Mount Fansipan (Vietnam)
Mount Fansipan is the largest peak in Vietnam, reaching 3,143 meters. It is part of the Hoàng Liên National Park and can only be climbed with a guided tour. To experience the peak at sunrise, the second day begins with an exciting night walk. The total cost is about 60 US- $ per person for a 2-day trip, including accommodation and food.
After a breakfast at the Mountain View Hotel, Eva, my friend who is joining me on this hike, and I are picked up by an almost empty minivan, which shortly afterwards fills up with 10 Vietnamese, a Peruvian and three Australians. Upon reaching the information building at the foot of the mountain, we are surrounded by a gray moist haze.
Fortunately, we receive care packages that include toilet paper, water and a toothbrush as well as a blue rain cape. After a few minutes, we are ready to set off, led by a small agile Vietnamese man with moderate English skills. Next to him, we are accompanied by other locals, who carry on their backs baskets filled with our food and sleeping bags. The weather forces us to put on the plastic hangings directly, which makes us look like a group of walking garbage bags.
The path, bordered on both sides by green jungle plants, leads us over earthy ground and stone slabs. The initially straight section is followed by steep ascents. On the edge of the slope is a bamboo railing built on concrete posts. After two hours, we are in a wooden hut at 2,000 meters. Here we have a lunch, which is composed of rice, ginger chicken, bread and hot water – unfortunately the cold of the wet day cannot be expelled … An hour later, we continue uphill.
In order to remain at our own pace, Eva and I are securing a place at the front of the group. This will avoid the obligatory resting breaks. For a brief moment, the cloud cover surrounding the path suddenly breaks up and presents us with a deep view into the valley. I would like to pause for a while and enjoy the moment, but the closing in sky already takes the decision away from me. The easy path gives way to stretches with stone and roots, which makes an advance without the use of hands nearly unthinkable.
After an hour of combined hiking and climbing we reach our overnight accommodation at about 5pm. This consists of a lightly insulated wooden hut with two long wooden pedestals. It seems that a total of about 20 people could be staying there – Eva and I still doubt that our entire group will fit in here. We first decide to enjoy an overpriced beer. Then, I join a group of Englishmen who want to watch the last minutes of the now visible sunset.
Before the dinner is served, we are divided into groups of six on the wooden floors of our sleeping facility. Within these groups, rice, chicken, beef and vegetables are shared. Finally, everyone gets a small sip of rice wine. Shortly after, we all find a place on the hard wooden floor and fall sleep. – it is 8 pm, which still leaves a few hours until awakening at 3:30 am.
The wake-up service appears around 3 clock by creakingly opening the door in the hut. A clearly unhappy Eva is looking at me, the mood of who rises only after a breakfast consisting of a coffee and some noodle soup. With headlamps and lights of smartphones, we start heading towards the summit at 4:30.
The starry sky, which gave us hope for a great sunrise, is soon covered by clouds again. The first stretch uphill is being followed by a steep short descent and a much longer ascent. The orientation is more difficult due to the low visibility in the darkness and the missing leading Vietnamese, which we had already overtaken half an hour ago.
Fortunately, there are no more junctions, so I’m confident that we are on the right track. The already strenuous path is getting even more demanding with us having to climb over stones and climb up ladders. Two hours later we recognize the cable car station. From here, stairs lead up to the top where we find three Vietnamese flags and a star in a brick where the number 3143 is engraved. We shoot a group photo before we are driven down again by the cold and wind.
The group has now been significantly reduced, since a large part of it has chosen the cableway for a return to the bottom. Half an hour later, the sky tears open and the sun peeks out, which gives a wonderful view of the distant peaks above the clouds – which makes it fortunate that I have not joined in the cable car decision.
The descent proves itself to be difficult, and we make our way down slowly, partly climbing, partly slipping and sliding. The moments of resting, however, are worth every effort. Pausing, I turn my head to the left and let my eyes wander. In the middle of the valley, a sea of clouds spreads out, with peaks of wooded hills on both sides swimming in it under a bright blue sky.
At 10 o’clock we are back at our overnight hut, which we leave after a short lunch. The way is steeper and more complicated than I remember. However, the day is much more comfortable and warmer, whereby the slow advance is not tragic. Two hours later, we reach the last wooden hut on the path, wrapped up in sunshine. Puppies are chasing each other in the grass while the next hikers wave at us while on their way up. After another two hours, we reach the information office with a satisfied feeling and take a bus back to Sapa.