Lantau Trail Hike–Hong Kong

Our Lantau Trail hike in Hong Kong turned out to be the first big test of my leg. In classic Livingston Family fashion, Debbie and I underestimated the difficulty of this route.

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Our day hike turned into a grand adventure with a fair amount of suffering, just like old times. We eased into our first full day in Hong Kong. Debbie went for a run to The Peak, while I spun on the stationary bike at the hotel gym, and then swam for 30 minutes in the outdoor pool.


We had a late breakfast, and then after reading email and catching up on the news back home, we meandered down to the piers. We took a 12:30 P.M. ferry to Mui Wo on Lantau Island. The intention was to do a three-hour leisurely hike. We knew the terrain was hilly, but we didn’t expect it to be so rough. We arrived in Mui Wo after the 50 minute trip, and then took a taxi to the Nam Shan trailhead. By the time we got moving, it was nearly 2:00 P.M. The sun sets around 6:30 P.M., but we never thought we would be chasing daylight.



I brought a headlamp on this trip, but left it at the hotel room. I’ll save the suspense: we didn’t need it, but it would have been a prudent safety measure to have it, especially since my iPhone battery died. Debbie’s phone was fine, and in a real pinch, we would have used the flashlight feature, but that would have been pushing it.



It was warmer and more humid than expected. We had a few bottles of water, but that proved to be inadequate to fully satiate our thirst. The hike ended up being 8.25 miles, but when you factor walking to the pier and then home from the train station, it ended up being a 12 plus mile day, which was hard on my legs (both of them). It was time for a test on my left one, 10 days after ditching my crutches.



I followed the doctor’s orders and didn’t fall, but I’m sure this is not the kind of walking he had in mind. It wasn’t just the broken fibula that slowed me, but my overall level of fitness. I hadn’t hiked in six months since before cyclocross season started. My legs didn’t fail me, but they came close. Over the course of four hours, the Lantau Trail basically went up, down, up, and down again. On our route, there were two major climbs. The first was up Sunset Peak, and the second was Lantau Peak.


We skirted the true peak of 869 meter (2,851 feet) Sunset and avoided a side trail that would have required us to backtrack, but the Lantau Trail went right over the top of 934 meter (3,064 feet) Lantau, which is pretty impressive considering that we arrived on a ferry!


The fog and smog were intense. Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island are known for their bad air quality. I’ve got nothing to compare this with, but it was pretty bad. This limited the views, which would have been spectacular on a clear day. We still enjoyed the trail. We saw a handful of people, but it was generally pretty quiet, especially high up. We saw some backpackers heading up for overnights, but most people were out for the day.


The TransLantau ultra (25K, 50K, 100K) was on Saturday and the course was already marked on Friday. Sadly, we didn’t hear about this race until it was sold out. Prior to our trip, Debbie inquired about race entry, but the event was full. That’s OK. It would have been fun, especially now after seeing the terrain, but she accepted the circumstances and now we have a reason to come back. She would have been happy to do the 50K. The 100K would probably have been much since she hasn’t done an ultra since Hardrock last July. Plus the race started at 11:30 P.M. on Saturday and wouldn’t have been over before our next flight. She has had a long stretch of “time off,” but is gearing up for Mt. Tammany 40 Miler in March, and Traprock 50K in April. She has other races planned during the summer including the North Face 50 in Massachusetts in June, the Vermont 100K in July, and the Ragged Mountain 50K in August. After that, it’s a bit up in the air, but she plans to ride the Vermont 50 again.


The TransLantau is rugged. We saw the trail up close yesterday. The most impressive feature was the stone steps. There were thousands of them. The rock work/trail maintenance was awesome. The stones were perfectly placed and went up the steep gradients in both directions. Navigating them on reduced power and a damaged leg was incredibly hard.


When we got to the road crossing between the peaks, we tried to take a bus (shortcut) but couldn’t figure it out. The first bus that came was the wrong one, so at my behest, we stubbornly pushed on. On the climb to Lantau Peak, I regretted the decision and mumbled about leaving the headlamp at the hotel. I kept checking my watch as we made painfully slow progress up the steps. Our goal was to reach the Big Buddha at the remote Po Lin Monastery. A friend had described the route and given us some basic info, but his estimated times factored in some running. We were only walking, so it took a lot longer than expected.


The climb up Lantau Peak was brutal, but the descent was even worse. My legs were shaking and I had to stop multiple times. I had to avoid a fall at all cost. The steps and gradient were very similar to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Both climbs ended up being about 2,000 feet of climbing for a total of 4,291 feet of elevation gain based on Debbie’s Suunto GPS data. It was the 4,000+ feet of descending that killed me.


Seeing the Tian Tan Buddha at the end of the trail was worth every painful step. It couldn’t have been planned better. We got here just before sunset. Unfortunately, the steps to the Buddha had closed an hour before we arrived at dusk, but he was lit up in all his glory. We heard “buzzing” from a kilometer a way, and it turned out to be two drones, controlled by photographers in the square.


Just past the Buddha was a tourist village, but all of the shops were closed. So too was the funicular that came up the hillside from Tung Chung. One last store was just about to close, but we stopped and bought two bottles of water, grape juice, and coconut milk.


The drone pilots were two of a handful of tourists left visiting the monastery. In addition to the photographers, there were quite a few wild dogs, which didn’t make Debbie happy. At one point, there were three of them surrounding her, and she shooed them away. If the dogs weren’t wild enough, there were half a dozen cows wandering around the square and nosing through the garbage cans. A couple of them just plopped themselves down in the middle of the bus parking lot. Street signs warned of their presence. We wandered around the village looking for transportation information. We eventually found the bus terminal and the attendant said that one more bus was coming at 7:20 P.M.

He pointed us in the right direction and 20 minutes later, we were on our winding way down the mountain to Tung Chung. There, we found the train station and an hour later, we made our way back to Hong Kong Island. The train goes under the water to Kowloon on the mainland, and then under the harbor to Central Station. We walked from the station back to our hotel, washed up, and went straight to bed. It was a long and fun day.

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