The Yushan weather station on Mount Yu, the highest mountain in Taiwan, stands at 12,630 feet above sea level. The Japanese constructed the station on the north peak 76 years ago in 1943. It is now a part of the Yushan National Park — Taiwan’s largest and least accessible reserve — with pristine forests and diverse, endemic fauna. It’s the largest tract of wilderness now remaining in the country.
A touching documentary by director Yang Shiang-Wen tells the story of the weather station staff, who start their work at 5 a.m. and keep going until 9 p.m. There are usually only three people at the outpost. Station observer Xie Xintian has hiked up Mount Yu over 100 times over the last 20 years that he’s worked there, staying for at least a month each trip, according to DaAi TV.
“At around ten past five, Japan, China, and America can all see our five o’clock report of the temperature, mist, pressure, wind speed and direction, snow, rain, and other data,” says Xie.
Their hard work also allows visitors to safely come and go to the national park.
It’s lonely work, and it takes endurance as well as discipline to keep going. The only way up is by foot, one step at a time, and everything from food to building materials and technical equipment must be carried up the mountainside. The weather is changeable and can turn harsh — at times, deep snow needs clearing and wind speeds can pose a threat.
Although a solitary building surrounded by the remote mountainscape, the number one weather station on the north peak that’s found after climbing a risky gravel slope is now quite well-known. It’s door plate reading “No.1” has become an icon of the weather station.
But the postman doesn’t come up here. The station has a postal address in Chiayi City.
No matter how remote they are, the weather station says its work is deeply tied to the daily lives of Taiwan’s people. Commuters, hikers, and rescue workers all rely on its first-hand data. Helicopter training and rescue teams, for example, rely heavily on weather information from the station to safely carry out their work.
Staff members of the station start their hike up the mountain from Tataka Trail before 7 a.m. to go to work. The 7.2 mile trail takes between 8 and 9 hours of solid trekking to reach the weather station, and they stay for a one-month rotational shift. The station lies on the border between Chiayi and Nantou counties. You have to scale Mount Yu’s main peak and then climb the north peak in order to reach the station.
Views from the highest mountain ridge in northeast Asia certainly are spectacular though. Workers tend to be passionate about nature and being able to be immersed in the wilderness — the sunrises and sunsets, the bright moon and stars, and the ever-changing sea of clouds — is worthwhile compensation and greatly rewarding.
The courageous and iconic Yushan Weather Station serves such a crucial purpose, guarding the mountain and the people of Taiwan.
Translated by Sharon and edited by Emiko Kingswell