HCMC Dining Guide

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Roof of Indochina Part 2 - Summit

I had hoped to get a solid night of sleep after our first day of hiking, but that turned out to be an impossibility. Our porters, along with those of the other climbers on the mountain, talked loudly in the shelter for a couple of hours after we had gotten into our sleeping bags. I couldn't put any pressure on my right knee since my fall the previous day, and the floor was just planks of hard wood, so anytime I tried to lay on my side the point of my hip bone dug into the wood. I tossed and turned for what felt like ages; probably only getting a couple fitful hours of sleep.

We woke just after dawn. I expected to be exhausted, but the cold air and bright sun of the clear morning were invigorating. The weather was perfect for climbing - not warm enough to make you sweat heavily, and not cold enough to make things uncomfortable. We ate a big breakfast of eggs and yellow noodles with some fruit, and struck out on the trail. It was going to be a gorgeous day.

The dew of the night burning off of the mountain
The first section of trail we encountered was steep and muddy, with bamboo plants arching above us. There were a few openings in the vegetation, and the views were spectacular. It was clear that we were getting rather high, since the clouds and surrounding mountains were all below us.

After ascending for about 20 minutes, the trail suddenly dove down. This unexpected descent was tough - the rocks on the path were even slicker than they had been the day before, and at certain points we had to hang on to bent bamboo stalks and slide down rock faces. I was surprised by the length of this descent, knowing that every steep step down would mean an equally steep step up at some point. Eventually, we began going up again, and roughly two hours after starting the hike we emerged onto an exposed ridge.
The trail at this point was pure, black mud, the kind that sucks your shoes in and makes it incredibly difficult to balance. Clouds were starting to build up around us, while sheets of mist raced up the flanks of the mountain. A Canadian climber passed us on his way down from the summit, saying that we had maybe 20 minutes to go, and that the views were stunning. He then promptly fell on his ass.

This slippery stretch of trail was hemmed in by low shrubs, so we had unimpeded views in every direction. We could also see the summit ahead of us; the first time we had gotten a clear view of it. We then plunged back into dense bamboo for the final push to the summit.
Incredibly muddy
The last open view before the summit
We stumbled onto the summit around 9am, less than three hours after leaving camp. The actual peak consisted of boulders piled onto each other, along with a silver triangle placed at the highest point. It said:
Fansipan
3,143 m
We had done it. Our shoes were caked in mud and our legs were burning, but we were now standing on the highest point in Vietnam - the Roof of Indochina. Clouds were really starting to build up now, so the views weren't wide open, but the surrounding scenery was still spectacular. The flanks of the surrounding mountains were carpeted in verdant green forests; creeks ran through lush valleys thousands of feet below us; and clouds were literally at eye-level. I had been worried about altitude sickness since I've had issues with it in the past, and I've spent most of my life in cities either at or below sea level, but there was so much moisture in the atmosphere that there was no breathing difficulty or light-headedness. Breathing in the cool, clean air felt wonderful, especially for someone used to the smog-laden skies of Saigon.




We gawked at the nature around us with an Israeli couple and two older American women. There were no signs of civilization. Living in the concrete jungle that is Saigon, one can easily forget how stunningly beautiful Vietnam is, and we were all gobsmacked. The clouds were somewhat frustrating, forcing us to play "Who Takes the Fastest Picture" - clouds in one direction would part for a few seconds, while everyone scrambled to snap a shot before the view disappeared again. I was a little disappointed that we couldn't see epic panoramic vistas, but it's hard to complain about such an amazing place. We hung out at the peak for about a half hour, taking goofy pictures and reveling in our accomplishment. We all knew we would probably never be back, so we took our time to savor every last moment.

It was now time to begin the descent. We would be stopping for lunch at the camp we had slept in, and then spending another night on the mountain at the camp farther down.

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