Sunday, 15 May 2016

Another Sleepless Weekend: Sixth Trip To Shihmen Reservoir (石門水庫) & Third Trip To The Ronghua Dam (榮華壩)

On Friday I took the midnight train up to Hsinchu, arriving at 4.30 a.m. and reaching the mountain top overlooking Shihmen reservoir at 6.00 a.m on Saturday morning. Upon my arrival the small cluster of photographers already camped out to capture the sunrise laughed at me, telling me in English that I was too late and that I should have arrived at the spot before 4 a.m. Of course they had assumed that I was like them in that (a) I was here specifically for the sunrise, and that (b) I lived locally in Taoyuan, Hsinchu or Taipei. They were wrong on both counts. But they were right that it was too late to capture the sunrise. I mentioned I had come up from Tainan, which took them by surprise, and they just stared at me while I got my gear unpacked. They watched me set up the tripod and the filter attachments and one of them said behind my back (in Chinese, probably under the assumption that I couldn't understand) that I wasn't using the Taiwanese "black card" technique, which seemed to be the prompt for them to lose interest in me and pack up their gear to leave. I might have come off as somewhat unfriendly, but I was tired having had no sleep on the train journey up to Hsinchu so I wasn't interested in chatting to them.

Saturday's reservoir trip was taken more out of speculative hope than of necessity, although there was something necessary about it. My main priority was just to shift the motorbike to a better and more secure parking spot* as last weekend I had rushed to find somewhere close to the train station. The speculative hope was that, once up there in Hsinchu I might be able to get some good dawn photographs overlooking Shihmen reservoir from up on the mountain to the west. I have been up that mountain several times in the past, and although the last trip yielded a set of photographs with which I was reasonably pleased but not exactly overwhelmed by, I have nonetheless usually been disappointed. This time was a bit better...

This image was taken just after 6 a.m. using a filter attachment and a little bit of digital editing to enhance the green colours in the foreground. I reckon it's not bad, like a Bernard Butler guitar part pr something, though I think the ideal time for this shot is going to be sunset, not sunrise.
Focus on the mountain ridge rising up from the dam crest.
Panorama shot taken from the rotary tower beside the approach road.
After taking some photographs from the top of the mountain and the surrounding area, I drove around down to the dam crest and pondered on what to do next. My immediate decision was to drive over to the pavilion looking back westward to the dam and Shihmen mountain so that I'd have the sun behind me, though the light began to dampen down when I got there...

This is the point where the additional sluiceway tunnel doors are located beneath the waterline. Note the staircase on the right.
Looking back westward toward the dock on the east side of the spillway. The rotary tower from which I took the earlier panorama shot is the white building off to the extreme right of the image.
Two dredging vessels parked at the reservoir's western extremity. Theirs is a sisyphean task; the only hope of completing this task is to empty the reservoir entirely and spend a year or two scooping out the silt at the bottom into dumper trucks.
Whilst eating my beef jerky as the clock approached 8 a.m. I thought about what to do next. Given that there were already clouds rolling in from the east, I decided I would take a risk with my time budget (I was booked on the 1:10 p.m. train back to Tainan) and drive all the way upstream to the Ronghua dam well up in the watershed to take some additional pictures of that dam. For the most part it is a very enjoyable drive once you get off the reservoir road and onto highway 7 up into the mountains. Eventually, I caught sight of the hydroelectric power plant which I had photographed up close two years ago...

The Yihsin power plant sitting in the valley just downstream from the large Yihsin weir .
A look through the 300mm lens.
After a 45 minute drive I arrived at my first spot on a buttressed section of the highway directly opposite the Ronghua dam itself. One thing that is somewhat difficult to convey through images is the strong sense of vertigo that you can pick up if you spend too long peering over the precipice here. Unlike on my previous two visits, this time one of the dam's gates was fully open allowing a broad stream of rushing water to fall over the thirty meter drop into the river bed below...

I drove around to the upstream side of the dam to take a few more shots...

The upstream side of the Ronghua dam in context; note the elevator attached to the southern mountainside.
Close up on the intake tower for the diversion which, eventually, feeds the Yihsin hydroelectric plant downstream.
The upstream crest of the Ronghua dam.
Another context shot, but closer up than the last one.
Proof I was here  - again.
At about 9.30 a.m. I decided to pack up and head back the way I had came, with my original plan being to drive back to the reservoir itself and take a few more shots before driving back down to Guanxi to join up with the 118 west along to Hsinchu city. I stopped several times on the way back before changing my plan, with the first stop very soon after packing up to briefly look down over the top of the Ronghua dam crest...

As well as the water, there is an awful lot of silt packed up behind that dam though perhaps not as much as people suspect due to the periodic dredging operations that are carried out to maintain the dam.
Close-up shot with the torrent of white water pouring out of gate number nine just visible.
Shortly after leaving the Ronghua dam behind I stopped again to photograph the inflection point in the diversion channel where water from the Ronghua dam is mixed with water from another mountain stream. This time the combined volume of water exceeded the limitations of the vessel; you can see it pouring over the southern wall into the stream bed below...

The inflection point vessel overflowing with water.
My next and final pause was to take a pot-shot through the trees of the Yihsin weir...

There wasn't time to revisit the weir and power plant at Yihsin.
At this point, the clock had reached 10 a.m. and I had wanted to be back in Hsinchu no later than 12 p.m. (preferably earlier) to leave myself enough time to find a good parking spot. It was then that I decided against a return to Shihmen reservoir itself along highway 7, and instead I joined the 118 directly from Fuxing as it runs directly east-west above the southern shoreline of the reservoir and straight westward all the way back to Hsinchu city. It was a long and tiring drive, and I took a quick pit-stop in Guanxi for a carton of cold "coffee-milk".

Eventually, I got back into Hsinchu city proper at bang-on 12 p.m. and, after driving around for a few minutes, I found a good spot to park in and then I went for a walk. I got a beer from a Hi-Life convenience store and went to sit down in a park which had a little stream running through it...

As far as I know, no other city in Taiwan has anything quite like this. Kaohsiung, Taichung and Tainan just have open sewers running through them in various states of "beautification", but this is like a proper city pond with fish and ducks, except it's a stream rather than a pond.
A terrapin (I think), sitting on the stones of the little weir, doing nothing much.
Fish teeming in the stream.
Another one about to break the surface.
Swimming at an angle to break the surface with his dorsal fin.
Sitting beneath the surface eyeing me up in case I had food (I didn't).
A little bit of drama as a water rat pushes in front of a wading bird to help himself to a pile of rice somebody left there for the birds. What would happen next? 
The furry little fella rushed past the bird without paying it any mind, and the bird didn't react...
...except to turn her head slightly to keep an eye on him as he scarpered.
I had thought there might have been a little fight; thankfully not.
The ducks were slightly alarmed as the rat dashed back to the riprap dressing...
...and climbed up to escape into the undergrowth surmounting the riprap.
Calm and unrushed, the wading bird approach the pile of rice to take her turn.
I had a good little half an hour just chilling out by the stream taking pictures and drinking beer. I got back to the train station a good twenty minutes before my train arrived to take me back to Tainan. Miraculously, I was somehow able to get a bit of half-sleep on the way down south.

Considering the main purpose of the trip was simply to move the motorbike to a more secure parking spot, I don't think it went too badly. The next trip will either focus on one or two of the five reservoirs within the vicinity of Hsinchu, or it will finally be the drive to shift the motorbike up to Taipei city. Either way, that move to Taipei is coming sooner or later...

*It wasn't parked on a red line, so it wasn't in an obviously illegal spot, but I wasn't entirely sure about the legality of parking beneath the roof of a building I neither live in nor work at. In the end I found a perfectly legal and clearly marked spot to park in for free, though it was somewhat further away from the train station.

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