The Hong Kong Trail 2020
Background: Not a marathon as such, although we ended up completing the full marathon distance, albeit walking the whole way. I didn't even know this trail existed until a few days before we walked it, but once I saw it appear on my strava feed, I mentioned it to my daughter and we planned to have a crack later that same week. The weather didn't look great, but as she was heading off to University at the end of the week, we had no alternative. It's a 50km trail, which would be my longest hike since a crazy 60km hike around Cannock Chase in the late 80s - that really is another story. For my daughter, it would be way longer than anything she's done before, but she had been running well, so had some fitness in her legs.
Logistics: No travel of course, but as the trail starts at the Peak itself, we got an early bus up there. It was raining heavily on the way up, so once there we retreated to Starbucks for a coffee and a chat until the rain subsided. Unfortunately it didn't subside and got even worse with an intense thunderstorm passing overhead. Although the storm passed, the rain hung around and at around 9:20am, we decided to just go for it. Fortunately, the rain kept most people indoors and we had the pathways and trails to ourselves. The rain persisted, but it was still fairly warm, so we didn't suffer with the cold.
The trail: We didn't pick up on it straight away, but there are marker posts every 500m, so it's a question of ticking all 100 of them off, one-by-one. The early part is mostly downhill from the Peak, overlooking Kennedy Town, Pok Fu Lam and eventually reaching Aberdeen and Wong Chuk Hang. From there we worked our way through Aberdeen Country Park and eventually took a steep path up to meet Black's Link. Once there, we were on familiar territory and close to home. As this is the half-way mark too, it was a toss up as to whether we carry on, or come back tomorrow to do the second half.
We ummed and ahhed for a while but eventually decided to carry on, so once at Wong Nai Chung Gap we stopped at the gas station and refueled. In hindsight, the decision to carry on was probably a mistake as we were running out of time and shortly into the second half, my shoe finally gave in - the sole was fast separating from the upper, but a spare sock did the trick to keep them both together.
As we started the second half, the trail gets harder as we first tackled Jardine's Lookout and Mount Butler. Into Tai Tam Country Park now, we got a little lost when the marker posts seemed to disappear on us. Back on track, we skirted more reservoirs before finally arriving at Shek O peninsula where we would meet Dragon's Back which we knew to be the finishing section. However, this was only around 31km in and it was already 4:00pm, so we would be pushing it to finish before it got too dark.
The next section was probably the most tedious - a long flat pathway following the water catchment and the only consolation was that we kept up a decent fast-walking pace. We could see Dragon's Back on our left, but had to get through this 5km section before we could tackle it and get to the finish. Suddenly, at 37km, the catchwater ended and we commenced a steep climb all the way to the top of Dragon's Back. This was tough and the light was gradually fading as we went as fast as we could to get off the exposed trails before all the light was gone. This was the hardest part of the whole day - trying to stay positive while battling blisters, my broken shoe and the fading light.
Fortunately, we started going down just as the last light left us, but still found ourselves with 2km of trail to navigate in almost complete darkness. We got close to the road at one point, but the trail veered away from it, which only heightened our anxiety. Fortunately, we eventually reached a small side road and were at least within reach of civilization. The Hong Kong Trail itself continued right towards its finish at Big Wave Bay, but with 42.50km on our watches, we took the safe option and turned left to the main road to work our way home via bus and MTR.
Post-hike thoughts: The Hong Kong Trail is an absolute delight and although I have no others to compare it with, I guess this would be one of the best urban trails anywhere in the world. You're on Hong Kong Island the whole time and you are so completely cut off from the high-rise buildings and fast-paced living. Yes, you see it in the distance from time to time with some amazing views, but it's so far removed that it's almost a mirage as you can easily put it out of your mind and continue your plodding along secluded, peaceful and delightful trails. The Hong Kong Trail is an absolute must do for anyone visiting Hong Kong with a spare day in hand.