The Hong Kong trail runner inspired by tragedy to climb mountains for charity – how he does it
After his mother died from cancer, Loz Wong wanted to show his appreciation for Macmillan Cancer Support. Liking a challenge, he climbed the highest peaks in Europe and South America. He tells us how he trains to run and climb
Loz Wong has long been a keen trail runner, but it wasn’t until personal tragedy struck that he turned his attention to climbing mountains rather than running up, down and around them.
In 2013 his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and a year later she died. The experience inspired Wong, a 30-year-old global business consultant, who has been living in Hong Kong for six years, to use his mountaineering endeavours to support charitable causes he believes in.
Help for his mother from Macmillan Cancer Support made them an easy choice to work with when he and a friend set out to climb his first mountain – Europe’s highest peak, the 5,642-metre Mount Elbrus in Russia, in 2015. The pair covered the expedition and travel costs themselves, and made sure that all the donations they received for making the climb (more than HK$68,000) went directly to the charity.
“The support provided by Macmillan during my mother’s final few weeks was truly invaluable, and I wanted to raise funds for the charity so they can continue their work and ensure that nobody has to face cancer alone,” says Wong, a Briton whose father is from Myanmar and whose mother was from Brunei.
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With his first summit conquered, and his interest in mountaineering piqued, Wong turned his attention in 2016 to a new challenge – 6,961-metre Aconcagua in Argentina, South America’s highest peak, a feat that raised HK$50,000 for the White Helmets in Syria, a 3,000-strong volunteer search and rescue team who help victims of the country’s civil war. It’s a cause that, while it hasn’t touched him personally, he feels very strongly about.
“Last year saw a lot of division across the world that caused a huge refugee and migrant crisis,” he says. “There seemed to be very little that people felt they could do, and for us this seemed like the best way to get involved and help.”
His three-week sojourn saw him standing atop the peak, the highest point in both the western and southern hemispheres, in mid-December, having been blessed with unusually calm, sunny and warm conditions.
His passion for climbing further stoked by the conquest of Aconcagua, Wong has his sights set on 6,190-metre Denali – the highest peak in North America – in 2018.
Why choose mountaineering and not something ‘easier’ to raise funds?
I felt like if I had tried to raise funds doing something I knew that I could finish – an ultra endurance event or something similar that I have experience with already – then I would be misrepresenting the challenge and not being true to myself. I wanted to feel confronted in ways that I had never been before, and proud of an accomplishment and goal I had never achieved.
The very real possibility that we might not get to summit either mountain due to natural forces and conditions only seemed to add to the allure of the endeavour. I have since come to simply enjoy being up in the highest mountains, surrounded by seemingly endless and massive landscapes.
How much of a successful climb is down to good preparation, and how much is down to luck?
The mental and physical preparations for something like this are manageable if you can be disciplined and structured enough. But when you get on the mountain and start climbing, if it doesn’t want you to summit, you won’t.
We were stuck at two camps on our way up Aconcagua because of deteriorating conditions. One morning we woke up and there was two feet of snow on the ground, which made progress incredibly difficult and slow, but come summit day, conditions were perfect. Aconcagua is known as a windy mountain and temperatures can drop to ,minus 40 degrees Celsius at the top, but we got clear, calm and relatively warm weather. In the days leading up to our summit attempt, no one had succeeded due to avalanche risk and high winds, and in the days following conditions deteriorated again. So yes, timing and luck certainly play their part, and you have to be prepared for disappointment.
Did you have any tough moments on Elbrus or Aconcagua, and how did you get through them?
I struggled with the altitude on both – it’s hard to prepare for that in Hong Kong, which is why you need to spend at least two to three weeks on the mountain to give you enough time to acclimatise. I was plagued with breathing troubles, every step took an agonising three seconds or more, and during the evenings our tents would get whipped around by high winds, so sleep was difficult.
One particularly harrowing memory I have is of peering over my shoulder looking down a very steep drop, wondering how far down it was and thinking that I should have had my ice axe in my hand instead of in my backpack. What enabled me to surmount these issues was all the support and help we were getting. A couple of times I could hear people’s voices cheering me on, and I was able to visualise how happy people would be when we got to the top. Positivity goes a long way to helping you through any setbacks.
How do you train?
My training plan for Elbrus called for a lot of running, which I was already doing anyway, and some climbing practice. I ramped up for Aconcagua with strength and yoga sessions in the gym and more frequent long-distance runs on the trails. In lieu of any altitude training I practised climbing on steeper slopes, doing hill repeats, and stuck to a training plan with an online coach. I’ll need to train harder for Denali because my pack will be double the weight I was carrying in Aconcagua (18kg) and I will be pulling a sled with all my equipment and supplies. Getting good practice hiking regularly with a heavy pack will be important.
Do you find it easy to strike a work/life balance in Hong Kong?
I’m fortunate that the company I work for, FTI Consulting, has been incredibly supportive of my projects. There’s always time to train before work in the morning and if we aren’t busy I can leave the office before 7pm. Weekends are free, so that leaves a lot of time for me to be able to train for longer, and luckily my partner runs too so I’m able to spend time with her while I do.
I’m running a 200km, six-day stage race in Bhutan in May to raise money for the Free To Run refugee charity (donations can be made at justgiving.com/lastsecret). When that’s finished, I’ll need to focus my efforts on Denali.