Monday, November 23, 2009

Rock-climbing near Hutoupi

It has become a tradition for us that Thursday night is rock-climbing night. I teach an extra class in the evening after my regular teaching is over on Thursdays and as soon as I am able I race home to An-ping on our scooter so that I can make the quick transition to rock-climbing mode. In fact this is not really as dramatic as it sounds; it involves me changing clothes and helping Andrea to check that we've got everything we need. Then we usually meet our friends downstairs and scoot off together towards Hutoupi.

Very close to Hutoupi is an abandoned outdoor activity centre. This is where we climb our 'rocks'. Of course, they're not real rocks but instead we climb an artificial climbing wall covered in hand holds. The objective is to make our way from one side of the climbing wall (we usually start from the left) to the other side without touching the ground, relying only on whatever nooks, crannies, or crevices we can find on the wall for our hands and feet.

This activity seems to be really good for building upper body strength. I don't think we've ever managed to get all the way from the left end of the wall to the right end. Your arms get pretty tired pretty quickly when you're using them to move the rest of your body. As I said before, we usually go rock-climbing on Thursday nights and this means that we need to take our own lighting; the facility is abandoned and the only other lighting we get is from the moon or from street lights outside the facility. The photos in this post were taken on a weekend when we happened to be going to Hutoupi Lake (close by) and thought to make the most of being in the area and go for a climb.

In a scene reminiscent of Stallone's Cliffhanger John successfully negotiates a difficult corner and outsmarts John Lithgow (not shown in photo).

In this short movie I make it most of the way around the wall only to stop because a particular foothold became quite painful with most of my weight concentrated on it through a very small area of my foot.

John stretching after climbing.

This is me recovering after hurting my lower back. I hung by my hands for about thirty seconds thinking it would be good for my back, stretching it out and freeing up the vertebrae but, instead, as soon as I tried to put my weight back on it I experienced terrible pain as if nerves in my spinal column were being pinched between the edges of vertebrae. It was awful but not the first time in my life that I have hurt myself after trying to stretch my back. Perhaps I'm better off just leaving a consistent weight on it. I really hope that I don't suffer serious back problems when I get older.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

River Tracing: Liangshan Waterfall near Majia Township

What is river tracing?  It basically involves following the course of a river, travelling upstream by walking, swimming, clambering over and up rocks and rocky outcrops and the occasional use of ropes to assist in ascending and descending where required.  River-tracing is called other things in other countries and it is very closely related to canyoning/canyoneering (Wikipedia reference).

Back in July while Andrea's sister Erin was here we joined a river-tracing expedition upstream along part of a river in the vicinity of Majia township. The expedition had actually been initiated and arranged by somebody/somebodies at a school John used to work at and I think it was meant to be one of those extracurricular, getting-to-know-your-fellow-employees events.  I think everyone involved (apart from the two guides) were employees of, or otherwise connected in some way to John's former school.  And then there was us: Andrea, Erin, John, and me.

We, the four random tag-along foreigners, met up in our neighbourhood and then drove our scooters to the school.  After a wait of some twenty minutes everyone piled into the two buses parked in front of the school and we all headed off to Majia township in Pingtung county, south-east of Tainan.

We arrived in Majia and stopped in the carpark next to the Majia Visitor Centre, adjacent to the dirty canal that constitutes a (lower) part of the water-course that we would be tracing.  The next step involved getting suitably outfitted for scrambling over rocks and through water.  We all picked out a life-vest, helmet, and pair of gloves.  Our guides also got themselves ready and kitted-out.  Somehow we looked slightly ridiculous while our guides looked completely natural and professional.  Perhaps that was because they were wearing yellow.

The pre-river-trace group shot.  Everyone is excited, anticipating the imminent adventure and potential hazards.  I seem to be the only one without a helmet.  Oops.

A baptism of water; cold, cold water.  This is the first area of open water you come to after you walk from the carpark towards the falls.  We look unashamedly hopeless.  Hapless even.

A second baptism of water.  This time we were lowered, one at a time, by one of our guides into this narrow gully of which the water shoots out.  The point of this is that you get to ride the white water as it carries you away into the pool in the foreground.  The reality is that there are large rocks under the surface that you hit your lower-back and tailbone on, injuries that remain painful for weeks after the fact.  After this experience I became immediately cynical about the whole expedition and had to fight off the urge to complain incessantly about my tailbone.

Like an ill-trained troop of new-recruits we struggled to surmount small boulders lurking beneath the surface and fought to overcome uneven footing on the bottom of the riverbed.  Our unprofessionalism was hard to hide and my stoic coutenance rang hollow.  I was sore about my tailbone and wanted a nice hot coffee.

At this juncture, John was asked by the guide to position himself at the base of this small fall in order to help the other river-tracers surmount it and to cushion any falls or slips that might occur.  Practically, this involved John applying an upwards force to the body attempting the surmounting and I can still remember him doing his best not to touch anyone's bum.

This was our rock, an island in a stream of turbulence, a solid foundation from which we could contemplate the chaotic movement of the waters rushing by in their attempt to get from up to down as efficiently as possible.  This was our rock.

That was our rock.

An action shot: me making a flying leap at the water.  You can feel the tension and import of the moment.  It's moments like this one at which I think perhaps a career in acting and drama are not out of the question but very much a potent, unrealised certainty.  There's something very 'Stallone's Cliffhanger' about this.

Two sisters enjoy being able to be in the same place and time together.

Insert caption here.

I chose the most flattering shot of Andrea I could find.

After a slow and fairly relaxed slog up-river for a couple of hours it was time for luch and I was impressed when I realised that the extra bags a few of us had been carrying actually contained everything required to make lunch for the whole group.  When we had suited up back at the bus, one of the guides asked me if I could carry an extra bag on my back.  The bag contained two large lightweight metal drums or bowls.  I found out at lunch time that these were cooking pots and the guides prepared a kind of noodle soup in them.  Being alternately wet and drying out had started to get to me and I was on the verge of beginning to shiver when we stopped for lunch; a bowl of steaming hot noodle soup was a wonderful thing to have.

Adjacent to the picnic area was a small lake through which the river ran.  The water course entered the lake in a spectaular fashion, creating a waterfall on the far side.  A few of us tried jumping off the rocks into the exploding water.  Good fun.

The ascent to the final waterfall of our river-tracing and the highest point of the hike.  I don't know exactly which waterfall is Liangshan Falls but this might as well be it. 

Seasoned river-tracers all:
  Made their way to Liangshan Fall,
Bumps and scrapes were no deterants
Stolidly they fought the currents
Up outcrops and over boulders
(some with pots upon their shoulders)