One of the main reasons why relatively few foreigners climb Taiwan’s tallest peaks – and as a result miss out on one of the island’s most extraordinary features – is the astounding level of misinformation regarding mountain permits. Taiwanese and foreign expats alike talk about them as if they’re next to impossible to obtain, and even some official sources insist the only way foreigners can climb major peaks is to join one of the regular weekend climbing excursions arranged by outdoor shops in major cities, especially Taipei. While these shops will take care of the permit paperwork and can cut out most of the logistical planning – attractive options for non-Chinese speakers with limited time – the downside is that you’ll be shunted into a large group of complete strangers of varying experience and abilities, and you won’t be allowed to stray from them for the entire journey. In addition, most foreigners will find that the group pace is ridiculously slow, and the noise levels are so high that you’re almost guaranteed not to spot any wildlife; a better option are expat-run companies such as Barking Deer Adventures, which organize smaller groups.
In fact, it‘s relatively straightforward to arrange your own permits, the process for which is continually being simplified for travellers. No longer is it necessary to hire a local guide for walks up the main mountains, although it’s still advised for peaks that require technical climbing skills, as well as for multiday treks across remote stretches of the parks. The minimum-person rule also has been abolished, and it’s possible for individual climbers to obtain solo permits, although park officials might be reluctant to issue these for more dangerous mountains, or during periods of heavy rain or snow.
In all cases, the easiest way to apply is in person at the headquarters of the relevant park, as this allows you to thoroughly explain your plan to conservation section officials. It also enables them to suss out your prior experience and climbing ability as well as inspect your kit. And while they’re under no obligation to do so, park officials will sometimes prepare your permit more quickly if you apply in person.
There are two kinds of permits: the standard national park entry permit (入園; rùyuán) and the police permit or mountain entry permit (入山; rùshān). Both are free. The latter is normally easy to obtain in person just before you start hiking, usually at the police station or checkpoint closest to the trail – you’ll need an application form, three copies of your hiking itinerary and one copy of your passport and park entry permit.
Park permits take more time. If you aren’t able to apply in person, the best way for foreigners to apply for the park permit is by completing the application form online and printing out the permit yourself. The form must be received by the park seven to thirty days before the planned start of your climb. The Yushan National Park (wwww.ysnp.gov.tw), Shei-Pa National Park (wwww.spnp.gov.tw) and Taroko National Park (wwww.taroko.gov.tw) websites have the application process clearly mapped out in English – the Shei-Pa and Taroko sites have example forms to download, and a copy of the mountain permit application form.
In addition to providing your personal details, you’ll need to briefly outline your proposed itinerary, including the expected date and time of your start and where you plan to spend each night: for mountain cabins, the park will reserve spaces for you, though you must bring your own sleeping bag and foam or air mattress. Once approved, officials will either fax or email the permit to you.