Hong Kong hiking experts say be mindful of body’s limits and don’t blindly rely on social media for trail tips

Hong Kong hiking experts say be mindful of body’s limits and don’t blindly rely on social media for trail tips

Hikers hitting the trails in Hong Kong should be aware of their physical limitations and stay alert for safety risks, experts have warned after two mainland Chinese tourists drowned at a popular seaside spot.

They also warned hikers to avoid blindly following recommendations posted on social media platforms and to be extra careful when taking selfies in dangerous locations.

“When you raise your hand to take a selfie, focusing on the camera, you may not pay attention to what you’re stepping on,” said Lobo Louie Hung-tak, associate head of the health and physical education department at the Education University of Hong Kong.

“A slight imbalance from one step can lead to accidents.”

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Hikers enjoy the sunny weather on the Dragon’s Back trail in Shek O. Photo: Dickson Lee

The safety warnings were prompted by the death of the two hikers on Sunday.

One of the victims, a 57-year-old woman, was swept into the sea as she tried to take a selfie at the edge of Tai Tau Chau in Shek O. Her brother, 55, dived into the water to rescue her but was overpowered by the waves.

Emergency personnel later pulled the pair from the water, but the man and woman were declared dead after being taken to hospital.

Louie said those going hiking should be mindful of their physical state, gear and weather, rather than just relying on tips from social media.

“Engaging in outdoor activities requires sufficient physical fitness and coordination,” he said. “When it comes to equipment and gear, a life jacket is essential when people are exploring rocky coastline. This reduces the risk of drowning in case you are swept into the sea.”

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Taking selfies along rocky terrain was extremely dangerous, he said, pointing to the number of fatal falls along the edges of the Grand Canyon in the United States.

According to the United States National Park Service, the canyon has about 5 million visitors annually. Two to three deaths are recorded at the site each year as a result of accidentally falling off the rim.

The pair killed in the latest incident in Hong Kong were accompanied by four other family members and were following a route shared on Xiaohongshu, a social media and e-commerce platform commonly compared with Instagram.

The platform has many posts and images with hiking trails ranging easy to extreme, such as in Shek O on Hong Kong Island and along West Buffalo Hill in Ma On Shan Country Park.

Some Xiaohongshu users have repeatedly recommended the route in Shek O for its scenic views, with the only safety warning appearing after using the app’s search function.

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Picking the right weather for hiking is an important part of staying safe. Photo: Dickson Lee

Chung Kin-man, a veteran mountaineer who conquered Mount Everest in 2003, said many posts on the platform failed to spell out the potential dangers at the scenic locations.

“There are a lot of recommendations on Xiaohongshu to show the beauty of different places with choppy terrain or rocky coastlines, but they never mention the potential risks,” he said.

Chung urged hikers to evaluate routes rather than just following social media recommendations, citing how trails at Suicide Cliff on Kowloon Peak suited advanced hikers rather than unprepared first-timers.

“Your energy level, the shoes you put on and the weather on the day are also crucial factors to determine whether it is safe to go,” he said. “Neglecting these factors and blindly focusing on taking selfies is often the cause of accidents.”

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Wedding photographer Gerry Cheng Kai-yin, 43, said he always turned down any client requests who asked for shots taken too close the waters along the coastlines in Shek O and Cape D’Aguilar due to safety concerns.

“It will be clumsy for couples who wear gowns and for us with shooting gear to approach rugged terrains and rocky coastlines,” said Cheng, who has owned a studio since 2014.

“It’s all about aesthetics when it comes to capturing the magic moment for couples. Rocky coastlines and cliff edges don’t guarantee the best photos.”

In Hong Kong, the number of hiking-related search and rescue missions surged from 242 in 2018 to 1,014 in 2022. The number of related deaths has increased from nine to 20 over the same period.

The Fire Services Department recorded 488 related missions and 14 accidental deaths over the first nine months of last year.

In April 2022, a 32-year-old male hiker died after he fell into the sea in Shek O while taking photos.

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