The most dangerous photograph I have ever captured
I knew I had made a mistake the moment I let go.
As usual, I had ignored the little voice of reason in my head, which had warned me against climbing over the wall, upon which hung a sign clearly marked “keep out”. It was the voice of reason which had whispered that perhaps I shouldn’t be scrambling down the steep, winding channels of the storm drainage system which led most of the way down to the ocean waves below. And it was the same voice of reason which had practically begged me not to descend the rusty rungs of the obviously disused ladder which ended just short of rocky beach below. Lowering myself down from the bottom rung of the ladder, I allowed gravity to take care of the last couple of meters.
It was immediately after I let go, landing in a less-than-agile heap on the ground below, that the obviousness of my mistake became clear. In my haste to capture a photograph of the view from under the Ma-Tsing bridge in Hong Kong, I hadn’t stopped to consider how I was going to climb back up, given the end of the ladder was at least a meter out of reach. For now, though, that would be a problem for later - I had a photograph to capture.
The idea for this photograph had first occurred to me upon my arrival at Hong Kong airport a few hours earlier. I was only meant to be transiting through the airport, but a technical fault with my connecting flight meant a delay of at least twelve hours. Rather than remaining cooped up in the airport, I decided to make use of the time and head to a bridge I had first noticed a couple of years earlier, on a previous visit. At that time, I had thought the view from under the 1.3km bridge, which connects the islands of Tsing-Yi and Ma-Wan, would make for a fabulous photograph. Unfortunately, I had only spotted the bridge very shortly before I was due to leave, but I had made a mental note to return in the future if I had the chance. This was that chance.
And so it was that I found myself, clambering around the Hong Kong coastline trying to capture a photograph I had carried around in my head for the past couple of years.
It was only as I edged further and further around the coast that it became clear I wasn’t going to get the photograph I wanted, the angle just didn’t work. Unperturbed, I kept working my way further along the rocks, looking for a better location, until finally, I hit a dead end. After scrambling around for nearly an hour, the unlikely pathway I was forging across the rocks gave way to the rising tide and was totally flooded for at least twenty meters ahead.
To add to my frustration, I could finally see a perfect vantage point just the other side of the watery impasse. But, with no way to reach it, and sunset only a short time away, I grudgingly accepted I was going to have to turn back. That was when I realised the tide had cut off the path behind me, as well as in front. Waves easily big enough to sweep me out to sea were now crashing against the rocky cliffs, not far from where I stood, and the beach I had scrambled over a short while before was now totally submerged.
I was stranded.
To make matters worse, not a single soul knew where I was. The decision to head to the bridge was so last minute it hadn’t occurred to me that I should probably let someone know what I was doing. I was alone at the base of a steep cliff, with nowhere to go but up. I had no choice, I was going to have to climb!
With nothing more than the roots of a few sparse plants growing out of the rocks to grip hold of, I inched my way slowly towards the safety above. My heavy camera bag, flung awkwardly across my shoulder, weighing me down, didn’t help my situation. Nor did the simple pumps I was wearing on my feet, which were far from ideal for gripping the already slippery rocks. More than once, I lose my grip, only managing to catch myself at the very last moment. Eventually, I made my way all the way back to the wall sporting the “keep out” sign, which I now realised was placed with good reason.
I was tired, dirty, sweaty, and thoroughly fed up - but worse still, I didn’t have the shot! I had come all this way, only to fall short by twenty or so meters from the perfect spot to capture the photograph I wanted. Looking over the edge, from a little further along the path at the top of the cliff, I could see exactly where I needed to be. The sun was setting fast, but I could see there was still just enough time, if only I were foolish enough to climb back down the cliff I had just escaped, but this time on the other side of the impasse.
And so that is precisely what I did. Just a few minutes after reaching the safety of the path above, I was heading back down to sea level. Racing the sun, I was finally able take a photograph which I have come to regard as the most dangerous photographs I have ever captured.