it takes many more hours to climb them separately. Although there are no water sources on the ridge, there is an abundance of camping, even a space on the peak of Bilu!  There are also spectacular views of the northern sections and across to Qilai and Hehaun.

A view of Qilai, as seen from Sawtooth Ridge.

Recommended Itinerary

Day One: Walk the 820 Forest Road, climb Bilushan, and camp on the ridge (6 hours)

Day Two: Cross the Sawtooth Ridge to Yangtoushan and descend to the road. (8-10 hours)

The Walk

Day One

From the trailhead next to the Lishan end of Hehuanshan Tunnel (合歡山隧道) in Dayuling, hike up the 820 Forest Road (820林道). There is room for several cars in the dirt parking lot. Pass the signboard and permit box. The old, flat roadway has kilometer markers every 100m.

Strolling down the 820 lindao.

Cross the first landslide and continue through silvergrass under the power lines, with mossy barrier pylons lining the left side. There are plenty of places to camp for hikers arriving late. Carefully cross a large slip at 2.1K.

Rusted relics, like an overturned car, a dismantled motorbike, and faded road signs, can be found along the way. Climb up an Ewok ladder at 5.3K. Pass a sloppy water source at 6.0K and traverse a gulley with ropes leading up the far side.

Cross a wide collapse with the aid of sidling ropes at 7.0K. In another 300m, at a signed cell phone point, lies an excellent spot for one small tent on the left. At 7.5K, pass an old corrugated iron shelter, little more than three walls and a roof nestled into a crook, held together with logs and rotting tarps. Up through the trees, the yellowy peak of Bilu seems close but impossibly high. Suddenly, the lindao ends and the trail drops down to a stream and waterfall.

Climb up the other bank to a campsite (登山口營地) with room for 10+ tents on the plateau above the confluence of creeks.  Pass a trail sign here at the camp at 8.4K and descend to the second creek, the final water source of the entire hike.

Large campsite at the start of the climb.

The hard climb up Bilu begins on the far side. It covers 820 vertical meters in 2km. Ascend along a forested spur, high above the brook below. The first few hundred meters are lined with ropes.

It’s important to note that the elevation profile on the Sunriver maps does a poor job of conveying the steepness of this trek. Don’t be fooled! This climb, and the trail along the tops, has some very steep sections, made even more difficult when weighed down with 4L+ of water.

The trail becomes scrubbier at 9.4K, as the terrain changes from pine forest. The throttling of cabbage trucks plying the road to Lishan can still be heard from across the valley. There’s a moment of respite as the trail sidles through twinkling bamboo and open forest, and arrives at the bottom of a sheer, 10m-tall rock wall, webbed with ropes. Scale the face and continue climbing.

Steep roped section

The southwestern face of Bilu offers the best views of Pingfengshan. Scramble up the trail, which has become a rutted trench of loose rock. Climb the steep hillside, up into caneland. The trail switchbacks up to a signpost on the ridge. Turn left for a quick 200m to the summit of Bilushan.

The exposed summit has 360° views of the northern sections of the Central Mountain Range, and across to the Qilai and Hehuan peaks. The ridge to the east looks like a row of jagged teeth – a proper knife’s edge. There is space for a tent next to the big sawhorse summit plaque – a spectacular campsite in settled weather.

The summit of Bilushan.

Back at the junction, continue straight for 100m to a protected camp in a shallow, grassy gap. Bilu camp (畢祿營地) has room for three tents. The markers now count up from 0K.

Bilu camp.
The morning shadow of Bilushan stretches across Lishan township to the horizon.

Day Two

Hike east along the undulating ridge. Nicknamed the Sawtooth Ridge, the trail crosses numerous sharp bumps on the way out to Yangtoushan. It parallels Qilai East Ridge across the valley. Climb left up a steep rope. The trail drops and rises. At a barrel-like peak, the trail plummets left. Descend tight zigzags down the scree gulley. Pass a signpost at the bottom, bear right, and climb around the base of the peak.

The trail near the summit of Bilu, facing south towards Qilai.
Climbing one of the numerous nubs along Sawtooth Ridge.

Contour up to the ridge and turn left at the ribbons. Climb a roped rock face, and follow ropes across the boulder peak. Jushan (鋸山, 3275m), “Saw Mountain”, with a rock marker, lies off to the left at 1.1K. Descend the east side.

Jushan, “Saw Mountain”

Squeeze through a boulder nest at 1.2K, and then scale another sheer crag. Drop down to a gap with a small campsite. Now the trail calms, having passed the worst of the Sawtooth Ridge.

 Sidle along a cliff face and descend through bamboo. Pass a nice camp (大樹下營地) in a stand of pines, with room for three tents. Continue down through hot scrubland, lined with an annoying rope. Many unnecessary ropes hem the trail, a nuisance resulting from the large number of hikers, many beginners, who make the trek.

Head towards twin, treed lumps. Cross the field and enter the woods at a bundle of ribbons. Immediately pass the tiny East Peak Front camp (東峰前營地). The trail is flat through open forest and then resumes climbing at 2.9K. After a steep face it levels out again, passing a decent microcamp at 3.1K. Push through bamboo up to Jushan East Peak (鋸山東峰, 3025m) at 3.4K. Descend through prairie for the last stretch to the junction for Yangtou. This marks the end of the 3.8K from Bilu, and now the markers count up from 3.0K, which is the distance from the junction down to the Central Cross Island Hwy. It’s 1.1km out to Yangtou.

Keep straight and pass an older trail sign. The first 400m gradually descend and are entirely lined with ropes, giving it the air of a proper tourist trail. Skirt the bottom of a rockfall. Climb steeper past 3.7K, up a rock-and-root spur. Swing left around a big outcropping, and climb up the last slope.

Yangtoushan, at the end of the ridge.

At the top, turn left along the spine to the summit of Yangtoushan, the last of the Top 100 (but not the shortest). Its name translates to “Sheep’s Head”. Gaze out over the cloud ocean to the east. Mabishanshan, an outlier of North Section One, juts out to the north. From this angle, the perfect pyramid of Zhongyangjianshan looks as sharp as if cut by a laser.

From front to back: Wuming Cliff, Zhongyangjianshan, Nanhu

Return to the junction.

Take the roped trail heading down. Cross a boulder field and hike down through silvergrass. Yangtou looms back up to the left. Descend under cover of mossy pines, and then through big forest carpeted with bamboo and tall grass. The gradual trail crosses a narrow, rooted clearing. It plunges off the edge, with rope handrails.

The trail levels out again along a spur, still with pine duff underfoot. It drops more steeply into greener cloud forest. There’s room for one tent in a mossy gap. The defensive trill of monkey calls echo in the trees above. Walk down a steel staircase.

Thousands of shades of green color the forest, a result of strong morning UVs and daily fog banks providing the flora with an abundance of ceaseless nourishment. After a second set of stairs, the trail goes over one last rise before arriving at the trailhead signs and permit box.

Descend down the boulder face into the creek and climb up ropes over a drainage culvert into the open road tunnel. Turn left and quickly walk through the tunnel. Cross Cien Bridge (慈恩橋). Catch the bus from under the road sign.