Many people think that humans, with their dreams, are different from animals. Who knows whether animals dream or not? Only one thing is certain: a human, in the exact meaning of the word, is a dreaming animal. With their dreams, humans have evolved and become more and more powerful. A dream that stays permanently in a human heart is an aspiration and one of the most typical aspirations of humans is the desire to conquer.
Observing wild horses flying across the meadow, human beings burn with the desire to tame them and make them take us to far-off horizons. Faced with the infinite sea, the desire to conquer urges humans to build boats so that they could sail far, to the end of the earth. Humans feel the same with high mountains. Among thousands of men who went seeking for mushrooms and bamboo shoots at the foot of the mountains, many looked up and dreamed of conquering the mountains. They sought all ways to climb the summits of Mount Fuji, the Alps and the Himalayas.
Since humans have come to live by the mountains, not a few must have silently dreamed of climbing the mountain peak by the name of Fansipan. In the early 20th century, not long after they came to Sapa, French people did climb it. The first were those whose tasks were to survey the terrain, make maps, and collect information on the geological, ecological and ethnological conditions of the area. Later, French military officials who were convalescing in Sapa Town also hired local people to create a track throughout the forest and mountain passes leading to the peak of the mountain. It is unknown whether they were able to make their way to the height of 3,143m or not, but at the altitude of 1,963 m they left a post showing that the year was 1905. Vestiges of some parts of the track can still be found on a 2,000 m mountain that the French cut through. The 1924- printed leaflet that advertised Sapa as a tourist attraction mentioned climbing tours to Fansipan. At the time, horses carried the luggage, food and climbing gear and once they could progress no further, the H’mong took over. It is said that every year, only a few groups of French military officials managed to climb the summit.
In 1960, a delegation of Polish geological experts came to Fansipan with the aim to thoroughly survey the mountains and forests of the Northwest. Their pyramid- shaped concrete pillar cracked because of the high temperatures and adverse weather. In 1984, a delegation of Russian and German mountaineers ascended Fansipan with professional climbing equipment. They also made other ascents all over Viet Nam. On the ceiling of the cave cutting through a rocky cliff standing upright on Ba Ham Island in Ha Long Bay, visitors can still see a Russian name painted white by a Russian mountaineer. On Fansipan, these mountaineers left a stainless iron pyramid block on the mountain rocks. This metal block is over 70 cm high with a square base, 50 cm on each side.
At the time, few people in Sapa considered ascending Fansipan. All attention was focused on combating economic difficulties. Sapa streets were deserted but for some photographers, journalists and those who knew about this town. In the early 1990s, Sapa witnessed a tourism boom and among the visitors many eyed this highest peak of Indochina. By that time, a discharged solider returned to his small house on Cau May Pass in the heart of Sapa. Having trekked through the Truong Son range and crossed many mountains, he was nostalgic for his homeland’s mountains. Then, one fine day, he promised himself to ascend Fansipan by any means. After several attempts, alone or with his H’mong friends, he finally was able to lay his hands on the steel block shimmering against the sky.
From 1995 onwards, several tourism agencies in Sapa started providing better and better climbing gear and assistance: canvas tents, sleeping bags, battery- powered lamps, binoculars, safety tools, trained guides and porters. Hikers who are not in good shape or reluctant can end up at the height of 1,028 or 2,600m. If you are not ready to tackle Fansipan, please listen to Thien Hung, the war veteran mentioned earlier, describe one of his attempts.
“So far people have found at least three ways to ascend the Fansipan. One is to follow the track of the H’mong along the Cat Cat stream. The second is to trek through Sin Chai Hamlet and the third is to start from O Quy Ho Hilltop.
“If you take the first way past the hamlet of the H’mong, you will come to a suspension bridge and an abrupt slope. After the slope, you may need to take a rest, then crossing a freezing cold stream you will go into an old forest with many tree stumps. At noon, you will get to the forest edge and you will see below high tree canopies and fields of fragrant cardamom belonging to the H’mong. You are at the altitude of 1,700 m. You may take a rest and have a light lunch with the food you have brought with you. Next you will come to a most challenging slope. If you can manage to climb this slope, you can manage to the peak. At the end of the slope, it is better to rest for about five minutes to regain your energy for a risky mountainside trip ahead. From there, on unclouded days, you can see the beautiful Sapa town very far below by the side of a range of low mountains, with small square roofed houses and winding asphalt roads. The slope gets steeper. You may have to cling onto the tree roots that run across the track and swing yourself up. At about 4 pm, you will come to the first stopover at the height of 2,080 m. Here, there is a flat empty space and right below it is a rivulet that is swollen all year round, even in dry weather. You can unload your packs and set up your tent, collect dry fire-wood and light fire to cook dinner. You will need to go to bed early so as to be in form for the trip of the next day. Inside the tent, you can hear the rumbling of the stream nearby and dogs howl from Cat Cat Hamlet.
The next day, you should get up early and set off at about 7 am through an old forest to a cardamom field, the last vestige of human life. Then you will continue climbing a long slope that overlooks precipitous cliffs at the bottom of an abyss, and the higher you go, the more stunted the trees. Here the air is colder, the wind stronger and there is less silt in an mountain creeks. When you ascend the top of the slope, you will see a forest of diminutive trees covered with a thick layer of moss from top to bottom that looks quite bizarre. At the height of 2,400 m, you will see low pine trees growing on rocky cliffs. The further you go, the more beautiful the forest, with each pine tree taking a different shape. Take a rest at the height of 2,450 m; you may have lunch while admiring the pine tree forest. This landscape is fabulous, just as in a fairy land.
“You should not stay to long there, because you have to climb an upright slope. Trees on the two sides of the track are dwarfed, only about 15 cm in diameter, and covered with moss all over. Among them are water-rail trees that blossom in February and March. It is a great sight to see each tree with its tray of specular flowers. After half an hour in the forest, you will suddenly see before you a lot of sunlight. When you creep out of the tree canopies, you will find yourself standing on the ridge of a high mountain. From there, you will see layers of mountain ridges running like waves on the back of the Hoang Lien Son range.
“Here the bamboo forest is nearly shoulder-high. A bamboo trunk is straight and as small as a chopstick. On top of each tree is a bunch of thick leaves that make it look like a feather duster. You will have to worm your way into the forest. Far below, Sapa Town shimmers amid several layers of cloud. After ten minutes at the height of 2,600 m, you will come to a small stream, ideal for putting up your tent and for cooking needs. After you have finished your meal, it will be dark. Nights at this height will be much colder than the previous ones, and you will have to stay inside your sleeping bag and zip it up.
On the third day, you will pass another wide bamboo forest and cross a couple of small streams. After that, you will see Fansipan before you, a giant head whose face looks high up and whose forehead is the destination you have to reach. At noon, you will reach the top of Fansipan; it is a small peak full of weather beaten rocks. On the surface of the slanting slope, you will see the stainless iron block erected by the Russian and German mountaineers in 1984, at the highest peak of 3,143 m.
“Sitting next to the block and looking out to all directions, everything is at your feet. You may take a video, pictures or open champagne to celebrate your ascent or should until you are hoarse from the effort. But you can only stay on this peak for 30 minutes and should descend in the time for your base camp, before it gets too dark. it will take one day to climb down, and on the evening of the fourth day, you will arrive in Sapa.
This is the easiest climb among over fifty attempts of Mr. Thien Hung. He can not recall all the hardships, challenges and happy experiences of his first attempts to find a way to the summit. He says he will write a book about this once he has some free time.
Source: Sapa in the midst of clouds - Author: Pham Hoang Hai