From Accidental Hiker to Accidental Trail Adventurer and Jungle Explorer, oh my!

Ever since my first trail mishap a couple of years ago (when I managed to get lost close to home on a bad air pollution day…), my hiking track record has been pretty good, touch wood. Feeling confident about my abilities, I have attempted several short unofficial trails in familiar territory (plus much longer official trails in less familiar territory), as if you know the area and have hiked it a good number of times, you can’t really go too wrong when exploring the slight unknown for the first time. Or so I thought, lol.

So, last Thursday, whilst out on the Lo Fu Tau Country Trail some ways down from the peak, I passed by the start of a seemingly simple and straightforward side trail that would appear to lead down to the Discovery Bay reservoir, which was in plain sight directly ahead and close by. I had passed this offshoot numerous times before, but had never thought to investigate it until that moment. I figured I had ample time, it would be neat to try at least once, so why not give it a go?

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The very normal looking start of the trail, with the Discovery Bay reservoir directly ahead and close by. Should be pretty short, simple and straightforward, right? Lol

The trail started off normally enough. The grass was cut back, making the dirt path easily visible as it meandered down the hill. After a bit, I passed a lone hillside grave facing out to the green pastures of the DB golf course (nice permanent ‘retirement’ view!). I paid my respects like I usually do when I come across such a grave, then continued on, only to soon find myself at a small stream. No more dirt path in sight. Huh?

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Hmmm, no more dirt path at the stream…

Well, that’s odd, I thought to myself, so I decided to follow the stream into the undergrowth just to be sure, and lo and behold, I spotted a faded trail ribbon hanging from a tree branch. Aha, I thought, this must be like one of those adventure trails (albeit an old one), but a trail nonetheless! Encouraged by my ribbon discovery, I soldiered on through the undergrowth, which admittedly got pretty darn jungly in parts, but the faded ribbons kept me going.

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Whoa, things are getting rather jungly in here!
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A little less jungly (love that word, lol) and more picturesque, kinda pretty even

Continue reading From Accidental Hiker to Accidental Trail Adventurer and Jungle Explorer, oh my!

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Should 15,000 steps a day be our new exercise target?

Taking 10,000 steps per day is often suggested as a desirable exercise goal for people who wish to improve their health. But a new study of postal workers in Scotland suggests that that number could be too conservative and that, to best protect our hearts, many of us might want to start moving quite a bit more

Published: New York Times, 22 Mar 2017
Link to the original article here

It has been almost 70 years since the publication of the London Transit Workers Study, a famous work in which researchers tracked the heart health of London bus drivers and conductors. They found that the conductors, who walked up and down bus aisles throughout the workday, were substantially less likely to develop or die from heart disease than the drivers, who sat almost constantly while at work.

This study was one of the first to persuasively show that being physically active could lower someone’s risk for heart disease, while being sedentary had the opposite effect.

Since then, countless large-scale studies have substantiated that finding, and at this point, there is little doubt that moving or not moving during the day will affect the health of your heart.

But precisely how much exercise might be needed in order to avoid heart disease has remained very much in question. The threshold of 10,000 daily steps, incorporated as a goal into many activity monitors today, has not been scientifically validated as a way to lessen disease risk.

So for the new study, which was published this month in The International Journal of Obesity, researchers at the University of Warwick in England and other institutions decided to refer back to but also advance and expand upon the results of that foundational Transit Workers Study by examining another group of employees whose workdays involve mostly walking or sitting. They turned to postal workers in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Glaswegian mail carriers generally cover their routes on foot, not by driving, and spend many hours each day walking, the scientists knew. But the mail service’s office workers, like office workers almost everywhere, remain seated at their desks during the bulk of the workday.

This sharp contrast between the extent to which the workers move or sit during the day could provide new insights into the links between activity and health, the scientists felt.

They began by recruiting 111 of the postal-service workers, both men and women, and most between the ages of 40 and 60. None had a personal history of heart disease, although some had close relatives with the condition.

The researchers measured volunteers’ body mass indexes, waist sizes, blood sugar levels and cholesterol profiles, each of which, if above normal, increases the chances of cardiac disease.

Then they had each volunteer wear a sophisticated activity tracker for a week, while at work and at home and during the weekend.

Afterward, the researchers determined how many waking hours each day the volunteers had spent seated or on foot. They also calculated how many steps each person had taken each day.

The variations turned out to be considerable. Some of the office workers sat for more than 15 hours each day between work and home, while most of the mail carriers barely sat at all during working hours.

Continue reading Should 15,000 steps a day be our new exercise target?

Heroic Hong Kong fireman dies in Tiu Shau Ngam clifftop rescue drama

Yau Siu-ming slipped and fell while helping to save trapped hikers in Ma On Shan Country Park, then died 15 minutes after colleagues battled for 10 hours to get him to hospital

Published: SCMP, 22 Mar 2017
Link to the original article here

A fireman injured in a cliff fall while rescuing an off-duty policeman and his girlfriend died ­on Wednesday minutes after a heroic effort by colleagues to get him to hospital.

Yau Siu-ming, 50, lost his footing and slipped during an all-night search and rescue operation that began on Tuesday when the couple became trapped after getting into difficulty in a treacherous part of Ma On Shan Country Park.

The principal fireman was carried down in a coma but it took 10 hours for rescuers to reach Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin.

Just 15 minutes later, at 4.17pm, Lau died of head injuries.

Assistant Director of Fire Services (New Territories) Yau Wai-keung said the hikers had strayed off their original path and entered woods and streams.

“[The firemen] had to pass through rough trails, roads ­covered with wet and sandy rocks and bushes,” he said.

Thick fog prevented a heli­copter from approaching. Firefighters had to walk 4km to reach the scene, then hack their way through the trail while tackling slopes at an angle of more than 60 degrees.

Resuscitation was performed on Yau, who was married and had a six-year-old son, as he was stretchered down, but to no avail.

The Post learned that the ­hikers were an off-duty constable, 32, from the airport security unit and his 30-year-old girlfriend.

“I am profoundly grieved at the loss of this dedicated and ­gallant principal fireman,” said Director of Fire Services Li Kin-yat, sending condolences to the family of the “devoted comrade”.

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He said a funeral committee would be set up by the Fire ­Services Department to make suitable farewell arrangements.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok and Secretary for the Civil Service Clement Cheung Wan-ching also offered their ­condolences. Chief executive candidates Carrie Lam Cheng ­Yuet-ngor, John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing said they were saddened by the news.

The Hong Kong Fire Services Officers’ Association said: “The association is deeply saddened and will do our utmost to provide assistance to his family.”

Yau, a fireman since 1987, was attached to Tin Sum station, near Tai Wai. He helped to put out the huge blaze that killed two colleagues in an industrial building in Ngau Tau Kok last year.

The hikers had set off from Shui Long Wo in Sai Kung on Tuesday afternoon. The man called police at 6.56pm, saying they had lost their way in the dark and fog and were trapped on a slope in Tiu Shau Ngam.

Some 250 firefighters and 19 fire engines were sent to the scene. The firemen began heading uphill at 7.06pm and after a five-hour search found the pair trapped on a slope about 10 ­metres below a hiking trail.

Yau fell and was knocked out at around 6am. A helicopter was eventually able to pick him up and he was taken to a fire station in Sha Tin, then to hospital.

Veteran hiker Chow Kwok-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Hiking Association, said Tiu Shau Ngam was notorious for its steepness and slippery rocks.

“On a scale of one to five, the difficulty is 3.5,” Chow said, urging beginners to start in the morning and not to go out in bad weather.

The hikers were discharged from hospital on Wednesday.

Trail etiquette, a new breed of Hong Kong hikers and useful trekking apps

It’s still early days for our city’s country park visitors to grasp the green concept of bringing home one’s litter

Published: SCMP, 11 Mar 2017
Link to the original article here

The government is facing an uphill battle to encourage hikers to be more environmentally aware and reduce the amount of litter left in country parks, figures show.

In September 2015, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department launched its Take Your Litter Home public education programme in a bid to reduce the number of rubbish bins on trails. About 256 litter bins – almost half of the total number – were removed by the end of 2016.

Despite the initiative, the amount of litter collected from the city’s country parks has not drastically fallen; instead it has remained generally consistent since 2013/14, when 3,700 metric tonnes of rubbish were collected.

Meanwhile pictures of litter-strewn picnic sites regularly show up on social media.

A spokesman for the department said the cleanliness and hygiene of country park trails “had not been compromised” by the waste bin reduction.

“As it takes time for the public to internalise the green concept and get accustomed to the practice of taking away their waste, we will continue with our efforts in raising public awareness,” he said.

Hong Kong Hiking Meetup founder Shum Si-ki said his hikers recently worked with the department on six trails to promote waste reduction.

He said, however, that while the amount of plastic bottles had declined significantly, there was still a problem with discarded tissue paper on the ground.

“There might be a misconception that they are biodegradable,” he said. “But I would like to emphasise that people should take them home too.”

The government also advised hikers to avoid smoking in the parks, as discarded cigarettes can start fires. It also suggested hikers should not feed wild animals as they might be dangerous when approached.

As for basic hiking etiquette, across the world, it is generally accepted that if two groups of hikers meet on a steep trail, then the group travelling uphill has right of way. Hikers are generally advised not to create too much noise with radios or mobile phones.

More Young Hikers

The average age of hikers on Hong Kong’s trails has decreased in the last decade, Shum said.

Growing numbers of hikers in their early 20s are venturing into country parks, whereas in the past most hikers were aged in their 30s to 50s.

“We are finding that a lot of the younger generation are hiking with us in the last three or four years,” Shum said.

“I think the Tourism Board has done a good job of promoting the outdoors. Hiking is less expensive than other activities; you do not need a membership. And in Hong Kong, it is convenient. You can just call up a couple of friends, walk for a couple of hours, then return home.”

App Assistance

  • TrailWatch offers helpful advice and GPS tracking for Hong Kong hikers. Established by local family charity the Wyng Foundation in 2014, it provides maps, distances, timings and points of interest for most of the major trails in Hong Kong. It also allows users to rate their trails, upload pictures of their journeys and make friends online with other hikers, similar to Facebook.
  • Hiking Trail HK offers a similar free service via the Google Play store.
  • Green Hong Kong Green, produced by power company Hong Kong Electric and a non-governmental organisation, contains information and maps for eight trails which feature interesting eco-heritage spots.

How social media and lack of research have increased risks for Hong Kong hikers

Beware of solo hikes and a false sense of GPS-enabled bravado, as well as the need to bag bragging rights for that perfect outdoor picture

Published: SCMP, 11 Mar 2017
Link to the original article here

Hikers in Hong Kong are increasingly dicing with death by ignoring safety advice and embarking on trails despite being ill-prepared, experts warn.

According to statistics, the annual number of mountain rescues by the fire department increased from 138 in 2005 to 357 in 2016 – coinciding also with the growing number of hikers.

Data from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department showed that country park visitors grew from 12.2 million in 2005/6 to 13.3 million in 2015/16. Before that, the increase was even more dramatic – from 2.7 million in 1977, to 8.8 million in 1987, following a push by the government to promote the benefits of hiking.

When approached by the South China Morning Post, both the police and the government said they did not keep records of how many people died or were seriously injured in country parks each year.

But based on previous reports, two hikers died while on a trail in the first two months of this year, and four perished in 2016.

Some courted danger by entering restricted areas, taking photos on cliff edges, or not having adequate amounts of food and water, while others ran into trouble while hiking alone.

On March 12 last year, a man in his 30s fell 400 metres to his death from Lion Rock after reportedly balancing precariously on a cliff edge while trying to take a photograph.

In November last year, a 60-year-old man collapsed and died on part of a steep, unpaved trail to Sharp Peak in Sai Kung, despite signs in the area telling hikers not to proceed.

Shum Si-ki, who founded the Hong Kong Hiking Meetup group in 2005, which now boasts more than 19,000 members, said GPS-enabled mobile phones gave some inexperienced hikers a false sense of confidence that they could “find their own way”.

He said that after Sars hit Hong Kong in 2003, more people turned to hiking to improve their health and get away from the cramped city, but that “increased the number of accidents”.

He also said he had seen young hikers taking bigger risks such as balancing precariously on cliff edges to obtain impressive photographs of their hikes for bragging rights on social media.

“Accidents mainly happen to solo hikers, you must at least pair up,” Shum added. “On our hikes, we always ask people to be careful when taking selfies. We remind people that you either hike or you stop to take photos.”

Hong Kong Hiking Meetup grades its hikes according to difficulty on a scale of one (easy) to five (extremely hard). The group offers about three hikes on weekdays and 12 on weekends.

Shum added that dehydration and the varying weather patterns were other major concerns for novice hikers.

“Especially in the summer, humidity is high and you find people are not prepared,” he said.

Continue reading How social media and lack of research have increased risks for Hong Kong hikers

Spring is here!

Whilst out hiking the other day, I couldn’t help but notice all of the new growth on the hills, from sprouting shoots and ferns to fresh buds and flowers. Everything looked dewy from the light rain earlier in the day, and I even spotted a couple of interesting moths (scroll to the bottom of here), but no snakes or big creepy-crawlies just yet. Only a matter of time before those make a reappearance, so I’d better enjoy things while I can! :p  Here are a few nature pics from my hike. 🙂

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