Updated: Jul 26
It really is an amazing feeling when you find a place that isn't there, already ready with lots of information on Google. When you work hard to figure out how to find it, overcome so many obstacles, and finally achieve your goal. It's the feeling of real exploration. It's the feeling of really being alive!
Mysterious and Hidden: Takejin River's Mystical Canyon Waterfall 塔克金溪神秘瀑布
The mystery was solved... or, was it? We thought we knew why he hadn't been able to find it, but there was only one way to be sure: We had to go there and see it for ourselves!
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Our quest to find the Mystical Canyon Waterfall (神秘瀑布) started years ago, with a question in Asher (Xiaofei)'s mind: "How can I get to that waterfall you can see from the viewing platform at Simakusi / Smangus (司馬庫斯)?" He had tried all his usual tricks - satellite imagery, maps, even driving around on the ground and asking people - but somehow it remained elusive.
The longer he tried to find it, the more the answer evaded him. Something about the satellite imagery was off... as if the space based cameras themselves were seeing things wrong. Time passed, and one day he mentioned it to me. He showed me what it looked like on satellite, but still, things simply didn't add up: We knew where it SHOULD be, but... well, it WASN'T.
Sometimes, bringing a fresh perspective to a problem is the best answer. We put our heads together, and I added a new tool to his suite of Google Maps, Google Earth, and others: 3D topographic modeling on Gaia GPS. As we compared the satellite, topo maps, and 3D renderings of the area, suddenly the 3D helped us find the answer: The waterfall was not on the main river... it was on a nearby tributary!
Suddenly, the mystery was solved... or, was it? We thought we knew why he hadn't been able to find it, but there was only one way to be sure: We had to go there and see it for ourselves!
We looked around on our various maps and soon found a farm with a ridge going down to the river valley below where the waterfall should be. I made a few GPS points on Gaia, we set a date, and finally, self-created map in hand, we were ready to go check out the waterfall!
The parking area
We found a place to park (above) just to the side of this curve in the road leading down to the farm (see map for exact location). Once we got down, we walked into the fields and found the lowest point (below), where we guessed there should be a trail down to the river...
...and we were right!
When exploring new areas like this, one of the easiest ways to find a way down to the river is to check the topo map and se if there are any farms nearby on ridges that lead down towards the river valley below. It worked well this time - here's the trail, right where we expected to find it!
The trail down was a bit steep, but not too difficult
The trail down was not really difficult, though it was definitely steep at points. Make sure you stay on the trail marked on our map and GPX, though, as there are some other MUCH less friendly 'trails' in the area that you DEFINITELY don't want to end up on!
We got down to the river where we traced under an old, abandoned suspension bridge. We were pretty excited to finally be here, especially since we had worked so long and hard to figure out how to do it! The decrepit old bridge hanging above added to the sense of adventure as we started tracing upstream through the river canyon.
Much of the river runs through beautiful, remote canyons like these
Just before we got to the first view of the waterfall, we found this nice little campsite. It's pretty easy to get to, once, you're down in the canyon, and it's big enough for several tents to fit comfortably together.
The river campsite (above, below)
There were many beautiful things to see along the way!
Just past the campsite, we came to this incredibly beautiful trench area. It was like something from a fantasy movie, like it had been taken right out of someone's imagination! It was hard to believe such a beautiful place could really exist.
The beautiful trench just before the waterfall
The beautiful, blue waters of the Takejin River snake through gleaming white cliffs, glittering in the summer sunshine
There's also a lot of room on top of the rocky area in the trench for camping if you want to, though it's directly on stone and exposed to the sun. But on the other hand...
First view of the Mystical Canyon Waterfall (神秘瀑布)
...you get the view of the azure blue Takejin RIver flowing through the trench, AND the first view of the Mystical Canyon Waterfall!
At last, there it was! Years of searching and months of planning had led us to this, the culmination of our quest! And what an incredible view, pouring over the cliffside out of the tributary river at the end of the trench. We were so excited, we could hardly wait to get up there and see it up close!
We weren't disappointed. Two twin waterfalls greeted us, tumbling side by side down the cliff face onto the jagged rocks below. It was an amazing spectacle, and different from many other waterfalls. Instead of a deep, or even a shallow, pool at the bottom, there was a huge pile of boulders.
Mystical Canyon Waterfall (神秘瀑布)
Asher and David at The Mystical Canyon Waterfall (神秘瀑布)
There must have been a huge rockslide at the waterfall many, many years ago, filling in the pool that must once have been there and changing it forever.
Standing there was the greatest feeling in the world! No, this waterfall hadn't been extremely difficult to reach - beginners with a guide, or intermediate tracers, would be able to get here with little problem - but to the best of our knowledge, this is the first time people have come here specifically to trace it.
Yes, local fishermen know the secret, but we were completely unable to find any information about it online beforehand, and had to do all the exploring ourselves. It really is an amazing feeling when you find a place that isn't there, already ready with lots of information on Google, work hard to figure out how to find it, overcome so many obstacles, and finally achieve your goal. That is the feeling of real exploration. That is the feeling of really being alive!
Looking further upstream from the waterfall
The Smangus / Simakusi observation platform as seen from the waterfall
Once we were there, we decided to try to find the Smangus / Simakusi observation platform, where people often go to view the Mystical Canyon Waterfall from a distance. It took us a while, but with out zooms at max we finally managed to find it!
Even though the photos were pixelated, it was still very rewarding to think that we could see the platform from here, instead of looking off across the distance from there to see the waterfall.
Looking down from the top of the waterfall
The view at the top of the waterfall (above, below)
Above the Waterfall
We had completed our quest, but for those with exploration in their hearts, this is never quite enough! There's always that voice inside, calling out to you, making you wonder... what's just above that cliff? What's just around the next bend?
Natural water slide above the Mystical Canyon Waterfall
We had time to spare, so or course we had to find out what was above the waterfall! We quickly found a way to climb up on the right side, and soon began finding new wonders. There were swimming pools, beautiful scenery, and best of all...
David (The Map Room) tries out the slide first, to see if it's safe for everyone else
...a natural water slide!
We had completed our quest, and it was time to celebrate, and what better way could there be to end our adventure than sliding down the rocks, enjoying the beautiful scenery, and just yelling and having such a great time!
The Platinum Rapids, above the waterslide, above the Mystical Canyon Waterfall
It was time for us to go, but we knew that some day we would have to return. Until then, though, we took one last look at what we had found, one last slide down the water slide, and finally began the journey back. We had finished what we came for, now it was time to get ready to tell the tale!
All recommendations, times, and other information are for average conditions with average water levels. Please also see important safety notes for river tracing (below).
Length of trace:
2.3 km from the last car parking to the waterfall.
It took us 1:10 from the parking area to the Mystical Canyon Waterfall (塔克金溪神秘瀑布), plus roughly 10-20 minutes to reach the water slide and Platinum Rapids. Plan 2:20 (plus time to stop and have fun) there and back again for the waterfall alone, or 3 hours (plus time to stop for fun) for the whole thing.
The Takejin River System is surrounded on many sides by farm land and roads, so drinking the water is not recommended. It's best to bring your own water for this trace.
Bring snacks, or a lunch, to enjoy on this trace.
Gear and provisions:
River tracing-appropriate shoes and clothes (see remarks), helmets, 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 basic rope may also be useful, but our group did not find it highly necessary thanks to the ropes already in place.
Yes for children 8 and older. Good swimming skills, and possibly life jackets, will be important.
Possibly, for larger, fit dogs with outdoor experience. There are several places where you have to cross the river, and the initial path goes steeply down through forest. Use your best judgement.
GPX file: Gaoyi Waterfall System - The Map Room 高義瀑布群-地圖寶庫
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This is not a particularly dangerous trace, so normal river tracing precautions apply. There are some canyon walls along the way, so helmets are recommended. There are a few places where you need to cross deep pools, so good swimming skills, and possibly life jackets, will be needed.
You must drive down from the side stream (above) to the last car parking (above), then go down through the farm to the actual trailhead (above) on foot.
For this trace, I personally drank less than 2 liters at a relaxed pace during late summer. As noted above, the Takejin River System is surrounded on many sides by farm land and roads, so drinking the water is not recommended. It's best to bring your own water for this trace.
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 river tracing safety notes:
Strength and water levels of rivers change with rain, seasons, and other factors.
ALWAYS check the weather in advance of a river trace. 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, be active, and have an amazing time!
Loved this article? Make sure to check out TMR's growing collection of river tracing articles!
Got questions or comments? Can you think of something we missed? Join in the discussion and leave a comment below. At the end of the day, we're just outdoors enthusiasts like you, and we'd love to hear from you!
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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