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TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - Jade Mountain, northeast Asia's highest peak and Taiwan's sole finalist for a "New 7 Wonders of the World" award, remains an alluring mystery due to its remoteness and tough permitting rules.
But even a hastily planned, permit-less weekend trip can take travelers close enough to the top to see much of what makes the the 3,952-meter (12,965-foot) peak and the surrounding 100,000 hectare (247,100 acres) national park worth being considered a world wonder.
The mountain is also known as Mount Yu or Yushan, and the park is Taiwan's largest remaining tract of wilderness, valued for its pristine forests and diversity.
From outside Taiwan, fly to Taipei or Kaohsiung and get a high-speed rail train to Chiayi station, where buses leave every 30 minutes for the popular forest recreation spot Alishan.
Spend the night at Alishan, where accommodation ranges from the full-service Alishan House hotel to smaller inns near the bus parking lot. Earlier arrivals can hire a same-day taxi to the Dongpu Lodge, which offers about 200 dormitory-style beds. It is the only public lodging inside the park.
The next day, hire a taxi for T$300 (about $9) to the Jade Mountain Tataka Visitor Center, a hub for about 7 km (4.4 miles) of hiking trails that lose themselves in quiet coniferous forests punctuated by Formosan macaque chatter.
Trails to the peak require permits arranged at least a month in advance, but the hiking network is open to anyone at any time. For visitors seeking a permit before arriving in Taiwan, visit mountain.ysnp.gov.tw/english/ for details.
At the visitor center, open all year, ask for trail maps, film clips, personalized introductions from park staff and the latest weather, which can change fast from warm sun to rain to snow or fog that blots out any chance of a peak view.
The visitor center also serves a light lunch.
In the afternoon, hike 3.5 km (2 miles) via forest road and trails to Lulin Mountain, a vertical gain of about 240 meters (787 ft), for a view of Jade Mountain's highest peaks, which can be capped by shiny winter snow or a green, jade-like radiance near the high treeline during summer months.
"I think outside the immediate region no one knows Taiwan has anything like this natural world wonder," said Tia Viering, spokeswoman for the foundation.
Hike out 1.8 km (1.2 miles) to the Mount Lulin trailhead. Unless overnighting at Dongpu Lodge, call for a taxi back to Alishan and dine at Alishan House's Chinese-style restaurant. Retire early, as you'll need your strength.
Start out your third day by packing a sack of trail foods, and then take a taxi to Jade Mountain, spending the morning at the Taiwan Hemlock Forest about 1.4 km (1 mile) from the Paiyun Visitor Center. The park brochure compares foggy days in the forest to a Chinese landscape painting.
Catch a taxi back to Alishan and a bus back toward Chiayi and the airport.
Editing by Miral Fahmy