Hiking barefoot above the sea of clouds: Lantau Peak

My previous hike on Lantau peak was shod; it was thus only natural that I should attempt a barefoot hike on Lantau peak. The initial goal was just to manage to climb the mountain, but eventually, I managed to photograph a “sea of clouds“.

An opportunity hike

I decided to climb Lantau peak as I had to take my family to the airport. Remembering that I struggled with all my gear the previous time, I decided to hike light this time. My package contained water, my camera, my phone and a go pro. I also took a change of clothes and a fleece sweater, as I was expecting to be chilled on the return.

The departure took place pretty late, towards 3 PM, but that still gave me some margin, as sunset was to take place around 17h 30 pm, so I still had time to return to Nong Ping. However, on the way, I saw several Indians who were barely arriving within view of the summit around 16h 30, or close to 17h 00… Given that none of them had packed a torch other than their smartphone, I hope they managed to get down without issues.

As a reminder, if you expect your hike to have even a remote possibility of ending at night, you should carry a torch light.

The start of the hike

As usual, the hike starts on Pak Kung Au. This location is the starting point for both, Lantau peak hike and Sunset peak hike (where you hike all the way to Mui Wo). Pak Kung Au, being some distance from the town of Tung Chung, you must catch bus 23M (the one going to Nong Ping) and alight at Pak Kung Au station. From there, you have to walk uphill some short distance, before joining the start of the trail to Lantau Peak.

At the very start, you will see a memorial comemorating the two GFS (Government Flying Service) pilots who got killed in a helicopter accident on the flanks of Lantau Peak.

Memorial to pilots
A memorial is present at the very beginning of the trail, remembering two pilots of the GFS who crashed there

A heavy fog was blanketing all of Hong Kong, so I was not really expecting there to be any significant shots, but I was fine with it, as it was just for the exercise.

The endless stairs climbing in the fog
The start of the trail on Lantau Peak: endless stairs disappearing in the clouds.

The first time I climbed Lantau Peak, it was at night, with a heavy load on my back and with a much lesser degree of cardio. This time, I was able to keep up a good level of speed, and if I didn’t manage to reach the 1h 1/4 promised by the direction boards, I did manage to get to the top in 1h 25 mins.

Direction boards on Lantau Peak
Direction boards tell you how much time left until you reach the top of the mountain

A grueling series of stairs

While very well signaled and built and unlike suicide cliff, perfectly safe to climb, the hike is mainly an endless succession of stone stairs. Keeping a light backpack is paramount to conserving energy and not exhausting yourself up there.

For a barefoot hiker, the challenge is compounded by some rough trails along the way, with loose stones. With some training, you just breeze past those areas, and bare feet do consent more balance. However, if you are unsure of your balance taking a hiking stick can certainly help.

Rough trails
In some parts, instead of stairs, there are some rough trails. Barefooting requires some technique here.

Above the clouds

At a point, I exited finally from the cloud cover and was welcomed by a warm sun in its setting phase. There is always some marvel at seeing the sun after bathing in the fog, but the marvel was compounded when I turned around and saw that there was actually a sea of clouds! As a reminder, the “sea of clouds” is generally formed by a weather phenomenon called “temperature inversion”, where the air near the ground is colder than the air above, thus trapping the fog on the bottom.

Climbing on Lantau Peak and seeing the sea of clouds

It is often said that barefoot hiking allows you to experience the hike, as well as do it… But the real experience was the magnificent views on this hike. The gorgeous views would almost let you forget that there is an airport in operation just next to the mountain!

Sea of clouds on Lantau Peak
Just before the summit of Lantau Peak, a shot shows Sunset peak surrounded by clouds

Summitting!

There is always a thrill in arriving to the top of a mountain, in my case, the thrill was increased by the fact that I did climb faster than I expected. A lot of hikers were busy taking pictures around on that day. And for cause! The sea of clouds was just gorgeous.

Panorama pic
An idea of the gorgeous view at the top of Lantau Peak via this panorama pic.

The setting of the sea of cloud is so incredibly gorgeous, that it provides the occasion for many pics in dreamlike situations.

Hiker before sea of clouds
A hiker looks at the sea of clouds

Of course, I did have my own pictures taken up there…

On the top of Lantau Peak
On the top of Lantau Peak, barefoot. You can see Sunset peak in the background and the sea of clouds all around.
Snap before distance marker
I asked another hiker to snap a pic of me before the distance marker of Lantau Peak.

And after this, it was time to head back down…

The road down

The first few meters down from Lantau Peak are quite impressive as you progress down an almost vertical flight of stairs which can certainly give fear of heights to people who are subject to it. The views, however are just gorgeous, as you feel you are descending from heaven.

Stairs descending from Lantau Peak.
The vertiginous view on the stairs descending from Lantau peak.

The stairs are nothing to write home about, on the way down. You must just be careful if they are humid as they might be slippery (especially when barefoot), but beyond that, although I was barefoot, I managed to reach Nong Ping before any of the other hikers who left the top at the same time as me.

Wisdom path shrouded in fog
The wisdom path shrouded in fog

It was a bit difficult for me to maintain trace of my upward progression as I missed a number of the landmarks we had been through during the night hike. However, I managed to evaluate my (fast) progression on the way down, by recognizing a number of benches or other features along the way. What was missing most was the possibility of recognizing the wisdom path along the way. When I finally encountered it, it was shrouded in the fog, giving it an eery aspect.

On the way back

On the way, I checked the abandoned village near Nong Ping. In a previous post, I had mentioned about the creepy doll in one of the abandoned shops. It seems that since my last visit, some vandals broke the windows of that shop and stole the doll. A pity, as she was one of the features to give a friendly face to this abandoned village.

In Tung Chung, after catching one of the last buses from Nong Ping, I caught the E22 bus to take me home straight, without having to change 2x MTR.

As a conclusion, the Lantau Peak hike, although grueling by the efforts required, is quite an easy hike, which can be easily done even by relatively inexperienced hikers due to the presence of stairs all along the path.

A final word: the overwhelming positive approach to barefooting on the trails

All the reactions of other hikers on the trail were admirative of barefoot hiking, so in general, hiking barefoot in Hong Kong is more of a subject of admiration. Barefooting on rough terrain commands even more admiration, as people cringe inwardly about the “pain” that could be a result.

While the terrain commands a slower hiking approach than shod, at the end of the day, the legs feel wonderfully light after the hike is over. Just good muscular tiredness, with no exhaustion on the feet.

As a barefoot runner and hiker, visibility is also important in convincing others to take the first step towards this life-changing practice.


Sunrise on Lantau Peak

Last Sunday, the PASM photo meetup organized a hike cum photoshoot for the sunrise on Lantau Peak.

An event postponed several times

Owing to the spat of bad weather that had been affecting Hong Kong, this hike had to be postponed several times. Obviously, bad weather does not make for very interesting photos, especially when you are in the middle of the clouds.

As a reminder, we had something like 3 typhoons in succession over three weeks. The bad weather scourge unfortunately also affected us this time. In fact, we had another typhoon skirting Hong Kong during this hike (again!).

Stairs, stairs and more stairs

As to the hike, per se, it is not that difficult. You just have to keep climbing unending stairs. Contrary to Kowloon Peak, there are no real dangers here, provided you don’t feel adventurous and decide to test the edges of the cliffs.

The real difficulty instead is the physical effort of climbing hundreds of stairs at night. With humidity, some rocky passages might be pretty slippery. The other inconvenience was that a 30-odd group of youngsters decided to do the hike as well. Where this would be an ideal walk in the night, this became a very noisy occurrence, with yells and music disturbing the peace of the night.

Viewpoints

There are several viewpoints over the Hong Kong airport. Obviously, needless to remind, do not fly a drone over that mountain: it is prohibited by Hong Kong laws to fly a drone within 5 kms of any airport.

Hong Kong airport
The great view from Lantau peak on the Hong Kong airport.

The second interesting viewpoint (at the top of the mountain) is on sunset peak, the neighboring mountain. Apparently, this place can be the occasion of seeing the very interesting phenomenon called the “sea of clouds”.

This requires however certain atmospheric conjunctions which are not always easy to get.

A sleepless night

After having sweated all the way to the top of Lantau peak, we tried to rest a bit at the top, but the wind blowing on top of our sweaty clothes got as result that we could not shut eye. Around 5 AM, we got an alert by the HK observatory that a thunderstorm was headed our way. In order to avoid being too exposed to lightning, we decided to go lower and made our way to a protective rock somewhere lower from the top.

At nearly 6 AM, we got caught in a real rainstorm (with luckily no lightning striking around). The kids who remained on the top must have been even more drenched than us. As the rain stopped, we got lucky and caught a break in the sky with clouds parting to offer us some blue sky and the reddish reflection of the sun on the clouds.

That’s how we were lucky to see something very close to a “sea of clouds”.

sun rising
The sun rises behind the “sea of clouds” on Lantau Peak.

Sunrise on clouds
The sun shines on the clouds on Lantau Peak

Going down

Going down after the rain was an exercise in patience. We had the thirty-odd kids queuing behind, and that put some pressure on me to walk faster. That’s how I slipped and fell down at one point, despite my hiking stick. There are stairs all the way down, but those stairs are very slippery when it rained. I was wearing Lowe hiking boots, but the rigidity of the sole and the slippery nature of the floor meant it was not such a good choice.

However, while going down, you have an excellent view over the coast of Lantau, and in particular the giant Buddha of Tien Tan.

Giant Buddha
A view over the Giant Buddha of Tien Tan from Lantau Peak.

How to get there?

You must first take the MTR to Tung Chung station. From there, you must walk to a bus station where you can catch the bus 3 M. In general, it starts at midnight, and last one is around 1 AM. When climbing, tell the driver you want to go to Pak Kung Au, as the far will be reduced by a few HKD.

When you get down, cross the street, continue walking about 100 m in the same direction and you will find the trail entrance. Thereupon, the trail is very clear, just follow the stairs. To see the sunrise on Lantau Peak, you should ideally start your hike at midnight.