Climbing the Lion’s Rock barefoot

I have reported on this blog about my barefoot hiking adventures quite frequently. This ranged from climbing suicide cliff, to climbing Lantau Peak, and even being caught in a storm barefoot. One hike, however, I had never completed, either shod or barefoot. It was climbing the Lion’s Rock barefoot.

A symbol of Hong Kong

The Lion’s Rock has always been dear to the heart of every hongkongese. The reason being that the crouching Lion watching over Kowloon is also a symbol of their undefeatable spirit and thirst for independence.

That is why, on several occasions, during the “Occupy” movement, activists used to hang banners in sign of protest from the top of the Lion’s head.

One activist explains why they hung a banner on the Lion’s Rock

Today, these times have passed, and activists have tamed themselves or forgotten any illusion of facing off with Beijing. The Lion’s rock hike, instead is just as popular as it has been.

Three routes

We started from Shatin Wai, as I was with my friend Matthew for this barefoot hike. Another route is climbing from Wong Tai Sin, or adding it as a trifecta to Suicide cliff and middle hill.

Obviously, we decided to start from the lesser known route, which starts in Shatin Wai, and offers quite interesting views on Shatin along the way. To do so, we climbed on “Kitty Hill”, a little mountain offering spectacular views on Shatin.

Point of interest view by drone
Matthew and me on 'kitty hill'
Matthew and me on “Kitty HIll”, on the outskirts of Shatin, at the beginning of our hike

From there on, started a roughly one hour and a half hike across the hills of Shatin, without much to signal, until our arrival at the stairs of the Lion’s Rock.

Stairs, stairs, stairs and more stairs

This title could be in fact a summary of all Hong Kong hikes, but the Lion’s rock is no exception to the rule: there is an incalculable number of stairs to climb to get to the view point.

On the way to the Lion’s rock

All in all, it took us 2hrs to arrive to the Lion’s rock. Once you arrive at the end of the trail, you still have to continue braving rocks and the abyss to get to the Lion’s head. There is a quite tricky passage to go through barefoot, when climbing down to the Lion’s Rock head.

Heading to the Lion’s Rock head

From the Lion’s head, you can find an easier trail to descend, which is mostly composed of gentler stairs than those we took to climb.

Gorgeous views

Suicide cliff has already some gorgeous view, but when there is no haze, the view from the Lion’s rock easily compares.

Me on the Lion's rock
Standing on the Lion’s rock!

While hiking there, we saw one climber abseiling down the Lion’s Rock… One example among those courageous mountaineers who enjoy training in this area.

Mountaineer on Lion's rock
A mountaineer abseiling from the Lion’s Rock head.

Returning down

The trail was pretty much frequented, as this was the second day in a three-day public holiday in Hong Kong.

Many families were climbing this trail. It must be said that while most of the trail does not present much danger, bringing young children on this trail does expose them to some useless dangers, as some passages involve having to scramble over rocks.

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 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.