Cool kids make it to the top

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Eight-year-old Nguyen Phan Nhat Thanh saw nothing special about his achievement with his nine-year-old friend Nguyen Tung Anh when they stood on the summit of Mount Fansipan, Indochina's tallest peak.

Accompanied by their fathers and a local guide, the boys from Hanoi had trekked and scrambled for a day and a half to the top of the 3,143- meter peak in the Hoang Lien Son Range in the northwestern province of Lao Cai.

"It was not as difficult as I'd imagined it would be," Thanh, also known as Thanh Rom, said later. "But I didn't get to enjoy the scenery because the weather was bad."

His friend Anh, whose nickname is Balo (backpack), was more excited than his climbing buddy.

"I can remember my feelings exactly. It seemed like a series of endless slopes but it was really great when we touched the summit marker. The guide said we were the youngest Vietnamese people to conquer Fansipan ever," Balo said.

The boys, whose fathers are members of the Northwestern Group trekking club, have been going on arduous walks in the wild since they were two years old.

"He's got used to the adventurous life thanks to all the trips we've taken him on since he was two," said Balo's father Tung.

Several of these outings, with both fathers, were to Ba Vi National Park on the edge of Hanoi, where they explored the jungle on their own to toughen themselves up and become more self-reliant.

"It was pretty dim under the jungle canopy, just like in a computer game," Thanh said. "But we were not scared because it was daytime."

"The second time we went to Ba Vi, our parents left us alone at night. We were really scared by the strange sounds but went ahead and explored the jungle with flashlights anyway," he said.

The boys did lots of running, hiking, biking and hill climbing to get fit enough for the attempt on Fansipan. kids make

"It was tiring having to jog around the lake in Bach Thao Park ten times in 30 minutes," Thanh said.

"We also had to climb the stairs up Nung Mountain and go up and down the stairs of our five-story apartment block."

Tung said the boys were often taken out at night to get them used to the dark in preparation for Fansipan.

The expedition

Their journey to the top of Fansipan began on October 29 last year with a train trip at night from Hanoi to Lao Cai, where they set out on foot the next morning.

"I had to wear three layers of socks separated by nylon layers to stop my feet from getting wet," Thanh said.

The young trekkers were riveted by the majesty of the Hoang Lien Son Range, and even the jungle was relatively kind before they reached the steeper slopes.

After lunch, the forest became thicker and the climbing more strenuous.

"They began stopping every 50 meters and wishing the summit was just a few more steps away," Tung said. "But I could see they had no intention of giving up."

As darkness fell, they had to use a flashlight on the last stretch before reaching their campsite at 2,700 meters.

The climbing resumed early next morning.

"I liked the next bit because of the beautiful scenery," Thanh said.

"But it was really scary on this steep section we had to climb. It was like looking down from the fifth story of a building. We trembled as we went. The stairs at home are nothing compared to the slopes there."

"The unfamiliar weather gave me a slight cough and runny nose on the first day. But I felt much better on the second day," Balo said. "I fell once but the thick clothes protected me."

On October 31 they reached the summit of Fansipan at noon.

"One day I will conquer Mount Everest," Balo told his father as they stood on the roof of Indochina.

"He's serious and I for one hope he succeeds," his proud dad said later.

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