Updated: Jul 26
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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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:
Sanzhan River: Golden Grotto - Ferocious Falls (黃金峽谷-殘暴一號瀑布) advanced, non-technical trace
The Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷) - advanced trace (to be released at a later date)
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)
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
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
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 BONUS GALLERY!
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!
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 strongest of swimmers. A first aid kit is recommended.
Definitely, the entire thing except the Golden Grotto itself is extremely hot and explsed. Ironically, it's often a bit chilly inside...
Though children as young as 10 or 11 with proper swimming and outdoors knowledge, experience, and adult supervision can do this trace as far as the Golden Grotto, I recommend 15 years or older for going beyond that point. In any case, it will likely be quite a challenge for them. This is based on the experience of my friend, who brought his two boys along for the trace.
Astonishingly, we once encountered a group with a dog FAR beyond the Golden Grotto, all the way at the White Cliff and heading further in, so yes, it can be done. Caveat: The dog had a special harness with a handle on top for lifting him over multiple sections which would have otherwise been completely impassible for him, and he had a custom life jacket. Respect!
Camping /overnighting options:
See above, and the points indicated in the GPX tracks. The place I've labeled the main campsite is definitely the best of the bunch, though there are a number of places to stay overnight on the riverside, and several that are still quite ideal. I've even camped inside The Tower twice, which was fun but DEFINITELY required earplugs.
Entry and other fees:
To date, there is no charge to park or enter. However, it is rumored that they may soon start charging a fee, and the current construction in the area seems to support this. If you find a fee being charged, please contact The Map Room on Instagram of Facebook and we will update this information right away! As I said above, I will update this article regularly as I learn more, and revisit it as things change over coming years.
GPX file 1 of 2: Golden Grotto 1 - The Map Room 黃金峽谷-地圖寶庫
GPX file 2 of 2: Golden Grotto 2 - Ferocious Falls #1 - The Map Room 黃金峽谷 - 殘暴瀑布(一號)-地圖寶庫
Update (Oct. 30, 2021):
There have been consistent reports of people entering with neither permits nor hassle.
June 17, 2021
While the local police looked at me like I had grown a second head when I asked for a permit on my first visit, much has changed over the years. Due to a series of recent deaths, permits are now required to enter the area - though we have not encountered anyone looking for them on any visits to date. I will update this article regularly as I learn more, and revisit it as things change over coming years.
Though rockfalls are not a major concern along the first stretch of this trace, once you pass the last curve into the canyon just before the Golden Grotto entrance, things are much different. I have personally witnessed several major rockfalls in this stretch, and barely escaped one inside the Grotto itself with my life. There have also been several high-profile rockfall deaths recently inside the Golden Grotto. Take a helmet, keep your head about you (literally), but still go. It's absolutely amazing!
River tracing gear and provisions (for basic not requiring rappelling and rock climbing skills and gear):
Clothes: Should be ok for swimming and getting dirty/torn, protect from scrapes. Quick drying, non-cotton, close fitting. UV reflective for hot traces, wetsuit for colder traces.
Boots: Neoprene or other river tracing specific boots (not shoes, NOT rubber or fishing boots!) to prevent blisters. High tops to keep stones out, soles to provide good grip and prevent slipping. I prefer felt soles for extra padding, especially after prior injuries. Some prefer alternatives which prevent organisms from being transferred between various streams and rivers.
Helmet: Designed for rock climbing.
Backpack: Waterproof. IPX 8 rating (protected when immersed in water over 1 meter / 3 feet) recommended.
Rope: Non-climbing rated, floating rope (that does not absorb water and get heavy) with knots is helpful, but NOT for doing serious climbs. Use ONLY for pulling weaker swimmers through more challenging stretches of water, and perhaps helping with scrambles up short sections of difficult terrain. For advanced climbing or rappelling, get advanced climbing rope, gear, and training!
Life jacket: If you are not a strong and confident swimmer.
Phone case: IPX 8 rating (protected when immersed in water over 1 meter / 3 feet) recommended.
Water filter or other water treatment options.
Waterproof headlamp or flashlight. IPX 8 rating (protected when immersed in water over 1 meter / 3 feet) recommended.
The Map Room recommends Fenix headlamps, and personally uses the 1600 lumen Fenix HM70R Headlamp - (Amazon affiliate link*)
Optional gear: A bandanna, headband, or other light cloth for wiping sweat is also often useful when you are not fully immersed in water.
Choose water from a fast moving, clean source. This kills certain parasites, like giardia. Check upstream for polluting factors (dead animals, droppings, etc). Look for signs of pollution (vehicle tracks, lots of footprints). It's best to filter, and possibly either boil or otherwise treat it as well.
The Map Room personally uses and highly recommends the Sawyer Squeeze water filter (NOT the Sawyer Squeeze Mini - Amazon affiliate link*)
Important safety notes for river tracing in Taiwan (and elsewhere):
Strength and water levels of rivers change with rain, seasons, and other factors.
ALWAYS check the weather in advance of a river trace in Taiwan (or anywhere). If there is rain upstream, it is not advisable to go, due to the risk of flash floods.
If it has rained recently, rockslides are more likely. If the sun then comes out and evaporates recent rain, they are more likely still. Wear a helmet, and be sensible!
Stopping to rest in rockfall areas, under rock overhangs, or near sheer cliffs is not advisable due to the risk of rockfalls. Look for a wider, open area with less steep rock walls.
So now you're ready to go! Get out there, enjoy nature, and have an amazing time!
All information on this page is intended for reference only. Preparing adequate food, water, and gear for your adventure, as well as following local rules and laws are, of course, your own responsibility! Always make sure that you check the weather for outdoor destinations, be careful and sensible for enclosed spaces like tunnels and bunkers, and bring a lighter - you never know when it could save your life! Now... get out there and have an amazing time!
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