2013 November: One day climb of Mt Fansipan, Vietnam
Why climb Fansipan?
Because it is there! (I can hear you say "why don't you do the dishes because they are there?")
At 3143 meters, Fansipan is not only the highest mountain in Vietnam, it is also the highest mountain in Indochina - comprising of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Most people climb it in 2 or perhaps 3 days. But what is the fun in it ... I said to myself. Why not do it in one day.
Little did I know, it turns out to be the hardest day trip I have ever done ... definitely not an easy fancy pantsy walk. Reminds me of the Japanese proverb ... something along the line of ... you are wise to have done it, but a fool to even think about doing it.
Here are the stats from my Garmin GPS:
10:30 0.0 km - From trail head at Tram Ton Pass, 1995m
11:40 3.8 km - Reach Camp 1
13:30 7.2 km - Reach Camp 2
----- Lunch - 30 min
14:00 7.2 km - Leave Camp 2
15:47 10.3 km - Reach summit, 3143m
----- Photo session - 18 min
16:05 10.3 km - Leave summit
17:34 13.4 km - Reach Camp 2
19:38 16.8 km - Reach Camp 1
----- Rest - 6 min
19:44 16.8 km - Leave Camp 1
21:33 20.6 km - Finish at Tram Ton Pass !!!
----- Total - 11 hrs 3 mins; 20.6 km
This is also the first time for me where the uphill time (5 hr 17 min) is shorter than the downhill time (5 hr 28 min) ... which succinctly captures how difficult and treacherous the trail is.
The night before
1) Meeting Tâm, my travel agent, for the first time at a Hanoi hotel lobby ... She is super friendly, beautiful and always smiling. She organized my Fansipan climbing trip and the Ha Long Bay cruise.
2) As Fansipan is located in Lao Cai province, 11 hours away by train from Hanoi, she takes me from the hotel to the Hanoi main railway station on a motorbike and on high heels ... this is the type of super friendly personal services you always get from the Vietnamese people.
For those who don't know what the streets of Hanoi is like ... they are full of motorbikes. Here is a video:
Sensing my desire for a taste of the Vietnamese road chaos, she drives the motorbike down a busy one way street against the traffic, with all the other motorbikes charging head on towards us ... the stuff you only see in a movie!!! And here I am, experiencing it in real life!!! This has to be the high point of my Fansipan climb even before I walk a single step; definitely far more memorable than reaching the top of Fansipan.
Hi Tâm, we must do this again in another day!!! Though I prefer you not to turn your head around to talk to me. Just concentrate on those motorbikes. :-)
3) We reach the Hanoi railway station in one piece.
4) My cabin in the train, 4 bunk beds inside to be shared with 3 others ... you can see 2 beds in this pic. This is my first experience of sleeping overnight in a train. Not too bad, better than trying to get a sleep in a plane.
The train leave dead on time at 8:35pm.
5) 11 hours later, the train arrives here at Lao Cai at 7:30am. (It should get here earlier, say around 5:30am. The delay is due to track work along the way.) As the pic shows, it is a looong train.
By the time I'm picked up in a mini bus, and start heading for the town of Sapa, it is 8am. (Fansipan is near where Sapa is.)
Arrive at Sapa after almost an hour on the mini-bus.
6) First thing is to check into Fansipan View Hotel. To get there, you need to walk up this narrow lane way of stairs ... Here, you can see the Hmong people in their colourful dresses ... they live in the mountainous regions of Vietnam (here) as well as China, Laos and Thailand.
After breakfast, meet up with Dao, my mountain guide. It will be just the two of us ... all set to conquer the roof of Indochina.
7) Half an hour by car and we are here at the Mt Fansipan trail head at Tram Ton Pass, 1995m in elevation. Dao goes inside the building to register and pay climbing permits. As can be seen from the pic, it is a misty day, not good for photographs. The rest of the day is also similarly uninviting.
Finally at 10:30am we are on our feet walking.
8) Soon, we start meeting female Hmong porters on their way down the mountain. (The other guy in this pic is Dao, my mountain guide.)
9) The last time I met female porters was when climbing Mt Kinabalu in Malaysia's Borneo. There, the porters had very thick thighs, way out of proportion compared to their height. But these Hmong porters are slim. (I don't require a porter, mine is a one-day climb. Whereas most people do the climb in 2 or perhaps 3 days.)
10) Now, why aren't there female porters in Australia ???
11) Dao sets a brisk pace. We reach Camp 1 after 1 hr and 10 minutes. No stopping here from Dao.
12) The trail is not an easy walking track. The tree roots and rock are slippery and treacherous. So far, my pants are clean coz I have not fallen yet. It is almost impossible to walk in this mountain without the aid of hiking sticks ... and yet the porters don't require them and just glide over the trail with ease.
13) At some of the steep parts of the trail, the Fansipan national park authorities have installed ladders like this.
14) After 3 hrs of non-stop up hill climb, we reach Camp 2, around 2800m in elevation. This is where most people would sleep over for the night.
15) I can see only 2 structures at Camp 2, one in the previous pic (for sleeping) and one here (for cooking).
16) It is cold outside, but warm and cozy in here. Lunch is simply egg & ham rolls which Dao carried all the way up. A cup of hot tea is made over the fire ... its smoke fills up the inside of the tent, hence the misty look of this photo.
Half an hour of lunch, and we are on our way. On paper, there is only 350 more meters in elevation to the summit. In reality it is more, because you climb up a bit, then climb a fair way down, then up again.
17) The trail is something like in this pic ... plenty of slippery rocks. Dao is laughing at the countless times I have slipped and fell ... sadist :-)
18) Fansipan summit is almost in sight now. It is a misty day, which is a pity. Dao said the view down on the country below is beautiful ... unfortunately not today.
19) After 5 hrs 17 mins, we made it to the summit !!! There is a Vietnamese flag here, So I waved it ... I'll wave anything here ... really exhilarated !!!
20) My pants tell the story of the countless times I tripped and slipped and fell on the way up. It is a miracle no limps are broken.
Time to leave. We will be down the mountain by 9:33pm (making the total trip around 11 hrs) ... hence majority of the time we are descending in the dark. Again, during the descent, I fall so many times that both my walking sticks are soon broken. Dao gives me his ... which are merely bamboo sticks. They are light weight and they don't break. Why couldn't our modern high-tech hiking sticks match bamboo sticks in weight and strength ???
After the climb. I asked Dao what is the average time for one-day-ers to complete the Fansipan climb. He said 11 hrs ... which was exactly my time. Hard to tell whether he was covering up the truth for the sake of my ego. I was really tired by Camp 2, a mere 3 hrs after we started walking. For the rest of the day, my legs were in slow motion mode ... hence the suspicion that the average time may be shorter than mine.
Few days later
21) Back at Hanoi celebrating my climb with Tâm in an eating joint ... Tâm plays host and selects traditional Vietnamese dishes for us. They are yummy. By the time this photo is taken, we've licked the table clean.