Scaling Tung Lung Chau with Hong Kong sport climber Nathan Yau
Written by South China Morning Post (Morning Studio)
Nathan Yau has scaled many cliff faces in Hong Kong’s great outdoors. But Tung Lung Chau, a 2.4-sq-km island located to the east of Hong Kong Island that offers climbers many challenging coastal crags, has left a lasting impression on him.
“The fact that you have to take a boat to reach the climbing location adds to the sense of adventure,” says the 30-year-old Hong Kong sport climber. “Walking along the coastline, you can’t help but be impressed by the breathtaking views as you reach the cliff face. I love how the rugged wall contrasts with the open sea. On a clear day, you can see many islands farther away.”
The most popular climbing site on the island is referred to as the ‘Technical Wall’, or ‘T Wall’. It offers different vertical routes for climbers of different levels.
“One of my favourite routes is the ‘Dimple Face’, which has shallow pockets in the rock face and larger handholds,” says Yau. “It requires careful sequence planning, great technique and endurance.”
Dramatic coastal views
“There’s also ‘Bad Boy’, where the crux (the most difficult section of a climb) involves making a diagonal move up from a pocket to a jug — a big, open hold that you can get your whole hand around. This move takes a lot of core strength,” Yau explains.
He enjoys the dramatic views as he climbs up the ‘T Wall’. “There is a special sight beside the ‘T Wall’ that we call the ‘water jet rock’,” he says. “Whenever a big wave hits, a stream of water will shoot up.”
“While climbing, it feels exhilarating to be able to see other mountains and waves crashing below, as well as other coastlines farther away,” he continues. “It’s not hard to find a good mountain to climb in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s longest single-pitch route is at Lion Rock, which is climbed using a single average-length rope without any intermediate safety stances (where the climber stops to secure a safety rope).
“The view from up there is simply breathtaking. Climbers are perched on the side of the exposed cliff face, high up on the hillside overlooking Kowloon, the Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island. On a clear day, you can see right across the cityscape for miles,” he says.
A body-mind exercise
For Yau, climbing is a great workout not just for the body, but also for the mind as he needs to stay focused and calm to decide on the right steps.
“Every climb presents a different challenge,” he says. “I enjoy that feeling of having to reach a little farther to get to where I want to go. Since I started sport climbing, I’ve built up a group of friends who also love the sport, and that keeps me going.”
It took Yau seven years of juggling part-time jobs and training to win his first title at the National Rock Climbing Championship in Guangxi, southern China in 2015. That also inspired him to turn his passion into a full-time career.
With its Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games, sport climbing has been attracting new enthusiasts in Hong Kong. Yau enjoys working as a coach and seeing people take part in it.
“With the right equipment, it’s not difficult to learn,” he says. “The basics include a climbing rope, harness, and a belaying device, which prevents falls. On the ground, you’ll have a belayer, whose job is to grip and control your rope.”
“It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast to see if it’s going to be too windy or wet,” he advises. “When you’re just starting out, mistakes are inevitable, and you will probably lose your grip a lot. But if you persevere, you will get better. It’s about resilience and hard work — just like life itself.”
6 of Nathan Yau’s favourite spots on Tung Lung Chau
Hung Shing Temple — located right next to the ferry pier, the temple is housed in a humble white building with a classic Chinese pitched roof. I love the simplicity of it.
Tung Lung Chau Lighthouse — it might look just like any other lighthouse, but the view is majestic, thanks to its location on a rugged coast overlooking Clearwater Bay.
Tung Lung Rock Carving — historic sites like this ancient rock carving always stir my imagination. It gets me thinking, what is the message behind it?
The lookout point above the rock carving — from this vantage point, you can see Hong Kong Island to the left, Tseung Kwan O to the right, and the mountains and cityscape blending together —a classic Hong Kong view.
Tung Lung Fort — for a fort that was built centuries ago, it’s in pretty good condition. The walls are high — I wonder how people managed to build it without the help of modern machines.
Hen Hill — rock formations always fascinate climbing enthusiasts like me. On Hen Hill, you’ll find a special rock with many nicknames, such as ‘Eagle Tooth Rock’ and ‘Toad Rock’ due to its unique appearance from different angles. It’s a great spot for Instagram photos.
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