The vertical life

Story by Francis Haden

The hillsides bordering urban Hong Kong offer classic routes on quality rock together with views that range from breezy open ocean to towering cityscape

There are few other major cities in the world where, within 10 to 20 minutes of leaving home or work, you can be at the foot of a crag. That’s the beauty of Hong Kong: in this vertical place, a paucity of flat land has fuelled stratospheric property prices but also ensured that urban and wild spaces lie in close proximity.

Hong Kong has a relatively short but intensive climbing history. The first routes were only recorded after World War II, but in recent years the sport has seen a surge in interest and new areas have been developed. Today, with up to 1,000 routes of single and multi-pitch, ranging in difficulty from F4 (5.4) to F8b (5.13d), Hong Kong has plenty of variety for any climber.

Photo: Jon Butters Ray Lee latches the dyno on Moonlight Snake, F6c(5.11b), with Kowloon spread out behind.

The rock is mostly granite or volcanic tuff, with single-pitch crags typically reaching around 20m, while there are multi-pitch routes up to five pitches long on Lion Rock. Protection is mainly resin (glue-in) bolts.

Backing all this are climbing clubs and gyms, sport walls and gear shops: in short, the city has all the infrastructure to fuel future growth as the young seek more balance in their lives by adding more active time in the outdoors.

Photo: John Butters Donna Kwok cruising the classic Dimple Face, F7b+ (5.12c), on Technical Wall, Tung Chung

HONG KONG ISLAND

‘Island side’ is where you’ll find most of the single-pitch action, with crags inland and along the coast.

Black CragWith a common grade of F6a (5.10a), quality granite and a walk-in that takes under 10 minutes, this is a very popular crag made still better by its fantastic views over the south end of the island. The far left of the main wall has a trio of excellent 22-metre pitches: Tycoon Talk, F6a (5:10a), is furthest to the left and follows a pleasant route up a slab until a short crux over a prominent strip roof, before an enjoyable finishing slab/ wall. Black is Back, F6b (5.10c), a couple of routes to the right, tackles a technical strip roof low down but its highlight is the technical headwall that is superbly positioned. Immediately to the right is the long groove line of Black Cat Strut, F4 (5.4). Moving back down the hill, every route is either F5 (5.7) or F6a (5.10a) aside from The Missing Link, F7a+ (5.12a), and Linked In, Blacked Out, F7b (5.12b), the hardest line on the crag.

Central: Perched above the heart of the CBD, this crag has a commanding view of Victoria Harbour in the background and the skyscrapers of Central in the foreground. Here, the climbing is spread across eight sectors so allow extra time on your first visit to orientate yourself about the hillside. This a popular venue with the more amenable climbing located on Soho Crag, of which Peel Street, F6b+ (5.10d), is a highly recommended photogenic classic. Superb and sustained technical wall climbing just adds to the experience. On Forgotten Buttress, head for La Dolce Vita, F6c (5.11a), another classic route breaching the improbable-looking roof high up the crag, also home to Local Spirits, F8b (5.13d), and Alliance, F8a (5.13b), both popular test pieces.

Photo: Jon Butters
Cynthia Leclair focused on the finishing moves of Peel Street, F6b+ (5.11a), Central Crags

Monkey Buttress: Like Black Crag and Central, Monkey Buttress is another compact crag with sport routes up to 15m in height, but tends to be a quieter location. The climbing here is technically fierce, grit stone-like in appearance and style, requiring good contact strength. The main wall offers the classic Back to School, F6c (5.11b), Gorilla Warfare, F7b (5.12b), and the classy line of Evolution, F7c/7c+ (5.13a). The left wing offers an appealing grade range of F5-F6c (5.7-5.11b) and the recently developed School Yard is a well-bolted area for beginners with grades F3-F5 (5.3-5.7).

Cape Collinson: A significant seaside climbing area with 60 routes across three distinct sectors with The Zawn undoubtedly the showpiece. The routes here encompass a wide variety of climbs from short power fests, moderate technical slabs to long pumpy routes – basically a bit of everything for everyone.

Photo: Cheuk Yin To
The author making the first ascent of Feisty Feline, F7b (5.12b), on the West Face of Lion Rock.

The stand out line is Sensation Seeker, F7c (5.12d), using the dramatic arête and equally compelling is the splitter crack to the right of Break Away, F7a (5.12a). On the slab, two routes in from the right edge is the classic Ride the Wild Surf, F6b+ (5.10d).

Bunker Wall features a selection of relatively short, easy to moderate routes on variable quality rock while The Beach includes a more varied selection of moderate climbs and the impressive cave home to Special Ops, F7b+ (5.12c), that tackles the cave roof to a powerful crux on the lip.

Ap Lei Chau: This is the most recent area to be developed in Hong Kong with 112 routes equipped with titanium resin bolts, spread across 10 separate sectors in a seaside setting. There is something here for everyone, with a specific traditionally protected sector and a significant quantity of well-protected sport routes covering F4 (5.4) to F7c (5.12d). With routes spread out across different walls and caves, it is unlikely to feel crowded despite its popularity among local climbers. For beginners, there are many routes up to F6b (5.10c), some classic low to mid F7’s (5.11/12) and a cluster of F7c’s (5.12d) that are severely overhanging – something that is unusual for volcanic tuff in Hong Kong.

KOWLOON SIDE

‘K-side’ is known for its classic multi-pitch climbing, especially on the local landmark of Lion Rock.

Lion Rock: Dominating the skyline, this crag is so called because when viewed from certain angles its profile resembles that of a lion. It is Hong Kong’s best ‘mountain crag’, comprising a West Face and an East Face: the former having the longer multi-pitch routes and generally easier lines. There are classic routes everywhere and this location is highly recommended.

The West Face is bisected by the five-pitch classic F6a+ (5.10b) Gweilo, which follows a rightward trending line of corners and grooves, culminating in a final and very exposed top pitch. Ward’s Groove, F6b+ (5.10d), is another popular route and is the original line on the crag, making a direct push up the face from the third pitch of Gweilo.

The East Face, while shorter, hosts a good collection of classics with the easiest being Austrian Staircase, F6a+ (5.10b), that follows the obvious rightward flake system into a groove system high on the wall. Tigger, F7a+ (5.12a), and the parallel combination of Morning Light, F7a+ (5.12a)/In the Shadow of the East, F7a (5.12a), provide two-pitch outings with challenging climbing.

Photo: Hong Kong Rock Climbing Adventure
Even top-roped climbers can enjoy the sustained climbing of Blue Cross, F6a+ (5.10c), on Beacon Hill.

TUNG LUNG CHAU

Long considered one of Hong Kong’s premier climbing areas, this island is a fantastic combination of high quality volcanic tuff, located a pleasant ferry ride from the city in a very social setting. Climbers often congregate for tasty noodles at Mrs Lee’s café with its walls adorned by artwork on polystyrene foam slabs.

Technical Wall: This is the jewel in the crown of Hong Kong climbing, with high quality single-pitch sport routes from F4 (5.4) to F8b (5.13d). Its popularity makes it very social if not even crowded sometimes on the weekend. The obvious corner line is The Corner, F7a (5.12a), with the classic F7c+ (5.13a), Tung Lung Bad Boy, taking off up the finger crack just to the left. The right section of Tech Wall is equally rewarding, with the imposing leaning wall just right of The Corner being Dimple Face, F7b+ (5.12c), an intricate line of crimps and pockets that is considered an essential tick for locals working their way up through the grades. Further right still is a great cluster of routes no more than F6a (5.10a) in difficulty, although watch out for the swells sweeping in as the tide rises!

Sea Gully: This crag has an altogether different atmosphere, with steep face climbing on compact, featureless walls and soaring arêtes. Starting at the right end of the crag, the obvious, flared corner is taken by the technical Ah Lun’s Route, F6b+ (5.10d). Towards the centre is the distinct colour of Green Slab, F6a+ (5.10b), with delicate footwork required. From here a terrace leads out beneath an impressive choice of blank-looking lines with Eco of Dog, F6c+ (5.11b), starting above the jagged flake and ending with a finish through the obvious capping roof. A visit here would not be complete without the classic arête line at the end of the terrace: The End of the World, F6b+

Photo: Hong Kong Rock Climbing Adventure
Climbers enjoying the sea air on Bunker Wall, a popular spot with learners, at Cape Collinson.

Practicalities

When to go

November through to February is the best time to visit when the humidity and temperature are low. Avoid the summer months when the humidity is over 90% and temperatures above 30˚C.

How to get there

Hong Kong is easily accessed from almost anywhere and makes a simple stopover en route to other climbing destinations in Mainland China too.

The city is well served by an excellent underground system (MTR), as well as many buses and affordable taxis, making hiring a car simply unnecessary. The Hong Kong Taxi Translator app can help if your taxi driver doesn’t speak English.

What to take

All routes can be climbed on a 60-metre rope with a rack of 15 to 20 quickdraws. Bring a few slings too if you intend to climb multi-pitch routes on Lion Rock.

Further info

Beginner climbers can learn the ropes at a local climbing wall, or to get started on the rock, contact Hong Kong Rock Climbing Adventure, www.hkrca.com

Hong Kong Climbing, www.hongkongclimbing.com, offers online crag topos and a useful forum for anyone looking for a climbing partner, although you need to register first.

You can also find some free topos on the author’s blog,
www.francishaden.wordpress.com

First published in May/Jun 2017