In the storm: barefoot hike on a mountain during a thunderstorm

Intense adventure over the Easter week-end. I had met Yuan, my trail-running barefooting friend for our first common barefoot hike. Weather predictions were fair, and although a low cloud ceiling could be seen, the day looked to be acceptable for a hike. Little did we know that it would transform into a barefoot hike on a mountain during a thunderstorm.

In Ma On Shan country park

Our starting point was in Ma On Shan country park, at its northern extremity, near the MTR station of Tai Shui Hang. The goal being to climb one or two of the local mountains (and where apparently Yeung, the third member of the group was quite familiar).

The climb appeared perfectly normal at first, with mostly earth and a few rocks. It was when we arrived to the top of the mountain, that things starting getting awry. We first had to clamber down rocks, to get to a position where two interesting rocks were present: the diamond rock and… a phallus rock!

Phallus rock
A very interesting rock, shaped naturally as a phallus.

The pic is courtesy of Yuan, my barefooting friend. And instead of a selfie, here a “footie”.

Barefooting is fun!
Barefooting is fun!

In the very same area, as we were climbing down rocks (and yes, it is rock scrambling, not simply going down), we came across a local species of chameleon, strangely very unafraid of us.

Chameleon
Chameleon spotted in the Ma On Shan park

Slippery path

Going down the mountain gives us already a good taste of what it was going to be later under the thunderstorm. Most of the trails were muddy, or muddy on rocks, which proves to be extremely slippery, as it had stormed just the day before. Progression was thus slower and quite cautious. This rendered us to one of those donkey paths often used by villagers in ancient times. This one being the “Mui Fa” ancient path.

Barefoot trail running on the Mui Fa ancient trail

The best part was getting to a clear fresh stream, where I managed to cleanse a little bit my legs and my arms. Little did I know that we were up for yet another extreme challenge.

In fact, after taking the Mui Fa ancient trail, Yeung decided to take us up another 540 m-high mountain… Just for the fun!

A slippery slope is just… slippery!

I guess I never really understood the meaning of slippery slope, until I climbed this mountain. Very steep slope, mud was freely detaching in some parts, making it extremely difficult to climb barefoot (and even with shoes). I had to use the local trees and my hiking stick at full to progress on this mountain.

Climbing a slippery mountain barefoot

Eventually, we arrived after some rock scrambling (but I kid you not, it was really climbing up rocks), to a sort of plateau with some unstable rocks where we made a pause nonetheless.

Dirty feet and slippery slope.
The state of my feet after climbing the slippery slope.

An unforeseen storm

The violence of the storm caught all of Hong Kong by surprise on Saturday, but fortunately, we were well on our way down the mountain when we took the brunt of it. Winds reached 100 kph, and in its violence, it was just short of a typhoon.

Thunderstorm over Shatin
The thunderstorm seen over Shatin

In terms of nature, it was interesting to observe a Hong Kong Newt, a form of Salamander up on the mountain, far from any stream.

Hk newt
A Hong Kong newt spotted on the mountain far from any stream during a thunderstorm.

Surviving the storm

The remainder of the story, for which, unfortunately, I don’t have pics, was a race to get down the mountain, as best we could. Unfortunately, the normal mountain trail transformed itself into something just short of a wet slide. I think I must have fallen a half dozen times, and on some very slippery sections, did not have other choice but to do a controlled slide downward.

It started getting scary when the thunderstorm got over us and lightning started striking. For the record, about 9,000 lightning strikes took place over Hong Kong during this storm. We were particularly exposed being in altitude and in this particularly nasty storm. However, with a lot of luck, we made it to the cover of the trees, which meant less chances of a direct hit on us. After that, we found finally the Mui Fa trail, and it brought us to a stream inflated by the waters of a flash flood.

And this allows me to illustrate yet another advantage of barefoot hiking: no problems at all with walking in the mountain torrents!

For the record, as some people might consider it irresponsible to be hiking in a thunderstorm, in the morning, nothing advised us of such a sudden and brutal storm, all that was mentioned by the HK observatory was “showers”. The brutality of the storm suprised many in HK and even caused a loss of life (boats capsized, and at least one person struck by lightning). When I noticed warnings of thunderstorm, I asked my companions to shorten the hike, but to get down was quite an endeavour, supposing to pass through several hills. Nevertheless, we were extremely lucky to have escaped with no loss of life and limb, so the lesson is simply to postpone hikes even if showers are forecast.

Encountering a barefoot trail runner in Hong Kong

Until recently, I thought I was the only barefoot runner in Hong Kong. Then, one day, as I was on the MacLeHose trail near Sai Kung, with Matthew, we encountered Yuan, a barefoot trail runner in Hong Kong. We had done some exploring previously around Tung Yeung Shan in the same area.

An experienced barefooter

Yuan has 4 years barefooting under his belt! At the time we encountered him, he was climbing on the MacLeHose trail near to Sai Kung. We were going down instead… The Mac LeHose trail crosses from Sai Kung to Tsuen Wan and is one of the most challenging trails in Hong Kong.

Yuan barefooter on the trail
Yuan on the trail when he first met us.

At the time, Yuan told us he was training for the HK100 race. However, later when he took part in the race, because he started too strong, he had to abandon the race around km 63. Still, that is 63 kms barefoot!

The strategy around barefoot trail running

Yuan encouraged me to use hiking poles when running, as it allows to put less weight on your feet and allows you to shift weight when running. This is important as a barefoot trail runner, as you will often land on “uncomfortable” areas.

Beyond that, as can be seen from the pics, Yuan runs very lightly, with as little supplies as possible, using mostly gels to sustain himself while on the trail. Obviously, his speed was quite different from mine, as I am still very careful as to where I land, to avoid hurting myself and losing balance (especially the latter).

I also did a bout of trail running on this path:

Ultra running barefoot

Yuan does ultra trail running as I mentioned (100 K was his target). While rare, this is not totally impossible, fundamentally, the physiological aspect of ultra running being the same whether you are a barefoot trail runner or not. The only issue might be with abrasion, but after 4 years running, I guess that becomes a non-issue.

Obviously, you don’t start ultra running from a day to another. It takes just the same building up as with shoes, just maybe longer as beyond your muscles and bones, you need to prepare also a whole set of different muscles in the feet.

Yuan is a perfect example of how to push your limits when barefooting.

Barefooting above the abyss: second barefoot hike on suicide cliff

A little less than one year ago, I had started my history of barefoot hiking, by electing to climb suicide cliff. Since then, I climbed several other times on Kowloon Peak, some times by night, other times with my daughter… But I did not go back on the Southern ridge, climbing the steep walls that lead to suicide cliff… Until now! In October, I started my second barefoot hike on suicide cliff.

An early start

As suicide cliff can get quite frequented later during the day, it is preferable to climb in the morning. I thus prepared myself to start my hike around 9.30 AM, and obviously, even if not recommended, I climbed alone. Early departure allows also to skip the issues with sun beating down on the mountain later in the day.

I started off barefooting from home. While initially, it was uncomfortable doing so with the guards at my condo, with time it got easier as I tend now to run and hike barefoot quite regularly.

What changed from one year ago?

To be honest, no huge changes affected the trail this year. There were however two noticeable differences: a small tree fell across the trail at the beginning, consequence of the typhoon Mangkhut, and there is now a stark warning about climbing to suicide cliff.

warning board on suicide cliff route
Warning board on the Southern ridge route to suicide cliff.

These boards are also affixed at the other main entrance to Kowloon Peak, namely the stairs. Besides these warnings, the hiking conditions on the path have not significantly deteriorated from one year ago, so hiking is still very practicable.

Despite this, it seems hikers get regularly stranded or even disappear on this mountain. It is thus not an endeavour to undertake alone. I provide a walkthrough in this post, but please do not climb the mountain alone if you are unfamiliar with the place.

The initial climb

As this time, I had a gopro camera with me, I filmed the main parts of my climb, mainly to give a feeling of what it is to hike on this route. I would invite you to watch the climbing videos in order for you to better understand the challenges, especially if you plan on climbing for the first time.

The start is taking place in the forest as starters.

The start of the climb on Kowloon Peak

The beginning of the climb is not really serious. Most of this path takes place within the forest, and you can grip to rocks or branches to secure your climb. The real technical part of the climb starts once you are out of the forested lower part of the mountain.

The fork

At a point, you are going to reach a fork in the path. To the right is the most challenging path (which eventually joins the first one), but I do not recommend using that path. One of the reasons being that I never took it, the second being that it is way more sandy than the other side. At any rate, I filmed the passage across the small stream, but be aware that the ropes which have been placed there are used and should not be relied upon.

The passage of the fork leading to the second half of the climb.

Rock scrambling

The second part of the climb, once you are out of the bushes is something of a rock scramble, more than a hike. You need to use all of your body to pull yourself up. This is a quite physical effort, which means that you can easily be drained after climbing the rock for two hours.

The second half of rock scrambling on Kowloon Peak

Open Air

View from Kowloon Peak
First stage, where you come up, above the bushy part of Kowloon Peak.

After all the rock scrambling, you will arrive to a plateau, where there is sufficient space to ensure that you can rest. The view on the city is also quite gorgeous at that point, and it is where you will take a breather after the intense efforts. This is where I flew my drone too, but had to land it quickly, as the wind was threatening to fly it against the mountain or have it escape my control. For being short, this video does a good job of providing a contextual view of the mountain.

I then resumed my climb, as it was the final leg towards suicide cliff.

The ledge to suicide cliff

Before getting to suicide clfif, proper, you must walk a tight ledge. Explaining how it looks does not help much, and you will only feel the thrill when you walk it yourself.

The final ledge to suicide clif

Needless to say, while looking very risky, this ledge is large enough to be walked along comfortably. Nevertheless, it is best to be slightly slanted towards the mountain, in order to avoid any loss of balance tipping you cliffside.

Obviously, on suicide cliff, the necessary selfies must be taken…

Selfie on suicide cliff
A selfie on suicide cliff
On suicide cliff
On suicide cliff

Scrambling upwards

Rock scrambling does not end with the suicide cliff. Not in the least. To get away from suicide cliff, you can only go down by the same path you came up (very steep) or continue climbing upwards (and that involves some more rock scrambling).

Rock scrambling

While not terribly technical per se, this involves however passing on a narrow ledge giving on a ten-meter cliff. Here again, unless you are scared of heights (in which case you should not even be attempting this climb!), no real issue. Just remember that taking your time and advancing prudently is key to hiking safely.

Once you get over that part, then, you must still get around a huge boulder, and it is not obvious unless you have already been there (although you can just follow the trail in the vegetation).

Getting around the boulder

Once at the top, you end up with big stones and rocks that can be a bit technical to navigate barefooted, but perfectly feasible. Here is an example:

Resting on Kowloon peak
Resting bare feet on the top of Kowloon Peak

Ending the hike

The final leg of the hike involves both getting around a communication tower with barbed wires and climbing to the radio tower and the helipad.

The final leg climbing up to the helipad

The last part of the hike is going down the stairs. Under no circumstances think about taking the “shorter” way down on Jat’s incline side! That route is treacherous and extremely dangerous, please always take the stairs, they present no risk at all.

Climbing down the stairs

As a conclusion, my advice is once again, to be very careful. It is always prudent to start a hike on a new route with someone who already knows the route. And if you wish to start a hike barefoot, make sure you recognized the terrain beforehand and that you pack a pair of shoes (there is no shame in adapting to the terrain). Finally, don’t think you need to prove anything by taking the most dangerous routes when there are less dangerous ones available. Kowloon Peak is a famous mountain, but it stays a mountain. It must be respected and handled with caution. Safe climbing!

One year barefoot running and hiking

One year ago, in October 2017, at night, out of sheer despair, I cast aside my flip-flops and set off on my first steps barefoot running. Slightly painful though they were at the beginning, soon, these steps gave way to the elation of being able to run once again, about one year after having undergone an ACL reconstruction. Since then, over one year barefoot running and hiking, I kept pushing the envelope, among others barefoot hiking on Suicide Cliff.

Barefoot hike
Walking barefoot in Shoushan national park

Slow start vs strong start

It is traditional for barefoot running proponents to advocate a slow start, and this probably makes sense for most runners. I must say that since I have lived in Thailand, I generally do walk barefoot at home and use wooden sandals most of the time, otherwise.

When trying to resume running with shoes, the knee patella pain was too present to allow me any form of recovery. As a last resort, I switched to barefooting – and to be quite honest, always wanted to run barefoot.

As such, and rather counter-intuitively, my start was immediately with 1/2 hr runs and 4 to 5 kms each time. Though I was rather out of shape when I started, I did not suffer serious inconveniences when running. At the beginning, and mostly an effect of bad technique, I did have a few blisters. But beyond that, what I did was avoid running every day. I started by running twice to thrice a week, which gave time to the tendons to adapt. My feet, in themselves, did not suffer at all of the barefoot running, on the contrary.

Recently, I acquired a garmin smart watch. This allowed me to identify more precisely my running cadence, and it seems very close to the 180 steps per minute which are the optimal cadence at which barefoot running should be practiced.

Advantages of barefoot running

The advantages of barefoot running, beyond allowing me to get back to the point where I can run even with shoes, are numerous.

I realized when hiking barefoot lately, that my ankles and body muscles have grown stronger and can now ensure stability in all terrain, especially in the mountain. I did not have any injury, except a sensitivity once, to the Achilles tendon, which got solved simply by taking two consecutive days of rest.

barefoot running to Prague Castle
Barefoot running until Prague Castle

Running barefoot also helps gaining in self-confidence as it is something putting you under the spotlight. Only people with a relative confidence in themselves can do this exercise.

Another advantage of barefoot running is the comfort in which you feel even after several hours running/hiking barefoot. You don’t have shoes weighing you down or making your feet sweat.

The cons

Now the most obvious will be that gone are any pretense at passing unseen or discretion. Often people don’t look at the feet, but when they do, you can be guaranteed to see various levels of shock.

Look, for instance, at this video of my latest barefoot hike on Needle Hill:

Barefoot hike on Needle hill

People do tend to get surprised when they see someone walking or running barefoot. Some people may react aggressively, as somehow, the feet seem to have a special place in the human mind.

Sometimes, the problem is with “conviction-based” barefooters who tend to appear as aggressive in enforcing barefooting as Jehovah witnesses at your doorstep.

Your tendons and feet muscle will also be loaded much more than with shoes, and at least at the start, it is important to bear that in mind. Indeed, starting too quick may overstress those body parts and lead to overuse injury as well.

Barefoot run on the way down from Needle Hill



The other factor to bear in mind, is that you are inherently more vulnerable barefoot. As such, you generally run or hike slower (especially hiking in rough terrain). The counterpart to this being , of course, that you hike more leisurely and are more in phase with your environment.

After all, what better experience than being able to remember the feel of the terrain on a hike on top of the view or the general area?

Consistency

A key word in building up your resistance and capacity to run barefoot is to be consistent. Most of us cannot walk barefoot 24/7, so while we wear shoes, our feet lose some of the benefits of barefooting as well as become softer (which is not always a boon when practicing on rough terrain).

In addition, consistency will ensure that your tendons and other body parts remain trained to support the heavier load put on them by barefoot running. As for me, partly because it is fun, partly because it pushes the envelope on personal comfort, I do sometimes take the MTR barefoot after a hike. For example, see this timelapse:


The future

The future is probably not a generalization of barefoot running, but the development of a core of consistent barefooters who will serve as a reminder to the other runners  that barefooting can be good for health. Obviously, in Asian cultures, where some degree of barefooting has always historically existed, acceptation of barefooting is greater than in Western countries.

And then, obviously, there are areas such as San Francisco,  where barefoot running is basically impossible given the dirtiness and disastrous condition of the streets.

Nevertheless, never mind how gross or “painful” this may appear to you, try running or walking barefoot in the street. You will be amazed at the sensations and the incredible benefits this practice can bring. And if you need more references, I created a page solely for collecting references on barefoot walking and running.


A barefoot hike on Tai Mo Shan

Tai Mo Shan is the highest mountain in Hong Kong, culminating at 957 m. Despite being in Hong Kong for two years already, I had not visited Tai Mo Shan until recently. It must be said that it is a bit out of my way, and I already have the famous suicide cliff near to my place. I even went back there recently, but that will be the object of another post.

A photography meetup

I went up Tai Mo Shan with the members of a photography meetup, the PASM meetup. We went the day before the Typhoon Mangkhut hit the city, because prior to the typhoon, there is always some marvelous atmospheric effects in the sky.

Having missed the bus to Tai Mo Shan, we caught an Uber to be on the safe side. The side benefit of taking an uber was that the driver took us up about halfway up.

A windy start

Being on the side facing Yuen Long, we faced strong headwinds. An attempt to take off with my drone ended in a crash-landing that created some damage to the gimbal, although that damage was not immediately apparent.

Despite the wind, we managed to take some pictures on a rocky outcropping.

Bailey at Tai Mo Shan.
Bailey shooting pics on the protruding rock on Tai Mo Shan.

Climbing up

Although we had come halfway up on Tai Mo Shan, we still had halfway to walk, and so, we started climbing. Along the way, there is a viewpoint over the town of Tsuen Wan. While it is just the habitual cityscape of Hong Kong with high rises and some view of the sea (read: unremarkable), it was interesting to play with the drone around that area.


Bailey and Grace and Tsuen Wan
Bailey and Grace with Tsuen Wan in background

Of course, since the scene was there, I did take a dronie… Barefoot of course, as I was hiking the whole mountain barefoot.

Dronie on Tai Mo Shan
Dronie on Tai Mo Shan

The most fun was when another Mavic Pilot came down the mountain with his own drone, while he was actually riding a scooter. We then exchanged dronies capturing each other with our respective drones.

Two drone pilots in a dronie
Two drone pilots taking a dronie

The sunset over the mountain

Finally, after having climbed even higher, we came to an ideal position to see the setting sun. We were blessed with some angel lights shining through the clouds which made the sunset quite spectacular. Despite the proximity of the typhoon, and despite being on the exposed side of the mountain (again), there were no gusts, so the drone managed to be quite pliable.

sunset over Tai Mo Shan
The sunset over Tai Mo Shan.

Despite the lower dynamic range of the Mavic Pro, the picture is quite similar to the picture shot with the Nikon D 750.

View of the angel light through Nikon
A view of the angel light through my Nikon D750.

The reason for the absence of reddish sky is due to the wind which dispersed the pollutants which habitually diffract the blue part of the solar light. Habitually, Hong Kong and Bangkok are gifted with quite spectacular sunsets due to the high presence of pollutants in the sky. An approaching typhoon, obviously disperses these pollutants.

Going down

Once the sunset over, we started going down, also to get home on time to shelter from the typhoon. Nevertheless, that is when the sky started showing some spectacular hues.

Barefooting down the mountain
Bailey going down the mountain barefoot.

It was the occasion for me to shoot a pic of Bailey who, after a lot of prodding, finally decided to take off his shoes and start barefooting down the mountain.

Obviously, I took it to the next level, when I decided to jog down the mountain with my heavy backpack, still barefoot… But that is how a barefoot hike can be as much fun as a barefoot run!

Getting to Tai Mo Shan

We took it the easy way, as we hired an uber which took us up to halfway the mountain. Nevertheless, if you wish to climb Tai Mo Shan more “classically”, you must first head to the Tsuen Wan West MTR station. From there, you grab bus n° 50 and alight near the mountain. From there, it is impossible to get lost, as the path to the top is straight and paved until the end.

A day trip to “grass island”

The nice thing of Hong Kong is that in merely one hour, you can reach isolated islands where you are basically left to explore. Ok, I am exaggerating, of course, for a day trip to “grass island” is anything but adventure. Tap Mun in its Cantonese name, the island has long been a fisherman’s haven back in the days where China did not plunder all the resources around. Nowadays, there is a hesitant reconversion towards tourism, but the island lacks facilities and is small, both of which make its charm and make it less well known.

An antiquated ferry

Catching the ferry to Tap Mun island can be done in two places, both of them already involving about one hour commute. You can either catch it in Sai Kung, or near HK University, in Tai Po district. The ferry in those places is called “kaito”, an older indigenous name. The ferry does stop on its way to several small islands where people disembark, apparently to camp or swim.

All in all, the ferry ride takes over one hour, exploring the surroundings of Plover Cove. Upon arrival in Tap Mun, you disembark right on the jetty.

Tap Mun Island jetty
Tap Mun island jetty by drone

Most of the visitors (a lot of mainlanders from China) rush into the restaurants instead of exploring the island (which is small, less than 1 km² for the walkable section). As to me, I did the whole hike barefoot as is now becoming customary.

Tin Hau Temple

The island is small, so five minutes after leaving the jetty, you will come across one of the oldest structures of Hong Kong, the Tin Hau temple. Aged 400 years, this temple is said to be connected to a cave on the other side of the island.

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A sign of the relationship of the island to the sea life can be found in the presence of a wodden model boat inside the temple. If you go there, don’t miss the delicate ceramic figures on either side of the altar.

When taking a look at the big picture, you can see the location of the temple is just near to the harbour, and was probably at the center of the fishing community 400 years ago. You can also see to the right how Tap Mun island provided a nicely protected cove for fishing boats.

Tin Hau temple by drone
Tin Hau temple seen by drone

The first traces of population on the island go back to AD 1573, the Tanka people starting to use the island and building the Tin Hau Temple towards the XVIIth century.

A grassy island

The nickname of “grass island” is easily understood once you walk a bit around. Great parts of the islands are covered in grass, with some forest on the uninhabited part.

Grass island
Grass island and the pavillon on the northern part

Once again, using a drone allows to see the full size of the island and to better understand its structure. I did have some interested people during my flight, however. Thankfully my friend, Matthew, was helpful enough in talking to them.

Flying a drone
Flying a drone over the harbour

Some tourists do sit down on the gentle slopes, others try to camp over there.

Sitting on the slopes of grass island
Sitting on the slopes of grass island

In fact, the walkable portion of the island island is about 1 km, so you get around very quickly. But the presence of shelters makes it quite easy to move around and visit the island.

Shelter on Tap Mun island
Shelter on Tap Mun island

Feral cattle

Tap Mun island is also home to a small population of feral cattle. Namely, these are descendants of cattle that were released when the locals left. Nowadays, although “wild”, they are among the kindest animals of the sort that you can see in Hong Kong. They are all over the grassy slopes of the island.

Feral Cattle in Tap Mun island
Feral cattle in Tap Mun island (calves in this case)

Although kind, these animals are not domesticated. As such, you should not caress them or attempt stunts with them. Of course, this recommendation falls into deaf years with mainland Chinese who get into hot waters trying to have a pic taken with the cows.

Chinese tourist attempting stunt with feral cattle
A Chinese tourist attempts a stunt with a feral cattle

The “Balanced Rock”

The “balanced rock” is a natural rocky formation created by erosion, which left two rocks standing in equilibrium on each other.

Balanced rock of tap mun island
The balanced rock of Tap Mun island – and I am barefoot as usual.

Many tourists stop on the top of the cliff and take in the beauty of the island.

Tourist on Tap mun
Tourist on Tap Mun island

To get there, you must take a small buffalo path on the flanks of the hill (left on the photo below).

Balanced rock by drone
A view of the balanced rock seen by drone

Legend has it that a cave nearby communicates with the Tin Hau temple. At any rate, it is worth veering off the main course and seeing the balanced rock up close, but few hikers do that (the descent looks more impressive than it actually is, as I did it barefoot).

Fishermen on the island

The fishing past of the locals is still very present nowadays on the island. During my visit, I could see a man fishing on a cliff right above the crashing waves.

Old man and the sea
An old fisherman casts his line as the waves break around him.

Further to that, there were two other fishermen who were trying their luck near the balanced rock in a position less exposed to the waves.

Two fishermen near the "balanced rock"
Two fishermen casting their lines near the “balanced rock”

Finally, here is a walk through Tap Mun island with my friend, Matthew.

How to get there?

 

The first ferry for Tap Mun island  leaves at 8.30 in the morning (full schedule here). To catch it, you must first take the east line of the MTR to University Station.From there, you can walk or catch  a taxi to the Mau Liu Shui ferry pier.

A night barefoot hike on Kowloon Peak

After having climbed suicide cliff barefoot and by night, I still had to more. That’s why, last Sunday, I decided to do a night barefoot hike on Kowloon Peak to catch the sunrise.

Starting off at 3 AM

Although I live very close to Kowloon Peak, arriving at the top on time still requires starting off early. I thus left my home at 3.30 in the morning. Being night time as since I was alone, I decided not to climb via the Suicide cliff, as it would have been too risky. I took the stairs on Fei Ngo Shan road. As I do now more or less regularly barefoot running, my cardio has improved. I managed to climb without making any pause. This being said, being barefoot also requires me to be slower and to watch where I set my feet. I had a headlamp as hiking by night requires you to see where you walk, all the more as you hike barefoot.

Upon arrival, it was still dark, although the first embers of dawn could be glimpsed. However, very annoyingly, the tip of the mountain was covered in clouds (and was quite windy too). Topping 500 meters, Kowloon Peak is often shrouded in clouds.

Helipad kowloon peak barefoot
Taking a pic on the helipad of Kowloon peak with my walking torch.

I then sheltered from the wind. As the daylight was slowly increasing, I attempted to shoot some pics of the city. Unfortunately, given the strong winds, my tripod was not so stable, so several shots were spoiled. I still managed to shoot some  pics with my iphone on a moment where the clouds parted.

View from Kowloon Peak
A veiw from the topmost part of Kowloon Peak at dawn, as the clouds parted for a short instant

Dawn breaking

Later, towards 6 AM, as the dawn was breaking, and the sky started taking the “blue hour” color. Fortunately, the clouds and the fog also started dissipating.

Kwun Tong in the clouds
Kwun Tong emerging from the clouds like a modern fairy tale castle

The blue hour also manifested itself in this picture.

Blue hour on Kowloon Peak
As dawn breaks, the blue hour shows on Kowloon peak

It must be said that the clouds kept covering the top of Kowloon Peak. This gave however a lovely feeling to the area, as Kowloon peak is one of the few places where you can be said to be “walking in the clouds”.

Drone view of Kowloon Peak

The winds at the top were quite strong, so I was not too adventurous when flying my Mavic Pro. I tried however to take some context pictures that would show the area and how it really feels.

For example, an iconic shot at the top of Kowloon peak is the helipad on the top. A “dronie” with the helipad helps to show the path down from the top of the mountain.

Dronie from Kowloon Peak
A dronie from the platform of Kowloon Peak.

Kowloon peak also has very gorgeous view on Kowloon itself.

Dronie and view on Kowloon
A dronie with a view on Kowloon

As the dawn advanced, the clouds started to clear up, but on the other ridges of Kowloon peak, it gave a lovely Chinese watercolor effect.

Clouds shroud middle peak
Clouds shroud middle peak.

Going down

Normally, going down should be quicker than going up. That’s true but when barefoot, you have to be more careful, obviously. The danger is not so much about hurting your feet as of losing your balance. The technique I used is to land on my forefoot (similar to barefoot running) and being watchful when resting the remainder of my foot; indeed, landing on a pebble might be discomfortable (or even slightly painful), but with training, you take it in stride (your foot redistributes the weight differently). If you jump or land too heavily, there is a risk of losing balance (I had a rucksack and a tripod) and falling. That’s why, barefoot hiking should be done with as light gear as possible.

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On the whole, the sunrise experience was perfect in the timing and the pleasure of hiking barefoot in the mountain, but a bit marred by the lack of sunrise. I only got to see some sun when going down.

Rising sun over Sai Kung
A rising sun shines over Sai Kung

Japan: snow fun in Tomamu

One of the highlights of our trip to Japan in December 2017 has been the day where we traveled to Tomamu. Tomamu is a ski station situated inland on the island of Hokkaido, about one hour by train from Sapporo. The village has many ski resorts and winter sport stations, so it was the occasion to take our daughter to enjoy her first sledding and snow experience.

 

Taking the train to Tomamu

The train to Tomamu leaves from Sapporo main railway station, and it is an understatement to say that the walk to the train station was quite… icy! Snow covered the streets and in most parts had frozen up.

Sapporo and crest of the Emperor
The official buildings bore the crest of the Emperor as it was his birthday.

 

The cost of a return ticket was of about 27,000 JPY for a reserved seat for two adults and one kid. If you don’t buy a reserved seat, you end up having to pay the controller with an amount almost double the cost of a ticket.

The train trip is pretty easy and fun, and comfortable.

Train in outskirts of Sapporo

The difficulty of finding transportation in Tomamu

If you are not staying at one of the ski resorts of Tomamu, hitching a ride to the place can be quite a challenge. There are strictly no taxis or other transportation at the station, and all you have are the buses of the resorts. This being said, the drivers are quite nice and they offered us a ride to the winter sports station.

In fact, nobody checks who boards the buses upon arrival in Tomamu, as they only care of picking your luggage. Of course, the station stays closed day and night. So, no way to go around, unless you have your own transportation. As a consequence (and as you might expect), food prices are quite expensive both, at the resort and at the local restaurants. If on a budget, it is best to come from Sapporo by train, enjoy the activities and go back at night.

GAO Snow Academy

We went straight to the GAO snow academy, which is a lovely place for children. Not only do they have lessons for learning how to ski, but also they provide quite a number of services, such as snowmobile outings, sled rental, etc. We rented a sled and took our daughter out for the fun.

 

Sled in Tomamu
My daughter and me ready to sled

The fun part was to fly the drone in that lovely setting.

Of course, big kids enjoyed too sledding…

Mitch Sledding
Mitch sledding

The tiring part was probably having to pull the sled back up the hill.

 

Sledding in Tomamu
Playing with a sled in Tomamu

Maria-Sophia had a lot of fun building her snowman… Which she, of course, named “Olaf” according to the character of “Frozen”. Let us not even talk about the number of times she rolled herself in the snow. I guess snow always conserves its magical nature for kids.

Maria-Sophia's snowman
Maria-Sophia’s snowman

Tomamu, of course, has a lot of the markings of a mountain ski station… Like lovely isolated fir trees, making for excellent photographic subjects.

 

Fir trees in Tomamu
The lovely fir trees in Tomamu

The mountain light

The best moment was probably when the sun broke the clouds to illuminate a valley in Tomamu. I just had the time to grab a few shots of the marvelous light.

Angel light in Tomamu
Angel light over the Tomamu mountains

Tomamu’s ice village

As night fell on Tomamu, we headed to another very reputed winter attraction of Tomamu. The ice village of Tomamu, which is worldwide reknown is only open from 7PM. Normally, entry is free for anybody who is residing at one of the Tomamu resorts. For others,  you have to pay a moderate entrance fee, about 5 K JPY.

It is obviously totally man-made and artificial, but it is also a dreamlike vision seeing this igloo village nestled in the middle of the mountains at night.

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You can have warm drinks inside the individual igloos, or you can admire ikebana flower decorations in some of these igloos. A lot of people also queued to slide down to the ice village on an ice slide.

Returning to Sapporo

After visiting the ice village, came the time of going back to Sapporo. I mentioned earlier that Tomamu station was closed most of the time… This means that the station is basically abandoned and short of a stinky waiting room, there is nowhere to shelter from the cold.

Mitch, who was already tired thus buried her nose in her scarf while waiting in the room… And Maria-Sophia and me, we continued throwing snowballs at each other (although, by that time, my daughter was running on fumes, as the day had taken its toll).

Waiting room of Tomamu
The dismal waiting room of Tomamu train station

Nevertheless, all in all, Tomamu is really one of the best winter sports station in the world. The Japanese spirit and the availability of great facilities for families and kids, makes it truly a lovely place to visit. The natural beauty of the mountains adds to the great feeling.

 

English Bay: a beach in the city

The first hotel in which I was was the Best Western Sands. As it name indicates, it is very close to English Bay, a “beach in the city” within Vancouver.

A last minute choice based on its proximity to the beach, this Best Western was more akin to a motel. In the end, a wrong choice for every possible reason. Indeed, I soon discovered that hygiene was an approximation in that hotel, as the toilet bowl sitting cover was covered in drops of urine that had never been cleaned. To make it worst, the reception never sent someone to clean, nor did they provide the disinfecting wipes I had asked for. It was a rather bad experience to start my stay in Vancouver, but I did not let that deter me. I went out immediately with my gear, to capture the snowstorm that was buffeting the city.

On day 2, after seeing Vancouver under the snow, I changed my hotel (more on that story at the end). I dropped at the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa a wonderful old England style hotel in the center of Vancouver. I may write more about the stay at that hotel, but this post is not the place for it.

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An epic snowstorm

Reading the news afterwards, I realized better how the storm hit the city.  The snow had disrupted significantly the city, with up to 20 cm in places. This provided a magnificent backdrop for photos, so, the evening of my arrival, I went out to shoot.

 

The engagement
The “engagement”, an artwork by the artist Oppenheim.

In some places, the view of the snowy English Bay was wonderfully enchanting, not unlike Finland. Bear in mind that these pictures were shot on tripod in the midst of a snowstorm.

Vancouver beach in snow
A building on Vancouver’s English bay beach

The best part was probably seeing kids and adults trying to sled down the icy slopes of English bay. Others built a quite complete snowman.

Snowman in English bay
A very nice snowman in English Bay

All in all, the very special setting of English bay made it a lovely place to shoot the snowstorm and the locals enjoying it.

Vancouver English bay beach
Vancouver English bay beach

English Bay under the snow by day

Of course, seeing the marvelous setting of English bay under the snow by day, just gave me the desire to come back. So, the next afternoon, I went back and got the chance of seeing a wonderful winter sky which gave a special tone to the place.

English bay in winter
The marvelous winter sky on English bay under the snow.

People were out in numbers to enjoy the snow on English Bay, given that the place is so scenic. Couples, among others took a seat watching the sea and the snowy landscape.

Couple on English bay watching scenery
A couple on English Bay, watching the scenery

Further away, it could be seen that many locals came to try either sledding on the snow, or even trying some cross-country skiing!

Cross-country skiing in english bay
An elderly couple trying cross-country skiing in English Bay

The most Asian of Canadian cities

Vancouver could be dubbed “the most Asian of Canadian cities”. Indeed, during my stay, I had the occasion of seeing quite a large part of the population being Asian. To be even more precise, I came across some retirees speaking Cantonese somewhere near main street. But Chinese and HongKongese are not the only ones here. I also heard a lot of Japanese, either families living in Vancouver, or tourists. Koreans were also well represented. This ethnic composition makes Vancouver quite a rich community.

It is thus no mystery that I came across a group of Asian students on English bay, celebrating (a graduation or a birthday). They were kind enough to pose for me when they saw me pointing my lens towards them.

Asian students in english bay
Asian students in english bay

Another sign of Asian influence was spotting these stone piles in English bay. For some reason, they always appear wherever Chinese visit (I saw them also in French beach, on Vancouver island).

Stone piles in English bay
Stone piles: a very Asian sign

The typical Canada geese were around, flying in their typical “V” formation and providing a lovely view for the beach.

Geese flying in English bay
Geese flying in V formation

When flying above the structures of English bay, this became a typical scene of Canada. Somehow, it proves that with some patience and open eyes, even birds flying around can become a good subject for photography (my previous example being on Haeundae beach, in Korea).

Geese over English bay
A flight of geese passing over English Bay

How to get there?

If you have a car, it is quite easy to get there, otherwise, you can take a metro straight from the airport to the station Waterfront or Burrard and then switch for the Trolleybus n° 6 which will take you quite nearby.

Another barefoot hike on the Dragon’s Back

On this extended week-end of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, it was exciting to go for a hike. The easiest option available was, obviously, to go for another barefoot hike on the Dragon’s Back.

A crowded hike

On week-ends, habitually, the hike is pretty crowded, but on Chinese New Year, it became worse. Indeed, between mainland Chinese, expats and a throng of Filipina maids, the hike became quite busy.

However, as we started earlier, it was a bit less crowded at the start in the forest. You can see the terrain is pretty flat, with just some roots to watch for and the odd pebble.

Dragon's back beginning
Walking through the first part of the hike, which is a forested flat hike.

Once again, the Dragon’s back is one of the easiest and most accessible hikes of Hong Kong. I did it several times, and at least once before, barefoot at night. So, the whole first part of the hike went excessively well, if I except the habitual “barefoot!” exclamations of other hikers, or Chinese sniggering in my back. A few people gave me the thumbs up, some commenting that it was pretty “hardcore”. Filipina maids, generally look aghast…

 

On the Dragon’s Back

Once on the Dragon’s back, it was just the habitual ups and downs on the ridge… I decided not to fly the drone because of the high wind speed in altitude. In addition, the slight haze visible did make it less interesting to take pics (I had better pictures with better lighting and atmospheric conditions from previous visits). My wife took her turn photographing this time, and I played model.

Dragon's back
Past the first leg of the Dragon’s back.

Walking further on the trail, there was always that mixture of marvel, stupefaction or admiration in the other hikers. Seldom indifference, if at all. For a society tolerating plenty of devious behaviors, seeing someone barefoot seems pretty shocking…

My wife, this being said, wore her hiking boots. She gave me, also the occasion of shooting some pics of her along the trail.

Mitchy on Dragon's Back
Mitchy wearing hiking boots on the Dragon’s Back trail

Riding the Head

Reaching the end of the trail, this time, we pushed further to what might be deemed the “head” of the Dragon’s back: a cliff dominating the village of Shek O.

While situated beyond a warning panel, the views on this cliff are quite gorgeous and deserve a visit. However, the crowd present on the Dragon’s Back kept taking risks.

I noticed especially the Filipina maids, who have a propensity to take risks for the perfect selfie. Here, one of them kept posing on one leg right at the edge of the cliff (and it was quite windy!). The moment after this pic was shot, a wind gust blew away her cap…

Dragon's back maids
A Fililpina maid poses in equilibrium on one leg

The interesting of this last part of the hike from a barefoot hiking point of view, is that the granite of the cliff is a perfect terrain for walking barefoot. Where I used to find the terrain particularly slippery with hiking boots (the sand is rather treacherous!) or even trail running shoes, here, the rock was just perfectly adhesive with my bare feet. So, while this picture (courtesy of my wife!) may appear risky, it is well below any real risk-taking as there is a further ledge on the other side of the cliff, and there was no risk of slipping. The big issue is when people try taking selfies and don’t appreciate the distances behind them.

Barefoot on dragon's back
A barefoot portrait on the cliff above Shek O. Photo @mitchayfern

Shek O beach

The final goal, after coming down from the Dragon’s back, was to go to Shek O village. We did arrive there, had lunch, and then headed to the beach. With the strong winds the waves were quite powerful, and nobody was swimming. It was a perfect occasion to use the drone and shoot some spectacular scenes over the water.

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The interesting part was that some Filipina or Indonesian was having her prenuptial pictorials on the beach. I pirated some pics.

Prenup pictorial
Prenup pictorial on Shek O beach

Sometimes, some pics can be just as telling or as funny as you can imagine. Composition-wise, it was also interesting.

Prenup pictorial
Criss-crossing looks on the pictorial

Later, I also took a video of Shek O beach with my Mavic Pro:

How to get there?

I previously explained this point in a previous post. Please consult it for information. Once you complete the Dragon’s back trail, you can catch the bus n° 9, heading to Shek O. Be warned though, on crowded periods, the village and the beach can be quite busy… and the bus waiting queue can reach epic sizes.