Hiking in Hong Kong
Wilson Trail (7-10)
Distance: 35.6 km
Time: 8 hours 34 minutes
Ascent: 1710 m
Date: September 2018
Start: Shing Mun Reservoir
End: Nam Chung
Do this hike if:
you love that "on top of the world" feeling
you don't mind a bit of turtle entertainment
Avoid this hike if:
heat stroke is not something you want to endure
you hate spiderwebs as much as I do
The Wilson Trail runs from the south of Hong Kong Island all the way up to the north of the New Territories, a distance of officially 78 km (my watch said a little less). The trail runs through eight different country parks, each offering something unique to attract your attention. As one of Hong Kong's four long hiking trails, it was on my bucket list as soon as I arrived here. When a rain-free gap finally opened up in the weather forecast, I seized the opportunity to explore a side to Hong Kong I hadn't experienced yet.
If you haven't read day one's adventures (sections 1-6), click here to check it out.
Section 7: Shing Mun Reservoir to Yuen Tun Ha
Back to Shing Mun Reservoir for the start of day two, which was brimming with early risers. The first 5 km of section seven meandered along a dirt track, circumnavigating the east side of the still water. I'm not sure if it was because the path was unpaved, or if it was the thousand or so spiderwebs I walked through, but I didn't see one other person on this section. It was flat, quiet, peaceful - a perfect start to warm up my tired legs.
Perfect, that was, until I was bitten by a spider. The constant spiderwebs had me clawing at my face and arms continuously, trying to pull the irritating silk threads off my skin. On one of these grabs I must have picked up a spider with the web, and a sharp pain emanated from my finger. I looked down to see the small black arachnid, only an inch long, sitting right where the throbbing was coming from. I immediately flicked him off into the bushes, which I'm sure made him just as happy as it did me. The ache lasted about 10 minutes, which at least distracted me from the stiffness in my legs. There were no other side effects, so I think I can count myself lucky.
There was one positive source of entertainment along here: turtles. You mightn't think turtles can be entertaining, but I beg to differ. At several points there were fallen trees and long branches hanging low above the surface of the water, and turtles had lined themselves up along these branches. As I was strolling along I kept hearing small splashes, and briefly wondered what they were but didn't think too much about it. But when I actually saw a turtle fling itself off a tree and into the water below, I couldn't help but come to a halt to watch the action. Again and again these turtles turned into divers, taking refuge in the cool water below. It was highly amusing.
After the trail had finished the route followed a monkey-lined road around the dam before heading straight up a steep hill. Being all paved it was an easy half hour climb through a forest of towering trees, providing shade from the early morning sun. Again it was quiet - I only passed one other person and one car along this stretch.
At the top I finally stepped off the asphalt and onto a sharply descending set of stone, irregular stairs all the way down the other side of the hill I had ascended. It hadn't rained in a couple of days but parts of the path formed a river. Initially I tried jumping from rock to rock to avoid getting wet, but after doing this numerous times I gave up and walked through the ankle-deep puddles. The technical route seemed to last an eternity; in reality, it was 1.5 km, after which it turned into a country road that marked the end of section seven.
Distance: 9.9 km Time: 2:12 hours Ascent: 263 m Descent: 395 m
Section 8: Yuen Tun Ha to Cloudy Hill
The road I was on carried me through a lively town, with cars, buses and people filling the streets. I was so caught up in all the action that I almost missed the turn off down a side street (it was also extremely poorly marked). The side street ended in... guess what? Stairs. Up and down through forest, overgrown grass, giant rocks, flooded tracks - really, a bit of everything. But it wasn't long before I was back on a road, heading up one side of a hill and down the other. At least this road was devoid of all the vehicles and people the town had provided. In fact, often the only sound I could hear was the wind through the tall grass, which is not a sound I hear too often in Hong Kong.
At the bottom of the hill I landed in a large town, big enough to have its own train station. This town section lasted much longer than I wished, following a maze of residential streets (plus a gigantic catchwater) that covered pretty much the entire town. I constantly had to search for the next sign up ahead, as only every second turn appeared to be marked. I successfully made it through without resorting to the phone.
The streets ended in concrete stairs heading straight up Cloudy Hill. I climbed for an eternity, forever ascending the one mountain. The sun was out in full force, sweat dripped off me and each step had me asking, "Am I there yet?" I knew section eight was a tough section, but if the stairs were all uniform like this I was sure I would make the top in no time.
The stairs didn't stay uniform. I reached what I thought was the peak, but it turned out not to even be a mini-peak on the way to the Cloudy Hill. I paused with some locals up here exercising, before resuming the stairs. Except now they were going downhill and made of dirt. This slowed things down a bit. Only a few minutes later I was going up again, then another down and up, and another, with the ups lasting significantly longer than the downs.
I finally reached the top, leaning against a marker to indicate the summit. I was momentarily overjoyed, until I learned that this was not the Cloudy Hill summit, just a minor summit. Ahead of me I stared at a million more concrete stairs heading up a mammoth hill. I rested briefly, summoning up the energy to push forward. My body temperature wouldn't cool down, the sweat wouldn't stop pouring, my heart beat didn't slow and I was sure the earth had moved closer to the sun overnight. But I wasn't going to reach the peak sitting here, so I willed myself forward.
Almost an hour after I started on the stairs from the town below, I reached the top of Cloudy Hill. It really did not live up to its name. Somehow I avoided passing out but I didn't have the energy to appreciate the hazy views of the town and sea below (I had seen the same views all the way up the mountain). Again I rested, sitting on a concrete pipe to try to bring my body back to something resembling normal, whatever that is after gaining about 450 metres of elevation within 3 km in the blistering heat. As much as I thought I was going to die at that stage, I knew the real challenge of the day was waiting for me in the next section.
Distance: 8.7 km Time: 2:00 hours Ascent: 597 m Descent: 233 m
Section 9: Cloudy Hill to Pat Sin leng
As soon as I started the paved descent off Cloudy Hill, I was in the shade. I wished I had climbed this hill in the opposite direction. The asphalt turned to dirt trail, which guided me on a gentle downhill stroll through a tranquil forest, which was all my legs and mind could handle right now. It didn't stay gentle for long though - giant boulder-like stairs appeared in front of me, taking me all the way down to a murky reservoir at the bottom of the hill. A quick journey around the north side of the dam deposited me at the bottom of another set of stone stairs. This is where the challenge really began.
Stairs. It began with stairs. Massive stairs, uneven stairs, never-ending stairs. It was the middle of the day, the sun was at its fiercest and the ascent was torture. For an hour I was gasping in the air with each step, losing seemingly litres of water through sweat, and trying to will my jelly legs forward. I seemed to trip up every 10th step or so, my feet not wanting to listen to my brain. I'm not going to lie, there were parts of this that I absolutely hated and wanted to quit right then and there, but the stubborn part of my mind was not going to let me stop. So I continued, forever upwards towards the skies.
The top was a different story. I was on the Pat Sin Range, consisting of numerous small peaks around 500-600 metres above sea level. The stairs led me up and down over these peaks repeatedly, where I had awe-inspiring views out to both sides. Mountains, water, and urban areas were all laid out before me, with the heat radiating off the surface far below causing the sights to blur. I felt like I was on top of the world, and with it came a sense of power, accomplishment and indestructibility. It was a feeling I didn't experience too often, and it only comes when I've come close to being broken, but risen above it. The MacLehose Trail also created this emotion in me, and it's something I wish I could bottle up to bring out in moments of need. It had made all the pain and suffering worthwhile. No question about it, this was the best part of the Wilson Trail (not that my legs or hydration levels would agree).
Like most things in life, the positive vibes didn't last. I'm sure there is a limit to how many stairs one person can climb in a day, and this mountain range was pushing that limit. Every time I thought I had conquered the final hill, another one would appear before me. Up and down, up and down, no end in sight. For some reason I had to stop on every summit to take more photos of exactly the same view, thinking it would be the last time I saw it (in the end I think I spent as much time taking photos as I did hiking over the range). Then I would spot the stony stairs heading up the next hill and my heart would sink. As much as I loved this part of the trail, I was ready to go home.
Distance: 10.3 km Time: 2:53 hours Ascent: 726 m Descent: 673 m
Section 10: Pat Sin Leng to Nam Chung
As always, I commenced with stairs, but they blissfully went all the way down the mountain with no ascent in sight. Where the stairs ended a trail started, running through a dense forest filled with rivers and waterfalls. I was strongly tempted to jump in to cool myself off, but who knew what nasties were lurking in the water. The attractive plant life was constantly changing, keeping my mind off thoughts like cold drinks and mounds of food. Sporadically I passed the remains of old buildings, obviously discarded decades ago, some with only one wall standing. The vegetation had taken over and turned it into a semi-natural artwork.
The day ended how it started: full of spiderwebs. I saw no one on this section, which meant I was the one who copped the full force of the spiders' handiwork. Once again I was ripping the threads off my skin, aware that further spider bites were possible but too tired to care. Lucky the scenery was charming enough to prevent me from going completely insane (I really really hate spiderwebs).
At last the trail ended in a road, which after a short time terminated at a larger road that I'm sure only saw a handful of cars each day. It was here the Wilson Trail ended, in the middle of nowhere, with only a few houses in the distance to indicate that civilisation was nearby. A one kilometre walk took me out to a slightly less quiet road, where a minibus immediately arrived and picked me up. I collapsed on the seat, hoping I didn't smell too bad for the other passengers around me. I had completed the Wilson Trail; now I could finally stop.
Distance: 6.7 km Time: 1:29 hours Ascent: 124 m Descent: 522 m
P.S. Miraculously I was not lost once. Not a single wrong turn, no backtracking, no asking for directions. If you have read any of my other reports you have probably noticed that my navigation skills leave a lot to be desired. Maybe I am finally learning something after all these hikes.
Final Stats for the entire Wilson trail
Distance: 76.5 km
Time: 18 hours 03 minutes
Ascent: 3870 m
Descent: 3897 m