When most people think of Hong Kong, their minds normally conjure images of skyscrapers, throngs of people crammed into shopping malls and Jackie Chan battling it out with the Triads (basically, the types of things that would make any sane climbers avoid the place like the plague). Few people outside of Hong Kong, and quite a few of those who live here too come to think of it, appreciate that tucked behind the ever expanding concrete jungle is a vast area of countryside with massive amounts of potential for the outdoor enthusiast. Right:
Scaredy Cat (F6c+), Lion Rock Although unlikely to ever become a mainstream climbing destination, it might surprise you that Hong Kong offers probably the second best climbing destination in Asia (after Krabi, obviously). Whilst other Asian destinations such as Yangshuo offer some pretty decent climbing in a stunning setting, few of them can match Hong Kong in terms of the sheer diversity of good quality climbing available in such a short distance from one another, be that multi-pitch mountain or sea cliff routes, superb single pitch sport climbing and bouldering that’ll make your mouth water and your tips bleed! The epicentre of climbing in Hong Kong is the small island of Tung Lung Chau. Located at the eastern entrance to Victoria Harbour, this pretty much unpopulated island (ferries only run at weekends) includes the best and hardest sport climbing and the undeveloped isolation makes it a good escape to the hustle and bustle of the city.
The most popular crag on the island, Technical Wall, is a 20m high volcanic sea cliff with a huge platform conveniently located at its toe. The right handside of the wall comprises slabby routes with grades generally in the region of F5+. To the left of the slabs the wall becomes steeper with several overhangs high on the wall. Two routes in this area definitely worth seeking out are Small Roof (F6a+), which gives excellent enjoyable climbing up a crack and groove followed by some tricky moves through an overhang and Big Hand (F6a) which weaves a sneaky line through the roofs to the left of this. Further left again the crag really steepens up and gives generally sustained gently overhanging routes. The best of these routes are the ultra classic The Corner (F7a), a superb exercise in technical bridging and laybacking, Dimple Face (F7b+), a very sustained proposition up one of the steepest bits of the crag, and Tung Lung Bad Boy (F7c+). Be warned, this crag gets extremely busy on Sundays and public holidays and is probably best avoided in favour of seclusion elsewhere. The Sea Gully, located about five minutes' walk from Technical Wall, gives a very different style of climbing. Here the routes tend to be up near vertical compact walls that often appear featureless and improbable until you actually get on them. Although only a single pitch, most routes start off a ledge on the right hand side of the gully about 15m above its floor, which adds a certain sense of exposure to the overall atmosphere of climbing there. The End of the World (F6b+), located at the mouth of the gully is probably the best place to experience this with the floor dropping away from your feet the minute you step onto the route. For those not seeking too much exposure several routes exist at the entrance to the gully the best of which have to be Green Slab (F6a) a delightful technical slab climb, and Chime of Dog (F7a) which has just about every conceivable type of climbing on it. Just around the corner from Sea Gully lies the appropriately named Big Wall, a 60m face rising directly out of the sea with a distinctly Gogarth like feel about it. If you do nothing else on Tung Lung, a trip up Call of the Wild (F7a, F7b) is a must. Following an intimidating abseil down to a small wave washed platform, the climb leads out left directly above the lip of a large cave before launching up a series of cracks and roofs up the wall above. On a windy day when a big swell is running, a trip up this route is about as atmospheric as it gets. Right:
Evolution (F8a) Monkey Buttress Towering above the Kowloon Peninsula juts the majestic outcrop of Lion Rock, so called because it apparently looks like a lion when viewed from certain angles (although I’ve never quite managed to determine exactly what angles these are!). Lion Rock was the scene of the first recorded attempts at rock climbing in Hong Kong, in fact, the first foray onto its walls in 1956 resulted in one fatality and a hasty retreat. The first climb was eventually established two years later by two British Army Officers and the resulting route, Wards Groove (F6a+), is now an established classic giving sustained wall and crack climbing up the west face of the crag. Following this ascent the crag remained largely dormant until the early 1990s when British expat Martin Lancaster began exploring its walls and equipping routes with bolts and abseil chains. Nowadays the crags has upwards of 30 routes graded between F6a and F7b+, nearly all of which are fully equipped (some a little excessively) and mostly on good solid rock. The crag has two distinct faces that get the sun at different time of the day making it ideal for either escaping the heat or topping up your tan, which ever takes your fancy. The west face is characterised by numerous cracks and grooves interspersed with steep walls whilst, in contrast, the east face gives a continuous sweep of vertical granite with few natural features. Routes worth seeking out on the west wall include Gweilo (F5+), which is the Cantonese word used to refer to westerners (the literal translation of which means 'foreign devil'). This route picks and weaves an intricate line up slabs, cracks, corners and walls and all at a relatively amenable grade. For those seeking a more demanding ascent a combination of Fickle Felines (F6b), either the brutally overhanging layback crack of Firecracker (F6c) or technical groove of Hello Kitty (F7a), and wall and arete of Scaredy Cat (F6c+) gives continuous and varied climbing. For those seeking something a little more out-there, Walking on Sunshine (F7b+) provides an all to short trip out over the Lions Head, with little but air between you and the City far below. In contrast to the approach required for success on routes on the west face, the routes east face of Lion Rock tends to give more sustained technical climbing on steep walls. The easiest line up this face, and one of the best routes in Hong Kong, is Austrian Staircase (F6b). The first pitch of this route provides fine laybacking up a steep flake on generally large holds whilst the second pitch gives superb technical climbing up a series of cracks and grooves. Breaking out left from half way up pitch one and continuing directly up the steep wall above gives sustained crimpy wall climbing on Lion King (F6c) and the recently added Tigger (F7a) or Steve Monks line Balance of Power (F7a) give fine technical pitches up the face. Right:
Project prow For those who favour a little more solitude to their climbing experience, a trip out to the crags on Lantau Island is a must. The setting of Temple Crag is by far one of the most striking in Hong Kong, being perched high on a hillside overlooking the jagged hills, sweeping sandy beaches and the South China Sea. Add to this a myriad of fine multi-pitch granite slab climbs mostly between F5 and F6b+ and you’ve got the recipe for a great day out, Jaqattack (F5) and Keep the Faith (F6b+) being the pick of the bunch. Should this crag not quench you thirst for the day, the nearby Eagle Crag offers some superb seaside bolt clipping between F6c and F7c. As with most places around the globe, bouldering has seen somewhat of an explosion in popularity in HK in recent years and the Territory now sports over 600 recorded problems up to V10, with huge potential for development of new areas, let along pushing the boundaries at the areas already established, still abound. The largest, and best, of the developed areas is located above the town of Tsuen Wan in the New Territories. The hillsides in this area have a liberal scattering of pyroclastic tuff boulders, often stretching to beyond 6m in height. A dedicated effort is required for climbing here as the boulders are only accessible via a slightly harsh 30 minute uphill slog. However, the effort is well worth it as you are rewarded with five different areas packed with quality problems up slabs, aretes, grooves and walls. Right:
Impending Doom, Radar Rocks If you’re stuck with only a limited amount of time my recommendation is to head to the smooth walls and bulges of Lin Fa Shan, where classics such as the Stretcher (V4), Dislocator (V7) and So High (V9) await. With flat landings, short grassland surrounding the boulders and views out over Lantau Island this is by far the most user friendly of the areas. It’s also close by to the excellent Colin’s Boulders, which includes a good selection of harder classics such as the awesome roofs of Sparkies Amazing Technicolour Dreamroof (V5) and Taipan (V7), the crimpy highball of Mega Tsunami (V9) and the insanely thin wall of Hong Kong’s hardest problem Seamless (V10). Although not as extensive as Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong’s other bouldering areas are also well worth checking out. The best of these include the coastal granite of Chung Hom Kok (think Dover Island) and the rounded granite boulders above the fishing village of Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island, which a recent posse of French hotshots rated as their favourite spot. Both of these areas provide approximately 50 problems apiece and will keep most people happy for a day or two. Of course, what’s been described above is just the tip of the iceberg, so next time you’re booking a trip to somewhere that requires the hassle of a flight transfer somewhere in Asia why not choose Hong Kong and extend your trip by a few more days, you won’t be disappointed (and if it rains there’s always those crowded shopping malls to hit).
Rock Climbing in Hong Kong by Brian Heard, available in most good climbing shops around the globe, is the most comprehensive guide to climbing in the SAR currently available for purchase, and provides a reasonable oversight of the outdoor crags. However, the guide suffers greatly from the authors’ obvious opposition to the use of bolt protection, neglecting to include nearly all the sport climbs, and is now quite out-of-date. For better, more up-to-date and free details of the main climbing areas we advise you to check out the ‘Guide’ section of www.hongkongclimbing.com, which, also includes general details of shops and climbing walls and has an active discussion forum that’s a convenient place to hook up with other like-minded enthusiasts. For those of you that would rather leave your ropes and quickdraws at home, the Hong Kong Bouldering guidebook by Stuart Millis (published 2004) is an essential piece of kit, and you’d be foolish to leave home without it. See below for purchasing details.
When to Visit
Climbing is possible in Hong Kong year round, but is far from pleasant between May and August when temperatures frequently exceed 30oC and humidity is sky high. It also rains a lot in those months. Undoubtedly the best time of year for climbers is between October and January. These months yield little rain, cool temperatures and low humidity. February to April can also be good but you may risk the odd downpour here and there.
Where to Stay
You name it, this place has it. HK is geared towards all kind of tourists from 5 start swanky luxury to squalid cheap stinking hell holes. A quick search of the internet should turn up a good selection within whatever budget you’re operating in. If possible, try and stay to more centralised locations such as Central, Wanchai, Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui as you’ll find it easier to get to the crags from most of these places.
90 percent of people in HK don’t own cars so the place is perfectly geared up to the traveller on foot. An excellent underground system (the MTR) will get you close to most places and a short ride in a taxi (which is relatively cheap) is all that required from there.
There are various outdoor shops in Hong Kong which carry a good stock of climbing equipment. These are:
- Chamonix Alpine Equipment 1/F, On Yip Building, 395 Shanghai St., Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon.
- Hong Kong Mountaineering Training Centre, G/F, 1K Fa Yuen Street, Mongkok,Kowloon.
- RC Outfitters, 5/F&6/F, Oriental House, 24-26 Argyle Street, Mongkok, Kowloon.
- Overlander, 12/F Hollywood Plaza, Soy Street, Mongkok, Kowloon.
Most climbing equipment in HK is reasonably priced with the exception of climbing shoes, which are cheaper here than anywhere else in the world I’ve ever been (Anasazi’s for 45 quid and Mad Rocks for about 25!) especially when you use the next little gem of information: when shopping at Chamonix or HKMTC is to say you’ve got a VIP, look for it in your wallet for a bit and then say you must have left it at home, they’ll still give you the 20% discount this way.
The recent explosion in the popularity of the sport has led to numerous indoor and outdoor climbing walls cropping up. The only one worth checking out for the visiting climber are:
- Go Nature - 13/F, Tak Lung Industrial Building, 179 Wai Yip Street, Kwun Tong, Kowloon (http://www.gonaturehk.com/) - An excellent bouldering wall which is the focal point of the local climbing scene. A good place to find climbing partners.
- YMCA Kings Park, Gascoigne Road, Jordan, Kowloon - An 18m high outdoor leading wall with approx. 25 routes up it. Requires a simple assessment to be taken prior to use. Ropes and quick draws can be hired from the wall for a small additional cost.
- The remaining walls actually worth using are government run and so tied up in bureaucracy that even most of the local climbers can’t be bothered to use them.
Good guides to nearly all of the good touristy stuff can be found in books like the lonely planet. My only piece of advice for those who like clean open beaches, miles from civilization, surrounded by hills and with some awesome swimming holes nearby is to check out Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung. Catch this place on a quiet weekday during summer and you could be mistaken for thinking yourself in tropical paradise.