The World of Rock, Water, and Human Spirit: River Tracing


Guan-Jang Wu's Experience | About Taiwan | River Tracing in Taiwan by Jason Robertson | Photo Gallery | Do you know? | American Canyoneering Association |

Da-Lun River Expedition new! | Abovesault: A great resource introducing Rivertracing in Taiwan (Chinese version) |


Mountain climbing has been one of the most important things in my life since I was in the college. There I was doing some rock climbing, lots of backpacking, and as little studying as possible. It was at college that I attended a river tracing trip, and there I finally found something that make me feel inspired and so excited that I wanted to do it over and over again. It was a feeling that backpacking can't give you, or rock climbing, or rafting. I love all these activities, but I crave that one activity above all. It provided all the thrill, fun, excitement, and inspiration of the above sports. River tracing. I have done it dozens of times in my life; from day trip to two-week expedition, and I want to introduce it to other people, especially my NOLS instructors and other outdoor enthusiasts. At NOLS I learned a whole different aspect about outdoor education, ethics, equipment, and especially rations from WSS 6/19. I can't believe that I ate American food for 70 days straight. No offense, guys, it was absolutely delicious, it's just not something I've eaten everyday over the last 25 years. Anyway, it's time that I do a little feedback. I cited some articles from Internet talking about the basic attraction of Taiwan and I wrote the basic concept of river tracing. Believe me, it's much much more fun doing it personally than reading this article. Enjoy!


Guan-Jang Wu's experience


Basically, the equipment you will need is the combination of rock climbing and backpacking with everything waterproofed. First, you need to get a waterproof bag that you can pack all your stuff in and then put it in your backpack. Everyone needs a harness, a helmet, a rappel device with locking carabiner, and some cordelletes that you will need to put on all the time. You need to wear a special booties with felt outsole. Originally people wore these for river fishing and to walk on the slippery rocks. You will also need to bring light hiking shoes when we get off the river and walk on the trail. As for group gear, we use tarps instead of tent. We bring two 9mm X 50M ropes(dry), two sets of Jumars, some webbings, two life jackets, one set of stoppers, several Friends & Camelots, dozens of pitons, hammers, aiders, one wetsuit, one set of Talkabouts, a first aid kit, a snake bite kit, and a radio.
We bring copies of topo maps, which are wrapped with transparent tape. If other groups have already been to that place, we may get a detailed river map from them, which will show you exactly where to find the waterfalls, rapids, and camps.

Two rules: light and nutritious. You can buy a lot of dry food in the traditional Taiwanese market. For example, dry fish, shrimp, bean products, and mushrooms, etc. We usually use a campfire to cook and bring gas stove and few gas tanks for emergencies.

The best river tracing area in Taiwan are still untouched. We frequently don't have much information. First, we select potential areas. You can follow other peoples' steps, read their records and river maps or simply look at the map and choose your own river. To find a good canyon on a map, first you look for a peak high enough to catch the rain. Then you analyze the size of the catchment basin above the canyon you are interested in. Next, you examine the closeness of the contour lines: They have to indicate a formation that's both deep and very narrow. You can easily go one to three days in front range rivers and practice your skills or one to two weeks deep into the mountains. Before we go to a big trip, we usually go rock climbing, swimming; and do several day-trips in nearby rivers to become familiar with rope management and cold water. I love everything about river tracing except the freakingly freezing water. My trick is before I go river tracing, I will take cold showers daily just put my mind in a prepared state. I doubt it really makes my body stronger for the cold conditions, but my mind is at least prepared. Wetsuits help, but they are heavy and bulky to lug around.

Safety issues
During summer and fall there are many typhoons in Taiwan. These bring severe winds and crazy rainfall in the mountain, which usually causes the river to flood. Usually there is no road access any place near the target river and your radio and cell phone won't work. You are all alone. The water hazard and unstable rocks in the river also make it dangerous if you are careless. All this will make it real hard to evacuate in the case of serious injury. Although river tracing was introduced to Taiwan more than two decades ago, there is no formal and organized search and rescue team established to handle this kind of emergency evacuation. However, every sport has its risk. If your team is well-prepared, well-trained, and equipped with proper gear, risk will be minimized and the potential for a great trip maximized.

River tracing techniques and skills

Walking the river

The very basic technique is walking on the slippy rocks. It's like walking on the boulder field but this time the rocks are covered with moss and slimy stuff. You need to have the momentum to walk and jump around the rocks in a stable and careful maneuver-it's no stroll.


River crossings

We usually walk on one side of the river. Sometimes you got blocked by huge rocks or rapids, and then it's easier to cross the river to proceed.



Just when you are walking and jumping around the rocks and thinking river tracing is getting boring, something exciting awaits around the next bend. When the river gets narrow, it creates rapids, usually like in a small gorge. Believe me, there are lots of them. Now, either you will have to swim really hard to overcome the rapid (some people even bring flippers) or you traverse it. It's just like rock climbing. You traverse this rock wall next to the river. If you fall, you will fall into the river and the rapid will take you right back to where you started. When you finally negotiate the climb, you will need to pull the rest of team through the rapids. Backpacks are used for floatation, and all depends on coordination and teamwork.

Deep, calm, and clear pools

It is amazingly how clear the water can be in the last true wilderness areas in Taiwan. There will be frequently huge, tumbling pools right before a rapid or waterfall, but sometimes there are just these knee-deep pools that beautifully run through your heart. There are also deeper pools that will require a swimming technique. Same rule here, the first one who swim across the pool has to pull everyone over. The contest between the calm pools and raging rapids, all in a naturally beautiful setting is a major part of what river tracing is all about.


Sometimes the river opens up into broad parklands for a mile or two, and then narrows back down once again into a deep, twisting slot that at one point is barely six feet across from wall to vertical wall. It's absolutely fun and beautiful. You never know what you will see after a turn on the river, or after you climb up a waterfall. It could be a 60-foot waterfall that is impossible to climb or a lovely pool that you can dive in, or an amazingly twisted colorful canyon. You never know. That's the core spirit of river tracing. Exploring the unknown, like Star Trek, just better.

Waterfalls (the thrilling part of river tracing!)

When you encounter a waterfall, first you need to evaluate if it is climbable. A doable waterfall to me is like 5.4 to 5.5 in rock climbing, only this time a water element is added. It depends on your lead climbing skills and aid climbing techniques. But remember, you don't have your sticky rock shoes on and the freezing water is pounding on you brutally. When you finally reach the top of the waterfall, look for huge rocks (an act of god) or dead trees (I mean a gigantic dead tree) to set up anchors. The rest of the group ascends with Jumars and with the heavy pack individually carried. If you decide not to climb it, you will need to go back down the river, and find a place to climb up and traverse over the waterfall, then rappel down to the river again. It may take a few hours or a whole day just to overcome a waterfall. It also depends on the number in your team. You got more people, it takes much longer!


We do a lot of rappels because our techniques and skills are not sophisticated enough to climb some of the more intimidating waterfalls. We use two 9mm double ropes to rappel with backpacks. Sometimes you need to bushwhack when you go down. If you go way high, you may need to rappel several times to reach the riverbed again. We always use natural anchors, usually trees, huge trees, (definitely no manky, jingous anchor).

                                                                                                                                                         a 30-meter free rappel


The reasons that I write about river tracing is because I want to tell you guys, my dear NOLS instructors, classmates and other outdoor people, that there is a fun, and exciting sport that people over here don't know about; it also happens to be in an exotic place thousands of miles away from the United States. I might not be the most knowledgeable person about river tracing, and definitely not the best climber in Taiwan, but I am very familiar with the mountains and rivers of Taiwan, and I am a NOLS graduate, and most of all, I am passionate about river tracing. Hopefully, sometime around 2001, we can somehow come up with a schedule that fits the schedule of most of you. I need feedback from you and I need to know how many of you are serious interested in launching a serious river tracing trip to Taiwan. If we can't make it next year, there are always other options. For those who are interested in rivertracing, please don't hesitate to contact me. I can either hook you up with my friends in Taiwan if you want to go at your convenience, or, when I go back to Taiwan you can come visit me and I will take you to the rivers.


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