Hong Kong: meet the man who climbed every peak and visited every island

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Hong Kong (CNN) – Surrounded by photos, maps and other documents, 45-year-old photographer Simon Wan Chi-Chung prepares for his next big adventure in Hong Kong.

This is not a weekend getaway. He will climb all the peaks of Hong Kong – in one trip.

It won’t be his first try, either. He has tried several times over the past two decades.

There isn’t a single definitive list showing the exact number of peaks in Hong Kong. So Wan drafted his own itinerary based on various sources as well as his own research on the official topographic maps of Hong Kong.

Unofficial sources claim that there are between 121 and 161 peaks above 300 meters, spanning a dozen groups of hill ranges. According to Wan’s tally, there are 148 hills at the top.
He made his first attempt to visit them all in 2003. But on the ninth day, he was atop Needle Hill, 522 meters high, battling a sprained ankle – an injury he sustained on the second day – and called his friend, a doctor, for him to come and treat him.

But her condition did not improve, with the extra days of hiking and camping only exacerbating the ankle pain.

“I was young and arrogant, I wanted to prove I could do anything and ended up hurting myself,” Wan told CNN Travel.

Simon Wan Chi-Chung, artist and photographer, is currently planning his next big adventure in Hong Kong.

Maggie Wong / CNN

But an encounter with a fellow hiker – an older man he met earlier in the morning – gave him a new perspective. As the two acquaintances reached the top, they saw the rolling hills in front of them.

“This ‘Day 9’ uncle gasped when he heard about my mission to climb all the peaks in Hong Kong,” Wan recalls.

“He gave me his slice of bread and said, ‘Young man, you’re going to need it more than me.’ He grabbed an orange from his bag and repeated, “You don’t need it anymore.” It was such a simple gesture. But I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I let go of my arrogance and felt humbled by the mountains. “

With a heavy heart and a swollen ankle, he decided to press pause during the trip. Wan returned home to heal his foot for three weeks, then finished climbing the rest of the 148 peaks on his list a few weeks later.

It was one of his most memorable encounters and one of the reasons he devoted himself to the natural world of Hong Kong.

“On the hills, people are more likely to talk and connect,” Wan says.

“You won’t have that experience in the city. Nature makes people feel safe and comfortable.”

“ Hong Kong is a city hidden in nature ”

Simon Wan has climbed all the hills and islands of Hong Kong

Wan prefers to work with the film. He used a panoramic camera for his expedition in 2003.

Simon Wan Chi-Chung

In addition to its 148 hills, Hong Kong is also home to more than 100 island clusters made up of more than 250 individual islands. Wan claims to be one of the few people who visited all of them, claiming that he always wanted to become an adventurer.

“I was looking for a way to fulfill my childhood dream – to climb Mount Everest. But as I dig deeper, I realized how commercialized Mount Everest has become. It was another high end tourist attraction. It was not the Mount Everest of my childhood dream, ”said Wan during an interview in his studio, The Photocrafters.

After spending years studying in the UK, Wan realized that he was not very familiar with the Hong Kong landscape.

An idea struck him: “Why not explore every hill in my own backyard? And why not do this all at once?”

Carrying a bivouac bag and a film camera, Wan embarked on a series of “expeditions”. Ten years after his first trek through the mountains of Hong Kong in 2003, he repeated the trip in 2013.

Simon Wan has climbed all the hills and islands of Hong Kong

Rather than pitching a tent, Wan slept in a bivouac bag during his quests to visit all of Hong Kong’s peaks.

Simon Wan Chi-Chung

But this time he had a tighter schedule, so he chose to only tackle peaks that are at least 300 meters high.

Trekking 26-30 kilometers, or 11-12 hours per day, he reached 134 heights in 19 days, camping in different parts of Hong Kong along the way.

He titled the works of these trips “Post Urbanization”.

Then, in 2015, he traveled 107 clusters of uninhabited islands, traveling by canoe, in 11 days. “They were also ‘hills’ that I hadn’t climbed,” he says.

“These days you know the place before you get on a plane – you’ve booked a hotel, seen pictures online, or even know what restaurants to book before you leave your home. On those trips I have been to places I had never heard of villages and villages that I had never seen.You won’t find much information in some places online.

“It turns out that I don’t have to visit Mount Everest or a foreign country to find the excitement and bliss of exploration and adventure.”

Simon Wan has climbed all the hills and islands of Hong Kong

“On the hills, people are more likely to talk and connect,” Wan says.

Simon Wan Chi-Chung

Names of mountains and islands unknown to most Hong Kong people roll across Wan’s tongue as he recounts anecdotes of his travels.

He says he learned the story of Ap Chau, a rugged island in northeast Hong Kong, during an impromptu visit from a persistent retired villager who found Wan asleep on the pier one morning.

He visited the memorial plaque of Quentin Roosevelt II, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, on Basalt Island, where Roosevelt was killed in a plane crash in 1948. It is part of the history of the city that is not written in many textbooks.

“It might be an old saying, but the nature of Hong Kong is unique for its convenience,” says Wan. “No matter where you are, there is always a hill behind you. You don’t have to plan or ask for a day off. You can just go to lunch.

“People say there is great wilderness in Hong Kong. I say it is the other way around – Hong Kong is a city hidden in nature.”

Wan also offers plenty of tips for those who want to start exploring Hong Kong’s wilderness.

“Whether you are a mountaineer or a recreational walker, there is an itinerary for you,” he says enthusiastically. “Most of the hiking trails are well paved with signs and facilities along the way – so it’s really for everyone.”

A stone’s throw from the popular Victoria Peak (or The Peak), it offers a quick glimpse into Hong Kong’s natural beauty, but is right next to a bustling business center.

Simon Wan has climbed all the hills and islands of Hong Kong

Mount High West is only a stone’s throw from the popular tourist destination The Peak.

Simon Wan Chi-Chung

Meanwhile, Lion Rock Hill on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong offers “stunning views of Kowloon,” with trails suitable for all types of hikers.

Nature as an emotional platform

Capturing the beauty of Hong Kong’s natural side is more than just a photo task for Wan. It is also an outlet for him to express his emotions.

As he went through a painful divorce in 2011, he says he climbed a different mountain every day he couldn’t see his then two-year-old son.

“I was taking a photo in the direction of where he was,” Wan said. “Maybe he was looking in my direction at the time. Then we would look at each other. I have a copy of the trip to the Heritage Museum and I have one here for my son, so he ‘I know I never gave up on him. “

During his hike in Hong Kong in 2013, as well as his island hopping trip in 2015, he used a Holga – a film camera made in Hong Kong with limited functionality.

Simon Wan has climbed all the hills and islands of Hong Kong

Wan has used a Holga camera designed in Hong Kong on some of his trips.

Simon Wan Chi-Chung

“I knew before my trips that the Holga camera would not be able to give ideal results,” says Wan.

“But I wanted to use the camera as a metaphor for myself. I would persevere and I would not change as an artist. At the same time, I recognize that the environment is something I couldn’t control, so I had to let go. “

Wan’s next Hong Kong Hill Expedition will take place this summer.

“I hate Hong Kong summer – it’s hot and humid and typhoon infested. But I want to make the trip as stimulating and memorable as possible so that I deeply remember how unique Hong Kong summer is.” , Wan says.

“Some people are wasted when they need to release their emotions. I go to the mountains during my ups and downs. I think there is no difference. I love my home – I love this land. That’s why I’m so dedicated to this. Project. I think I’ll spend my life doing this if I can. ”

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