No Higher Peaks: Hong Kong (2007)


Be still, I said to myself.

But my self would not agree.

Instead, I stuck my feet into my worn trail runners, and raced out the door. It wasn’t far to freedom; the trail was just five minutes uphill. The humidity of the day didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the feel of sweat dripping down.

I was running. Running away. From work, family, life. Like our cat did, who, one day walked out the door, and just didn’t come back. I had no intention of not coming back, but to stay I needed to go away for a while. To go deep into the woods where wildness resided, where, if I wanted to, I could climb a tree, drink from a stream, scramble up a rock face.

Today, it would be High West. I’d never been there before, just read about it in Hong Kong Trail Guides. The path upwards I knew. It was rocky, dusty, steep. I skirted small stones, leapt upon large ones. It was a Tuesday, mid-morning, and the rest of the world was at work. Green surrounded me: bamboo, tree ferns, wild ginger, camellias. The sight was soothing after the concrete of mid-levels. Small waterfalls became streams that crossed over or under the path. Though alone, I was unfrightened, knowing my speed would protect me from most would-be predators. And I was an adventure racer – I would simply dart up a river bed if necessary. Or so I told myself, to push away fear. In the distance, Lamma Island was half-hidden in the haze. I coughed involuntarily, and ran faster, as if I could out-distance air pollution.

My eyes returned to the track. It was three feet wide, with a steep drop-off to the right. Stumbling was not an option. The final section was harder on my shins, the steep grade taking my breath away. Then I was at the bottom of High West.

The signage confused me, but I followed the most obvious track, traversing a deserted playground and picnic area. I passed some old buildings, long-abandoned to the elements. About them was the feel of ghosts. Nervous, I coached myself onwards, around the base of the small hill, to the bottom of a set of steep stone steps. One foot after another, I plodded upwards, sweat coming in earnest now, streaming off my arms and legs, dripping into my eyes. It didn’t matter. I had a goal: I wanted to be the highest thing on the landscape.

After fifteen minutes of steep stone stairs, I came to the exposed spine of the hill, and stopped. The wind was strong here, strong enough to make me pause. I fought the urge to crawl on hands and knees, stood upright and moved slowly.

It took me a long time to cross those twenty metres of exposed ridge, so scared was I of falling. To the left was Pok Fu Lam, to the right views of city skyscrapers. I felt I could reach out and touch their rooftops.

Beyond the ridge, the path wound through small trees and camellias laden with white blossoms. I rounded a final corner to see the summit, and the lookout. I sprinted the last few steps.

Standing there alone, I gazed at the distant islands, the fishing boats, the ferries carrying tourists on holiday. I was indeed on the highest peak visible. On top of my world. Alone.

A small smile played across my face. I had made it. Another trail, found and travelled alone.

I am always scared.

To me, each hill, each trail is a sort of Everest. It takes all of the courage I have to go out alone, to follow the maps, to face down the fear that wants to stall me.

High West that day, was my Everest.

After drinking my fill of the view, tucking it away to remind myself later that I do have courage, I danced down the steps, and found my way home.

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