climbing Fanispan in a day

trip report by site editor Rick McCharles

“the Roof of Indochina”

AT A GLANCE

  • map Fansipan3,143 meters (10,312ft), Fanispan is the highest mountain in Indochina
  • northwest region of Vietnam, near the Chinese border
  • 9km southwest of Sapa (Sa Pa), a gorgeous hill station developed by the French
  • pine forests, bamboo thickets and jungle

Oct 20, 2014

P1310402

Breakfast at the fantastic Unique Hotel starts 7am. Since I was leaving at 5am, the cook awoke early and put together a takeaway breakfast for me. :-)

I arrived at Sapa O’Chau travel agency at 5:10am for the 5:30 rendezvous. Guide and driver were there already, so we departed instantly.

By 5:30am we were marching briskly up the trail. In the dark.

“Silver”, my guide, spotted a wounded bird near the Ranger Station. Knowing that some dog would dispatch him in the morning, he carried the bird along with us until finding a safer place in the forest.

P1310342

We started early because I opted to climb Fanispan in one day US$95, rather than the normal US$180 2-day itinerary.

P1310348

Silver quickly decided I was strong enough to make it. I hoped he was right.

The trek is wet. And muddy. At the bottom you are often walking in creek beds and runoff streams.

P1310355

Happily for me, it had been very dry of late. My feet did not get wet over the entire day!

The best sections are ridge walks with misty valley vistas far below.

P1310436

P1310442

Surprisingly, long sections of the ridge are protected with concrete railings. They are well built and seem to be enduring the climate very well.

P1310435

I asked my guide about poisonous snakes. He laughed, saying the snakes this high are very wary. People don’t see them. But in his village, Kat Kat, there are many, many.

P1310358

Just around the next corner we came across that one, bludgeoned to death. Silver was sorry to tell me that his people eat large snakes and kill small ones.

You’ll only see goats and buffalo on this trek. For anything more exotic check the restaurants of Sapa. Some Asians are happiest eating the most endangered species. :-(

porcupine Sapa

Almost everyone climbs Fanispan with a guide. But I did talk to one guy from Hanoi who did it alone. In a day. Much faster than me. Parts of the trail are marked with collapsed signposts and fading red markers.

P1310362

It would be easier to follow the trash, however. Only western tourists and guides pack out what they pack in. I’ve always found indigenous peoples to be the very worst litterbugs.

This day we were first to arrive at Camp 1 – 1,500m (4,920 ft). You can buy snacks and drinks here. The guard dog was chained.

P1310366

P1310368

Up and up. Into the clouds. Fanispan’s summit is usually clouded over.

P1310375

P1310377

Multiday hikers normally stay at Camp 2 – 2,800m (9,190 ft). Either in fairly dirty buildings or in much cleaner tents carried by porters.

P1310390

We had a meal here on the way up. And on the way down.

P1310391

P1310430

Though I set out my alcohol gel, my guide didn’t use it. Other cooks I saw were equally unsanitary.

Camp 2 is atrociously trashed. The main reason I chose to do a one day climb was to avoid staying here. :-(

If you feel I’m exaggerating, click over to a photo of the toilet.

This is a tough trek. There are dozens of sections where you really need to scramble. Many inexperienced hikers must turn back.

Here’s one essential handhold.

P1310420

Though in a hurry, we got stopped high up for 30min because a work crew was blasting rock.

P1310416

P1310421

Turns out a cable car is being built. It will open September 2015 or sooner. There must have been 200 workers living atop this high mountain.

P1310410

P1310411

P1310412

I took perverse pleasure in seeing this mess, but I’m not going to recommend Fanispan to others. The cable car will further degrade the hiking experience.

We did finally stand on the summit, the highest spot in Indochina.

P1310405

I assumed it would be quick down. But we didn’t get back to the Hoàng Liên National Park Ranger Station until 5pm.

That was 11.5hrs up and down. Including 2 half hour stops for food.

I was awarded a certificate and medal. :-)

P1310458

I could barely walk that evening. But seemed to be completely recovered next morning. :-)

See my high resolution photos from this adventure on flickr.

Simien Traverse, Ethiopia

I’m hoping to do the famed Simien Traverse in November. It’s the best hike in Ethiopia, one of the best in the world.

Simien

Click PLAY or watch a some highlights from a 2014 trek on YouTube. It looks spectacular. Scenery and wildlife. Especially the Gelada Baboons.

I’m using the most recent Lonely Planet Ethiopia to start my research.

I plan to fly Addis Ababa to Gondor, buying my ticket when I get to Ethiopia. Spend at least one night in Gondor, acclimatizing, before traveling about 2hrs north to Debark.

map2

The Simien Park Hotel in Debark is reputed to have hot water showers. One night there while I organize my adventure at the National Park Office.

I’m hoping to either join a group headed up or to hire the minimum for a solo trek. That’s one ‘Scout’ (armed park ranger) and one English speaking guide.

No mules. No cook.

The most popular route is 4-5 days to Geech or Chenek and back. I’ll not summit Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia.

Leave a comment if you’ve done this trek.

deaths on the Annapurna Circuit

Rescuers in Nepal are trying to reach more than 20 trekkers trapped below a high Himalayan pass by heavy snowfalls and avalanches as the death toll from the unfolding tragedy was reported to be as high as 32.

High winds and blizzards hit much of central Nepal this week as the tail end of a cyclone travelling west across northern India reached the Himalayan mountain chain. The head of the Trekking Agencies Association Nepal said there had never been a disaster like it. …

Local officials said 24 bodies had been found on the Annapurna circuit, which circles the Annapurna mountain and attracts thousands of walkers every year.

Guardian

I was there last year. In perfect weather. :-(

Thorong La, 5,416 m (17,769 ft)

Thorong La, 5,416 m (17,769 ft)

There was a similar disaster some years ago. Many killed. Many hikers trapped at the Annapurna Sanctuary.

Tyres & Earth: Meeting Mike Howarth

Ashley Crowther:

… It seems like an age ago since I first met Mike, I was looking for some company to trek up to Annapurna Base Camp in the Nepal Himalaya. Although this is a easy route to tackle on your own, I believe that sometimes moments are best shared with two.

Posting a thread on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum looking for people, I received an email from a Yorkshire man who was currently cycling around and across Nepal, but wanted to leave his bike behind for some good old fashioned walking.

We caught up in Pokhara, by Phewa Lake for a beer and a cheeky Western treat of Pizza. …

Mike

You’re currently in South America, what has it been like and where have you been?

… I started my travels in Buenos Aires, dubbed the Paris of South America. I spent a month learning Spanish and exploring this colourful and vibrant city. From there I travelled to Argentina’s southernmost city; Usuhaia. El Fin Del Mundo (The End of the World) and started my trip north toward Columbia after a last minute trip to Antartica. I cycled through Patagonia, the Argentinan and Chilean Lake Districts before stopping off for a breather and a slice of city life in Santiago and Valpariso.

From there I linked up with the spine of the Andes and rode through the Argentina wine growing areas of Mendoza and Cafayate before crossing in to Boliva and spending over 6 weeks on the Bolivian Antiplano crossing the spectacular Salar De Uyuni. I am currently in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, and plan to follow these north as closely as possible. …

cycling Andes

read more