Hazleen Panayiotou, Founder of Amazing Trekkers Club and CEO of TrekkersAsia talks about the 5 reasons why women should trek, explains the differences between hiking, trekking, mountaineering and rock climbing, and introduces the top 5 mountain treks in Asia suitable for beginners.
Living in Asia, we are fortunate to have access to an abundance of national parks, mountains and volcanoes dotted with rainforest, waterfalls and caves, all available for exploration. With modern life being so pressurised and stressful, we find it helps to escape the concrete environment and surround ourselves with nature instead. We must find the time to go out hiking regularly but it's important to research the trails and tracks before you go on a trip alone, with friends, a hiking club or your family.
So, what is all the hype with hiking? As the founder of the first women-only trekking club in Singapore, I can name one hundred reasons why women, children and indeed everyone should go for a hike, trek or mountain walk. First though I'd like to talk about the top 5 reasons for trekking: Health, Happiness, Perspective, Adventure, and Mental Space
For me, hiking has opened a new world of friendships. There is a group of women I now walk with regularly and together we continue to explore and discover new terrains, mountains and trails. I created Amazing Trekkers Club to enrich the lives of women. Firstly, to provide ordinary women with the rewarding experiences that come from trekking and climbing mountains; secondly, to provide members with the support network and social experiences that come from being a member of a club for women.
Before I tempt you into signing up for your first mountain expedition, it's imperative to explain and clarify the differences between trekking, hiking, mountaineering and rock climbing. Here goes...
Hiking is a leisure activity, which is done by walking on well-made trails and man-made roads. Trekking however is a more rigorous and challenging activity that tests one’s physical ability, endurance and even their mental or psychological capacity. In short, the biggest difference is the intensity. Hiking is generally an easy to moderate walk, whereas trekking is more vigorous and often undertaken with a sense of purpose: we trek to experience the achievement of conquering summits. Treks are usually on set trails; a trekker might travel on roads and trails for part of her journey or ‘bushwhack’ through undeveloped, raw and rough terrain. In addition, a trekker may require maps and orienteering skills and may need first aid and survival skills. Whilst hiking is often a one-three days' activity, a trek tends to cover multiple days and can take up to a month, 6 months or even a year, (depending on the distance needed to be covered). In some places, hiking a long-distance trail from end-to-end is also referred to as trekking or as thru-hiking.
A common misconception is that mountain climbing or mountaineering means rock climbing. Mountaineering can be described as any activity in a mountainous environment that includes rock climbing, ice climbing, hiking, orienteering, skiing and ‘mountaineering’ in its own right. Mountaineering as a specific activity usually involves climbing an entire mountain and encompasses a wider range of skills than simply rock climbing. Scaling a cliff face would involve rock climbing, which can be defined as an athletic sport involving bouldering, indoor climbing, traditional climbing, sport climbing, deep water soloing and so on. Although technically it can be done without any equipment, the bare minimum that is necessary are specifically designed rock-climbing shoes. On the other hand, a long expedition to the summit of Mount Everest is mountaineering, as it requires ascending a complete mountain using a combination of skills; from rock climbing, ice climbing, survival, navigation and endurance. Rest assured, I’m not suggesting the world’s highest mountain as your first hiking destination!
At Amazing Trekkers Club, we firmly believe "life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature." (Helen Keller). As such, we go mountain trekking and mountaineering. As women and mothers, we are, from the time we were young, surrounded by "superficial securities." Traditionally, girls are raised to be 'perfect' while boys are raised to be 'brave'. Trekking as an activity helps to challenge these stereotypes. Children can be raised to take risks, to take on challenges and try new things, even though they might never be good at them. It's essential for us to teach our children to be tough, brave and strong, our girls to be fierce. And it's okay not to be perfect; life is about making progress.
So how do we teach our children to equalise those expectations and how do we raise a generation of women that is fierce? The answer is simple. We have to take risks ourselves. So, let’s begin by hiking, moving on to trekking followed by mountaineering.
Photo: Left: Trek leader Lucy Mathews. Right: members Angela Teo and June Lim on the summit of Mount Jade.
How do we begin? The first step is to put aside our “securities and comfort” and give importance to solitude and freedom. The irony is, women tend to crave a sense of independence and freedom; to set goals, make plans, take decisions and work towards our personal achievements.
So, if you've been yearning for a challenge and want to look at life with a new and fresh perspective, try trekking. If the idea of trekking in wilderness sounds like a fun thing to do, the good news is, trekking in the company of strangers, acquaintances and friends is even more gratifying. From our experience organising treks, our members come back from trips not just with sore muscles, bruises and sprains, they come back with a surge in confidence.
Women are often juggling numerous aspects of life: work, raising a family, looking after aging parents... let alone managing the day-to-day running around and ticking-off errands. Often, we are so busy looking after everyone and everything else that we neglect our own needs, and our confidence may have dipped along the way. The moment we go for a trek, we get to see a side of ourselves that was hidden beneath the surface of love and care for our family, respect for nature, culture, society and a ton of responsibilities. We realize our potential and discover a new confidence to accept our shortcomings.
During the course of our lives, we can easily lose a sense of who we are, but when we go on an adventure activity like mountain trekking or hiking with a group, you soon discover sides to your personality you'd perhaps forgotten: how you respond to strangers, what kind of personalities you connect with, how much physical challenge you can withstand and how much positive impact all these have on your emotional self. This is self-evolution. According to Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."
Over time, we have made it our mission to encourage as many people as we can to get out hiking and to toughen up. It is okay to walk in the heat, you will survive the rain, the altitude is bearable if you have the right attitude. Be Immensely Proud. Let the peak be your stage. Take the stage and allow yourself to celebrate being amazing.
Photo: Hazleen with other ATC members taking the stage on the summit of Mount Agung.
Photo:12 members on the Mount Rinjani trek in May 2017
Here's our guide to the 5 top mountain treks, all of which are suitable for beginners. The mountains we climb are not only made of rock and ice but of dreams and desires. Let’s get ready to temporarily disconnect from our hectic lifestyle, explore the best of nature, burn all the calories you have gained from your recent holiday. All you need to do is buy your first pair of hiking boots, walk your way up and be an adventurous traveller – start exploring!
1. DRAGON’S BACK, SUNSET PEAK OR LANTAU PEAK, HONG KONG
Photo: 18 ATC members trekked Lantau, Sunset Peaks & Dragon’s Back on a 3day 2 nights trip
Hong Kong is one of the world's most densely populated and ultra-busy cities, yet it also offers amazing trekking opportunities – up to 40% of the territory is national park. The Dragon’s Back trail on the south-eastern part of Hong Kong Island was awarded 'Best Urban Hike in Asia' by TIME Magazine – the best part is that it’s so close to the city (25 mins from Central) yet it's another world. Dragon’s Back offers glorious, meandering peaks amid Chinese fauna and foliage and spectacular views of the coastal landscape. Total hike time is less than three hours and the view of the sunrise is extraordinary (though go on a clear day!). There are options for beginner hikers through to more seasoned trekkers. Dragon’s Back is perfect for a weekend away with girlfriends, your children or to add to your schedule at the end or the start of a business trip!
Photo: Left: Junior Trekker Laura and her Mum Renata jumping for joy on the Dragon's Back Trail. Middle: Catherine and Hazleen on the summit of Lantau peak. Right: Hazleen and Cathy ascending Sunset Peak
2. MOUNT KINABALU, SABAH MALAYSIA
Photo: 12-member team getting ready for the Kinabalu summit night at 2am
Mount Kinabalu dominates the landscape in Sabah, Borneo. Rising a notch above 4000 metres above sea level, it's Malaysia's tallest mountain and should be on every new trekker’s bucket list. Nestled by the lush greenery of UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinabalu Park, Mount Kinabalu is a natural attraction located just under a short 2-hour drive away from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah.
From the starting point at Kinabalu National Park, there are hiking trails that allow even newbies to get most of the way to the top. Climbing Mount Kinabalu requires no special training or equipment – getting to the summit is purely a matter of physical and mental stamina. Mount Kinabalu National Park boasts over 5,000 different species of plants and animals, so prepare to marvel at the rich wildlife and stunning scenery during your hike.
However, a much tougher challenge is found in the mountain's 'via ferrata' (an Italian word that translates to iron road), the world's highest. This pair of routes use metal rungs and steel cables to help climbers along; at times you are inching your way precariously over a terrifying drop. At its highest point, the via ferrata rises to 3700 metres above sea level. The views, though, are worth it. Definitely not recommended for beginners!
Photo: Mary Trinh our member from Ireland descending from summit of Mount Kinabalu
3. MOUNT BATUR, BALI, INDONESIA
Photo: Left: Sunrise on Mount Batur. Right: the group of 10 women all set to conquer Mount Batur together.
Mount Batur is an active Balinese volcano, which last erupted in the year 2000 and has been deep in slumber since. Rising 1,717 metres above sea level, this scenic sacred mountain in Bali can be scaled within two hours by fit climbers, and has been conquered by our junior trekkers.
Most trekkers like to take in the unforgettable sunrise at the top of the volcano, so start the ascent of Mount Batur during the night. Spectacular scenery and a relatively easy trek make this a must-do for all beginners, families and even the keenest of trekkers want this on their list. Once you've summited Batur, get ready for the next physical challenge – Mount Agung!
4. MOUNT BROMO, EAST JAVA, INDONESIA
Photo: Our Vice President Shah Ahern with members, friends and relatives on Mount Bromo
Yet another active volcano in East Java, Mount Bromo is 2329 metres tall. Covering a massive area of 800 square kilometres, it's hailed as the best spot for sunrise – expect to see vibrant rays casting shadows over the dramatic landscapes.
To experience more than just an adventurous climb, visit in the month of Kasada (September to November) where local Tenggerese come to Mount Bromo and make offerings of vegetables, chickens and money into the crater.
It takes approximately four hours to drive from Surabaya – the capital of East Java – to Mount Bromo, but the long journey has not deterred many from trekking up the prominent volcanic mountain. Needless to say, the scenery is incredibly beautiful.
Photo: Left: Shah Ahern descending from the summit of Mount Bromo. Right: view from Mount Bromo surrounded by many peaks like Penanjakan Peak, Tengger Semeru
5. JADE MOUNTAIN, YUSHAN NATIONAL PARK, TAIWAN
Photo: Six ATC members climbed Jade Mountain in May 2017
Yushan National Park is the tallest point in Taiwan and is also the highest peak in Northeast Asia. With an altitude of 3,952 meters, the jaw-dropping scenery has everyone pinching themselves. We are not exaggerating when we say we were on cloud nine! The feeling of walking in the clouds was incredible, and we were ecstatic about how surreal it felt!
Photo: Left: ATC members crossing a bridge on the ascent. Centre: On the summit path. Right: Enjoying the views at the top of Jade Mountain.
These are just a handful of examples – there are so many other amazing mountains to trek and to discover in Asia. Whether you drive from Singapore into Malaysia and trek Gunung Lambak, Gunung Ledang, Gunung Berlumut, or take a short flight to Subang or Kuala Lumpur to explore Pine Tree Hill. You can also take a boat to Bintan, Indonesia and climb Mount Bentan or fly to Lombok, Indonesia for Mount Rinjani. If you go to Myanmar, trek to the summit of Mount Popa; if in Tokyo, drive two hours and climb the more challenging Mount Fuji. Wherever you go in Asia you can fit in a trek, a hike, or a mountaineering expedition. I promise that despite the pain, physical exhaustion and discomfort of sleepless nights you'll be wanting to plan your next trekking adventure as soon as the first one finishes!
It all goes back to the 5 reasons for trekking: Health, Happiness, Perspective, Adventure, and Space.