In the 70s there was no formal rock climbing instruction in Hong Kong. There was only one climbing wall and that was at the Outward Bound School. Allen’s, and my own education therefore consisted of reading books and stories, many of which were about the ‘Hard Men’.
The Hard Men were, amongst others, Joe Brown, Don Whillans, and my personal hero, Dougal Haston (who summited Mount Everest with Doug Scott, by way of the West Face in 1975). One of the reasons I respected Haston was his comment: “If I’d listened to everyone who told me I couldn’t do it, I would never have got off the ground.”
You can find out more about these legends at:
When Allen and I weren’t trying to kill ourselves on rock faces that were far above our skill levels we were busy risking our lives in other ways.
I have fond memories of drinking with Allen in Wan Chai, Hong Kong’s Red Light District, at the Kings bar on Lockhart road where they sold you half a pint of San Miguel for HK$2. In the 70s, Hong Kong brewed San Miguel was real gut-rot and anything more than a couple of pints was guaranteed to give you a crippling hangover. The bar had a jukebox that had the song, Mull of Kintyre, which we played over, and over, and over again. I’m pretty sure that the management and the other customers were glad to see us leave. For reasons which I don’t recall our ‘night out’ always fell on a Thursday.
Unlike many of the professional climbers we would have loved to emulate, we both had to work for a living and so, on one occasion we decided to meet after work one Saturday afternoon and share the cost of a taxi to drive us up Kowloon Peak where we planned to walk over the ridge to the helicopter landing pad, camp overnight and climb Sunset Crack on the main crag the following morning.
It was to be the first time I had used my new Dome Tent. They were a fairly recent innovation and unlike the more traditional tents, the poles were made up of flexible rods which were fitted through slots in the roofing material.
I recall we arrived at the landing pad shortly before nightfall and just had time to set up the tent and prepare our dinner before turning in.
Everything was looking good. Well fed, we turned in and promptly fell asleep. Then the wind strengthened to gale force. As the tent poles were flexible they didn’t break but the wind was so strong that the roof of the tent actually flattened against our faces.
I had no fear that the tent itself could not withstand the force of the wind. Our major concern was the that wind would manage to get under the built-in groundsheet, rip out the pegs and carry the tent, and its inhabitants over the mountain and down Kowloon Peak in the general direction of Kwun Tong (which was about 1,900 feet below us).
We decided to break camp. Our climbing gear was still in our kitbags so all we had to deal with was the tent and the fly sheet. We stuffed our sleeping bags into our kitbags and it was then that I saw the tin of condensed milk that we had opened, and planned to use up the following morning. (For some strange reason, every time I go camping with condensed milk something bad happens. Please see: Porridge-condensed-milk-and-dogs-camping-on-lantau-in-1977. It was also then that I managed to kneel on my torch which snapped in the middle. The only way I could keep it working was by holding it firmly in the middle with one hand while grasping the tent under one arm and the tin of condensed milk in the other hand.
I followed Allen as he lead the way down Kowloon Peak in the direction of another climbing location called Carol Crag. (Many Hong Kong rock climbers of our generation will remember Carol Crag with fondness as the place we first cut our teeth). As soon as we were below the ridge the howling wind subsided and we descended gratefully down the hillside until we came to the top of Carol Crag and set up a bivouac in amongst some rocks. I got out my sleeping bag and, unfazed by the trauma of the gale, the broken torch, and having to hold on to the tin of condensed milk in a cramped hand, soon fell asleep.
The following day was an anti-climax.
After breakfast we did a couple of routes on Carol Crag. I think it was to justify the trauma of the previous night. Then we made our way down to Jat’s Incline, Clear Water Bay Road and the Kwun Tong MTR.
Allen and I went on to further exploits, one of which involved me defending our honour with a spoon against a gang of snakeheads smuggling illegal immigrants into the territory. .
But that’s another story.
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