Natural therapy: Hong Kong’s mountain warriors

This file photo shows trail runner Stone Tsang, 39, running on Hong Kong’s highest peak Tai Mo Shan on Dec. 14, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 02 January 2018

Natural therapy: Hong Kong’s mountain warriors

HONG KONG: Wooded hillsides, craggy ridges and wheeling birds of prey are a world away from Hong Kong’s famous skyscrapers but the city’s country parks are a necessary balm for its stressed out residents.
With some of the world’s highest property prices, many can only afford tiny apartments, some living in infamous “cage homes” big enough only for a bed.
Hong Kong’s fast-paced lifestyle and long working hours also take their toll.
Fortunately, within easy reach of the densely packed tower blocks and traffic, there is an extensive network of hiking trails which snake over hundreds of peaks across the territory and along its coastlines.
Forty percent of Hong Kong is protected country park and nature reserves, amounting to 443 square kilometers (274 sq miles), drawing hikers, runners and campers all year round.
For 29-year-old Dai-yu Cheung, those natural landscapes changed his life.
As a keen amateur photographer, he decided to document some of the city’s remoter areas, never having explored them before.
His discoveries led him to ditch long hours in his job as a graphic designer, during which he had developed a bad back, and go part-time as he sought a healthier, happier existence.
Cheung lives with his family and cut down his financial outgoings so he could work three days a week, often hiking with friends.
“When we go hiking, we feel free, relax and forget our troubles,” he told AFP, carefully gathering scattered litter as he walked through tall grass to a rocky outcrop in the northern New Territories.
He and his friend AM Renault, 29, also a keen hiker, have set up Facebook and Instagram pages under the name Yamanaka Yuko, sharing photos and video of their hill climbs in Hong Kong and abroad. They describe themselves as artists inspired by nature.
With a growing band of followers, the pair is now regularly asked for tips about routes by local walkers and have teamed up for campaigns with environmental NGOs and outdoor clothing brands.
“Our message is about protecting nature and the environment,” says Renault, a freelance photographer.
He worries about the future of Hong Kong’s trails — the housing shortage has sparked government proposals to build on the outskirts of the country parks.
But with hiking becoming more popular, particularly among young people, he hopes those plans will fail.
“More and more people like hiking and go out and do it. Because of that there’s more resistance to development than in the past,” he said.
On a cool sunny morning, Stone Tsang skips sure-footed along a shady path beneath Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan.
The city’s most famous trail runner, Tsang, 39, regularly wins long-distance competitions and recently completed a gruelling local hill race which saw him cover 298 kilometers (185 miles) in 54 hours, snatching naps when he could no longer keep his eyes open.
As a paramedic and father of two, he says getting out into these wide open spaces is a vital stress relief.
“When I come to the mountains it’s like therapy for me,” he told AFP. “It’s healing for my soul.”
Hitting a dirt trail, rough with gnarled tree roots and scattered boulders, is part of the Hong Kong hill experience.
But over the years, many paths have been covered with concrete in an attempt to make them safer, something which Tsang is leading a popular Facebook campaign to stop.
He says former government technicians who helped establish paths using natural materials have now retired and contractors have little knowledge of how to do so.
Not only is the concrete alien to the natural environment, it also becomes slippery and causes soil erosion, says Tsang.
“Most mountain rescues are because inexperienced people get lost or dehydrated, there are very few injuries because of the trail conditions,” he explained.
Tsang is lobbying the government to stop pouring any new concrete and has introduced them to international experts who are showing workers and members of the public how to refurbish paths naturally.
The agriculture, fisheries and conservation department told AFP it would use natural materials “as far as possible.”
Tsang now wants to bring hiking tours into the country parks to foster a love of the mountains in the face of the threat of development.
“The country parks are a very valuable asset to Hong Kong, not just for us, but for future generations,” says Tsang.
“This kind of thing you cannot just see — you have to go out and feel it.”

Height of adventure: Treading the ‘Edge of the World’ near Riyadh

Updated 19 April 2018

Height of adventure: Treading the ‘Edge of the World’ near Riyadh

  • Cliffs in Tuwaiq were formed as a result of the movement of the Arabian plate toward the northeast because of the spread of the Red Sea rift
  • Several prominent Saudi tour companies offer daylong excursions to the site

Thrill seekers and fitness gurus all over the Kingdom will be pleased to know that their choices for weekend activities have increased. 

Several tour operators in Riyadh have started offering trips to the area known as the Edge of the World, making the location more accessible than ever.

With the country’s obesity rates on the rise and many citizens growing more concerned about their physical health and stress levels, people are seeking ways to maintain their fitness without having to restrict themselves to the monotony of a gym routine.

One such solution that has steadily increased in popularity over the past year is hiking, which many have embraced as being much more exciting and fulfilling than spending hours on the treadmill. And most popular of all for hiking and other fitness activities in a natural setting is the magnificent landmark of Jabal Fihrayn, more commonly known as the Edge of the World.

Described as a “window framed by rock,” the Edge of the World offers stunning views of the valley below, a lush grove of acacia trees teeming with wildlife and vegetation. The spot is well-known for being a favorite of visiting picnickers.

Hikers can choose from several trails of varying levels of difficulty, making their way to the top of the Tuwaiq escarpment to take in the magnificent views at the top of the trail, where the colossal cliff faces drop off to reveal the dizzying height from the valley below. In addition to the rich wildlife unique to the location, you can also find samples of fossilized coral and raw mineral deposits in certain areas of the valley.

The cliffs in the areas were formed as a result of the tectonic movement of the Arabian plate toward the northeast because of the spread of the Red Sea rift situated 1,000 km to the west of Tuwaiq.

Due to the increasing popularity of the site, the authorities have built a hardtop that leads to the gates of the sites and arrangements are in place to protect the area and its natural treasures. 

Several prominent Saudi tour companies offer daylong excursions to the site. The more intrepid explorer also has the option to go alone; though past visitors recommend that solo travelers take an all-terrain, 4x4 vehicle and extra precaution. Visitors can spend the day at the site and leave before 6 p.m. (when the gates are closed for the night) or stay behind for a night of camping to enjoy the sunset and the breathtaking celestial views of a star-studded night sky.

Nora Alfard, amateur hiking enthusiast and two-time visitor to the location, was quick to offer praise about her trip. 

“The trip out there was a bit tiring, but totally worth it,” she said. “The views are stunning, and the hiking itself is not that difficult. Most people should be able to make it to the top without too much trouble.” She said she was likely to go a third time, and encouraged others to do the same.

The Edge of the World is roughly 100km northwest of Riyadh, about 1.5 hours’ drive from the capital. Visitors should be prepared for at least 30 minutes of hiking, possibly more depending on your trail and your level of fitness and experience. Previous visitors recommend bringing water and snacks, and stress the importance of dressing appropriately — hiking shoes only!


What is hiking?

Hiking means a long, vigorous walk, usually on trails in the countryside. Day hikers generally carry at least food, a map or a GPS navigation device.