Test of endurance

A trek up to the peak of little-known Bach Moc Luong Tu in Vietnam’s northwest is a hard slog rewarded by spectacular mountain views.

By TRACY on November 15,2019 11:17 AM

Test of endurance

PHOTOS TRACY

We headed to Bach Moc Luong Tu (also called Ky Quan San by local people) recently and were told we were lucky to visit the “cloud paradise” in Vietnam’s northwest when it’s at its best.

Bach Moc Luong Tu is the fourth-highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,046 meters above sea level. Boasting magnificent mountainous scenery, it forms a natural boundary between Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces but remains largely unknown among Vietnamese and especially foreigners. Intrepid trekkers must spend at least three days and two nights navigating some 30km of jungle trails through mountains and hills, forests of giant bamboo, and mossy cliffs.

The trail heads upwards from the very first step and can be quite slippery given the ground is red basalt soil, which quickly turns to mud after rain. The local vegetation mostly consists of ferns, moss, vines, shrubs, and some herbs. After the first steep passage we were all a little short of breath, so took a break at the house of one of the local ethnic minority families, where a cool wind caressed our skin as we soaked in the panoramic view of recently-planted terraced rice fields. Backpacks seemingly heavier with every passing minute, we continued on our challenging journey. As we came to a giant bamboo forest, our porters cut some trekking poles for us, which came in very handy over the days to come and made the trek a little easier. From the bamboo forest we entered another forest alive with mosquitos, and we then had to surmount a number of large rocks along the trail, some covered with moss, which made for slow going.

Test of endurance

It was now midday, so we laid out a piece of canvas at a shady spot beside a small stream for some lunch and a rest. We took advantage of the break to clean our shoes, wash our hands and faces, and soak our feet in the stream’s cold water. There is nothing better than enjoying some food in the middle of a forest, taking in the moment of happiness and freedom and connecting with people who were strangers just a few hours earlier. Lying on rocks under the warm sun of the northwest mountains and listening to the babbling brook and bird song recharged our batteries. To reach our guest house, at an altitude of 2,100 meters, we had to hike for another six hours, finally getting there at 6.30 in the evening. On the way we had to tackle a steep cliff, with an abyss to one side. While the sun was warm, once it set behind the mountains it turned quite cold. The hibiscus flowers and white Kachnar flowers along the trail, though, took our minds off the task of plowing ahead.

It was now dark, but about 200 meters from the guest house the smell of smoke from the kitchen heralded our arrival. The small guest house, where we spent two nights, had walls and floors made from wooden planks that didn’t entirely keep the cool winds at bay. It belongs to a H’mong ethnic minority family, and while it was small there was enough space for everyone. After a full day of trekking it was wonderful just to sit and gaze up into the night sky of bright stars. After bathing, we got together around a wooden table for a hot rustic dinner, sharing a jar of wine, telling stories, and getting to know each other. As the winds blew and a chill set in, we wrapped ourselves in thick blankets and nibbled on hot sweet potato. On this silent mountainside, becoming slowly blanketed by a light fog, the only sound to be heard was the crackling of firewood and our own voices.

Test of endurance

It was well worth the effort to be up and about for the sunrise over Muoi Mountain, which is a sight no trekker should miss while here. White fluffy clouds wrapped around far away mountains in the soft morning light, and as the sun rose our surroundings were tinged with red and orange - a truly magnificent sight. Our second, and most difficult, day lay ahead of us, as the summit of Bach Moc Luong Tu beckoned. We set out after breakfast on a strenuous, steep trek of just 4km but which involved climbing over endless rocks and boulders. It was scary at times, scrambling through forests along a mountain face on an uneven and treacherously slippery surface, as it had rained overnight. Our reward came in the form of breathtaking scenery of clouds and mountains stretching to the horizon. Houses of local ethnic people came into view at times, where they raise horses, goats and cows. But our thoughts were very much on the trail in front of us, because one careless step could spell disaster. It was tough passing over the spine of Bach Moc Luong Tu, and my own legs, at least, felt wobbly at times. Approaching the summit, with a deep abyss on each side, was a poetic landscape that took away whatever breath we had left after the climb. What a masterpiece of nature. In that wonderful moment, I felt so tiny. It was like I could just reach up and touch the clouds. It was becoming chilly, but we finally came to the peak of Bach Moc Luong Tu, where Vietnamese flag fluttered proudly in the wind. Below was a sea of dense white clouds, creating a world resembling a fairy tale. After lunch and a million photos, we headed back to the guest house. As any trekker knows, heading downwards is really no easier than heading upwards, just a different set of issues to overcome. Rain also swept in, making the trail even more slippery.

Arriving back at the guest house at around 5pm, we were welcomed by the lovely smoke from the kitchen, hot water, and a hearty dinner. We talked and sang, knowing our real lives awaited the next day. Though far from home, everyone we met warmed our hearts with their sincerity, honesty, and enthusiasm. Following breakfast the next morning, Bach Moc Luong Tu bade us farewell with a spell of heavy rain. When we reached the point we started out from a couple of days earlier, we all had a massage and took a herbal bath at a place run by Dao ethnic minorities, relaxing and invigorating our bodies.

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