As Sailors’ Society's Events Manager, my job is like being a spy - constant travel and long stretches of waiting, broken by interludes of terror. For me, it's long hours of spreadsheets broken by interludes of sheer joy. This week’s bliss kicked in at 2,800 metres above sea level in Vietnam.
While mingling at our most recent fundraising event, a guest asked me with undisguised glee - because they knew the answer - if I had actually participated in the challenge events I'd been telling them about. Now I don't climb. I organise the climbers. Who will ensure their bags arrive, harass hotel staff and check for severe weather warnings if I am busy doing pre-climbing lunges?
But, when it is a brand new event, someone has to try it and see what it’s like. So the events team and I headed to Hanoi and the five-hour ride to Sa Pa, to climb Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam.
We were met in Hanoi by the lovely and, later, long suffering, Ruoling from Wild Trips. With a power nap on arrival in Fansipan and an epic breakfast, I set off for a two-day, one night climb with Ruoling, our mountain guide Tran, and our two porters.
Incidentally, the porters skipped up and down the mountain like gazelles in flip-flops, carrying huge baskets of food, water and sleeping bags. Unbelievable. They were making me look bad already.
The climb began at 8am as a leisurely walk on an increasingly steep incline, through an other-worldly setting of tall trees and impenetrable mist.
Within minutes, I had removed my fleece and jacket, and was thinking about when we could stop for lunch, but a few Fruit Pastilles and a little pep talk for my inner couch potato did the trick and on we went.
Over the next six hours I hopped over streams on rocks, crawled up and slid down boulders (not a nail was broken!), climbed steps half as tall as me and even scaled the odd ladder helpfully put in over tricky stretches. The bamboo forest grew more beautiful, less misty and occasionally opened out to reveal views of the other mountains.
Just before sunset, we arrived at our overnight camp. Amenities were few and basic, but to be honest I didn’t care because there was food to be had. No one who knows me will be surprised to hear this. Wearing three layers, a sleeping bag and a head torch I tucked into a veritable feast of local food, which I can barely believe our multi-talented porters knocked up in fading daylight, over a gas stove in a hut. Noodles, garlic potatoes, stir-fried beef and chicken, and what I thought was water and turned out to be small cup of vodka!
I can’t remember falling asleep but was awoken by loud shouts in Vietnamese and English. I threw off my sleeping bag and ran out to see our guide waving madly by the ridge – he was calling me out to catch the sunrise. It was obvious to see why it’s called the sea of clouds!
For breakfast, we ate enough noodles to power a horse and started off for the last third of the ascent. This was my favourite part. I climbed and climbed, way above the clouds under brilliant sunshine and views so incredible they didn’t seem real. I felt like a true athlete, a paragon of health and endurance. Then I fell in some mud and ripped my trousers. Let's just say the tear was not in a great place.
Ah, but the views…the views! As we scaled the last section, suddenly there were green peaks all around us, mountains I hadn’t noticed before. I realised how high I had climbed, and my Netflix and pizza-loving self felt a surge of pride. Then we reached the foot of the viewing platform and saw stairs. Why? Why stairs? Why would they do this? My poor jelly legs. Poor Rouling, she had to wait about 40 minutes for me to get to the top.
And I did - here I am, I’d like to point out I don’t normally look like this. Normally I am less sweaty, but never quite this amazingly happy and proud of myself.
I enjoyed it so much that I'm going back…are you coming too? April 21-24 2017. Be there or be square.
For information on how to take part in the event, click here to email the events team.
Maria can be found tweeting here.