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?
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?
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.
Every now and then, the undergrowth would thankfully give way to a clearing from which I could see the reservoir getting closer and closer. I mean, if you’re following a stream and there’s a reservoir straight ahead, you’d sort of expect that, right, lol? Even so, it’s always reassuring to have visual confirmation in addition to trail ribbons. Feeling confident, I persevered, but it was pretty slow going through the jungly parts, as I had to climb over rocks (some slippery) and occasionally hunch over, parting woody vines along the way.
Fortunately, March is not yet snake or giant spider season (thank goodness!), although I did feel a bunch of cobwebs sticking to me (ugh!), heard some interesting but not too scary critter noises (mostly toads and unusual birds), and managed to grab a dead branch that gave way, causing me to slip from a rock and scratch my leg. Way to go. With a scratched up leg and the afternoon quickly escaping me, I was determined to get back to civilisation asap.
And so it was with great relief when I finally emerged at the reservoir’s edge. Hurrah, I thought, I made it! Now I just need to follow the path back to the road, which was a good couple of hundred metres or so away. The only problem? There was no path. I looked for a trail on the side closest to the road, but could see nothing. No obvious path, no semi-overgrown path, no more ribbons to follow, nada. Crap. And it would be getting dark soonish. Holy crap.
The way I saw it, I had five options at this point: (1) Go back the way I came, through the jungly bits and all (not really an option, because there’s no way I’d do that at dusk or once dark!); (2) Swim with my gear strapped to my head (not my preference, especially with open scratches in untreated runoff water); (3) Be picked up by a boat, assuming that’s even a possibility; (4) Hike over the hill without a trail; or (5) Navigate the reservoir bank to reach the road.
A boat ‘rescue’ would be ideal, so I called up the DB management hotline on the off chance the reservoir crew could dispatch a small boat to fetch me, but that was sadly wishful thinking, lol. I was told to retrace my steps (nope!), or else they could call emergency services for me (gah, not again!). With Options 1-3 out of the question, I was thus left with Options 4 and 5. I checked out the hill impeding my way to civilisation, but it was pretty rugged and scrubby, and I was wearing shorts and already scratched up enough as it was, so Option 5 seemed like the best bet.
Now, walking around the reservoir bank sounds like it should be easy peasy, but it was anything but, and never before have a couple of hundred metres or so felt so long and arduous! As I quickly discovered, there were two challenges with Option 5. First, the reservoir bank is pretty narrow. Second, it’s almost exclusively comprised of soft dirt, of which the bottom third is sludgy from water saturation. I was thus confined to the upper, much steeper crumbly parts, with no rocks or sturdy vegetation (it pulled out easily) for leverage or support.
As a result of these challenges, I found myself gingerly ‘butt crawling’ along the reservoir bank, with my back up against the incline and my hiking pole wedged into the sludgy portion below for leverage, all the while trying to redistribute my weight away from my feet to avoid the brittle dirt giving way and crumbling into the reservoir, as had already happened a few times. Talk about a total body workout from the constant muscle tension!
Anyone living in DB’s Bijou Hamlet (a pricey residential area by the golf course) could have seen me comically clinging to the banks, as I ever so slowly plucked my way towards the road. Thankfully I didn’t fall into the reservoir, but it might have been an improvement if I had, as by the end of my ‘ordeal’, I was covered in dirt, bits of undergrowth, cobwebs, sweat and of course scratches. Lol, what an adventure! Or misadventure. I can’t quite decide which. :p
As an aside, using a sanitary pad as a giant gauze pad to prevent Betadine ointment from getting on everything is a great and effective example of repurposing, lol. Also, I returned to the reservoir several days later to get a better view of where I emerged from the jungle, which is also when I took the two marked-up photos above. It only occurred to me then that had the reservoir been full at the time of my (mis)adventure, there would have been no reservoir bank to navigate at all, as the edge of the vegetation zone is in fact the maximum water line. :s