Vietnamese mountaineer conquers European peak

Hoang Le Giang, 29, proudly waves the Vietnamese flag on the top of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. Photo provided by Hoang Le Giang

Hoang Le Giang, 29, successfully conquered the highest mountain in Europe on Vietnam’s National Day (September 2).

When he got to the top of Mount Elbrus, 5,642m high, he proudly unfurled the Vietnamese flag and waved it in the air.

“At that moment, I was filled with emotion. It seemed like every muscle in my body was revived and proud of being a Vietnamese who conquered this European peak,” Giang told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper from Russia.

After reaching the top, the group of mountaineers began the six-hour journey back to camp 3,500 meters above sea level.

Incredible Caucasus Mountain challenges the mountaineers with Mount Elbrus. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Incredible Caucasus Mountain challenges the mountaineers with Mount Elbrus. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

From there, they took a specialized vehicle back to their shelter.

Even though Giang was extremely happy at representing Vietnam in conquering one of the highest mountains in the world, he admitted the journey was far from easy due to severe weather.

Mount Elbrus is in the Caucasus Mountains, and was formed around two million years ago after an impact between the Arab and European-Asian Continents, according to the 29-year-old mountaineer.

“The road to Elbrus with the rain, wind, clouds and the white snow makes an overwhelming scenario. Humans become tiny when facing nature, yet they are filled with their inner power to survive…” an extract from Hoang Le Giang’s diary to conquer the peak of Europe.
“The road to Elbrus with the rain, wind, clouds and the white snow makes an overwhelming scenario. Humans become tiny when facing nature, yet they are filled with their inner power to survive…” an extract from Hoang Le Giang’s diary to conquer the peak of Europe. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

“Caucasus, a natural border between Asia and Europe, is a trekking route that attracts professional mountaineers from all over the world. Elbrus is very challenging because of its fast-changing steepness which can easily make any professional dizzy,” Giang said about the mountain.

To reach Elbrus, Giang began his journey with a 2.5-hour flight from Moscow – the capital of Russia – to Mineralyne Vody.

From there, he took a 200-kilometer-trip by taxi to Terskol in the south of Russia (near the border with Georgia).

The crew that conquered Mount Elbrus in September 2017. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
The crew that conquered Mount Elbrus in September 2017. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

“Terskol is quite silent and you will barely see any foreigners. Neither restaurants nor eateries are in sight. This is a Muslim area so the security there is really tight,” said Giang about Terskol.

“I came one day in advance to get used to the weather and stayed in a local hotel. The price was around VND500,000 [US$22] per night with breakfast included. People there, the housekeeper and the cook, were very nice but they couldn’t understand English so we had difficulty communicating.”

The journey was no ‘walk in the park.’

The incredible images from the trip to conquer the Elbrus. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
The incredible images from the trip to conquer the Elbrus. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

Giang soon joined his group of 20 people (one Vietnamese – Giang, two Britons, 17 Malaysians) to begin climbing Elbrus.

“The multi-national crew and I climbed toward the top despite the snowstorms on Caucasus. The weather was awful and constantly changing. The hailstorms and snowstorms made the journey even more challenging. The schedule was affected and expanses increased. During the whole week there was not a crew that was successful in conquering the peak because of the dreadful weather,” Giang told Tuoi Tre.  

Hoang Le Giang admitted experiencing altitude sickness many times but he pushed through.

“There are also times when among the thick clouds a silver lining creates a magical scenario, giving hope to the mountain climbers…” extracted from Hoang Le Giang’s diary to conquer the peak of Europe.
“There are also times when among the thick clouds a silver lining creates a magical scenario, giving hope to the mountain climbers…” extracted from Hoang Le Giang’s diary to conquer the peak of Europe. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

“At the top of the mountain, the temperature was minus 20 degrees Celsius. Wind was blowing at 35kph so it felt like it was -35°C. That’s why in the Malaysian crew of 17 people, only three successfully climbed to the top while the others gave up,” he said.

“I was completely exhausted during the journey since we began at 1:00 am every morning and continued until 10:00 pm, suffering from sleep and oxygen deprivation. The strong winds led me to believe that I would hardly make it to the top. But I did my best to take another step, and another … until I was able to take out the red flag [Vietnamese flag] from my pocket.”

The victory Giang experienced conquering the mountain, however, was unlike victories one is used to seeing.

The 29-year-old mountaineer’s gear. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
The 29-year-old mountaineer’s gear. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

As Giang put it, it was a quiet moment of self-congratulations.

“If mountain climbing is considered a sport, then it’s one with no medals, no applause and a harsh arena. I climb [the mountains] not to impress in a sport that is not yet popular in Vietnam. I climb [the mountains] to challenge myself and admire the world,” the man explained.

After an exhausting trip, the 29-year-old told Tuoi Tre what he had learnt from the journey.

Terskol’s beautiful fall scenery through Hoang Le Giang’s lens. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Terskol’s beautiful fall scenery through Hoang Le Giang’s lens. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Terskol’s beautiful fall scenery through Hoang Le Giang’s lens. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Terskol’s beautiful fall scenery through Hoang Le Giang’s lens. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Terskol’s beautiful fall scenery through Hoang Le Giang’s lens. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Terskol’s beautiful fall scenery through Hoang Le Giang’s lens. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Terskol’s beautiful fall scenery through Hoang Le Giang’s lens. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Terskol’s beautiful fall scenery through Hoang Le Giang’s lens. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

“The lesson learnt is that we must not get ahead of ourselves and we need to understand our physical capabilities,” he said.

“I thought that if I had successfully conquered a 6,150m-high mountain already, the 5,642m Elbrus would not be as much of a challenge. However, in reality, Elbrus was much more challenging because of the rigorous weather and the storms (I had to wait much longer than expected).

“The wind there [on Mount Elbrus] was freezing and caused a lot of pain when it hit you. There were also hailstorms which required a lot more strength during the climb. Therefore, you needed to be prepared for everything in case there was hardship. For instance, I brought myself a spare jacket to deal with the rigorous weather.”

Dandelion blowing in the wind right at the foot of Caucasus Mountain. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Dandelion blowing in the wind right at the foot of Caucasus Mountain. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

Conquering Mount Elbrus is part of Giang’s dream of climbing each of the seven biggest peaks in the world.

The first peak he conquered was the 6,150m high Mount Stok Kangri in India, in August 2016.

On September 13, Giang will come back to Vietnam to prepare himself for his next goal: conquering the highest peaks of Africa, South America, Australia and even Everest, if he has the financial resources, Giang told Tuoi Tre.  

The journey to the top of the incredible Elbrus is an unforgettable experience for the ones who yearn to discover, challenge and overcome themselves. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
The journey to the top of the incredible Elbrus is an unforgettable experience for the ones who yearn to discover, challenge and overcome themselves. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

Giang was born in 1988, and studied marketing in Jonkoping University in Sweden.

He has been mountaineering since 2011, has climbed Himalaya Mountain seven times and visited 30 different countries.

Toward the end of 2016, Giang began being noticed online and was the only Vietnamese representative to undertake a 300km trip in the North Pole in April 2014.

He also joined a Son Doong cave expedition during the summer of 2017.

Mount Elbrus West (left) – the destination of the journey. Photo: Hoang Le Giang
Mount Elbrus West (left) – the destination of the journey. Photo: Hoang Le Giang

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