Barefoot hike on Suicide cliff

I mentioned that possibility in a previous post, and I finally did it: A barefoot hike on suicide cliff! Originally, I wanted to test myself with a barefoot hike on a less steep terrain, such as the Dragon’s Back hike. Seeing how packed that hike can be on weekends, I decided instead to do the suicide cliff. I am probably the first (maybe will remain the only!) to pull off this feat. Disclaimer: this post does not mean to incite you to replicate the fact without proper preparation/training.


For the record, this is a trail I covered five or six times this year with trail running shoes or hiking boots each time, so I knew the terrain and the risks beforehand. I also took it slow and easy and did not seek for thrills.

Going light!

Lightness was the key to going barefoot. As most of the previous times, I had packed around 15 kgs of photographic gear (and a tripod), this time, with bare feet, lightness was a must, otherwise, the impact when descending might have been increased with the weight supported (not to mention balance would be off by a degree). Originally, I wanted to take a hiking pole, but then decided against it as most of the uphill route involves using your hands to push on rocks.

I just packed a camera, 1.5 l. water and some change of clothes.

Lovely temperatures

In winter, at least, the temperature is far from that sweltering heat of the summer, but it is still a hike that demands some work as it is a continuous climb from the start to the top. However, I would say that we are in the golden season for this hike, as temperatures are moderate and ground is dry.

Still, despite this, I sweated quite a bit due to the effort. But let’s get to the nitty-gritty of this hike: how did I make it barefoot?

Midway to suicide cliff barefoot
The vertiginous view midway to suicide cliff

Why doing the hike barefoot?

I explained before when relating my hike on Kowloon Peak, I started running barefoot a month ago. This allowed me to strengthen immensely my feet and my overall form. The other point was that I got really fed up with the hiking meetups to which I participated. Half or three quarters of the participants were doing more of a trail running than real hiking. In a very Hongkongese manner, hiking is something to be completed asap and almost “business-like”. And otherwise, you will pollute the whole atmosphere with music boxes because you are “bored”. The concept of admiring or communing with nature is totally unheard of.

Slowing down

Doing a barefoot hike on suicide cliff is a way of opening your mind to everything that surrounds you and to the sensations of your body (you better listen to your feet!). It is also a very nice tactile feel. And finally, it was an achievement I wanted to realize after climbing so often on suicide cliff.

And last but not least, you are obliged to take it slow and deliberately and look where you place your feet. Despite all this, I kept ahead of two other shod hikers who started about five minutes after me.

In tight terrain, bare feet do a good job

If you have not yet done this hike, then let me give you a tip: most of the climb is made of small nooks in which you must place your feet. I did this hike with hiking boots, with trail running shoes and barefoot. Of all these times, it was the easiest when I climbed with trail running shoes and barefoot. In fact, the feet and its plant, in particular, do a good job of nestling into the limited space left in the rock. Hiking boots and their rigid sole make it much more difficult to climb. Furthermore, on delicate passages, where you might lose balance because your shoe is in equilibrium, the bare foot does claw around the rock to keep you stable.



 

Caution and care

Obviously, you will never hike barefoot if you are focused on completing a trail fast. You must be careful where you place your feet. You cannot kick or throw your feet anyhow, unless you wish to hurt them. Because of this, hiking barefoot is a form of hiking that has less impact on the environment. My feet left a minimum impact on the trail (which is worryingly suffering some heavy erosion with the huge number of hikers).

I hiked alone, but this was not much of a danger on a week-end, given the number of hikers taking this trail (sometimes, there is a real queue for getting to the suicide cliff).

Some delicate passages

A delicate passage is the sandy (and eroded!) path near suicide cliff itself. You must hold yourself with hands and/or a hiking pole, because, obviously, the sand is quite slippery. Another important point is never to jump or land heavily. I would say that the barefoot hiking style would be akin to a puma progressing in the mountain (your steps and progression must be smooth and feline).

I must however point out that the way down (via the stairs to Fei Ngo shan road) is otherwise more demanding when barefoot. As a number of wooden stairs have been worn out on the trail, all that is left in some places are protruding metal bars (there is  metal also on the existing stairs, but as they just appear as bolts, the feet just adapt around). Those metal bars when uncovered could easily injure someone absent-minded or tired (but so could a heavy landing on rocks). So, I would recommend wearing shoes in any case to go down (even if I did not follow that advice!).

Resting feet on grass
Resting on the grass on Kowloon peak after the barefoot hike on suicide cliff

The look of others

Again, as previously exposed, reactions vary. Generally, surprise and admiration are superior to the people taking you for a madman. A girl asked me if this was a challenge. Another group admired the feat, with one lady commenting that it must be very painful. I answered that it was not as I run barefoot.

But as I also mentioned earlier, you must have the strength of will to withstand criticism and be confident even without shoes.

Training for hiking barefoot

On the point of pain, if you are not accustomed to run barefoot, if you have tender untouched feet, do not try this at all. You must be accustomed to bearing your weight on reflexology stones touching your feet (many paths available in HK’s parks). You should be able to walk on one without wincing or being obliged to move to avoid the pain. Why is that? Simply because on the mountain, you might land on stones. When accustomed, your feet will shift the weight around that protruding intruder. It may be a sort of pressure induced on your feet, but if unaccustomed, it might feel a lot like pain. As such, when unprepared, you might be thrown off balance and lose your footing.

Silver grass on the hike

Silver grass on Kowloon peak
Silver grass line the stairs to the radio tower on Kowloon Peak

Right now is the ideal season for seeing “silver grass” on the mountain. From what I could see, a number of hikers were happy to take selfies on background of the silver grass. But this should not be the only reason for climbing up there. You should also think about the magnificent views up there, such as the view on Sai Kung.

Sai Kung and foggy mountains
On the first plane, you can see the city of Sai Kung, with, in background, a number of mountains enshrouded in fog.

I was lucky enough to arrive early, when the morning fog did not yet clear from the mountains. This gave that famous vapory look so typical of Chinese woodblocks.

All in all, a wonderful hike, and you are never disappointed by the sights of Hong Kong from Kowloon Peak. However, the heavy circulation also means you encounter 50% of hikers who are unable to hike without a music box.

Suicide cliff viewpoint
The real view from the edge of Suicide cliff

Barefoot hiking in Shoushan national park

The route to Shoushan national park

In my previous post, I mentioned that I first stopped at Formosa Boulevard station to take pics of the “Dome of light”. The moment I left my hotel, I decided that this hike would be made barefoot or at least without shoes.

After checking the route to Shoushan national park, my conclusion was that I would do best to get down from the MRT at Aozhidi station, and continue on foot… Obviously I underestimated the distance. I got down at Aozhidi station anyway, where I discovered the large city park. By now, was starting to get tired with walking and standing, so took off my flip-flops and enjoyed resting my weary feet by walking in the grass.

This didn’t mean that I was not there for shooting pics. So, some context pics, I did shoot, despite the lighting being really too flat and hazy.

Decoration in the park
Decoration in the park

For being in autumn, with some leaves already falling here and there, there were however still flowers to be seen in the park.

Flowers in the park
Flowers on background of urban cityscape.

As it was a week day, and we were in the morning, not a lot of people were in this park. Just some locals chilling out like this lady. The sight reminded me of that movie’s title “barefoot in the park”.

Barefoot in the park
A lady chills out in a park of Kaohsiung.

City bikes: the ideal way to explore a city

My excursion took another level however, when I discovered that you could rent bikes for a moderate amount (free of charge for 1/2 hr, and only 5 NT$ until one hour).

Rental post for city bikes
City Bikes in Kaohsiung

I grabbed one bike, and as sandals can be dangerous for biking, I biked barefoot, starting thus my journey up towards Shoushan national park. Unfortunately, signage is not very clear, so I took it a bit on the long side.

I managed to find another park near the museum of fine arts, where I took a selfie. The parks are always very lovely in their arrangement and very well kept in Kaohsiung, and that is part of the charm of this little coastal town.

Bridge over pond
A little bridge over a pond in the park of the Museum of fine arts

Getting lost is still discovering

I used  google maps to find my way, but still, the lack of appropriate signage means that I lost an important entrance point to the Shoushan national park. I didn’t mind that in the least, as for me, when you are on a vacation, getting “lost” is still a way of discovering. I was biking/walking in one of the more industrial parts of the city.

Old machine
AN old and rusty machine left in a side treet of the Shoushan district

This allowed me to search for photographic “targets of opportunity”. For example this old and rusty machine in a side street.

Textures

By then, I had returned the bicycle and was continuing on foot. The area, very much an industrial area with a few cement factories and a boating workshop had some interesting gems, both in figurative and in the proper sense. In the proper sense, as I met this gentleman named Ting, who allowed me to shoot some of his wonderful stones and gems.

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Less attractive, but always interesting for textures, was to shoot some details on a boat engine stored on the street.

 

Boat engine detail
Details of a boat engine left out on the street in Kaohsiung.

That workshop even stored some boats outside, giving rise to some quite surreal scenes.

Navigating the city
A boat in the city: a little boat stored outside a boat mechanic workshop

 

At the national park

Buddhist temple in Shoushan

The Bouddhist temple in Shoushan

Finally, around noon, i.e. a couple hours after my original plan, I arrived near the entrance of the national park of Shoushan. This park is open to the public, so no need to pay any entrance fee. There is a big Buddhist monastery at the entrance, with some nice views over the sprawling city below. I used a mirror on the parking to shoot a self-portrait (yes, not a “selfie”).

Near the Buddhist monastery
Near the Buddhist monastery.

However, there are also some stray dogs (which is strange as not far from the park, there is also a pet shelter), and they can be pretty aggressive if you get close (I guess because there was a puppy with them).

Barefoot hiking

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had started running barefoot as a way of allowing my left knee to recover and exercise again. Well, beyond barefoot running, I also started barefoot hiking, and Shoushan national park is an ideal setting for this as there is no rock clambering involved. Barefoot hiking is probably one of the best ways of really “feeling” the nature and your environment.

Shoushan national park
A gorgeous view from up there… In Shoushan national park

Later, as I began my climb in the park I took off my slippers. As I began walking up the park, the stairs and flat areas were pretty easy. Even these rocks were not that difficult to walk upon. The freshness of the ground and the various textures instead were definitely an enticing experience.

Barefoot hiking in Shoushan
Barefoot on the rocks: fun and not painful at all

 

Barefoot hiking: sensory overload

The variety of surfaces makes it an extremely interesting sensory experience when you hike barefoot. From the fresh feel of the mud and leaves, to the angles on the rocks and even every little asperity of the path. Even the most uncomfortable sections still leave you with a lot of sensations. I walked on a very jagged and rocky path which made me understand the saying “death by a thousand cuts”. While not cutting my skin at all, it obliged me to take it extra slow, watch my step at all times, but also was a high demand on my footplant’s nerves. At the end of the day, my foot cried mercy from all the sensation (don’t forget, it was my very first barefoot hike on uneven terrain).

The encounters on this hike were also interesting. I was not alone in doing barefoot hiking. This seems more of a trend in Taiwan. I saw at least 3 other guys doing the same. One of the guys, Xiao, even posed with me for a selfie and of course, the “foot selfie”). Xiao was so happy to see another barefoot hiking, that he even offered me some typical Chinese roots (very delicious).

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It seems Taiwan has a more relaxed attitude towards barefoot hiking or running. I even saw a guy running barefoot on a track near Kaohsiung arena.

The welcoming spirit of Taiwan for hikers

For being a national park, I found Shoushan national park to be very welcoming to visitors. In a rest stop, somewhere in the middle of the trail, you can find a shelter where they offer free hot tea! As I had emptied my water by that point, it was a very welcome halt.

Tea for visitors
Rest stop in Shoushan national park offering tea for visitors

At this point, I believe the distance covered was around 2 kms, but I was walking very slowly, as it was a very jagged and uneven terrain, and my feet were starting to have difficulties. However, before returning, I took a halt at the “4 banyan” rest stop. At lot of retirees keeping active there!

4 banyan rest stop
Old people taking a rest at the 4 banyan rest stop

Later, I headed back down… And found that I was near to the original temple featured earlier.

Back to the beginning
Full circle as I come down below near the Buddhist temple seen earlier.

It was where I met a tour guide, who despite his limited English, tried to explain me about the botanic qualities of several trees in the park. I really appreciated that encounter and it confirmed my opinion that inhabitants of Kaohsiung are incredibly kind and welcoming. The whole excursion took several hours, but were absolutely lovely.

Harrowing rescue on Suicide cliff during Typhoon Pakhar

The past week-end, while typhoon Pakhar was approaching Hong Kong, two hikers had to be rescued on suicide cliff.

Suicide cliff: asking for trouble!

Contrary to the routes I described in an earlier post, these hikers took it the reverse way, going down through the cliff. Now, in normal time, going down a very steep cliff is already an exercise fraught with danger, but these hikers went down during torrential rains and typhoon-strength winds.

In the story described by the South China Morning Post, the woman fell and injured her leg. Having been on Kowloon peak several times, I can confirm that even with a slight shower, the rocks and more particularly the floor is very slippery.

To compound it, from the pictures taken by the rescuers, the hikers seem to have mistakenly taken the route towards Jat’s incline, which is one of the toughest and most dangerous to climb, let  alone to descend.

Rescue efforts mobilized around 150 firefighters which is truly overkill for the situation. 10 hours later, the woman’s stretcher was finally brought to the top of the cliff then taken down through the stairs to Fei Ngo shan road. The man descended by his own means. So, this time again, nobody got hurt.

Suicide cliff, too famous for its own good?

Nevertheless, the whole suicide cliff hike is becoming a bit too famous for its own good. In the past month alone, I saw at least 2 different helicopter rescues on suicide cliff, and this was by nice weather (see pics below).

You can clearly see a person being carried up into the helicopter.
The helicopter hovers very near to the mountain walls.

So, once again, as I mentioned here and here, please be very careful if you don’t know a route. It is prudent to take it, at the very least the first time, with a group and not to do it alone. Furthermore, never mind your level of fitness, beginning hikers should never start without more experienced hikers when it involves any degree of climbing on cliffs.

Typhoon Pakhar blasts Hong Kong

After typhoon Hato, earlier this week, it was up to typhoon Pakhar to blast Hong Kong. One life was lost when a truck driver got ejected from his cabin in a road accident near Shenzhen, but except that, the city did not report heavy damage beyond the habitual fallen trees or branches.

A couple of hikers had the luminous idea of getting stranded on Kowloon Peak on Saturday evening, obliging 150 firemen to rescue them over the night from Saturday to Sunday. As a reminder, it is this tricky route here.

The aftermath

Cleaning the streets started as soon as the alert level dropped to 3, with street cleaners taking to tidy up the damage, despite the ongoing rain.

However the elements claimed another victim: a little bird seems to have been killed when a branch fell.

A bird killed by the typhoon