Having grown tired of the monotony of Covid-19 travel restrictions, a group of six Hong Kong-based Britons and one Australian set out to climb the city’s 50 highest peaks for charity at the turn of 2022. They were under no illusions as to the challenge facing them. But somehow, it was even harder than they anticipated, with the group twice driven from the mountains by brutal weather. “There were a couple of hikes where you take in 10 peaks each. That’s 20 peaks done, so it can’t be that hard, we thought,” 52-year-old William Hornby, the group’s leader, said. “But, the one where there’s only one or two, they were quite spicy. And we got into what could have been quite serious predicaments.” Hornby hatched the plan in January as a way to lose weight and set a personal goal after two years of being stuck in the city. He invited his friends Andrew Corner, 54, Nick Jones from Australia, 52, Matthew Middleditch, 63, Mark Bonnar, 60, Bruce Ingram, 49, and Niels Jensen, 55. The group finished their challenge two weeks ago. By the final weekend, they were wearing masks and social distancing, as per recent changes to Covid-19 restrictions amid a surge of cases. “We all got a little bit round towards the end of the year, and we were all feeling a bit unhealthy, so that’s why I suggested it. It just popped into my head,” Hornby said. “We are living in stressful times, and the fact we got it finished the weekend before the latest wave was great. In the last weekend, we wore masks. Who knows if we’d be able to do it next weekend. It gave us an appreciation of Hong Kong. It showed us this is an amazing place, it was a very cool experience.” Tai Mo Shan or Lantau Peak? How to hike Hong Kong’s highest points Hornby planned all the hikes with a large map and the AllTrails app – which has lots of different routes which are not shown on maps – allowing him to link up different peaks. But the dotted lines do not differentiate between well-trodden paths and difficult scrambles. “Once we were going up this rocky river. And we got to this steep bank. It was amazingly dangerous. We were loosening these rocks about half the size of a football and they were falling, getting fast, and the guys below were having to get out the way,” Hornby said. “If someone was hit, it wouldn’t have been mild. There were a couple of leaps of faith, holding on to roots, or digging our hands into the earth. Then we got to the top and found we had gone the wrong way, there was an easier path up.” “It was the blind leading the blind. There was an element of not being in control at all times, and it was quite funny,” Hornby added. When they realised the challenge was going to be more than a few simple hikes, the group decided to raise money for the Hong Kong Cancer Fund. The charity relies on donations, and has struggled during the pandemic because of a lack of fundraising events. The hikers have raised HK$88,800 so far, and have been made to work for every cent. On one hike, they were going up Sunset Peak from Tung Chung, taking in other peaks as they went. The weather was cold and driving rain and wind was adding to the chill factor. As they neared the summit, it was white out conditions in the cloud and rain. Some of the men were getting hypothermia. “We’re all middle-aged civilians, sitting in Hong Kong used to great weather,” Jensen said. “Referring back 30 years ago, when I was in the army, that weather would have stopped an exercise, because blokes would have gone down. “I was hoping Will would make the decision to turn around and he did. It became pretty self evident – with that rain we couldn’t even get grip with our shoes. It was a well-judged command decision.” “With this challenge, there were no get-out clauses. There was a great camaraderie. And we laughed a lot, it was good fun,” Jensen added. “We got driven off the hill a couple of times due to weather. We never looked out the window and said we aren’t going today. We had a meeting point, we got there and we just started it.” They returned the following weekend and finished Sunset Peak, Lantau Peak and another peak near the Big Buddha. They then completed their final day, ending at Victoria Peak. “The scenery we’ve seen, the remote places we’ve seen, are amazing, but even hiking in bad weather was fun because it made it that much more of a challenge,” Hornby said. “There are very few people who would have been on the top of the highest 50 peaks. “The charity started to become more important as the challenge went on. It gave us a sense of purpose. We got this sense of doing something. There is a sense that there’s nothing to do here, but this was by miles the best part of my week, though the Covid-19 situation has got worse here since.” They are considering carrying on and completing the Peak Master challenge, by hiking the 125 highest peaks. “We don’t have plans yet, but there is that question – what’s next?,” Hornby said.