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!

Recreational drones and the regulatory crackdown

A recent trip to Canada and the USA was the occasion of discovering that the explosion of the number of drones has triggered increasingly stringent regulation.

After very mediatized incidents of drones being flown near to airports and other unsafe conduct from recreational drone pilots, the calls were general for more regulation. This, while drones continue being a hot market item (easily bought at Best Buy in Canada, or even on the web site of DJI).

It is true that the explosion of recreational drones has had as consequence a lot of irresponsible behavior by unprepared pilots who do not take enough precautions a). to avoid disrupting major aviation activities; b). to avoid endangering others while learning to master their machine.

It is also true that there are not enough schools to learn how to fly safely a drone, short of taking piloting courses. So, most novice pilots are left to their own devices, and if they lack some obvious common sense, they can become dangerous for others.

From one excess to another

 

Nevertheless the regulatory answer to these excesses and this mass market explosion of drones (most coming from China, by the way) has been marked by another excess.

Taking the example of Canada, for example, no flight can take place within less than 9 kms from any airport (in Hong Kong, it is just 5 kms). And given some areas of Canada are literally littered with airports or seaports, this makes it almost impossible to fly legally. Let’s not even mention the natural parks where flying drones is also restricted. You cannot fly above 90 m, you cannot fly within 75 m of a house, a person or an animal. So, to find a place to fly a drone, you should just go to the middle of a forest far from any civilization. Oh, and your name, address and phone number must be present on the drone.

That’s not nearly as bad as the USA, where, if you are not registered with the FAA, you cannot legally fly a drone at all. The consequence was that I carefully avoided taking out my drone while in the US. In France, no flight is allowed above cities and areas you can fly a drone into are very reduced.

Consequences of over-regulation

The fines, in Canada are pretty hefty, reaching up to 25,000 CAD if Air Canada finds you in violation of its regulations. “No drone” signs are now found even on some bridges, and flying in a city is basically impossible. I did however see a Chinese guy taking his Mavic Pro up in the airs at English Bay, for a very short while. The picture that was basically the same as he could have taken with a DSLR. Still, he was in violation of the Canadian laws.

While the sale of drones has not been regulated, the profusion of these prohibitions has as practical effect: it clips the wings of anyone wishing to try these gadgets. Drones are lovely tools to take spectacular photos, but they must be used responsibly and with care. The problem is that everything has been focused on prohibition and banning whereas the real answer would be education. On the other hand, drone pilots are always looking for the most spectacular footage, sometimes taking absolutely stupid risks. This footage being an example in point.

In the USA, “education” has been answered under the form of obliging every drone pilot to register themselves after following extensive courses and to pass an examination to become a drone pilot. The positive side of this is that basically you are taught a job and can get one after this course. The negative side is that such courses are very expensive.

A middle ground?

While flying my drone, I am often approached by amateurs who wish to purchase a drone too. I do notice that there is some surprise when I advise them that I must take some precautions when flying, check wind speed etc. So, education is definitely a must for drone pilots, even if many rules are simple common sense. For instance, asking bystanders to stand clear of the landing area, checking for electric wires, etc, having an idea of where you are going to fly your drone. I also see some drone pilots flying dangerously (out of line of sight, near electric masts, etc). At the same time, not every recreational drone pilot needs to be versed into UAV piloting rules.

A simple obligatory course in elementary flight safety rules, piloting course and emergency procedures would be sufficient for the vast majority of recreational drone pilots. The problem is that with every stunt pulled by an irresponsible drone pilot, we end up closer to extreme regulation and prohibition.

Bangkok: How a mall was built

The start of the project

This project started when I was living in Bangkok, in the posh area of Thonglor at soi 17. Just next door to my condo, in 2013, they started destroying an old house to make way for a new construction. As I had an unparalleled view from above, I decided to follow the progress of the construction. The original was to make it a sort of timelapse of the changes on the construction site, but with time, the real interest focused on the workers. Then it became the story of how a mall was built, namely “the Commons” mall in Bangkok. And more largely, a documentation of the working conditions on Thai construction sites and the workers along with the quirks and peculiarities of work in Thailand.

The hidden actors of Bangkok’s rise

Thus, the project moved towards telling the story of those workers who have made possible the fast rise of Bangkok. In a way, it is also an ethnological study of a micro-society.

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It all starts with destroying

In Bangkok, in prime locations, new projects often start with destroying old buildings. The construction site of the Commons was no exception, as they destroyed an old restaurant that occupied two stories in the back of the land. Probably an inefficient use of space for such valuable land.

Workers climb on the roof to pull down the main beams.

Of course, here most of the work was done by hand by workers with barely any protection against the hazards (no safety shoes, no helmets, if you notice the picture).

A picture of the context and the general idea of the location:

The demolition work progressed quickly.

Laying the foundations

Once the old house was torn apart and the rubble taken away, started the extensive work of laying the foundations. As a reminder, Bangkok is built on a former swamp, and the land is foundering by an average of 6 cms a year (huge by geological standards!). Hence, before building the main structure, the construction company kept on driving into the ground huge cement stilts to ensure the stability of the final construction.

Foundations layer
This machine is used to lay the foundations for the building. Here on day one, when it was not yet built up.

The machine used to thump into the ground those huge cement rods. This alone took upwards of 4 months.

This machine pushed down in the ground huge metallic rods to stabilize the foundations.

 

Preparing the construction itself

In a second stage, the workers started preparing the infrastructure for the construction work properly said. This involved mounting a crane. On that occasion, I had the utter surprise of seeing workers climbing up in the branches of a crane without any safety gear. But this was only the start of an incredible few years witnessing how the Thai construction workers got their job done.

darevils in a crane
To build the crane, workers climb without any security.

Once the foundations were laid, and a central cemented base was solidified, the central crane was used to lift all the heavy materials on the additional stories as they were being built.

The first cement basis provided the basis for building the other floors.

The building process

The building process involves laying layers of reinforced concrete, building support columns with more reinforced concrete, then building another floor above, often all at the same time. A fascinating work but done with a happy-go-lucky stance and total disregard for safety. As in this picture, you can see how many workers wear a helmet…

 

Scaffoldings
The building process required laying a layer of reinforced concrete then building columns and pouring another layer of reinforced concrete above.

Strangely for a construction site, a lot of ladies worked there. And despite the dust and the hard work, they never failed to try to be coquettish even on the construction site.

Coquettish even on a construction site.

This did not mean that the work was not hard, for ladies more than anyone.

Binding
Workers unite to finish a portion of the armature.

Ladies had to carry metal rods like anyone else, sometimes better, sometimes worst than men…

Ladies on construction site
Ladies struggle with carrying metallic rods across the construction site.

Odd situations

Often, this construction site offered quite quirky moments. From a lady taking a rest in a hammock hung on the scaffolding… to guys playing in flip flops on a construction site.

Hamac on scaffolding
A worker hangs a hamac on the scaffolding to take a rest.

Probably the most striking was the total lack of regard for safety. The workers often came working with flip flops, almost never wore a helmet and played in a very relaxed manner around other workers. Like in this case.

Playing on construction site
Two workers in flip flops play while a third is using a circular saw to cut a piece of wood.

edge
A worker stands on the edge of the building as the day draws to a close.

Safety : Thai-style approach

Probably, the most concerning part of the whole work was the fact that workers seemed to be completely ignorant of elementary safety rules on a construction site. Furthermore, most of them wandered on the working place either in flip-flops or without any safety gear such as helmets or protective shoes.

Safety not really a concern as these workers climb on unstable rods or work directly underneath.

In some cases, a worker can be holding a metal rod with his flip-flops while another worker hammers it into place…

 

Feet in danger!
A flip-flop worker is holding a metal bar with his uncovered feet, while a fellow worker hammers by the side.

The issue of electric shocks and elementary safety precautions, such as wearing shoes when climbing on tight surfaces seemed totally lost on these workers. A soldering iron was used, for example, with the wire hanging partly in water in the picture below.

Casings
The workers prepare casings where they will let the cement flow. Acrobatics in flip-flops? nothing to shudder about. Nor using soldering irons with the wire hanging in water.

Then, let us not forget about the acrobat climbing metal rods in flip-flops…

Flip-flop worker climbing
Flip-flop workers climbing metallic rods.

 

An incredible pace

Thanks to the breakneck pace and the extended hours (7 AM to 10 PM), the construction site moved very quickly, and as can be seen in this picture, where three different floors are being built simultaneously. Sometimes, this breakneck pace ends tragically, when structural issues cause a collapse of the construction.

Construction
Construction progressed quickly and simultaneously as can be grasped from this picture..

 

Good humor

Foreman
Foreman makes a sign to his workers as they leave the construction site

Despite the difficult working conditions and the heat, most of these workers had a good-natured disposition, having fun when they could and often joking among them. And at the core, it had to be a teamwork.

Supporting columns of the building
The workers group together to bind the iron rods that will make one of the supporting columns of the building.

The final stages

Towards the end of the building, the main crane was dismounted in favor of a small roof-mounted crane. In order to pour cement, the crane carried a worker who had to action the lever allowing the cement to flow.

This was the occasion for some spectacular pictures of the worker on the sunset.

Life in the balance
A life in the balance: the construction workers in Bangkok

Of course, even construction workers have smartphones, so these guys dismounting the crane did not miss taking some pics of the scenery.

 

Dismounting crane
Busy with dismounting the main crane, these two workers still find the time to take a picture of the environment from their high-perched observation point.

As the construction neared its end, it was time for a nostalgic picture closing the story. Here, the building was basically completed and the roof was already installed.

Nightfall on construction site
The end of the construction nightfall

The end result

Of course, we are in Thailand, so an important part of the buildup was… installing a spirit house on the roof!

how a mall was built: Spirit house
After the Commons was almost completed, first thing they did was install a spirit house on the roof.

I visited the Commons immediately after it was opened, and it was really remarkable to contrast the finished product with the years of work that preceded. Today, the Commons is a very posh mall and open-air restaurant. Nobody has any idea how this mall was built, nor of the efforts of the workers in building it. It is highly likely that any of the workers of the construction site will never be able to experience this mall, given its steep prices.

 

interior of the commons
Interior arrangement at the Commons

 

The Commons
The years of dangerous work were all for this: a fancy eating place for Bangkok’s elite.

If this project interested you, please leave your comments and/or feel free to share it.

 

 

 

The dangers of hiking: evacuation on suicide cliff

Yesterday, there had to be a helicopter rescue mission on the top of Kowloon peak with an evacuation on suicide cliff. Whether it is extreme dehydration (with 35 ° C, yesterday was a day of hell) or injury, this proves that you should never attempt difficult hikes without having more experienced climbers with you.

The difference between hiking safely and being evacuated

Despite this, I went back through a different route (Middle Hill) to Kowloon Peak with a group. While not excessively difficult, it passes near to some cliffs, and hence requires being careful. The extreme heat was a complicating factor too, but we were a nicely knit group from the Hiking meetup. So, don’t forget to take a lot of water, and go slow rather than too fast. And better go with someone who knows the route.

Photo taken approximately from Middle hill on the final leg to Kowloon Peak.