To The Summit Of Indochina

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March 26th 2010
Published: March 27th 2010
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I arrive in the late morning to the start point. I hire a guide, his name is Kinh, of the Black Hmong people. He doesn't speak much English but seems nice enough and eager. The objective is to make the summit. The mountain is called Fansipan, also known as the roof of Indochina, highest mountain in the whole region at 3143 metres or 10312 feet. Not amazingly high by mountain standards but still not to be taken lightly. The temperature is about five degrees, a constant spray of rain covers us, and the mist seems impenetrable. Not the best of days to be doing this I wonder but then again when am I going to be here again?

We begin the trek, I have my jumper and fake skate shoes I got from Hanoi (not the best footwear by any stretch), plus my little backpack filled with some supplies. Kinh on the other hand has his pants rolled up to short length, a ragged sweater and a pair of beat up sandals. He carries our sleeping bags and some food in this wicker basket. The first bit of the trek is easy enough, more or less on a horizontal level. We enter the jungle and Kinh stops to make me a bamboo walking stick with his old knife he keeps by his side. We walk through the trees, and then come across streams where we jump along rocks poking out to get across. The rain continues to fall and my shoes are now caked with mud. The mist is so thick I can hardly see twenty feet ahead. Good thing Kinh is here or I'd be in a world of hurt. After a short time we begin our vertical ascent and then level off again as we approach a group of mountains. We pass through some bamboo forests which seemingly go on forever, and as we ascend higher I can see lifeless trees scattered around the mountain side. A while has passed and we reach the base camp, which is nothing more than a bamboo hut and a few tents to one side. A few other Hmong people are found here but no other trekkers. Kinh goes inside to cook some lunch for us. I warm up by the cooking fire. We eat some noodles with egg in it, Kinh seems to cook well. Two little puppies are wrestling around just outside. A Hmong is plucking the feathers from a dead chicken.

We start the second part of our trek. The mist seems to clear slightly as we go higher, the rain has all but stopped. I'm relieved to see there's less mud as well. The journey turns progressively harder, we climb up over boulders and steep inclines, endless tree roots we use as steps to keep going. We are making good time and we encounter a traveler or two on the way down. We traverse the tops of smaller mountains on the way to Fansipan. I examine weird flowers and trees as the elevation increases. After a few hours we are at 2800 metres and we finish the trek for the day. I'm sure I could have made the peak in only one day but no use rushing. We set up camp and Kinh begins cooking for dinner. Darkness falls, the cold is increasing exponentially. We eat and Kinh begins drinking rice whiskey which does not appeal to me. After about an hour Kinh is very drunk and falls asleep. I am bored and cold and decide there is only one thing to do at this point; make a fire. We had a small one for cooking, but I go into the brush and break up some bamboo and set up a fire. The bamboo burns very well, lots of oxygen moves through the hollow interior. I notice the sky seems clear, the moon is out along with several stars. After about two hours I too retire. My sleep is disturbed, I wake up often throughout the night.

The new day brings extreme cold and a ton of mist. We rise around five thirty AM, Kinh cooks some noodles with egg, and we depart soon after. The way up begins with some downhills and then quickly progresses to steep inclines. I bang my knee lightly on a rock, but due to an old wound that just won't seem to heal right, it opens easily and begins gushing blood which stains my pants a bright red. Kinh seems concerned but I try to explain that it looks way more serious than it is. I don't think he understands. We carry on. The wind increases as we approach the top. After a few more climbs through large rocks, we make the summit! I take a few pictures amidst the bad conditions but it feels like being at the peak of a mountain. We are both happy to be at the top. We stay for a short while and then descend all the way back down to 2200 metres, where we eat some sandwiches and rest for a while. Then we began back to the bottom, passing again through the forests and streams. The weather is warming up considerably and the sky has cleared too. Kinh stops at a dirty pond to wash his feet and sandals. I find going down to be tougher than ascending, it takes a different set of muscles and my shoes don't grip very well so I slide easily requiring even more muscular contraction to stabilize myself. We make it back down in the late afternoon. My legs are tired and I have a feeling they'll be sore tomorrow. It was a fun experience and good adventure hopefully priming me for higher peaks in the future. I give Kinh a tip for being an awesome guide and together we head back to Sapa.

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