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Beyond The Golden Grotto 黃金峽谷再進去 (River Tracing the Sanzhan River Part II)

Updated: Oct 29, 2023


Jumping off of the Ferocious Falls (殘暴一號瀑布), at the Entrance to

the Remote Platinum Grotto Itself


Venture far beyond Taiwan's famous Golden Grotto on an amazing river tracing / canyoning adventure!

 

River trace through a spectacular and remote slot canyon in Taiwan on an unbelievable, once in a lifetime adventure!

 

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INDEX


Check out Johan's amazing video of the Golden Grotto and this section of the Sanzhan River!


Welcome to The Map Room's series about the Sanzhan River in Hualian!


This is the second in an occasional series of, hopefully, four articles about river tracing in the amazing Sanzhan River in Hualian, Taiwan. Want to see more? There are lots more pictures of this amazing place in the BONUS GALLERY!


Traces in this series:

  1. Sanzhan River: Golden Grotto - Ferocious Falls (黃金峽谷-殘暴一號瀑布) advanced, non-technical trace

  2. The Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷) - advanced trace (to be released at a later date)

  3. The Black Gold Grotto (黑金峽谷) - advanced, technical trace, further upstream from the Platinum Grotto (to be released at a much later date)


IMPORTANT NOTES:

  • I will periodically revisit this article and update it as new information becomes available. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have new information!

  • All recommendations, times, and other information are for average conditions with average water levels. Please also see important safety notes for river tracing (below).

  • GPX, route maps, and practical information are at the end of this article.



















The Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷) may be the most famous destination in Taiwan's Sanzhan River (台灣花蓮三棧溪), but for those who know, it's only the beginning of the amazing river tracing this Taiwanese canyoning destination has to offer!


So you've made it all the way to the Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷) and you're looking for something more remote and challenging? Far beyond it lie the Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷) and, for truly advanced and well-equiped, multi-day river tracers, the Black Gold Grotto (黑金峽谷). Many people visit the Golden Grotto, and a few believe they have reached the Platinum Grotto, but of these very few actually have. Yet between these two amazing destinations, there is still plenty of beauty and adventure to be had!


Contrary to what many will tell you, only once you reach the First Ferocious Falls (殘暴一號瀑布) have you reached the true entrance of the Platinum Grotto


In this post I will take you to the First Ferocious Falls (殘暴一號瀑布) the edge of the Platinum Grotto itself. There is also a Second Ferocious Falls (殘暴一號瀑布) far beyond this point, but that is for another post and another day.


The False Platinum Grotto, on the way between the Golden Grotto and the real Platinum Grotto


This journey is not easy, and what lies beyond is truly difficult to reach. It's not for the faint of heart, the inexperienced, or ill prepared, but it's far from impossible to reach. If you want a real adventure, just read on!


 

Contrary to what many will tell you, only once you reach the First Ferocious Falls (殘暴一號瀑布) have you reached the true entrance of the Platinum Grotto

 

BEYOND THE GOLDEN GROTTO

 

The Gauntlet

 

Once you pass the Golden Grotto, the Sanzhan River suddenly completely changes character. The whole canyon is covered in rocks and boulders and the trail is much more challenging. It takes a lot more time and energy to pass through this section, so we like to call it The Gauntlet. It's a lot more work... but of course that means it's also a lot more fun!



Massive, beautiful boulders completely diminate The Gauntlet. It's an amazing feeling climbing over and between them...



...and under and through them as well!



Once you exit the gauntlet, the river widens into a very deep section that must be swum across. It's beautiful and, if you like swimming, wonderfully cool and wet! But then, why would you be out here if you don't love swimming and being surrounded by incredible beauty?


If you like these pictures and want to see more, check out the bonus gallery for this article! There are many more pictures of The Gauntlet, as well as nearly every other part of this post.


The Main Campsite

 

Once you pass The Gauntlet, it's not much further to one of the most unique Taiwanese river tracing campsites I've yet encountered. You pass by cliffs, scramble over boulders, try not to trip over rocks, and then, suddenly, there it is!



Just past an even larger boulder than all the rest around you there is a perfect, flat, sandy opening. The second side is flanked by a boulder as big as a house, the back is a tree-covered, jungle cliff, and the front slants gently down to the riverside between two beautiful swimming areas.



The campsite feels like something out of a legend, amost as if someone found a magic lamp in the riverbed one day and wished for the perfect campsite to just appear, right there, in the middle of this remote place. I honestly don't know how it could be any better!


Eating dinner on the finger or rock that separates the two beautiful pools at the main campsite


Camp life!


 

THE FALSE PLATINUM GROTTO

 


The Second Valley and the Pool of the Gods

 

Beyond the Gauntlet and the main campsite is in incredibly beautiful area. It's so beautiful that it is often thought to be the legendary Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷). For a long time, our group believed this as well - and for good reason! There is a simply breathtaking stretch of azure pools surrounded by huge, brilliantly white marble boulders, a stunning white cliff, and some truly unique and beautiful waterfalls. It's only recently that I've learned that the true Platinum Grotto begins at the first of two waterfalls named, 殘暴瀑布 - which I have translated here as Ferocious Falls 1.


Part of the False Platinum Grotto as seen from the air


Swimming through the beautiful pools of Hualian's Sanzhan River between the Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷) and the Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷)



Having passed the main campsite, you soon arrive in what many mistakenly take to be the Platinum Grotto. While this is not technically true, it is still an amazing destination in its own right. Massive marble boulders and turquoise pools give this near-tropical paradise a feeling like few other places in the world. Taiwan truly is a land of natural wonders!



This white cliff, sometimes mistakenly called the Platinum Cliff, marks the halfway point of the False Platinum Grotto. Just beyond it is a beautiful waterfall which is often mistaken for the First Ferocious Falls. While it is not nearly as difficult to get around as the real thing, in my opinion it is far more beautiful.


Approaching the White Cliff


Looking back towards the White Cliff



Once you pass the White Cliff, the river becomes much stronger. While there are ways around parts of it, in other parts strong swimming skills are absolutely essential. Bring a rope and be prepared to work for it - it's worth it on the other side!


Just a few of the amazing natural rock formations. Can you see the waterfall peeking out from behind the rock?



This is it, the beautiful watefall on the far side of the White Cliff! Don't mistake it for the real Ferocious Falls - while it is truly beautiful, this waterfall is much easier to pass than what awaits further upstream.


Marble boulders beyond the False Ferocious Falls



There are many beautiful and colorful pools all along the Sanzhan River. This one though, with its graceful vines swaying from the overhanging cliffside, really stands out from the rest. We like to call the Pool of the Gods (仙池), and once you reach it I think you will understand why.



Beyond the Pool of the Gods, the river narrows again. It soon becomes a canyon and, though stunning, the current is much stronger here and it is much more challenging to get past.


Taking a break while swimming against the strong current in the canyon



The Bat Cave

 

If you have a little extra time on the way through, you can stop to check out this little cave. We didn't see any bats inside when we were there, but it was pretty obvious that they use it. It's a fun little diversion, and well worth the time if you want a little extra adventure!


Inside the Bat Cave


The view out of the Bat Cave



The cave itself isn't really very big. It will only take a little whie to explre, but it's full of weird and interesting things like this.



There are even some... ropes? Yes, ropes! Not just any ropes though - apparently a long, long time ago someone decided to hang them from the roof of the cave. They've been there so long that they are now encrusted wih mineral deposits and are slowly turning into stalagtites. Make sure not to touch them - leave them for others to enjoy!


 

THE REAL PLATINUM GROTTO

 

The Ferocious Waterfall

 

Looking back where we came from. The current in this beautiful section is deceptively strong!


Keep going for a while and you will encounter this narrow trench. It is full of deep water, and has the strongest current yet. Most of our group is very strong swimmers, but even the strongest and most capable of us struggled here. Fortunately, there's a rock (visible here at the very top of the picture) about halfway through the most difficult section. It's a great place to rest and catch your breath, and also a good spot to float a rope back from for those who struggle with this section.



Eventyally you will reach this section with a broad, blue, triangular pool. Beyond it is one last trench section and then... the First Ferocious Falls!


Taking a break before the final stretch



This is what we like to call, 'The Triangle.' It's a wide, deep, triangular pool, just past a big rock formation and it makes for a great place to stop for a snack. Once you pass through, you enter the last trench section before the Ferocious Falls and the Platinum Grotto.


The last trench before the First Ferocious Falls (殘暴一號瀑布) and the Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷)


The trench is very deep and the water is crystal clear


Ferocious Falls (殘暴一號瀑布) at the entrance to the Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷)


Once you reach the real Ferocious Falls, you will definitely know it! It thunders out from behind this massive boulder, practically daring you to try - just try - to get past. Our group of tracers has a lot of experience with waterfalls of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions, yet despite this, we were unable to get past this truly formidable obstacle. Others have done it, but all the accounts I've been able to find to date are of people using specialized climbing gear and ropes to get around the most challenging part of the waterfall.



We had a basic rope, and it proved invaluable for getting past the first level of the waterfall on our first visit. Unfortunately, there was a whole second level waiting just beyond the boulder, with a torrent of rushing, swirling water preventing us from crossing over to attempt a climb up the far side.



The picture above shows just how high the water was at the time, which is almost certainly what stopped us from getting any further. The picture below, from a later trip that John took with some less experienced tracers, clearly shows the difference. Unfortunately, since the others were not as experienced, they decided to stop at that point and call it a day.


The full fury of the second level of the first Ferocious Waerfall at high waterflow



There it was, our first glimpse of the Platinum Grotto. Not the false one, but the real McCoy! Inside, just beyond this last obstacle, an impossibly tall, slender waterfall fell from high above, glinting and shining in the bright sunlight like a ribbon of silver down the side of the sheer cliff face.


Trying our best to fight our way across the raging torrent of the First Ferocious Waterfall.


We had come this far and there was such an amazing sight just beyond the waterfall, there was no way we could give up and go back without trying! I decided to fasten a rope to myself and attempt the crossing while John secured the end.



We tried and tried to get across the pool to attempt to climb up the far side of the second tier of the First Ferocious Waterfall, but despite nearly a half an hour, rope, and good swimming skills, it proved to be impassable. The water was high that day, and the current was extremely strong, and the water rushed by with so much force that it was next to impossible to even stand up in the center.



Finally, we decided that it was time to turn back. We had come a long way and had an amazing adventure, but some days you just have to let Mother Nature have her way. Having carefully checked the depth of the trench before climbing up, we decided it was time for one last, flying leap into the abyss!



Some day, hopefully soon, we will return to Ferocious Falls, and with any luck this time we will get past with much less trouble. It would not be the first time that we went back to a waterfall that had proven too much to pass, only to find lower water levels and an easy passage upon our return. The Platinum Grotto awaits, guarding its secrets, and we can't wait to get back there and see what wonders the canyons still hold for us!


 

Want to see more? There are lots more pictures of this amazing place in


 

THE NITTY-GRITTY

 

Time:

2-5 hours to the Golden Grotto if you don't stop, to jump or swim, then an additional 1-2 to reach the Ferocious Falls. I can easily reach the Grotto within two hours and have plenty of time to jump and swim at select spots along the way, but I'm very fast and I know the side trails. I recommend you start in the morning, make a day of it, and come out happy and amazed in the evening!


Water sources:

Before the tower at the head of the aqueduct, you should probably bring your own, due to runoff from local farms and tracing traffic. After that, you can generally rely on the river. See also notes on water (below).


Gear and provisions:

River tracing-appropriate shoes and clothes (see remarks), helmets (not really necessary until you turn the last bend towards the Golden Grotto, after which it's much more prone to rockfalls), waterproof backpack, life jackets for anyone who is not a strong swimmer, water filter or other treatment options (see below), a waterproof headlamp or flashlight, a lighter (always!). A rope may definitely be useful, and is likely highly necessary for any but the