River Tracing in Wulai

I feel lucky to be alive! This experience in under 10 words: sheer terror punctuated with moments of fun!

Our work group decided to do a team building, and (unfortunately) didn’t do much research after someone suggested something called “river tracing”. A few people asked questions: is there much hiking involved? No. Do you have to know how to swim? No. Any snakes? No. All of  these turned out to be incorrect.

Let me clearly say: this is an activity for those who love extreme sports and are addicted to the attendant adrenaline rush!

Knowing what I know now (having experienced this first hand), I’d tell you: Do not attempt this activity if you are:

  • overweight
  • out-of-shape
  • not a seasoned rock climber
  • not a strong swimmer
  • over 40
  • have any unusual medical conditions
  • afraid of heights

We were to meet at the Xindian MRT at 8am on a Friday. 8am? Xindian is an hour away by bus + MRT ride so I got only a few hours of sleep before having to get up and out the door. After a harrowing taxi ride from the station into the Wulai canyons, we stopped at a hotel where we put our bags in lockers and met our guides (2 guides to 12 Trenders).

We were given a helmet, a life vest, some neoprene booties, and woven gloves, and told: test each rock before you step on it; if it’s slippery, find another rock to step on.  Uh….okay. Sounds reasonable. Perhaps the guides thought we were all well-versed in river trekking and that no additional safety precautions or information about what we were up against was needed…and off we went.

Beginning of the trek

30 minutes of hiking later, we came upon the low bank of a a river, with an 8′ waterfalled dam and shorter rock barrier. We were instructed to fall off the rock barrier backwards. The water was cool, but not too bad. Then we had to find a way to the top of the dam and jump off into a “deep area” below. This was a bit harder and by the time everyone was done, we were soaking wet and ready to start the trek.

For the next few hours, we pushed our way upstream, through running water that was often chest height (for me) or higher. Over rocks. Through rocks. Several other groups passed us by, evidently in a hurry to get somewhere; we never saw them again. We saw myriad exotic butterflies, a water snake, huge water spiders and praying mantis, small fish, tadpoles. I got my foot stuck one and twisted it getting it free. I slipped and fell into a shallower area, onto some rocks, once. Finally, it was lunch time. There we were, wet, bedraggled, hungry, huddled like sea lions sunning ourselves on rocks. Our guides, who make many such trips every week, broke out a camp stove and  fixed a gourmet meal of….yup, ramen noodles (with canned fish for most, and plain for us vegetarians). It was served in a small tin cup. (Luckily I had brought an energy bar + drink + orange for later.) After lunch some people went back into the water. I sat and talked a bit with the guides. They siad that once, their boss took a group out past dark and the police had to come and give them flashlights to get out of the canyon. Eek.  It must have been somewhere around 2pm when we left the lunch (rock) site and got back in the water. The guides said that the exit from the river was “100 yards” ahead. Okay, I thought I can do that. Then, we came upon a rock slide. Of course everyone had to try it out (I went twice but managed to bruise my one kidney) even if it meant climbing back up a huge boulder with the use of a rope. Lots of pictures were taken and then we headed for….not really sure except I thought it was the end of our odessey. Wrong.

At the bottom of the rock slide

The river bank butted up against the mountains. And I asked how we were getting out since I saw no trail. “Up” said the guides. You’ve got to be kidding! So, soaking wet, we began our ascent on a barely visible (and super slippery) path. Several times I thought I was going to have an asthma attack, I was breathing so hard and wheezing.  There was nowhere to stop (I had people ahead and people behind me). Thankfully, everyone stopped until I could catch my breath and then, up again. Finally, after what seemed like an hour but was probably *only* 30 minutes, we emerged onto a paved area and rested. We all decided to let the person having the most difficult time with this activity choose the next one.

I thought we were nearly done. Wrong again! The next few hours is a blur but I remember walking up another steep incline and then down. Imagine an 18″ dirt path, littered with smooth stones and a 200’+ cliff with no barrier on one side and the mountain on the other. There was NO ROOM for error here! Then came the “stairs” (old railroad ties holding up dirt, still on a steep incline). My hips hurt, my knees were killing me,  I was hot and thirsty, but we still had a ways to go. Finally we made it  to a paved path (hallelujah!). Again the guides told us it would be another “10 minutes” back to the hotel. 30 minutes of walking mostly uphill again, we got to the hotel. Some were so exhausted they had no energy for a (cold) shower. I was covered with dirt and leaves and brine from the river and had to get clean. Then, another crazy taxi ride downhill to the MRT. Onto the MRT and a bus and then in search of dinner near my apartment. Afterwards, those last 8  flights of stairs up to my place were torture.  I hurt so bad, was sunburned; I slept all the way through Saturday.

Was the teambuilding activity a success? I think everyone is glad to have survived. I wonder if any of the younger, fitter members will do this again? I can say for certain: for me, once is more than enough!

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Suzi Kamin
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 21:59:12

    For goodness sakes! or snakes! What an adventure (one you were not expecting). I am glad you survived and that your aches/pains have healed. I am also glad you do not have snake bites, leeches, or some exotic water borne disease!!!!

    Take care, miss you. Suzi


  2. islandsidechronicles
    Sep 27, 2012 @ 16:22:52

    I know you seem to have had a rough go of it, but this looks pretty awesome to me!! I’d be interested if you still have the contact info for whichever company provided you with the guides. Thanks!


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