The Tayal, one of Taiwan’s indigenous aboriginal groups, believe that several hundred years ago, a great chief known as Mangus led a group of Tayal from Jen-ai Township in Nantou County (南投縣仁愛鄉) northward across Da-ba-jian Mountain (大霸尖山), the holy mountain of the Tayal, and settled along the crest line at the northern end of Hsueh Mountain (雪山). As time passed his descendants named the village Smangus (s-ma-n’gus) in memory of Mangus.

Smangus Village (新竹縣玉峰村14鄰,司馬庫斯) is located at an elevation of 1,500 metres near the eastern border of Hsinchu County in Taiwan. The settlement was once known as the dark village because of it’s isolation and only recent connection to mains electricity (1979). The only access road was completed in 1995, previously access was by hiking around the mountain. In the 1990s an ancient formosan cypress forest (Chamaecyparis formosensis) was discovered east of the village. The eco-tourism interest in visiting the trees now provides the basis of the tribal livelihood, a stark change from the past. The 28 local families keep a strong community and a system of common ownership is practiced: property, wealth, jointly managing the forest and their ancestral land is all shared. This is known as “tnunan” which literally means to firmly interlace the sets of yarns during the weaving process to form finely crafted fabric or cloth[1].

This Christmas time, Super Grace and The Legal Eagles organised a trip for the sixteen of us to Smangus. We rallied at Hsinchu HSR station (台灣高鐵新竹站), and proceeded by chartered mini-bus from there. We stopped first at He-xing (合興) to take photos, then at Nei-wan (內灣) where there is lots of yummy food in the old street and some very nice and knowledgable folks at the Nei-wan forestry exhibition hall - go there and smell the wood! Lunch was delicious at 以娜的店 in Yu-lao (宇老) and there were several kerbside food vendors there too. Yu-lao was perhaps the coldest stop of the trip with five Celsius thick fog, although on the way back the fog had cleared and the Yu-lao view was stunning, especially with a hot 小米酒香腸 (local sausage) to nibble upon. Our mini-bus driver vehemently recommended the cabbages sold by one of the Yu-lao street vendors - to the extent that the return driving was noticeably more insane in order to get from Smangus back to Yu-lao to buy cabbages for his family before they all sold out; having successfully acquired his cabbages, the driving and his mood returned to happy cat status!

We made another stop at Siouluan (秀巒) to take some photos on the suspension bridge, before looping up and up, via the security checkpoint, along the hard mountain road (the single track access road to Smangus is restricted and requires prior application in order to pass). Dusk was almost upon us by the time we arrived at Smangus, so we ate, drank and were merry, especially at the welcoming performance given by the villagers at their church.

After breakfast we set out on the ancient tree trail to enjoy the countryside and see the ancient trees. The trail is about 5km each way, with both many ups and downs, thus unlike most day hikes up a mountain it’s not down hill all the way home! I met one chap who sounded Western European and he later said he hiked it there and back in an hour - which I can imagine as he came bombing past us at some speed, but I wonder if he actually had time to see anything!? Our group of sixteen took about ninety minutes to get to the ancient trees from the trail mouth (木登山口), about half an hour with the trees and another ninety minutes to return. Although I think the return walk was a little harder, we walked faster in order to have enough time to drive clear of the Smangus mountain road security checkpoint by the required time on the way back.

The trip was wrapped up with stops at Heng qiao (橫橋) and frog rock on the way back to Hsinchu. It was a really fantastic and interesting weekend for all of us together - many thanks to Grace for organising things. As ever, a picture is worth a thousand words - photos below:

[1] Credit to "A Year in the Clouds" English web page for the basis of the Smangus introductory information above.
At 合興, enroute to Smangus
合興, Old train...
合興, New train...
The suspension bridge at 內灣 (Neiwan)
The suspension bridge at 內灣 (Neiwan)
Food vendors in the fog at 宇老
The view from 宇老 after the fog cleared!
While waiting for our lunch reservation, we camped out in 宇老 police station to avoid the bitter cold (5 Celcius)
View from 宇老 police station
View from 宇老 police station
Lunch at 以娜的店 in 宇老
Lunch at 以娜的店 in 宇老
Lunch at 以娜的店 in 宇老
Lunch at 以娜的店 in 宇老
Lunch at 以娜的店 in 宇老
Lunch at 以娜的店 in 宇老
Lunch at 以娜的店 in 宇老
Lunch at 以娜的店 in 宇老
Suspension bridge at 秀巒
View down river from the suspension bridge at 秀巒
The iron cable/vines supporting the suspension bridge at 秀巒
The entrance to Smangus with our bus
Smangus, outside the reception office
Smangus, outside the reception office
Smangus, Tnunan – communal wealth
Smangus
Smangus, bird seat
Smangus, wooden carved seats
Smangus, wood carving
Smangus, wood carving
Smangus, coffee shop exterior
Smangus, coffee shop interior
Smangus, coffee shop interior
Smangus, coffee shop bonfire!
Smangus, Christian church exterior
Smangus, Christian church interior
Teaching the Tayal language
Smangus, foggy mountain view at dusk
Smangus, mountain view
Smangus, mountain view
Smangus, mountain view
Smangus, mountain view
Smangus, hiking map
Smangus, 木登山口, the start of the trail to the ancient trees
Smangus, ancient tree trail, 紅葉
Smangus, ancient tree trail, bamboo
Smangus, ancient tree trail, bamboo
Smangus, ancient tree trail, natural cool water fridge sign
Smangus, ancient tree trail, natural cool water fridge
Smangus, ancient tree trail, first kilometre completed
Smangus, ancient tree trail, waterfall
Smangus, ancient tree trail, waterfall
Smangus, ancient tree trail, going up
Smangus, ancient tree trail, going down
Smangus, ancient tree trail, going up again
Smangus, ancient tree trail, a mossy knot to stop you falling down the mountain
Smangus, ancient tree trail, river valley view
Smangus, ancient tree trail, river valley view
Smangus, ancient tree trail, slate
Smangus, ancient tree trail, interesting fungus
Smangus, ancient tree trail, contrasts: cloud, tree forest, bamboo forest, agricultural land, mountains, valleys
Smangus, ancient tree trail, four kilometres completed
Smangus, ancient tree trail, the pioneers
Smangus, ancient tree trail, the wood smells good!
Smangus, ancient tree trail, plethora of flora on a single branch
Smangus, ancient tree trail, the river below
Smangus, ancient tree trail, “fluffy” branches
Smangus, ancient tree trail, giant ancient tree
Smangus, ancient tree trail, waterfall
Smangus, ancient tree trail, up and up
Smangus, ancient tree trail, red wood on green leaves
Smangus, ancient tree trail, waterfall
Smangus, ancient tree trail, bright red log
Smangus, ancient tree trail, super ancient tree
Smangus, ancient tree trail, basking in the ancient tree’s glory
Smangus, ancient tree trail, totoro is dwarfed by the tree giant
Smangus, ancient tree trail, super ancient tree
Smangus, ancient tree trail, further in to the forest
Smangus, ancient tree trail, super ancient tree
Smangus, ancient tree trail, tree number five
Smangus, ancient tree trail, the fallen supports life
Smangus, ancient tree trail, the dark depths of a trunk’s core
Smangus, ancient tree trail, super giant ancient tree
Smangus, ancient tree trail, super giant ancient tree
Smangus, ancient tree trail, super giant ancient tree
Smangus, ancient tree trail, interesting fungus
Smangus, ancient tree trail, returning to the village through the bamboo
Smangus, ancient tree trail, striking a path through the mountains
Smangus, ancient tree trail, rest break
Smangus, ancient tree trail, hike completed
Smangus, ancient tree trail, particularly appropriate farewell message leaving Smangus
橫橋 on the way back to 新竹
橫橋 on the way back to 新竹
橫橋 on the way back to 新竹
View from 橫橋 on the way back to 新竹