Normally I wouldn't write about a place that's already been quite covered by many in English already. However it seems I took a quite different route from everyone else and it turned out to be a lot more fun (only one long set of stairs). It also covers the entire length of the ridge rather than just the middle part. I hate backtracking and this route doesn't involve any. It is also very easy to do via public transport. One end is in Shiding and the other is next to the Yongding Coal Mine stop on the Muzha – Pingxi bus route.
This route is not really possible to do if you drive here. Unless you drive to Shiding, find a taxi to take you to Yongding, and then walk the ridge back to Shiding that way. I tried to follow the route in this blog (with much more beautiful photos than mine). However it was New Year and the bus to Shiding was infrequent. We took a taxi and I just told the driver 'Huangdidian', and clearly ended up at a different start point.
I did the route starting from Shiding. I strongly suggest you do it in reverse. While it was great to gradually go from a well developed trail into a secretive dirt track the route from Bird Beak Mount to Yongdingyuan Peak is very slippery, even after dry weather. Going down some of the rock faces was hard, despite ropes, and all of my group slipped on the wet ground a few times. I'll describe the route as though starting from Yongding.
Take the 795 bus from Muzha and get off at Yongding Coal Mine. You'll notice this large coal sorting structure further up the road. I expect there's an abandoned coal mine up the slope a bit but I'll check that another day.
Further past here is a bridge over a small stream on the right. The trail entrance is right next to this bridge on the right hand side. It doesn't look like much and at the start you'll climb up through a small farm.
Pretty soon however the trail winds through a dark forest with a dense layer of ferns and the giant colocasia plants that you sometimes see people using as umbrellas. At a small fork head right and upwards onto Yongdingyuan (Forever Calm) Peak. This small bump has a few stands of pampas grass and felt a little enchanted in the late afternoon sun.
After this the trail gets steeper with some rock faces to climb with ropes. Some of these don't have great footholds so you'll get a good arm workout.
After about an hour you should reach Niaozuiyan (Bird Beak Rock) – a tall cliff that actually does look like a bird. A small moss growth gives it a beady eye. After passing this there's a detour to a small peak which gives a good view of the ridge to come.
From here on there will be forking paths that head down off the ridge to the valley or parking lots but you simply need to keep heading forward along the rocky spine. It is quite easy to lose the trail here but there are signs and hiking tags. You'll soon find yourself on the main Huangdidian Ridge path. This section is spectacular but also very well-known. It will probably be a little jarring to suddenly be around a lot of other hikers. Even though the drops off this ridge are precipitous it has been made very safe by the New Taipei Government. There are guard rails, ladders and large footholds along the entire length. There were even some children walking it, and some others you could kinda tell don't hike often (lots of “hao kepa – so scary” cries suggesting not everyone was prepared for it).
The main part runs from a seemingly nameless razor-edged peak, which was also my favorite summit.
It crosses jumbled outcrops and dry forest through Huangdidian East Peak before ending in a series of ladders just past West Peak.
A few times, particularly before you reach the more developed path, there are some dizzying sections. On one part the path hugs the ridge just below the crest with stumpy trees either side. A look downwards reveals the trees are a strip only about 1.5 meters wide. The path is clinging with them above an 80 meter bare cliff at about a 70 degree angle. For some reason being in the trees makes it feel much safer but really that's an illusion.
After the descent down some ladders from the west peak you'll come to a fork with stone steps descending on either side. Take the steps on the left. The steps on the right may well go somewhere useful but I don't know where. These steps suck and will be the least enjoyable part of the hike. However I feel like going down them will be better than the seemingly endless climb I took up them. These steps will emerge between two lions on a steep road about 500m away from Shiding. From there it should be easy to catch the 666 bus back to Muzha. Here are some streetviews of the Yongding trail entrance (a few clicks up the road) and the Shiding end (up the road slightly). Otherwise you can see a rough route on the Hidden Taiwan Map here.
A couple of other points: Do not attempt this during or after rain for obvious reasons! The ridge is quite exposed so windy days are probably a bad idea too. Allow for at least six hours to do this full ridge, and warm up your legs. I work out fairly regularly but I'm so sore because I didn't warm up.