Lao Than, half way up the sky of a mountain lover
Whenever someone asks for the name of the imposing mountain reaching for the sky in Y Ty, Bat Xat district, Lao Cai province, Lao Than will be the answer. This name itself reflects the mysteries hidden in the rough jungle. The H’Mong people have their own name for the mountain: Hau Pong San.
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Text and photos: Ngo Huy Hoa
Our predestined affinity with this mountain came when we were trekking to the “horn of heaven” - Nhiu Co San Mount in 2014. Seen from above, Lao Than looks like a pyramid reaching up to the clouds. We also compared this majestic mountain to Fuji Mount in Japan and wished to conquer it and take in the interesting views on the way up to the peak.
I started searching for information about this pristine mountain. To make it clearer, we came to the site and asked locals living around there. On dirt roads, we tramped to the villages of the ethnic Dao people in Den Sang with the small houses of Ha Nhi and ones in Chung Chai, Phan Can Su and Phin Ho before meeting H’Mong residents in Ngai Cho village, Y Ty commune. We are familiar with friendly H’Mong friends, who are good at trekking, and the wonderful beauty of Y Ty. However, the journey to Lao Than is memorable in a new way.
From Ha Noi, we traveled to Sapa by coach. Sapa greeted us with her tranquil and picturesque beauty of vaporous dew and sluggish clouds above the lake. Right after leaving O Quy Ho and following the route connecting Xeo village, Ta Giang Ping, Muong Hum and Den Sang, we had the chance to immerse ourselves in the clouds. We met our two funny guides – A Ho and Lu in the center of Y Ty and started preparing luggage with rice, vegetable, chicken, pork and thousands of other things for the long days of trekking.
We approached the mountain foot from an old airport of the French colonial period in Phin Ho. We went through unwinding hills of Imperata cylindrical grass. Some natural trails are so flat it's as if they are covered by large white stone. A strange layer of white dust covers some paths. Ho shared that in the rainy season, villagers often graze cattle in this area, making it an immense grassland.
Afterward, the terrace got more varied. We crossed meadows, bamboo forests, cardamom fields and a strange forest named Tung Cua Sin. In that forest, we found hawthorn trees with pure white flowers, “chi co” trees with bright yellow flowers and hundreds of crimson azaleas. We also met Ha Nhi ethic women wearing their traditional costumes. Although they cannot understand our language of Kinh ethnic, they are friendly and happy to take photos with us. They were on the way to forest to collect some kinds of leaves. One shown us the precious medicinal plant that she had taken. Then, our guide told us they called it Sinh Khung.
From a height of 2400m and above, I crossed dry fields with burned trees. The forest here disappeared after villagers cut trees to build their houses, hunted wild animals, slashed and burned. A Ho shared that on the other side of this mountain, pristine forests still exist and are home to wild animals thanks to their remote and difficult-to-access position.
Towards Den Sang, we could see the Nhiu Co San Mountain appearing among spongy white clouds. On another side of the abyss, there are countless stones with very strange shapes. We stopped to relax and contemplate the beautiful scenery. Our guide called this stop “stone waves”. Although they have been friends with the mountains for a long time, the two guides were as excited as us when presented with the captivating beauty of nature. They even asked us to take photos for them.
I’m madly passionate about clouds. Although in the opposite site – Trinh Tuong, clouds were hovering, at the stop, we could not see any sign of the cloud sea as hazes covered the entire area. We all expected to see the more mysterious scenes in the following early morning when clouds would settle with dew and the cold air would blend with clouds to create a stream.
We continued trekking eagerly, excited to reach the peak. At the time, we didn’t know that although we could see the peak in very near distance, we'd have to struggle with winds and rough paths of shrubs for more than 1,5 hours.
At last, we stood in the flat area at the peak of Lao Than. From this position, it’s easy to enjoy the panoramic views of mountains: Bach Moc Luong Tu Mount with its mysterious green colors in the far distance, majestic Nhiu Co San and the vertical abyss toward Den Sang. My GPS measured the height at 2826m – an impressive figure.
Sunset came, the sun seemed to regret leaving the blue sky and didn’t want to nestle behind the mountain. Winds were still blowing strongly. The sharp shape of Lao Than sometimes disappeared in the hovering mist. We sang the national song, spread the national flag with pride in our country, and listened to the sounds echoed in these emotional moments.
Lao Than is truly an impressive journey with many memorable experiences. Goodbye to the two friendly guides, goodbye to the rough trails, goodbye to my companions with tons of memories. I will always remember Lao Than with its incredible forests, mountain winds, and clouds because of my passion for exploring new lands.
- Transportation: From Hanoi, you can take a Hung Thanh, Hai Van or Sao Viet coach to Sapa. Then, travel by passenger bus or motorbike to Y Ty.
- Luggage: Bring enough warm outfits including water resistant clothes and windbreakers. Moreover, dedicated walking shoes, non-slip gloves, hiking sticks, tents and sleeping bags are must–have items.
- Weather: In winter, the daytime temperatures in the region of Sapa, Y Ty usually range from 14-21 degrees C. In the evening and night, temperature will gradually fall to 8-16 degrees C. Particularly, when strong cold air causes rain, frost and snow, the average temperatures may drop down from -2 to 6 degrees.
- Note: Clouds and fog cover Sapa, Y Ty all year so the moisture here is quite high. You should pay more attention to keeping your cameras safe in order to take good photos.
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