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Hiking in hot weather: Trail walking in Hong Kong

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Trail walking is about adventure – getting a new perspective either on the place you’re in or the people you’re with and, if you’re smart, you can keep it up even when temperatures soar. Alexander Grasic reports.

Lantau’s trails form a comprehensive network of highways and avenues, by-streets and alleys that snake over the lush hilly countryside. Some are government-maintained paved footpaths, replete with railings and signs. Others are only accessible if you are willing to bushwhack through the overgrown bramble that obscures the ground you walk on.

Hiking trails lead out from Discovery Bay in all directions. Go south through Nim Shue Wan to reach Mui Wo, Pui O and eventually Tai O. Go west and up to Tiger’s Head and veer off towards Tung Chung, or turn north to follow the path that overlooks Hong Kong Disneyland. All of these routes can link and overlap with each other, meaning you can hike here for years and still find yourself covering new ground.

What’s more, these trails are uniquely versatile. It’s up to you whether you want to challenge yourself and trek a day (or several days) away, or simply stretch your legs on a Sunday morning.

All of that being said, a good hiker is a prepared hiker; there is nothing worse when hiking than wishing you had done something differently. And with a bit of planning and some hiking smarts, you can still enjoy hiking the trails in the hot summer months.

The only shade you’ll find on this hike is at the Lookout Point

Today’s hike

Let’s take as an example a casual DB hike, one you may have already enjoyed a hundred times before. The route you are going to take starts at the bottom of the stairs across the road from the Seahorse playground, and goes all the way up the stairs to the ridge above the Lookout Point. Crossing the ridge, you will descend to the Lookout Point then double back onto the Golf Club road and wind down it until you are just in front of the Discovery Bay Recreation Club tennis courts.

It is a short, brisk walk, only a few kilometres, but the stairs will knock the wind out of anyone at an average level of fitness. It is a great first go for a new hiker, but younger children may struggle with the steps. On a good day, the view of the bay and (possibly) Victoria Harbour still makes the Lookout Point a rewarding destination, or at the very least a worthwhile
pit-stop on a longer route.

The duration of this hike can, like all hikes, vary wildly depending on the ability of your group and the weather at the time of walking. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department provides approximate times for many popular hikes, as do a plethora of Hong Kong hiking blogs, but these often contradict each other.

According to the calculations I learnt while doing the Hong Kong Award for Young People (the local equivalent of the Duke of Edinburgh award), the roundtrip hike to the Lookout Point takes around an hour and a half. I’d call that accurate if you’re taking a leisurely stroll for pleasure, or hiking with young kids… but you can ‘race’ there and back in half that time, if you’re fit and looking for a workout.

Use whatever approximation you get as just that; the best way to accurately find out how long any hike will take is to walk it a couple of times yourself.

Steep stairs are best tackled in hiking boots

Get an early start

You start at 7am, maybe 7.30am if someone took a little too long to get out of bed. ‘Starting’ means beginning your ascent up the stairs, fully-stocked and nourished; it does not mean meeting in the plaza to pick up breakfast and snacks.

Admittedly the hills are not going anywhere fast, but it is almost always better to start a hike earlier than later. That way, you can have as much of it behind you as possible before the midday heat kicks in.

Shoes, hats and sunscreen

You begin your ascent. The damp air clings to the at-first rocky steps. Some are sporting a healthy layer of moss, all are slightly slippery. Good thing you are wearing a pair of running shoes that have a decent tread, if not hiking boots with ankle support. Tennis shoes will not do.

Boots may be excessive for this walk, but they are a solid investment if you wish to tackle longer, less-maintained trails. A good pair will have specialised treads and extra padding. The support around the neck of the boot can help prevent you from rolling your ankle, a nightmare scenario for any hiker, and a real possibility on many of the steep descents on slopes or stairs you may face on Lantau.

As you are climbing, the sun starts to break through the morning clouds. You immediately stop to apply sun cream (if you didn’t already at home) and, importantly, you put on your hat. There is very little shade on this route (barring the Lookout Point itself) and wearing a hat can be a crucial factor in preventing sunstroke.

Know your route

As you continue up the stairs the steps become concrete brackets packed with earth, a DB specialty. Some are a bit worn so you watch your step. You barely notice a turnoff to your left until someone in your group peers down it. Knowing that it’s going in the direction of the Lookout Point you consider for a moment before carrying on.

In all truth, you could have gone that way. There are at least a dozen combinations of routes that can get you to the Lookout Point, but you are taking this route because it follows the most visible paths with the fewest deviations. I challenge anyone to get lost on the Golf Club road.

Knowing your route means avoiding unnecessary detours that can cost precious time in the sun and heat.

Stay hydrated

You’ve been walking up the steps for a good while now. You’re starting to lose your breath and your legs are aching slightly. You tell your group you’re ready for a break and you pull out your water bottle. For an extra kick, you sip on the still-cold bottle of Gatorade you bought at 7-11 about half an hour ago.

There is no exact science for the amount of water one should bring on a hike; it really depends on the person. One thing is for certain though – always bring a bit more than you think you need. It is much better to have half a bottle left at the end of the trail than to run out halfway through.

As hiking is a sustained sweaty exercise, it is also a good idea to bring an isotonic sports drink with you to help replenish your electrolytes. I am partial to Gatorade, but Pocari Sweat, Vitamin Water and some brands of coconut water also fit the bill.

You should additionally bring some snacks. Nuts and dried fruits provide the good natural fats and sugars you’ll need to stay energised. Add in some M&M’s or yoghurt-covered raisins to sweeten things up – it’s called trail mix for a reason!

Hiking with others

You have climbed the stairs and made it to the ridge. You walk along and see Tiger’s Head to your right, Tai Pak Wan directly below and Discovery Bay below you to your left. Continuing along, you reach a trigonometrical point, a concrete post used for surveying. You sit your kids on top of it and take a photo of them with the sea and Victoria Harbour as the backdrop. As you make your way down to the Lookout Point, you start a game of I spy that you carry on playing all the way back down to the plaza.

Hiking with others is above all else a safety precaution. If by some unfortunate chance you injure yourself on the trail, having someone there to administer aid or contact emergency services may be essential.

However, the majority of the time, the people you hike with will simply set the tone for your journey. Having nowhere to go but further helps you to forget about the little things, and prompts you to share stories and discuss literally anything that pops into your head. Also when hiking with friends, you can share your enjoyment of the spectacular views you come upon in the moment.

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