This hike takes in two peaks in the Jiufen area before descending through an abandoned gold mining village and ending in Houtong Station. The walk could be done as two excursions but as it's mostly downhill doing it in one isn't hard.
The first part heads up Mt Keelung. This part will not feel mostly downhill. Mt Keelung is the most prominent coastal peak in the northeast and is a long extinct and eroded volcano. The entrance to the trail is fairly easy to find. From the main Jiufen bus stop, where the 1062 from Taipei stops, just head a bit further up the road. There are two ways to get to the summit. The main trail is steep and takes pretty much the quickest route possible. A little way up a signposted branch trail forks off. This track is a little gentler and is mostly dirt with a few flights of stairs. It's a maintenance trail for two radar passive reflectors. The dirt track has become very smooth and slippery so don't descend here unless the weather is dry. I did that and landed on my butt a couple of times.
At the summit there's a pretty great view over the whole northeast coast and a lot of the mountains from earlier hikes. The scar from the Benshan open cast mine at Jinguashi is most visible from up here.
There's a trail that winds through silvergrass to some smaller summits. I attempted this trail but it was very steep and slippery too. After falling once and sliding some more I decided it was a no from me.
I arrived back in Jiufen a lot muddier than I had been. I really wanted to avoid the crowds snailing along the old street so I took a road up through the cemetery and wound through some quiet alleys a the top of the town. This part of Jiufen is very pretty. My target was the largest temple in town.
Little Jingua Outcrop and Xiaocukeng
There are two ways to get to the Xiaocukeng Trail that leads to Houtong. One starts from Songde Park which can be googled quite easily. I didn't take this route so I don't know the exact directions but it should be quite easy to find. I was aiming for Little Jingua Outcrop. This trail goes a little further uphill but is not a difficult trail.
From behind the large temple take a winding road uphill until you see some stairs. These open out into some more stairs, yay....
These are pretty much the last uphill stairs for the day. Don't head up to the high school gate. Instead follow a wide track to the left around the school, and then take the right hand fork. A paved stone trail leads up to Little Jingua Outcrop which was an open cast mine and quarry area.
From here take a right turn and head down a steep grassy track. Don't go uphill to the pylon. On the left side of this trail there are a couple of old gold mines. I entered the first tunnel. The air was stale and it was only big enough for a crouching adult so I didn't venture far.
The signposted trail to Xiaocukeng and Houtong will soon appear on the left. There's a little branch to the Xiaocukeng summit but there's not anything up there in terms of views or anything else. The trail down into Xiaocukeng Village is very beautiful and passes numerous historic earth god shrines. The steps are mossy and slippery in places but fortunately parts of the trail are built more sensibly. A short way down a couple of old mine tunnels appear on the left but these are mostly filled up with earth now.
Like nearby Dacukeng (featured in Pt 2), Xiaocukeng was left as mining became uneconomic. With no roads up to the village or work besides farming it became fairly inconvenient to live there. Most of the houses are just empty rock shells however a couple are inhabited. I passed two friendly residents on their way back from shopping but didn't stop them. The man was carrying a lot of items and looked tired.
On a small branch trail in the village is the remnants of a watchtower. It's very much overgrown but some old photos here show what it was like before. Although this was a smaller settlement than Dacukeng it felt a lot larger as more houses line the trails. I counted at least 20 here while in Dacukeng I found only about five that weren't buried in the forest.
After crossing a dried up stream there was a strange concrete platform. I can't work out what this is and I've looked at numerous trail blogs in Chinese. None of them even have a photograph. At the side of the steps onto it was a small grill. Peeking through there's clearly a room in there and I think the steps block up the entrance. It's possibly a small mine with a tunnel inside or just a storeroom but there weren't many clues.
The trail ends at a small road down into Houtong. Keep an eye out on the right for this impressive and weirdly shaped banyan outside a ruined house. It's roots and branches trace a strange outline and look like they are resting on air. It must have grown around an outhouse that was removed at a later date.
For a closer look at the routes check out the Hidden Taiwan Map.