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Dalat Adventure Travel


Hang on

The Mountains around Dalat
in Vietnam's central highlands have long been popular with hikers and mountain bikers. Looking for added excitement, Thai A tries abseiling off the area's highest peak. 

On a clear, sunny day, some other tourists and I follow Dinh, a guide from a Dalat Travel Company, up a trail that leads through pine forests and slopes covered with dry grass. The path is carpeted with leaves, crackly in the dry season and slippery in the wet season. Those of us who have never hiked in a tropical forest find it hard going. The peak, the highest in the Langbian Range, stands 2,163m high.

Now and then we see giant centipedes hiding under rotten leaves. If I were to accidentally touch one of these poisonous creatures it would take several strong men to carry me down the mountain. In the dry season giant ants hide in the tall grass. Although the walk takes just 30 minutes, the path is steep and we have to stop often to catch our breath. While we are tempted to lie back on a bed of pine needles and peer up at the blue sky, Dinh reminds us to beware of ants.

Dinh points to a far-off cliff. The rest of us exchange looks of panic. To reach the place where we'll learn to abseil we must negotiate a steep slope. A distance of 50 meters has never felt so far. We grasp roots and rocks, our fingers and toes fumbling for purchase as we scrabble up. Finally, close to the point of exhaustion, we find ourselves starting into space. Having made it up, it's tome to go down! Lean back, stay calm. Hold on. Flex your legs. Jump! The guide yells a steady stream of directions. I am hovering in midair, my body horizontal, held aloft by a rope attached to a harmless that safety line is tied to a sturdy tree trunk. My job is to calmly move one arm to release or stop the rope.

Our first lesson takes place on a cliff that is just seven meters high. The ground is soft, making it easier for inexperienced climbers like us. Following much self-doubt, jokes and laughter, we all make it down. Mission accomplished, we move on to the real challenge: a 25m high cliff. While this may not sound like much, imagine a five-storey building. To prevent us from losing our nerve, Dinh forbids us from peering over the edge.

After double-checking our clips and knots, Dinh waves the first victim towards the abyss. If we choose not to rappel down, Dinh informs us, we will have to walk three hours back to town. If not for this threat, I would have immediately removed safety rope and helmet and left. From above, the trees resemble matchsticks.

Looking down, I see empty space. Looking sideways, I see the friendly, encouraging smiles of my new friends. "Go on down! You can do it!" I can't describe my feelings as I step off the edge. Above me, Dinh holds the safety rope and encourages me to stay calm. "Don't look down. Just keep going. You're almost there."

It is good advice. Instead of looking down I focus on smoothly releasing the safety rope to allow my body to float down, parallel to the cliff face. After a while I take tiny steps, then longer ones. After a while I am confident enough to bounce down five meters at a time. I feel like the hero in a Hollywood action movie. Reaching the bottom brings an amazing sense of accomplishment. For me, the challenge of clinging to a cliff face was a life changing experience.



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