Outdoor Education

Part 4: Fisher Valley and Meeting the Locals

By Wilderness Adventures May 12, 2023
Landscape photo of a big limestone wall covered in greenery along the coast of the ocean.

Part 4 of the 2022 Ultimate Staff Contest Blog Series

We started the morning at Cat Ba Climbing for a helmet and to ask where we should go. Julie was at the desk again and recommended we try Fisher Valley. The rock at Fisher was significantly different from Butterfly. Though both were limestone, Fisher resembled sharp, pitted, volcanic rock, while Butterfly had larger, softer features and was rife with flowing tufa features. We spent the day hoisting ourselves over precarious mantles. Upon getting to the top of one route, we found that the anchor no longer existed – the only evidence of it having been there were two stumps of bolt nearly flush with the wall. With a little cleverness and excitement, we were able to safely get back to the ground and pack up for the day. 

When we got back to town we walked around looking for a restaurant full of locals. We found the loudest place in town without a single tourist in sight. Perfect. We sat down and were stunned to see that the menu had essentially no option besides how many people you wanted to feed. We asked for enough for two and were promptly presented with a small gas stove, skillet, oil, butter, and a huge platter of meat, seafood, and vegetables. The server stayed to cook the first few pieces of food and show us how to wrap them with mint into a small lettuce roll to eat with our hands.  

Plate of raw seafood, meat, and mushrooms arranged nicely.

After two days of climbing hard, we decided to take a rest day. We found a guitar in the hotel dining room and entertained some of the other guests during breakfast. It had been cloudy every day since we landed, so when the sun came out after a long breakfast, Chris decided it would be the perfect day for a beach hop. We cruised around on our mopeds and checked out a handful of beaches around the island.Collage of 3 photos: man running into the ocean on the beach, looking upwards on a wall of limestone, and up-close image of greenery on the rock.

After spending the day lazing about at the beaches, we were again on the hunt for dinner. We found a makeshift chicken roasting machine on the side of the street. It looked like a giant filing cabinet with two windows cut out. Several spits were rigged with a bike chain to a small motor that slowly rotated spatchcocked chickens over the embers in the bottom of the fixture.

Vietnamese woman cooking chicken strips over embers.Another restaurant with all locals, no tourists, and only one thing on the menu. We held up our fingers to indicate how many roast chickens we wanted and took a seat inside. While we waited, the most adorable puppy waddled out from the storeroom and started playing with us.

Man in a colorful button-up shirt and yellow baseball hat holding a small puppy next to his face.

After a few minutes, the cook brought us two whole chickens, cleaved them into bite size hunks, tossed them into a bowl, and went back to the roaster. It was absolutely mouthwatering. The skin was crispy but the meat juicy, tender, and falling off the bones. We snuck a few morsels to the puppy and continued our night.

We found a pool hall and ran into all the guides who worked at Cat Ba Climbing. We said hi to Julie and she introduced us to all the other guides, including Bi, the owner. Bi was incredibly friendly. Within moments of meeting him he bought us Revive (the Gatorade of Vietnam) to make sure we were staying hydrated after a day in the sun. He told us his all about his life, starting Cat Ba Climbing, and the (sometimes tenuous) relationship between climbers, local landowners, and the government in Vietnam. We spent the rest of the night getting hustled by Bi and the other guides at pool while trading stories and getting to know each other. 

The next two days we returned to Butterfly Valley to enjoy the beautiful drive, unreal climbing, and phenomenal food. These days Cat Ba Climbing was running some tours to Butterfly, so we got to hang out with the guides in between climbing. 

One day I found myself halfway up a route, about to slip off the wall, desperately searching for a solid hold that would permit a short rest. I fumbled around to find a small shelf to hang from. After a moment I made a few more moves and got my feet to a narrow ledge I could stand and rest on. I looked down to the shelf I had just grabbed and was alarmed to see a bright green snake coiled up just inches over from where my hand had been. Yeesh! Chris climbed up after me to clean the route. Once he got to the ground I asked him if he saw the snake (or grabbed it). “YOU LET ME GO UP THERE WITHOUT TELLING ME THERE WAS A SNAKE??? Well… Honestly it’s better that way. I wouldn’t have climbed if I knew there was a snake waiting for me.” 

We ended the day with the longest sport route I’ve climbed – an exhausting 110 foot zig zagging climb that required long draws and back cleaning to reduce rope drag. However, I didn’t know any of this until I was 80 feet above the ground pulling with all my might against the rope to get enough slack to make each move. The climb finished at the roof of a small cave, and when I finally made it to the top I dangled from the anchor and soaked in the view. I could see the bulls grazing in the fields, a bonfire party of the local farmers that had started while I was climbing, the winding road tangled around the mountains and village. It was extremely rewarding. Mother Butterfly did not disappoint. 

By Brandon Gamble, WA Trip Leader