OHE January 8, 1999 (Hong Kong hikes)

Date: Fri, 8 Jan 1999 15:33:41 -1000
From: Wing C Ng (wing@lava.net>
Subject: My hikes in HK

I spent 9 days after 12/26 in Hong Kong, and did 3 hikes.

Weather was gorgeous, did not rain a drop, and temp in the middle 60s.

In spite of HK becoming a part of China, life has not changed any. I have seen the Chinese national flag only two or three times. Economy has taken a big hit from the Asian financial crisis, and so things are somewhat cheaper.

It is rather surprising that in a supercrowded city like Hong Kong, that there are so much hiking opportunities still available.

HK consists of HK Island (30 square miles), several other islands, of which Lantau (60 sq. mi.?) is the biggest, and the Kowloon peninsula attached to the mainland, for a total of 400 sq. mi., about the same as Oahu. Most of the land is also mountainous like Oahu, but since it has a kind of winter (sometimes it's 50s), vegetation is in check, and most places are like the Waianaes. Mud is unknown, and rock is solid.

There were thousand-year-old villages and so there are many trails all over. The modern-time government, esp. since the late 70s, has also built/rebuilt many trails. All the major govt. maintained trails are similar to the Diamond Head trails. When terrain is steep, and switchbacks are impossible, they built _steps_ of solid rock. The steepest place may be like the Kawiwi straight-up ridge, and most of the ridge would be provided with solid rock _steps_.

Don't know about you, but I think that's close to hiking paradise!

Behind the city, there is an unbroken 62 mile long trail called MacLehose Trail that is of Diamond Head quality. Imagine such a trail from Makapuu to Pupukea, all cleared and no mud.

The island of Lantau was almost wild, except that the Sung emperor made his court there a thousand years ago when chased by the Mongols. They built the brand-new airport there, which only opened 6 months ago. But there is also the 40 mile long Lantau Trail there. There are two big mountains on the island, Lantau and Sunset peaks, both about 3000 feet high. The trail goes straight up Lantau, descends down to the saddle, goes straight up Sunset, and then goes straight down.

Hike 1: I did the section of the MacLehose Trail nearest to the city. The equivalent might be from Hawaii Loa to Likelike Highway. The trail generally goes straight up and down peaks, but occasionally does a contour around them. I went straight up behind my parents' apartment to 1900 feet Kowloon Peak, taking about 1.5 hours, and then traversed the Kowloon Ridge, using mainly the MacLehose Trail. Somewhere in the middle, there is a paved road with restricted motor traffic, and one lone store there selling food and drinks. I hydrated myself heavily with several sodas purchased there. About 5 hours later, I emerged at a major highway, like the Likelike, and took the bus home. The Trail crosses the highway, and goes on and on for another 35 miles.

I watched TV and there was actually an organized mass hike of the entire 62 miles of MacLehose in one scoop, i.e. no rest or sleep. Most of them finished in about 48 hours. I think I can do it in 40, and may try to join the mass hike next time, except that I hate to forego sleep for even 40 hours. Paka can probably do it in 20 and so not lose too much sleep.

Hike 2: There is a ridge called "8 Fairies" in the northeast corner of the peninsula that was the scene of a tragic accident 3 years ago. I did that hike once back in Dec. 74, and have done it in Jan. 97 and 98. The route is usually a traverse, where one starts from the west end, ascend the ridge top, go across, and come down a steep ridge at the east end. One school group was taking a hike up the steep ridge at the east end, and somehow a grass fire started below them, and the wind was whipping the fire, which spread upwards and started chasing the kids, who tried to avoid the fire by climbing up the steep ridge. There is a well-known rockface called Monkey Cliff, that is similar to the rockface on the 1st peak of Olomana, and the kids got there and many had trouble going up Monkey Cliff. The fire caught up with them and several were killed. Imagine a brush fire chasing you from below the rockface of Olomana 1st peak.

I was going to do this route a third time this year, but then a friend suggested doing something easier with some young people. So we started going up the west end, but instead of going straight up the ridge, meandered around along ancient trails and pass by several depopulated villages. The villagers used to farm, but most emigrated to Europe in the last 30 years, and so now they are mostly empty. We talked with one lone elderly woman resident, who complained that thieves frequently crossed the border from mainland China and stole and vandalized their property, and terrorized them.

We passed by two beautiful reservoirs with emerald-green water. Many HK hikers say that these are the most beautiful bodies of water in the territory, and I agree. Because they are fairly remote, relatively few people visit, and so they are almost pristine.

We finished the hike at the second reservoir, which is only 10 minutes from a paved road with minibus service. We took the minibus to the nearest town and enjoyed sumptuous dim sum there.

Hike 3: Just one year ago, I had to take a ferry for an hour and then a bus for another hour, in order to reach the Lantau trailhead. This time the airport is open, and there is a _subway_ link to the airport. I took the subway to the island and then changed to bus and reached the trailhead. There is a large Buddhist temple there with a huge bronze Buddha statue that is a new tourist attraction. Lantau Trail goes from the temple straight up Lantau peak and then traversed to Sunset, and then down to the village of Muiwo where one can catch a ferry.

The regular trail is too easy because it is now paved with solid rock steps. I went on a paved path slabbing left around the Lantau peak and then picked up an unimproved, steep trail that goes to the top.

I've done this two times before. I've heard that this is the hardest hike in HK, and the 1st time I was quite apprehensive, but there were _ribbons_ there that 1st time, and the familiar site encouraged me to keep going to the top. The 2nd time the ribbons were faded or gone, and so I brought along my own ribbons this 3rd time, determined to put my own ribbons so that it looks like an Oahu trail!

Turns out it was unnecessary. Some group went up maybe a week before and placed brand-new ribbons. I followed the new ribbons up the steep ridge. This is the Luohan trail, named after the Luohan Rock, a pinnacle located near the top. The trail is seriously steep, very similar to Waiahilahila (Nipple) in steepness, but it is worse because there are very few tree/bushes, and one has to grasp short grass for handholds. It is open knowledge that I am allergic to sliding back along bare dirt.

Took almost two hours of struggling to ascend from 1200 to 2900 feet, and here at 2900 feet is the Luohan Rock. It is a rock pinnacle about 40 feet high on the ridge itself. I looked real carefully and concluded that it is probably possible to climb it, but any mistake might cause serious injury. Fortunately there is a safe path for slabbing on its right. On the right is a steep gully with a huge case. Previously I thought that the cave was totally inaccessible, but this time I saw a faint path that goes along a narrow ledge towards the cave. I followed it and actually got to the cave. Burial inside a cave is _not_ a Chinese custom, and so I was not afraid of finding any skeletons in the cave.

Behind the Luohan pinnacle, to the left, is a steep gully which I previously thought would steepen to vertical. But apparently not: I was astounded that the brand-new ribbons were tied along that steep gully. I followed them down a couple hundred feet, but since I had no idea where they went, I gave up and came back up. Maybe next time.

After the Luohan Rock, a short steep climb leads to the top of Lantau, the 2nd highest location in HK at 3100. There I join the regular Lantau trail and descended 1900 feet to a 1200 feet saddle. A paved road goes up to that saddle. I crossed the road and proceeded going up 1600 feet to the Sunset Peak on the other side. It is interesting to find wild cattle on this part of the trail: two decades ago they were domestic cattle, but as the villagers gave up farming, the cattle were allowed to roam free on the mountains. I saw a big herd of 20, with cute, tiny calves together with cows and bulls.

The entire hike consisted of going from 1200 to 3100, down to 1200, up to 2800, and then down literally to sea level where the ferry is. It was probably about 12 miles in length. Because most of the trail is so well made and maintained, the big elevation gains and losses were not too exhausting. Still, it was nice that there were several restaurants at the village near the ferry pier at the end of the trail. I got there about 6 pm and indulged in a hearty dinner.


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