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Sanfensuo Hot Spring: Gateway to Adventure! (Jianianduan Hot Spring and Danda River Post 1 of 2)

Updated: Oct 29, 2023


 
 
 

Index

 

Sanfensuo and Jianianduan Hot Spring (Danda River) Area Map


"'I almost died over the weekend!' It was a message that stopped everything..."

Posts in this series:

  1. Sanfensuo Hot Spring: Gateway to Adventure! (三分所溫泉) - Intermediate - Advanced

  2. Or, check out The Map Room's growing collection of Hot Springs in Taiwan!

Hot Springs in Taiwan Master Map




Introducing this week's adventure:

Taiwan's Sanfensuo Hot Spring: Gateway to Adventure!


Sanfensuo Hot Spring is an exciting, challenging, and beautiful adventure travel destination in the heart of Taiwan. Though often seen as just a stop-over on the way to the more famous Jianianduan Hot Spring, it's so much more than that! Though not as remote and difficult t reach as its more famous bigger brother, Sanfensuo is a truly worthy member to the exclusive club of intermediate and advanced hot springs and river tracing destinations in the Danda River and Junda River area!

 

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The Entrance Area

 

Lamin and David pose for a pic at the trailhead


 

"I almost died over the weekend!"


It was a message that stopped everything. I had heard that Jianianduan Hot Spring was a challenge worthy of advanced river tracers, but when Lamin, my friend at Funventures Taiwan sent me that, he suddenly had my attention.


Parking at the Danda Forest Road Trailhead can be crowded on holidays
Walking down from the Danda Forest Road trailhead
The trailhead / entrance to Danda Forest Road

"What?!?! What happened?!" was all I could manage. He told me the story, how he had almost drowned at the entrance to the canyon just before Sanfensuo, and a single hiking pole had been all that had saved his pack full of gear - and his life. "I'm fine, but I need some help!" he continued. "I have to get to Jianianduan Hot Spring!"


Dave and Lamin set off on our second, successful attempt to reach Jianianduan Hot Spring

Once he had told me about it, I was hooked. I was going on an expedition to Sanfensuo and Jianianduan, and I was going to get Lamin past that obstacle!


David looks up at Taiwan's Danda Forest Road (台灣丹大林道) at the beginning of the river trace

I began looking into all the paper maps, blogs, and websites I could find, constructing a detailed map of all the reported GPS points and key landmarks I could. A lot of the information was out of date, though, so I knew this was going to be a real adventure!


The Valley

 
River tracing along Taiwan's beautiful Danda River Valley (在台灣的美麗丹大溪峽谷溯溪)

It was during this initial research phase that I first heard of Sanfeusuo Hot Spring (三分所溫泉). If there was only scattered, outdated information about Jianianduan (加年端溫泉), then the same was doubly true of Sanfensuo! "What's this other hot spring half way to Jianianduan?" I asked. Both of us knew a bit by this point, but neither really knew all that much.



"Three days," I continued. "That's what it's going to take us to pull this off. "Let's try a weekend, I think we can do it in two!" said Lamin. Sucker punch - he knew my weakness for a challenge and, eventually - against my better judgement - I let him talk me into it.



We planned for the first available weekend and started our first of two team attempts to reach Jianianduan. It went very well at first - in fact, it was even easy! 4 wheel drives go all the way up the first part of the trace to the canyon where Lamin had had his close call But we knew it couldn't last...


4 wheel drives go all the way to the first Danda River canyon, so the track is usually easy to follow
David fords the Danda River

Soon, the easy river crossings (above) changed to deep, difficult crossings like in the pictures below.


River tracing in Taiwan is a fun adventure!

Still, it was low, winter water levels, and aside from a few of the crossings, most of the way was easy going. "Definitely not a place for beginners!" I said. Everyone agreed about that!


Getting fresh water along the way
Driftwood scattered along a bend in Taiwan's Danda River
One of the many nice campsites along the Danda River before the canyon section
We thought this cliff face looked like the secret entrance to Ali Baba's cave. Unfortunately, 'Open sesame!' didn't work...

We saw a few colorful spots along the way, but found no hot spring activity before Sanfensuo.


Another riverside campsite
Lamin crosses the Danda River (丹大溪)
Beautiful blue skies, mountains, and think white clouds reflected in the river


Twin Waterfalls

 

There was a lot of unique and beautiful scenery along the way. These twin waterfalls were different from most others I had seen.



The Short Cut

 

After a few hours, we came to a really interesting place. There was a fresh water source falling down the opposite river bank (above), and then a short cut that looks like it may have been an older channel of the river long ago (below).


The entrance to the short cut (above, below)

We took a relaxing break there and decided that, while the back of the channel was DEFINITELY not safe for tents, this forward section might actually be a nice place to spend the night some day! Soft sand, a fresh water source, and a really unique look and feel, combined with what looked to be a safe distance from rockfalls, made it seem really tempting.


David takes a break inside the safer(?) first half of the short cut
The exit from the dangerously rockfall-prone back half of the shortcut


Going Deeper...

 
Lamin loves to goof around!
NOT a hot spring, unfortunately...


The Fork

 
The confluence of the Danda and Junda Rivers

Not too much further upstream we came to the confluence of the Danda River and the Junda River (郡大溪). We turned left (roughly southwest) and followed the Danda towards Sanfensuo and Jianianduan. The Junda River to the south / right goes to Yibahou Hot Spring (伊巴厚溫泉), but that was an adventure for another day!


Turning left (southeast) along the Danda River towards Sanfensuo and Jianianduan Hot Springs

When you reach this point, the water level suddenly gets a lot more manageable. We had it a lot easier from here on until The Danger Zone at the canyon just before Sanfensuo!


An old stairway at the confluence of the Danda and Junda Rivers

Danda River Canyon

 

It wasn't much longer until we reached the end of the road - literally! The truck tracks had so far been pretty consistent along the way, but they ended just inside the first canyon.


The canyon campsite just before The Danger Zone

"This is it!" Lamin suddenly said when we got to the campsite at the start of the first real canyon we had seen. "This is where I almost died!" Just ahead the valley suddenly and very abruptly turned directly into a slot canyon. We decided to take a lunch break in order to challenge it well-rested and fueled up.


David takes a lunch break before entering The Danger Zone. Beware of drowning here!
The first slot canyon, just before Sanfensuo Hot Spring

After a bite to eat, it was finally time to enter The Danger Zone! Into the canyon we went, and I was ready to finally get a look at it up close and in person!


David, Dave, and Lamin at a chance meeting with another group of river tracers

Now, you're probably ready to hear how Lamin almost drowned, and how to stay safe in this spot. But before that, I have to introduce Dave. In the end, Lamin and my first attempt at Jianianduan - when we tried to do it in two days - failed because, well, it turns out it really, really does need three! We got close, but had to come back later, along with our friend Dave, on a second, successful attempt as a group of three. He'll come into the story more later, though...


Lamin approaches The Danger Zone in the first slot canyon

No sooner had we started than we came to this small, unassuming looking waterfall. We didn't let that fool us, though - this was THE spot, and we already knew all too well that it was REALLY dangerous!


The beautiful, blue waters of Taiwan's Danda River Canyon

THE DANGER ZONE!

 

IMPORTANT NOTES FOR GETTING SAFELY PAST THE DANGER ZONE

  • The Map Room is personally aware of at least two people who have almost died here during the 2023 season alone, and that's before April. Take this seriously!

  • There is a STRONG whirlpool in front of this short waterfall. So...

  • ...getting up the left side and avoid the waterfall all together is the ideal solution.

  • One group told us they had dragged in a log to use like a ladder to climb up the depression visible on the left (river right) side. We didn't do that, and it was impossible to get up, so instead...

  • ...I swam up the left (river right side) with a floatation device and a teammate standing by with a rescue rope. I then climbed up the left (river right) side of the waterfall and put a rope down (see photos and details below).

  • IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: I am a STRONG swimmer with a lot of experience, and I still took major safety precautions! Do this at your own risk!

  • If you DO get sucked into the whirlpool, the standard advice (we are NOT offering advice, only passing on what has been given to us) is to dive deep under water and let it push you out from beneath.

  • We later met another tracer who got stuck at this spot and only escaped by using the above technique, so it is confirmed to work at this spot at least under certain circumstances, some of the time.

  • Again, The Map Room is NOT advising any of this - if you do this, it's at your own risk! We are passing on what we know in case you find yourself in this, or a similar, dangerous situation. Be prepared!

 
Strong eddies form a dangerous whirlpool in The Danger Zone

I left my big backpack behind, inflated my smaller waterproof pack as a floatation device, and told Lamin to wait with the rescue rope ready just in case. At first, I tried to get up the smooth spot to the left, but it proved surprisingly difficult. I considered climbing up Lamin like a ladder, but didn't want to put him back into the same area where he had so very nearly come to a bad end.


Strong eddies form a dangerous whirlpool in The Danger Zone

Lamin had told me that the area just in front and to the right (river left) of the waterfall was a whirlpool, and that's how he got stuck He had been unable to get out for several hours, but finally managed by using a hiking pole to push along the side of the rock face. He was lucky to escape and, after that, decided (quite wisely) to turn back and wait for another day - and today was that day!


Using a rope to pull the gear, and my team mates, past The Danger Zone

I swam up the left (river right) side, being sure to stay close to the rock wall. Fortunately, I proved able to get through, and from there I was able to climb up the left (river right) side of the waterfall, come around, and put down a rope to pull the backpacks, Lamin, and later Dave, up the side, avoiding the whirlpool.



And that was it - we had done it! We had passed what we did not as yet know would turn out to be the most significant obstacle of the entire trace to Sanfensuo. After that, though the slot canyon had a few more challenges, we ended up getting there without any more real difficulty.


The first slot canyon, just past The Danger Zone
 

"Sky, water, tree, and stone mixed and melded in a wild kaleidoscope, dazzling our eyes as we passed them by."

 

Danda Canyon Waterfall

 

Inside the canyon we came upon this beautiful little waterfall / water slide. We stopped for some pictures and a bit of fun, and then it was time to continue onward.


A small, but beautiful, waterfall in the Danda Canyon
Lamin climbs the waterfall
Lamin and Dave passing the waterfall area on our second (successful) Jianianduan Hot Spring expedition

The Deeper Canyon

 

Once we passed The Danger Zone, the whole canyon started to change. At first it was pretty...



...then beautiful...



...then STUNNING!


Lamin stands silhouetted against a beautiful sunset just before Sanfensuo Hot Spring
Dave passes through the stunning Danda River Slot Canyon just before Sanfensuo Hot Spring

There were a couple of somewhat tricky parts, but our fears of truly difficult or dangerous sections still ahead proved unfounded.



Sky, water, tree, and stone mixed and melded in a wild kaleidoscope, dazzling our eyes as we passed them by.


David stops to take it all in
You never know what you'll see out here!
A bulldozer or tank tread washed into the canyon by some catastrophic typhoon

The Campsites

 

The canyon soon began to broaden out, and soon we came to what looked like an ideal camp site. In fact, I later came across a blog post showing a group back in 2019 camped exactly here!



As nice as the spot was, though, we had done our research. We knew that Sanfensuo Hot Spring was just up ahead, and were also planning to push all the way to Jianianduan to camp that night.



We crossed the river just above the campsite (see above), passed through a natural corridor (below), and arrived at Sanfensuo.