After summitting Everest, the group returned to Vietnam as conquering heroes, with flag-waving crowds welcoming them at the airport.
Each member also received 100 million VND from the reality show’s sponsors (Lasta Company and Number 1 energy drink). Speaking engagements and endorsements followed, giving the three climbers, all of whom come from modest backgrounds, opportunities they would never have otherwise known.
The same drive that brought them to the top of Everest hasn’t gone away. They’ve all been bitten by the climbing bug. “It’s become a passion,” says Ngoi.
The three are still hoping to extend their passion to Vietnam, a country that still has little interest in climbing and adventure sports (although rock climbing has begun to catch on).
Still, when it comes to thrills, it’s hard to top the real-life danger of climbing the world’s tallest peak. After Everest, is there anything left to conquer?
Without hesitation, all of them answer that their dream destination is the mountain known as K2. At 8,611 m, it’s the second-highest mountain peak in the world, and far more technically challenging and dangerous than Everest. For every four successful summits of K2, one climber dies trying.
The appeal of something with a mortality rate like that only appeals to a special breed. What makes these young Vietnamese and the rare breed of elite climbers like them tick? “Because it’s there,” is the famous response from British climber George Mallory who led the first Everest expedition in 1922, and the desire to climb mountains seems to defy much more introspection than that.
Still, three year on, life has achieved a sort of normalcy for the three. Bui Van Ngoi, the first to summit, graduated from university two years ago. He first took a job at an advertising company, specializing in team-building, and now he is a freelance tour-guide. Thus far, Ngoi has been saving money to study tourism in New Zealand in 2013. Phan Thanh Nhien also graduated one year ago, and Nguyen Mau Linh is giving boxing lessons and breeding bulldogs. Nhien and Linh are both working for Viet Travel company as event managers.
Ngoi, Nhien, and Linh were chosen for training to attend the Southeast Asian Games in 2013, for rock climbing this time. From outward appearances, they’re like any number of young men you’d come across in Ho Chi Minh City, though perhaps with a bit more swagger.
None of them can say precisely why they crave this type of adventure. Nhien finally shrugs. “I used to drive my motorcycle fast,” he says. “Now I like climbing mountains.
Writer: Thomas Maresca- Nam Nguyen