Wuling Pass: Take 2

Almost exactly 1 year later- the story was continued. Perfect weather and no illnesses led Mike and I to try Wuling again. Perfect for us American Midwesterners that is. Low 50s F / low teens C at the start was definitely cold by Taiwan standards.

We used the excellent PJAMM Cycling website to research the climb and monitor weather at the summit as the weekend approached. This time, I did ride from the hotel- us old guys (52) need a longer warm-up. 40 miles of moderate pace suited me well.

Low point of the ride: from 260ft to over 10,000ft above sea level is a decent day’s ride!
Heading for Puli

PJAMM rates Wuling West as the 12th hardest climb in the world using the Fiets Index. Other sites such as www.climbbybike.com rank it lower. No matter how it’s measured, Wuling- both East and West- is one of the hardest climbs in Asia or anywhere. Wuling East- starting from Hualien- is actually rated lower in difficulty. However, it’s much more famous as it passes through the Taroko Gorge and is the site of the increasingly well-known Taiwan KOM Challenge. Wuling East will be our next mountain challenge!

Loaded up with food, hydration, and extra clothes for the cooler temps we’d encounter as we climbed, we started out from the same spot in Puli. The first 10 miles rose about 1000 feet- and then the real work began.

Appropriate image: there’s a battle ahead

6 hours, 30 miles, and 9000 ft up, we arrived! I took a number of breaks with my Garmin showing extended sections above 10% grade, as Mike patiently waited at each stop. Even if it took all day, we were determined to reach the top.

As we climbed higher, I felt the onset of leg cramps, one of the few things that would have stopped the climb. Fortunately, hydration and low gearing held them at bay. “It doesn’t get harder, you just go slower” is one of my mantras- but it’s only partially true. On the 32-mile Strava segment, I only ranked 6039 out of 9197, but I don’t care a bit. We made it, and that was the goal!

We carried lights in case we finished after dark, but fortunately got back to Puli about an hour before dusk.  Strava showed the day’s totals: 107 miles, 12 hours and 1 minute of elapsed time, just under 10 hours of moving time, and over 11,000ft of climbing. It was Mike’s longest ride time ever, and easily both our longest single climbs. It was also within 1000ft of the most total climbing I’d ever done in a single ride. The most was during my first 24-hour ride- and that was over 200 miles longer!

During the climb up the Wuling Pass, temperatures dropped to just above freezing, and we slowly donned additional clothing. The summit was foggy and cold, and we stayed only long enough for a few pictures and to go full-on winter gear, ready for the thrilling but chilly descent.

Mike and I at the 3275m Wuling Pass summit overlook
Pea soup fog at the summit

The road also narrowed considerably near the peak- not such a big deal going slowly up, but provided for a few hair-raising moments on the descent.

The descent was fun, but was tempered by slow traffic that we passed at every opportunity. Buses are the worst- going slowly with us shivering that was impossible to avoid. The 2 short ascents in the descent were welcome- though the legs were tired, working up some body heat was welcome relief.

The views certainly help take your mind off the work at hand:

In lieu of a real recovery ride, the next day was in the hills again with Mike and Todd, another coworker. 45 miles and 4000 feet of climbing- through bamboo forests and river valleys, some of it >20% grades! https://www.strava.com/activities/3024249616

Mike’s incredible “National Geographic” silhouette photo during our “recovery ride”

On my way home from Taiwan, I had an 8 hour layover in Seoul, a city I’ve visited many times. How to spend the time? A quick train ride into the city for some sightseeing on a bike-share!

The presidential palace- notice the helicopters landing
Namdaemun (North Gate)
One of the most interesting churches I’ve seen anywhere
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