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In Which I must keep my breath Tranquil and the trails don’t walk well.

            As I ended up at the top of the Taiwanese Central Mountains frequently between both doing research there for my master’s degree and them standing in the way of my adopted family at Sun Moon Lake, I started to pause when I could and do some peak bagging. This started with HeHuanShan, a=the mountain that the central cross island highway traversed peaking at just about 3,400 meters. There were five peaks of HeHuanShan itself and ShiMenShan, a curious man-made peak. ShiMenShan was created when they blasted out the tunnel that had passed under the ridge to stabilize and expand the highway, which itself was carved out by hand and features astounding cliff traverses and not a few construction worker deaths as they fell or had rocks fall on them. When they blasted out the tunnel for more modern traffic, it created a triangulation point above the road which had enough slope on at least three sides to count as an official mountain, and one of the 100+ 3,000 meter peaks on the island. ShiMenShan is the easiest of the HeHuanShan area peaks.

            Most of the remaining peaks are nearby the highway and a short, if steep jaunt to the summit. I had climbed the three shortest and eventually found myself with some time to take on the North Peak. The topo map that I have for the peaks conveniently has distances in both kilometers and Taiwanese-hiker-dude times. The North peak was supposed to be just over 2 kilometers but a few hours of climbing due to the gradient.

            I parked my scooter and started up the peak. Since I tend to hike pretty quickly, I sped up the peak in about 40 minutes, confirming my suspicion that Taiwanese-hiker-dude’s pace was not particularly accurate for me. This was a low traffic day, so I didn’t really see anyone until I reached the top. Just before I got to the summit. There, huffing and puffing because I was hiking at a good pace at over 3,400 meters higher than where I lived, I met a couple as they started down.

            The husband paused to let me pass, but as he did, he said.

            “You are breathing too hard.”

            “Hel-what?”

            “You are breathing too hard. You are out of breath. You must keep your breath tranquil.”

            “I…well…I’ve been hiking fast at high elevation.”

“When you are climbing you must keep your breath tranquil. If you breath to hard it will be bad for your health.”

            Properly chastened for my hasty pace, they continued on their way down and I rounded the summit thinking at anything but a tranquil pace.

            Well, THAT explains why Taiwanese-hiker-dude takes forever to get anywhere.

            How could you possibly keep your breath tranquil at 3,400m?

            If I tried that, I couldn’t stroll casually on a flat up here.

I mean, I am sure that reducing your oxygen intake is in some way good for you, but this is not exactly an anaerobic exercise.

I came to terms that mine was a very different mentality towards hiking and then accidently hiked another 13 km to the West peak of HehuanShan.

A few months later, I was eyeing a mountain travers that I still hope to do: Black QilaiShan to LiWuShan (perhaps my favorite looking mountain in the world) and down from over 3,000 meters to 400 in the course of a single, epic day.

I mentioned this desire in one of the lab meetings, perhaps when I was admitting accidently hiking to the West peak of HeHuanShan.

My professor paused. “That trail doesn’t walk well.”

“What?” Does any trail that isn’t paved walk well? What about all of the crazy trails I have been doing in the mountains here.

Upon further investigation, water can occasionally be hard to find on the route and it is more of a route than a trail, but some of this became clear years later when I requested they help me book a backpacking itinerary that ended up being 5k, downhill. I am forever grateful for their help, but skeptical of the evaluation of trails.

Fast forward to Memorial day hiking in Zion with my hiking buddies in which we hiked almost every trail in the national park in the course of three days. As we were uncommonly ascending out of the park on the first day, we were hiking up the trail and chatting as we passed a group of tourists. We gave a cheery hello and thank you (for letting us pass) when they piped up:

“How can you be talking so calmly and hiking so aggressively?”

This brought the story of Tranquil breathing to mind and after sharing it, our hiking group motto has since become “Aggressively Tranquil” usually followed by “Leisurely and Pleasant boulder hopping”

May you find adventure on trails that don’t walk well and aggressively tranquil hiking.