On the final day of our stay in Tam Dao village we were given the option of climbing to the top of the first peak of the Tam Dao mountains, about 1500 metres in height. This really didn't mean much to me as I had never done any climbing. Altogether it was a 1.5 hour walk to the base followed by a 3 hr climb to the top. Not being in peak physical condition I knew this was going to be a major challenge but I did not want to miss out an opportunity to climb my very first mountain. Oh how naive!
The team started off at an even pace, the path winding up and down through a beautiful bamboo forest, gradually getting higher and higher. Viet, one of the scientists, took the lead and we were all in high spirits, laughing and joking along the way. Then during one of our frequent rest stops, Steve made an interesting observation of the team. "So do you guys want to be a duck or a fox?"
He was saying that we were acting like ducks, making a lot of noise as we walked along, walking quite closely to each other along the way, and not really paying much heed to our surroundings. He said that if we were to act like foxes, treading carefully, being silent and spreading out we would be far better positioned to appreciate the environment.
All of a sudden I could feel the forest change around me, I noticed how thick and dank the air was, the ground was slippery with leaves and the silence deafening, occasionally broken by the odd insect sound. 2 hours in and my legs were aching badly but I pushed on thinking there was not too much further to go.
The final leg was extremely steep and slippery, I was hauling myself up a near vertical path using the bamboo trees and rocks as leverage, some of my more seasoned team mates called it a "scramble" - not quite rock climbing but pretty close. If it wasn't for my team mates around me, whom I had gotten to know and trust throughout the trip, I would not have been able to make it to the top, that is for sure. By now my legs were numb, my arms were sore from the strain and I was starting to get worried about how on earth I was going to get back down again!!
Finally, we made it to the top and on to a small clearing with a spectacular 360 degree view from the top. Several open habitat butterfly species danced around the peak and I soon found myself dizzy trying to keep my eyes on them!! We all sat down for lunch and had pictures taken, my favourite of which is posted above.
I then learnt that the hardest part of the climb was coming back down again. By this stage, my leg muscles were barely functioning and I took it very, very slow down the steep path. Again, could not have done it without my wonderful team mates who were so encouraging and patient with me. Although I was so glad of the experience - I could barely walk for the next 5 days or so!