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PostPosted: Sun Jul 12, 2015 8:20 pm 
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Chris Bonington hikes on Lamma
Saturday, 11 July, 2015, SCMP Magazine
Mary Hui


"My big peaks are over," Chris Bonington told the audience at a lecture hosted by the Royal Geographical Society of Hong Kong, last month. "But I quite like small unclimbed peaks of 5,000 metres."

To be fair, the British mountaineer will be turning 81 next month.

Born in London, Bonington began climbing at the age of 16, in 1951, and his career has included 19 expeditions to the Himalayas and many awards.

I meet him one recent Wednesday afternoon, on the top deck of a ferry en route to Lamma Island. We are to go on a hike with local employees of British brand-management company Pentland Group. Pentland owns and manages the outdoor clothing and equipment company Berghaus, of which Bonington is the non-executive chairman. With a maximum altitude of less than 100 metres, it seems unlikely our route, from Yung Shue Wan to the eastern bay of Sok Kwu Wan, will trouble the adventurer.

Having stepped off the ferry in Yung Shue Wan, Bonington, dressed in a sky blue T-shirt, khaki grey shorts and sandals, and carrying a bright red backpack, makes his way towards the main street under an overcast sky. Perhaps he expected to find a sleepy fishing village because, as he passes restaurant after restaurant, he quips, "It's like a town, not a village!"

Kin Hing Tofu Dessert, under some large trees at the start of the Lamma Island family walk, is a dingy but roomy affair: a frame of steel rods holds up a large canopy, beneath which hang dusty old red lanterns. Bonington takes a seat on a grey plastic stool and reaches for a bowl of tofu fa proffered on an aluminium tray. He dips his spoon into the silky pudding and gives it a taste. He praises its "delicate flavour" then passes his bowl along to someone else. He is either too full ("We've been doing nothing but eat!") or sweet tofu just isn't for everyone.

"Where's the rickshaw?" Bonington asks, as the group stands to begin the hike. As will become clear during the afternoon, the climber is witty and self-deprecating, and has the timing of a stand-up comedian. When he's asked to step off the path and into some bushes to pose for a photograph, he does so with the words, "… and he was eaten by a python". And when he's asked to pose for another portrait, under a dense canopy of leaves, he glances up and says, "I'm looking for snow leopards, which are apparently found quite often on this island."

We make our way up a shaded cement path towards Lamma Winds, Hong Kong's first commercial-scale wind power station. On both sides of the path is thick, lush vegetation, damp from recent rain. To our right, poised in the middle of its web, is a large black spider with bright yellow strands along its thorax and legs.

"It's rather beautiful," Bonington says, taking his metallic grey point-and-shoot camera - appropriately, a shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof, crushproof and shakeproof Olympus - and snapping away. "The worst thing when you're climbing is to put your hand into a crack and there's a poisonous spider inside," he says. "But, never has there been [for him]."

A faint drizzle has set in - and most of the hikers, in true Hong Kong fashion, have whipped out retractable umbrellas. We head up a flight of stone steps to a viewing pavilion above Lamma Winds. At the top, a gentle breeze blows as Bonington looks out across the sea, towards Hong Kong Island.

Out come the cameras and a few women in the group, laughing, crowd around the climber for a group shot.

"Flanked by beauties!" he remarks. "My reputation will never survive this."

Bonington first came to Hong Kong in 1980, he says, en route to a reconnaissance of Mount Kongur, in Xinjiang, looking for someone to sponsor the expedition. He was introduced to Jardine Matheson, and the conglomerate agreed to back him.

"When we first went there, I'm pretty sure the Jardine building was the highest in Hong Kong," he says. "Now, it's dwarfed."

He has since returned to the city many times; what is it about Hong Kong that keeps bringing him back?

"Here there's this incredible, powerful, dynamic city, and there's also such fantastic environment around it," he says. "If you want to be a walker, if you want to be a climber, if you want to be a sailor, it's all there on your doorstep. It's … an incredibly exciting city combined with an amazing natural environment.

"There's … an amazing amount of rock climbing, both on the coast - a lot of lovely short climbs there - and up on the hills," he says. A personal favourite is Lion Rock. "It's not easy, but it's not particularly hard," he says of the climb, which he completed on one of his early visits, in the 80s.

As we crest the final hill before descending towards Sok Kwu Wan, we stop for a breather and to take in the views of the fish farms below.

"It's quite heavily populated, but there's a terrific amount of wonderful, wild, untouched country, isn't there?" Bonington says. He appears to be something of a reflective hiker: not merely putting one foot in front of the other and admiring the views, but also pondering, remembering, chewing on the past as well as what is to come. Is climbing, for him, as much an inward journey as it is an outward one?

"It's a combination of the two, always," he says. "I'm not at all spiritual. But, having said that, I am deeply and emotionally moved by the beauty of the hills and the beauty of the mountains. And from that point of view, that is an inner journey. And from that point of view, it is a reflective journey as well."

A seafood dinner awaits us in Sok Kwu Wan but "the adventure is not yet over", says Bonington, as we near our hike's end. "All kinds of risks can come between us and supper."

None does, however, and we sit down at a large round table at the shoreside Rainbow Seafood Restaurant.

"I want lots of food and lots of beer," Bonington says, and he gets what he wants.

Bottles of cool Tsingtao are delivered, closely followed by a feast that includes mantis shrimp - more popularly known as "peeing" shrimp in Cantonese - fried in salt and pepper ("Superb flesh. Delicious. I call this 'awesome'."); steamed scallops with vermicelli and garlic, which Bonington works at adroitly with his chopsticks; lobster stir fried with onion and a hint of cheese; deep-fried squid, which the climber dips into chilli soy sauce ("That sauce is fabulous. It's dynamite."); and a huge dish of fried red snapper with a sweet and sour sauce ("Oh, goodness!").

Nourished, we shuffle onto a ferry to make our way back to the city.

Bonington climbs onto the open-air upper deck as the ferry pulls away, leaving behind the now darkened mountains. As the ferry picks up speed, he moves to sit in the front row, peering out to sea, taking photos, perhaps planning further adventures.

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Can't be sure, but I guess (hope) he took the hill track (AKA Snake Path) from the turbine rather than the concrete path on the east coast.
of course, Yu Lai fan has targeted this track to be concreted. We stopped them once, they'll probably sneak it through eventually after posting a notice on a tree somewhere no one sees until it's too late to object.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2015 10:30 am 
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Why would they want to cement that path? The only people that use it, as far as I can see, are people who would want it to remain how it is! Ridiculous.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2015 12:06 pm 
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SSL956 wrote:
Why would they want to cement that path? The only people that use it, as far as I can see, are people who would want it to remain how it is! Ridiculous.


Because they would get a couple of million to do it.
They don't care who uses it.


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