Hiking in the Dark or: What we heard in the night

Creating extreme, niche hobbies is a favorite pastime of many people in Hong Kong. For example, why practice simple, hands-free tai chi when you could practice it with fans, swords, meter-long sticks or even badminton rackets? Why go for a vanilla picnic in the park with friends, when you could dress up as characters from a fantasy series and wage tree war before eating your sandwiches? Why go for a norm-core day hike, when you could stumble around in the dark on a pitch-black, moonless night?

For many people in Hong Kong the answer to all of the above is: Why the hell not?

With photo credit to a hiking buddy.

View of Tai Po from night hike. (With photo credit to a hiking buddy.)

Eager to participate in a niche activity, on Friday evening three of us set off from Tai Mei Tuk, Tai Po. Our objective was to climb up to the Pat Sin Leng ridge, walk up an down along the bumpy peaks of the “Eight Immortals,” walk down to the Hok Tau Reservoir and then to finish with a grand final ascent up Cloudy Hill before stumbling back down to Tai Po around midnight.

With our headlamps switched on, we started off in a jolly mood, telling ghost stories and looking for snakes off the sides of the trail. Then the trail switched from a gentle, steady upward climb to a steep set of stairs. Joking quickly ceased and we were instantly drenched from head to toe in sweat. When we reached the ridge line 45 minutes later, my glasses were completely fogged and perspiration sprayed off of the tips of my elbows as I flicked moths away from my headlamp.

Good God, what have I gotten myself into! I thought silently.

I had no comprehension that this point was only the beginning of a long, weird, glorious night and that it would be 1:30 am before I was tucked up in bed. During those next long, black hours spent rambling around the mountains I learned four valuable night hike lessons:

First, on a moonless night it is easy to make a wrong turn. After walking up and down the peaks of the Eight Immortals, we started for Hok Tau Reservoir. Somewhere in the dark we missed a key turn. We only realized this after coming across a signpost indicating that Hok Tau Reservoir was back in the direction we had just come from. One hiking companion tried to twist the sign by 45 degrees, but the signpost didn’t budge. So we turned around and walked up the long, sloped path that we had mistakenly followed down for 20 minutes.

Second, cross-trail spider webs are a hazard. I remained largely out of the lead but my two companions battled webs much of the hike. Sometimes they walked straight into the webs, flailing their arms and spitting on impact. Sometimes they jerked to a halt with a spider inches from their faces. Eventually they either held out their arms or swung sticks out in front of them.

Third, it is spooky as hell. I had not given this factor any consideration beforehand, but there were serval points in the hike when we could not see any city lights and were surrounded by tall trees. Outside the circle of light our headlamps created, it was pitch black and with every step we could hear animals moving in the forest around us. Was that growl a sleeping village dog? Is that large animal a boar? Which direction is it running? Towards us or away?

In one particularly dark point, the relative quiet was pierced by a shrieking, “Baaaaaaaaakkkk! Baaaaaaaaakkkkkk!” somewhere ahead of us on the trail. I shrank into myself wondering, Can I make myself invisible? Should I play dead? I also considered that I might rather run back 3.5 hours the other way, than get any closer to whatever was making that sound. Was it a band of wild monkeys? Will they ambush us? Thankfully our hike leader spoke with convincing authority, saying something like: “There are no monkeys in this part of Tai Po. It sounds like an escaped domestic chicken or a tropical bird that was formerly a pet.” I believed her, but walked very closely behind her as we moved past the noise.

Fourth, night hiking is a niche hobby worth adopting. Getting to the top of our ultimate ascent (Cloudy Hill) past midnight, was a hard won prize and worth every stumble. Delusional with happiness, we posed for selfies before the lights of Tai Po and then skipped down the last few kilometers to Tai Po.

It was a complete adventure, but would it be even cooler if we did the whole thing while carrying plastic swords? A further extreme-niche refinement for next time!

10 responses to “Hiking in the Dark or: What we heard in the night

  1. You’re right about night hiking being creepy. In a group there’s no problem, but one time my group raced ahead and I was on my own. I could begin to understand why some of my Hong Kong friends believe in ghosts!

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