Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My 1st Backyard Hike - Mt. Stenhouse

On one of my first sunny Sundays living on Lamma Island 南丫島, I decided to go out exploring. Heading out around noon, it was a delicately clear day to the eye, a calm and realizing day to the ear, but a rather fuzzy and oppressive one to the other 3 senses.

Without any plan or agenda, I set out towards the beach and within 20 short minutes was not where I wanted to be. I curiously poked around some neighborhoods beside and behind the beach in search of the 'family trail', climbing up and down numerous stairs and encroaching a little too much on some more private patios and back alleys between village homes. How could I be lost? I considered heading up to the Lamma Winds windmill and taking the snake trail down towards Sok Kwu Wan 索罟灣, but having already done that in the past, it seemed less exciting. And while asking one of the many people I passed on the trail would have been easy enough, I was happy to scout out the area on my own. Discover what was around and find something I didn't even know I was looking for. Eventually I realized that the path was along the coast, exiting on the far side of the beach near the BBQ pits, not up behind it. I made my way along the broad, paved path filled with tourists in sundresses and high heels touting umbrellas, oversized sun hats and super shades. The path eventually lead into some shaded ares and before I knew it I was approaching Sok Kwu Wan, the small fishing village in the middle of the island.

I checked out the small and secluded Lo Shing Beach, taking a break to read for a while and then I grabbed some quick food in Sok Kwu Wan.

Heading almost due south, I reentered the forest for a little while as I climbed towards the small rest spot, 陰山, just up form the crossroad. Here I enjoyed the view and the sunshine as I remembered that the last time I was at that very spot, it was a cool and windy December evening as dusk was settling over the island. After I while I decided to return home. I'd been out for nearly 3 hours and it has been a beautiful stroll in my new backyard. Upon reaching the map at the crossroads and realizing I had few options for my return trek home, my eyes began to wander. I studied the paths which spoked out from the peak of Mt. Stenhouse, the highest peak on Lamma. It was just a few crests and valleys beyond where I was standing. I contemplated whether or not I could make it up there and back before dark? I wondered if there was a different path, coming down from the peak, that would lead towards Yung Shue Wan  榕樹灣 so that I wouldn't have to retrace my steps? I took a mental picture of the map (why don't I have an iPhone yet?) and decided to go for it!

The climb up became increasingly harder as I disappeared into a realm of HK hiking trails that no one frequents in the excessively hot summer months. Overgrowth was an understatement. There were times on the ups where the thick vegetation came in quite handy as would have ladder rungs or ropes, but on the slippery downs the bush basically masked the rocky trails catching my ankles and lacerating my shins. Only once did I stop to assess whether or not it would make more sense to turn back. Nah, what fun would that be? I was at the top by about 4:15, enjoying a great sense of accomplishment and feeling the payoff of perseverance.

From the peak of Stenhouse, I scoped out the view of paths leading downwards, affectionately satisfied with my ability to apply what I was now looking down upon to the mental map I'd created earlier.
I couldn't help but also smile at the recognition of a deep rooted aversion to going back the way I'd come up. Who has rubbed off on me, this slightly stubborn strictly-straight-ahead style, sideswiping my stay on the safer side sensibilities? Hmmm... I was astonished by my own drive to explore the unknown and my motivation for discovery, even while facing 2 short hours of remaining daylight and the absence of map, food, headlamp and knife.

Onwards and downwards. This time the downs were especially hard as the trails became almost non-existent under the brush. Amazingly, every time I began to get discouraged or anxious at the thought that I had made a bad decision, I would find a clear stretch of trail, with a breathtaking view and I'd be encouraged forward by my own relentless efforts and cycling enthusiasm. Eventually, I could tell exactly where I was, reflecting on the map in my head, and I felt confident that I could get myself to Lo Shing beach by simply crossing a small but swampy gully. Looking down on it, it seemed doable. At this point, however, I crested a slight hill and while starting down the other side, I had the eerie feeling that someone was watching me. I looked up towards the next rocky crest to see a pack of wild dogs. Uh oh... Immediately upon making eye contact, they started to bark ferociously, telling me that they were not keen on me passing through their territory. Hmmm, time to re-route. I headed slightly backwards and down another side of the hill. Within 20 minutes I was in an overgrown forest, a good sign of reproaching sea level and civilization.

I was thrilled to be back on track, to have made it down smiling. My legs stung with scratches and nicks and my clothes were drenched with sweat, but I was feeling great. I found my way through some abandoned village houses in the woods to reconnect with the 'family trail'. I still had the 1hour walk back to Yung Shue Wan. There was a neat cloud effect happening as the sun began to sink behind the Power Station on my way. Perfect timing. I headed back into town for a big dinner and a cold shower, snuggled myself under the covers and was asleep by 8:30!

I later read on wikipedia: Mount Stenhouse is the tallest mountain in Lamma (353 metres above sea-level), situated between Sok Kwu Wan and Sham Wan. Unusually shaped rocks can be found all over this mountain, but a gruelling hike is necessary to access these.

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