Saturday, 26 August 2017

corporal clegg and friends

When I came to work at the Outward Bound School of Hong Kong in January 1974, I’d been attracted by the statement that ‘there are miles and miles of unexplored sea cliffs’. At the time, the school’s rock-climbing program was inadequate, so there was an urgent need to develop a more demanding alternative. The first location I visited was Fat Tong Point, in the far southeast of the New Territories (see map), which overlooks the narrow channel—Fat Tong Mun—between the mainland and Tung Lung Island.

In those days, it was common to see Chinese sailing junks negotiating Fat Tong Mun (mun is Cantonese for ‘door’), and I was most impressed by the levels of seamanship on display, because it was often necessary to perform complicated manoeuvres if the wind was blowing from an unfavourable direction. Incidentally, the logo of the Hong Kong Tourist Association is a sailing junk, but I haven’t seen a real one in Hong Kong harbour for decades. There is a motorized junk that plies the waters of the harbour, but this is merely an attraction for tourists, much like the rickshaws that used to line up next to the Star Ferry piers in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island.

Fat Tong Point proved to be an ideal climbing venue for Outward Bound students, and we started using it a few months after I arrived in Hong Kong. We would go there with a group of twelve students for two days, camping overnight. On the first day, we tried to do as many easier climbs as we could on the section of cliff directly overlooking the narrowest part of the channel. The following photo is of a page from my records of the time. It shows four of these climbs, which range in length between 40 and 100 feet. The procedure was that I or my colleague for the exercise would lead a climb, and a student would then follow. They would then take the instructor’s place at the top and throw the rope down for the next student, a procedure that was repeated until everyone had done the climb.

The second day was a much tougher proposition. We identified four climbs graded VS (very severe, a respectable level of difficulty), and the challenge for the students was to climb all four. The next two photos show me leading the first of these climbs, Corporal Clegg. I had at the time a penchant for naming climbs after Pink Floyd songs, and this one is named after a track on the band’s second album, Saucerful of Secrets:
Corporal Clegg
Had a wooden leg.

Incidentally, the hardest climb at Fat Tong Point, Astronomy Domine, is named after a track on Pink Floyd’s first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It would have been too dangerous for students to attempt.

The next climb is The Stoat, and the next two photos show my colleague David Lam leading the upper section. The lower section features a vicious finger-jamming crack that feels as if it’s trying to bite your fingers off, so I named it Weasel Crack. However, this climb continues up the easy section to the right of the climber, and I thought that the sloping ramp would make a better (i.e. harder) finish.

I don’t have any photos of the third climb, Right-Hand Wall, which was the only open wall climb among the four.

I named the fourth climb Cumbrian’s Chimney because I’m a native of Cumbria in the UK. Whenever I needed to get from the bottom to the top of a climb, I could go around the easy way, but I was always more likely to climb a route solo instead, as I’m seen doing in the next photo:

 Most of the climb succumbs to straightforward chimneying techniques, but in the photo, I’ve just reached the crux move. The chimney has closed to a narrow crack, so it is necessary to pull over an overhang. The conventional handholds are poor, but there are bomb-proof hand jams in the narrow crack.

I remember few specific incidents from the time we climbed here, but there is one that has remained lodged in my memory for more than 40 years. It was the second day, and as usual the target was for everyone to climb the four routes I’ve just described. A student came up to me:

“Sir! Sir!” he said. “I’m very tired.”

“How many climbs have you done James?” I asked.

“Two sir.”

“That means you have two more to do then!”

I don’t think this was the reply he wanted, but I never had any hesitation in taking advantage of aspects of Chinese culture—in this case that no Chinese will gainsay a teacher—in order to push students to step outside their personal comfort zones. And there is a postscript: James did climb the other two routes, and when we were being ferried back to school, the executive director, who was driving the school launch, asked who one of the students was. It was James, who now had a distinct swagger in his bearing.

We stopped going to Fat Tong Point for climbing in 1976, mainly because of the difficulty in extricating a party should there be a typhoon in the area. Now, the area has been taken over by the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club, and access to the climbing areas is much more difficult.


  1. It certainly reminded me the climbs that we did that started close to the sea level with tides rising against the pace we climbed.

    1. We did climb in other areas, but in the area covered by the map, we climbed on the section marked ‘3’. All the climbs I’ve described here started well away from any crashing waves!


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