From our archives, Compass Magazine, Mar. 2002:
By Chen Ni-Ang Translated by Matt Godsey and Annie Chen
Beyond a doubt, Da Ken is one of the most important recreational and tourist areas in Taichung. This scenic rural area, with its rolling forested hills and hiking trails, has become a regular destination for many residents and visitors.
The construction of hiking trails, which follow a creek all the way up the mountain, began in 1981. From left to right, the trails are numbered one through four, and are called Cho Shui Ken (#1), Ching Shui Ken (#2), Heng Ken (#3), and Bei Keng (#4). All four trails eventually connect to trail #5, which exits at Chung Hsing Lin.
Each trail has its own special point of interest at its entrance. For Trail #1, there is a physical training area; for Trail #2, it is a hexagonal pavilion; for Trail #3, it is the Chang He Pavilion; and for Trail #4, it is the Chung Cheng Campground. All four trails are more than a kilometer in length and, although they do not reach a very high altitude, are very steep. There are many places where ropes have been installed to make it easier for hikers to climb. Around 1985, the Taichung City Government began running a special bus service on weekends to bring visitors to Da Ken but the service stopped soon thereafter.
Today most people drive to the entrance of Trail #2 to begin their hike. However, no matter which trail they choose, hikers should expect to spend at least an hour climbing to the top, where there¡¦s a big pine tree that greets them at the end of their hike. The climb might take longer for those unaccustomed to hiking, and hikers should remember to save some energy for the hike back to their car.
Da Ken was seriously damaged during the September 21, 1999 earthquake. The entrance to Trail #1 was completely destroyed. Parts of Trail #2 fell into the creek bed, and the trees that once ran along and shaded Trail #4 slid to the bottom of the mountain. At that time, the damage to the Da Ken area was so severe that the trails had to be sealed off. But, after two years of hard work, the trails have been restored to their former glory. The only noticeable differences are that some wooden steps have been replaced with concrete, and some sections that once had lush groves of trees are now bare. However, the trails have been completely rebuilt and reopened.
It is interesting to note that most visitors to Da Ken today are in their forties or fifties, middle-aged people who go for health and leisure. Young people usually only go on weekends and holidays, mostly in large groups. Carrying their own barbeque equipment with them, they settle in whatever spot they can find to cook. As for hiking, most of them lose interest too quickly to make the one or two hour climb.
In the beginning, the trails were created by local residents. Then, they wore conical bamboo hats with a scarf tied under their chins, and carried a machete by their sides. Today¡¦s climbers sport sun hats, backpacks, towels for wiping away sweat and, sometimes, gloves to protect their hands from rope-burns.
Despite the fact that you will probably encounter hikers who carry small radios to listen to their favorite music or programs while walking, Da Ken’s many trails remain a peaceful, healthy getaway for those interested in a little fresh air and time away from the city.