A Mountain To Climb
Sapa Travel Blog› entry 83 of 117 › view all entries
Most people, when they come to Sapa, opt to do some (pretty lightweight) trekking around the hills, stopping off at rural minority villages on the way. I had done something similar in Dalat and in Chang Mai, Thailand, so fancied a real challenge: conquering the highest mountain in Indochina, Mount Fansipan.
Fortunately, Liz, the Australian, was also up for the challenge, greatly improving our chances of finding a guide and porter willing to help us with our quest. It didn't prove a problem; we were on our way to Sapa on the overnight train from Hanoi that night - which was surprisingly comfy, especially when compared to the open tour buses.
The next morning we met up with our guide, Thanh, and porter (I didn't find out his name because he didn't speak English - or speak much, actually - he was a total legend, mind you). Thanh suggested we didn't attempt to start the trek that day, as it had been raining and would be dangerous. Knowing that Sapa's climate contains a lot of rainfall, we asked what would happen if it was the same the next day, to which he said we could still go if we wanted. We decided to ignore his advice and leave that day.
If I didn't already have any bearing on how big a challenge lay ahead from what I had read about Fansipan and from Thanh telling us he could only manage it once a month because he found it so tiring, I had a better idea after the first hour of trekking. In at the deep end, we ascended over super-steep gradients and slippery, muddy terrain.
We arrived at our base camp, at 2,200 metres above sea level, earlier than expected, before blisters had appeared, still with enough energy saved for the mammoth task ahead of us the next day. Not surprisingly, the base camp was basic - as were our sleeping quarters - but the food the porter and guide prepared were exceptional, with around six or seven different dishes, including my favourite: Vietnamese spring rolls.
Starting early the next morning, we headed upwards and onwards. It was unbelievably tough; the first half an hour felt like a decade.
Thanh said the hike up should take between four and a half hours, so we were shocked and relieved to see the top after only three gruelling hours. We had, apparently, matched the current fastest time that Thanh had done it in, accompanied by an Icelandic guy. At the top there wasn't much of a view. On a clear day, you are supposed to be able to see Laos and China in the distance.
After a lunch in chilly winds at the summit, with our heads in the clouds, we started the descent. Although no way near as much a physical exertion as the way up, it still required a lot of concentration, due to the trickiness of the terrain. It was torture on the knees, and it wasn't long before you could feel the blisters forming. Arriving back at base camp was a huge relief - as much as it was to hear a couple who had trekked from Everest base camp say it was as hard, if not harder than any trekking they had done.
The next day was spent getting back to Sapa. In a way, I actually found it more of a challenge than the hike up to the summit.
Definitely one of the highlights of my trip - even though at times I thought I was crazy doing it - and one that I shall never forget. Or recommend. Only joking. But you'd have to pay me a few gazillion dong to do it again!