Hiking in Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve
The Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve, according to “Go HK”, is the oldest nature reserve in Hong Kong. It lies between the University KCR station and Tai Po, covering an area of some 20 square kilometers. The trail runs along the west-side boundary of the woods leading to the southern hillsides. A map showing its location in Tai Po follows.
Well, after looking at it, it isn't very good as it doesn't even show much of Tolo Harbor, which is to the far far right in the blue, or DeerHill Bay, which was my starting point, but I took the time to copy it so here it is. I think it is more impressive to include a map as it makes the article more like a travel article, so if you don't want to look at it, just read on and skip over it.
Tai Po Kau is less than one mile (1.5 km) from my apartment, and as I am re-committed to get back into shape, this seemed like a good place to start, after a couple of days walking from Tai Po Road down toward the harbour.
As the pictures that follow show, it has four trails: 2 short ones (blue and red) and 2 longer ones: a brown trail which is 7.5 km and a yellow trail at 10 km, with an estimated time of 3.5 hours. The Yellow sounded great, and off I went.
When doing something there are two diverse philosophies: (1) “Be Prepared”, as all good Boy Scouts have learned, and (2) “Just Do It”, found on all the latest Nike advertisements and posters. I tend to favor the second. Preparation after all takes time and foresight and if you spend too much time getting ready you may decide it is not worth doing or you may not have time to do it. So me, I just did it.
Not without some lessons, however, that I may try to remember if I ever decide to walk across the burning desert or to climb Mount Everest.
- Hiking shoes are for hiking; loafers are not. Loafers are better than sandals, which I wore once hiking in the Sawtooth mountains in Idaho after a local told me about “an easy” five mile hike. So after multiple blisters and near sunstroke climbing in heat as bad as crossing that burning desert I previously mentioned, I have learned that sandals are not appropriate hiking shoes. Now I have learned that loafers whose bottoms are as smooth as glass don’t give one much traction, especially when walking over moss-covered rocks and wet packed clay. It did add a certain element of danger to the trek however, and mental thoughts of how far I would fall before being stopped by a tree or jagged rock. But only thoughts, no actual falls. I have decided, however, that maybe I should keep my hiking shoes in the car just in case I want to “Just Do It” on some spur of the moment. I might also keep a bottle of water handy as well, as I don’t yet have the ability to store water for extended periods of time like camels do.
- You are not near the summit if there are trees all around you, both above you and below. So why did I keep saying to myself after every minute or so, “Surely I’m near the top. This trail can’t keep going up forever.” That’s one thing about hills, you go up and up and eventually you get to the top. Mountains are even worse, but then mountains by definition (at least my definition) go up above the tree line and have such things as snow and glaciers and sometimes clouds near the summit. But hills are far better than canyons, as I know from hiking down into the Grand Canyon in Arizona quite a few years ago. When climbing hills, you work hardest when you are fresh, when climbing out of canyons, you are not sure if every step up is not as far as you can go.
- Not all trails lead to “The Summit” and maybe all hills (but I can’t swear to this) have a true summit. You climb up and up and up, then you finally level out, go around a corner and then you are going up again. I think it is all a plot by the people who made the trails in the first place to totally break the spirit of hikers, and I am sure they are still watching and laughing at poor pitiful hikers on their trails. Some people get a kick out of odd things such as this (but it isn't funny!). As I walked up and up the trail until it finally leveled off, I learned that the yellow trail kept going up again while the brown trail , which had followed the same path, started down. I could have used some water about then, but I had left it in the car.
- When you think the trail has leveled off, you are probably going downhill at a moderate grade, or how could the trail climb again even though you are already in the clouds. Maybe it isn’t that you are in the clouds, maybe it is that you are getting tired and you don’t focus as well as you did when you had water, you weren’t slip sliding all over the place and you weren’t so tired you that you had started to have severe difficulty in stepping over small twigs in the path.
- Hiking is great for meditation, for relaxing, but not good for taking pictures. In all my hiking in woods on hills, I have never come across the Taj Mahal, the Egyptian Pyramids or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I have seen a lot of trees, a lot of steps going up and some going down and an occasional bird, butterfly and wild flower and birds and butterflies won't sit still for you to take their picture so what's the use. So why take a camera, unless it is one you can keep in your pocket and then I would be worried that all the sweat would ruin it. So here I go, bulky camera hanging around my neck, the strap rubbing on my neck and the camera itself bouncing off my chest and generally getting in the way when I'm climbing.
- You never find trees and forests in the desert. In fact they are always around water, as the water is somehow important for the trees and underbrush to grow and stay green. With water you almost always have mosquitoes and spiders. This is a long introduction to get to my real point: it does not detract from your masculinity to use insect repellant. Of course, I wasn’t aware that the woods would be a major breeding ground for these little blood-sucking pests and I ended up with a few dozen bites and quite a lot less blood by the time I had escaped to safety, but then that’s really part of the fun in enjoying nature at its grandest. OK, along with my hiking shoes and water I will throw a small bottle of insect repellant in the boot for future “Just Do It” episodes. You may notice I am adapting to my new culture, as I now say harbour versus harbor and boot instead of trunk as they do in the UK.
- When you are satisfied that the trail is properly marked, then you find out the truth. It was all an elaborate hoax . After somewhere like 2,000 trail markers many of which even showed your progress, the trail just led to a paved road and no more markers. There were three road signs, one pointing right, one pointing straight ahead and one pointed to the left. Except for the road to the left, both the other roads showed the same destination: Tai Po. I thought I was already in Tai Po, and I definitely wanted to stay there. I would have preferred one saying Tai Po Road, which I knew was down the hill and would get me back home. What to do? I must say that prior signs gave hints that something was amiss. After the first hour, the markers showed my location as almost one-half of the way to the end. After an hour and a half, my progress still showed one-half, after two hours, slightly over one-half back to the start. So here I am after two and one-half hours trying to choose if both possible roads would get me home. OK, after almost three hours of walking (I took the one to the right) I did finish the trail and made it back to civilization and water and the car, and I am now pretty sure that both roads later came back together so either would have got me back BUT that was an evil trick to play on someone as tired as me.
Anyway it was a good hike, I did learn a lot and I hope to be better prepared next time, but then again maybe not.
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