Hiking in Hong Kong
Castle Peak to the Grand Canyon
(the hard way)
Distance: 13.3 km
Time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Ascent: 1160 m
Date: October 2022
Start: Tsing wun, Tuen Mun
End: Leung King Estate, Tuen Mun
Explore this place if:
you want to challenge yourself on slippery trails
you're after spectacular scenery and views
Avoid this place if:
your shoes have no tread left (like mine)
it's the middle of summer (there is no shade)
In the far west of the New Territories lies Tuen Mun, which is popular with hikers for two reasons: Castle Peak and the Grand Canyon (aka Por Lo Shan, aka Pineapple Mountain). The two sites are connected by numerous trails, but there is one caveat: they are only accessible on Sundays, due to the region being used as a firing range by the military and police on other days. I found a Sunday when no rain was forecast and set out for this far-off destination, not knowing what to expect.
Castle Peak is known as one of the Three Sharp Peaks of Hong Kong (the other two being Sharp Peak and High Junk Peak), due to its steepness and difficult terrain. It is visible from many places in the SAR, including Hong Kong Island, and it looms over the town of Tuen Mun as though it is challenging you to tackle the ascent. I was ready to accept the challenge.
The steepness became apparent almost immediately. I commenced on a residential road that led me straight up at a heart-thumping incline. Already I could tell this wasn’t going to be a hike for setting any speed records. It wasn’t long before I hit the Tsing Chan Monastery, which I had originally planned to bypass. However, it didn’t really involve any extra climbing, so I thought I may as well have a quick peek. Brightly-painted buildings looked out over Tuen Mun below, and the aroma of incense wafted through the air. Rooms led into more rooms which led into more rooms, and I found myself in a mini maze as I tried to escape back into the sunlight. I wasn’t too disappointed though, as it gave my legs a brief break from the climb.
This was approximately where the stairs commenced, and they didn’t stop until I reached the peak. At first they were uniform, concrete steps, but they eventually gave way to rocky, odd-shaped, will-seriously-test-your-balance stairs. Chains, ropes and wooden railings were installed, which I utilised more and more as I climbed higher and higher. About halfway up the trees started to part, and behind me I could see the harbour, Tuen Mun and the mountains beyond. The summit was also frequently in sight, never seeming to get any closer.
When I finally reached the peak, just under an hour after starting out, I had to skirt around the edge of a series of radio towers before hitting the lookout. The view was breathtaking. Now I was well above Tuen Mun, and I could see all the way to Tai Mo Shan out east and Shenzhen up north. Looking south, the peaks of Lantau Island stood tall, and the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island were barely discernible through the haze. It was one of the best panoramas of Hong Kong I had seen in a long time. But what astounded me was the view on the other side of the mountain, looking west towards the Castle Peak Hinterland. The bumpy terrain reminded me of a barren, crater-filled planet, with off-white veins running along the ridges of the mountains. I couldn’t see any signs of civilisation out there, which was what excited me the most. This is where I was headed next.
Beside Castle Peak was a helipad, which offered me the same views. From here, I could see a clear path going directly north towards my final destination, the Grand Canyon. However, I had a different trail marked on my map, one that led west, straight into the middle of the otherworldly landscape.