Hiking in Hong Kong
- Tai Lam Chung Country Trail -
- MTB Trails -
- Shek Lung Kung -
Distance: 18 km
Time: 4 hours 50 minutes
Ascent: 1037 m
Date: June 2018
Start: Tai Lam Tunnel, Tsing Long Highway
End: Castle peak Rd, Tsuen Wan West
Do this hike if:
Tai Lam Chung: you're in need of a stair workout
MTB: you prefer switchbacks over stairs
Shek Lung Kung: you love views over the city
Avoid this hike if:
Tai Lam Chung: you want an undemanding, enjoyable hike
MTB: you're a courteous hiker
Shek Lung Kung: you loathe mosquitoes
This was a trek of three parts, undertaken on possibly the most humid day in existence. It was a sweaty affair.
First up, the Tai Lam Chung Country Trail (distance markers C6401-C6412, markers 500 metres apart). I'll warn you now: if you have a strong aversion to stairs, don't hike this route. I would say at least 60%, and possibly as high as 80%, of this trail is stairs. They. Are. Relentless. Also much of the track is quite exposed, so I would avoid it if a storm is expected.
From the car park I spotted the entrance to the trail behind a shelter and took off down the slightly overgrown track. Within a few hundred metres I was off the track, not because I was lost, but because a huge tree had fallen across it. A slight detour through some bushes put me on the right path again.
It wasn't long before the steps started, and they went up. And up. And up. Every time I thought I must be at the top of whatever hill I was climbing, I would turn the corner to find more stairs. False summit after false summit becomes demoralising after a while. Every peak was met with views, but these were nearly all over the highway and nearby towns, which weren't particularly inspiring.
After distance marker C6404 I was sure there couldn't be any further to ascend. This was sort of true. Before me lay a long set of stairs heading straight down the mountain, followed by an equally long set of stairs going straight up the opposite mountain. This was going to be fun. I'm usually not so bad with stairs, but the buckets of sweat pouring off me today said otherwise. I'm not sure if seeing what was ahead of me was a good thing or just demoralising. Part of the way up the other side I passed C6406, and I couldn't believe I was only halfway through this trek/stair climb.
I was elated to reach the top, but my elation did not last long. A few strides along a non-stair section showed me I was in for a repeat performance. All the way down the stairs, all the way up the stairs. Who designed this trail? If you need some training on stairs, this would be the perfect location. At the top I ran into an older Hong Kong man at a shelter, wearing long pants with no shirt, looking as fit as a 20 year old. He must hike this trail often.
Finally, at C6408, I hit what must have been the big finale before the descent started. Sweeping views in two directions, which were impressive but not the best I had seen in Hong Kong. I didn't stay long, instead walking along the ridge line to C6409 before finally spotting the stairs (what else?) that would lead me down the mountain.
The great thing about this trail was that it was simple to follow. I never needed to pull out my map or wonder which way I should go. Only once was there a fork in the path that was not signposted. I deliberated here for a while before making a decision, only to discover that both paths met up again about 20 metres later.
The stairs deposited me at a road near the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir, a place I seem to end up frequently. The six kilometres from the start of my trek had taken me 1:45, much longer than anticipated. Damn those stairs.
From here there are several options: return along the same trail/thousands of stairs; take one of the trails heading towards Castle Peak Road/Tsuen Wan; join the MacLehose Trail that runs along this road; or do what I did, hike up a couple of mountain biking trails. I don't recommend doing what I did.
I walked along the road away from the reservoir until I reached the point where the Tai Lam MTB trail (north section) ends (distance markers TX07-TX01). Two hikers had just walked out of the forest along this path and were sitting at the exit. As I neared I spotted a sign: "Mountain bike trail. Not for hiking for safety's sake". Well, these two people had obviously hiked it, so I guessed it would be okay. One step onto the path and the female hiker speaks up. "You know that's a mountain bike trail?" "Yep." "Be careful." Given the lack of people I ever see on these trails, let alone cyclists, I wasn't worried.
Do you know what the great thing about MTB trails are? No stairs! Not one. And not only that, there were also no spiderwebs. I guess cyclists had been through recently to clear the path for me. It was heaven. The trail climbed higher and higher via a series of switchbacks, which is rare in Hong Kong. Usually they like to build a path (or stairway) straight up one side of the mountain and straight down the other. But mountain bikers get the privilege of frequent twists and turns and gentle ascents, making for a much for pleasurable hike than my first trek.
My elevation was slowly increasing, with each switchback providing higher and higher views over the reservoir. Walking along one of these switchbacks I heard a whirring noise, gradually getting louder. I knew what that sound was. I jumped over to the side of the path just in time to see a mountain biker fly past me, probably as surprised to see me as I was him. He was followed by another, and another, until five had streaked past. Incredibly all of them thanked me for moving aside, and let me know how many more were to come. I'm not sure why they were being so friendly when I was the one trespassing on their track.
From that point on I was extra vigilant about listening out for further cyclists, hoping to avoid another close call. As I was walking the route backwards I could see cyclists coming towards me, which was helpful. The downside was that the entire 3.5 km route was uphill, which was not only hard on my legs but it also meant the mountain bikers were going deathly fast.
There were several side paths along the track that weren't signposted so I frequently referred to my map to check my location. At one point, after TX02, I realised I had wandered onto a different path that was going nowhere near my final destination. I backtracked about 50 metres to locate the correct path and turned onto an overgrown, barely visible trail. This didn't seem right. My map said to go this way, so I pushed through the overgrowth to see where it would lead.
It wasn't long before I came across a fallen tree, completely blocking the path for mountain bikers. This definitely wasn't the correct track. I checked my map again and assured myself that this was the only way I could reach the end without a significant detour. After I started brushing dozens of spiderwebs off my face, I knew no one had trekked/cycled this way in a long time. But as long as I could see the trail, I was going to continue.