Why we did it

“Because it is there.”

In 1923 an American reporter asked English explorer George Mallory, who attempted to conquer Everest many times but never succeeded, “Why do you want to climb  Mt. Everest?” He famously responded, “Because it is there.”

Vietnamese Dream on the Top of the World

It all began with an idea to make a television mini-series in 2008 called “Vietnamese conquers Mount Everest”.

Here is trailer for the show, which was re-broadcasted  in 2010. Source from YouTube:

This was a nationally televised reality program made by Ho Chi Minh City Television (HTV) in collaboration with the Lasta company, entitled Vietnam Spirit to the World.  The project took shape in the form of a competitive reality TV show, which aimed to put the very first Vietnamese on the summit of Everest.

More than 2,000 people applied and auditioned for the show and the chance to summit the world’s highest peak.  The contestants first had to complete progressively more difficult mountains, beginning with Mt. Fanxipan (the “Indochinese roof-top”), then Mt. Kinabalu (the highest mountain in Southeast Asia), Mt.Kilimanjaro (the highest mountain in Africa), and lastly Island Peak (a technically difficult mountain) in the Himalayas.

The Vietnamese team on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,895 m/19,341 ft). Photo by Nam Nguyen

Finally it was narrowed down to four elite athletes: Nguyen Mau Linh, Phan Thanh Nhien, Bui Van Ngoi and Le Ba Cong.  It was for them to attempt the final stage… conquer and summit the world’s highest mountain.

The four young men came from all over Vietnam. Phan Thanh Nhien and  Bui Van Ngoi were students; Le Ba Cong was a soccer player who owned a shoe store; and Nguyen Mau Linh was an amateur boxer with many city-level wins under his belt.

On the top of Island Peak (6189m/20305ft). Photo by Lasta Company

At the beginning, they joined the program for different reasons.

Nhien wanted to have money to pay for school tuition; Ngoi wanted to satisfy his curiosity about being a part of a television program; Linh joined because his friend registered him; Cong wished to challenge and discover himself.

However, during the 300 day journey, which led them over the peaks of many high mountains, the program showed them grow and aspire to more than they first dreamed of.

Bursting dream

After the first three day training trip to Camp 1 on Mt. Everest, Bui Van Ngoi appeared thin and tanned. Ngoi was a college student and sports athlete who took one year off from school in order to join the program. “Everyone  knows that weather conditions on Everest are some of the most severe in the world.  Sometimes, we cried after a day’s training was completed, but they were also happy tears after supreme attempts/accomplishments. The passage in the front is very dangerous but I can feel the Vietnamese young age and blood flowing in all four brothers.”

Bui Van Ngoi. Photo by Nam Nguyen

Bui Van Ngoi remained determined: “Our journey would be very dangerous, severe and difficult. I knew that very well.  My family knows it very well and we prepared the spirit for the coming difficulties.  We are prepared to accept them all. In human life, the opportunity of exploring and conquering challenges such as these does not come every day.  I am prepared and I am ready.”

Nguyen Mau Linh. Photo by Lasta Company

In the cold Everest base camp, Nguyen Mau Linh shared that he was able to read the expectations of his parents from the looks on their faces when they said their goodbyes and sent him on this journey.  “My mother made me a box of candied ginger; a countryside gift for her son to keep warm in snowy mountain. My friends gave me many good luck charms, such as a lucky amulet, and their expectation for me and my companions was that we stand tall and proud on ‘the world’s roof-top,’” said Linh.

“I tried to do my best and gave it everything I had and more while training at the Khumbu ice falls, the most dangerous place on the itinerary of reaching the peak.  During that training, I thought that what were about to do was more than simply for a television program.  I could only concentrate on my aspirations and the dreams of millions of Vietnamese hearts monitoring our daily progress,” Linh added.

Phan Thanh Nhien. Photo by Nam Nguyen

Phan Thanh Nhien was very confident.  Wearing special spiked shoes weighing over 6kg, a heavy 10kg backpack, and his survival gear he stated, “After conquering Island Peak, we climbed vertical ice walls and suffered in extreme cold weather averaging -25 0C.  I believe that our preparation and careful training have positioned us for success.”

Le Ba Cong, who suffered from corneal inflammation due to cold burn, was more reserved: “It’s unforgettable for me because of being blinded due to the snow in the past (during the Island Peaktrip in the training program) but this experience gave me the strength to try harder on this trip. We realized that even though our physical strength is excellent right now, if the weather becomes disadvantageous, we will fail. In addition to our strong will and determination, I also hope we get lucky.”

The participants were physically fit and determined. But what about their loved ones back home? Nhien’s mother resides in the countryside and could only monitored her son via television. She often cried at night, worrying for Nhien’s safety, but she hoped that Nhien would make it.

From left: Bui Van Ngoi, Nguyen Mau Linh, Le Ba Cong and Phan Thanh Nhien. Photo by Nam Nguyen

Le Ba Cong was the only team member who was married.  In order to join the other athletes, he was forced to close his shoe shop in Nha Trang and postpone his plan of building a house.  “Initially, I supported him and wanted him to be able to carry out his dream, but later, entering each new stage, we both became ingrained in what was happening,”  said Le Thi Minh Ha, Cong’s wife. “Now, climbing Mt. Everest was no longer only my husband’s indulgence; to me it was a national pride. I knew all the dangers involved full well but I believed he, with the help and assistance of his companions, would overcome.”

“I was very agitated when I heard some people say that it was a far-sighted dream to fly our national flag on Mt. Everest. As the leader of this trip to place the first Vietnamese citizens to ever summit Everest, I was extremely honored and fully understood my responsibilities,” said  trip leader Huynh Van Van.

Watch this video clip about the Vietnamese journey to  summit Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. Source from Youtube

“The dream of placing the Vietnamese National flag on Everest’s peak and watching those stinging winds blow through it was perhaps not only for me, but also thousands of Vietnamese hearts in the homeland. We knew we had to give it our very best effort because so many were counting on us,” Huynh Van Van added.

Writer: Nam Nguyen

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