Climbing Vietnam’s fourth highest mountain peak, Bach Moc Luong Tu

By Xu Kien   July 26, 2020 | 12:28 pm GMT+7

Towering mountain peaks appeared before me as I held tightly onto rocky aiguilles before taking my next step. Bach Moc Luong Tu is a perfect venture for adventurers.

Finally, after a difficult trek and heaps of effort I reached the top of Bach Moc Luong Tu, gripping the peak with my bare hands. For the first time in my life, I was drained of energy from a mountain climb but also faced with a sublime panoramic view of the Vietnamese border.

Bach Moc Luong Tu, 3,046 m high, is Vietnam's fourth highest mountain peak, after Fansipan, Putaleng and Pusilung, all in northern Vietnam. The mountain, locally called Ky Quan San after the ethnic village at its base, lies between the northwestern provinces of Lai Chau and Lao Cai.

There are two ways to conquer Bach Moc Luong Tu. The first route departs from Sang Ma Sao Ward of Bat Xat District in Lao Cai Province whilst the second starts at Sin Sui Ho Ward of Phong Tho District in Lai Chau Province.

The former is recommended and preferred since the route via Lai Chau Province passes by Chinese territory and requires a special border pass. When visiting Bach Moc Luong Tu, most hikers opt for the first trail from Sang Ma Sao Ward to avoid the additional paperwork.

Our sherpa during the hike was A Tru, a H'mong local from Sang Ma Sao Village. A Tru has over seven years of experience and knowledge in guiding travelers to northern mountains like Bach Moc Luong Tu, Nhiu Co San, Cu Nhu San, Pa Vi, Lao Than, Ta Lien Son, Putaleng, and Ngu Chi Son. Therefore, he knew his way around Bach Moc Luong Tu like the back of his hand.

That morning I woke up early in Y Ty Commune then walked to Sang Ma Sao Village in Muong Hum Commune. The route was fairly easy. At 8 a.m., I arrived at A Tru’s house and waited for the rest of my crew to arrive.

Hmong peoples terraced rice fields. Photo by Xu Kien.

H'mong people's terraced rice fields. Photo by Xu Kien.

At 10 a.m., we began our journey to Bach Moc Luong Tu. Already, the first steps seemed steep and hard. From Ky Quan San Village, we made our way up the winding and rocky slope, which proved very tricky to climb. As we neared to the top, we encountered an emerald staircase of rice terraces draped over surrounding hills, dotted with H'mong clay houses basking in smoke. The dreamy view seemed to compensate for the laborious climb.

There were eight of us, plus two porters who carried our gear. One led the crew and the other monitored our progress from the rear. Engaged, I followed in leader A De’s footsteps.

As we continued the journey up the mountain, our view was no longer of rice fields but of fresh cardamom gardens. Since cardamom was in season, locals were busy picking cardamom pods wherever we looked. Not only is it a northern specialty used in many dishes, but also a key ingredient in curing a stomachache or other illnesses.

Under the blazing sun, we moved towards a majestic forest that gradually loomed larger. The forest was wild and dense with bushy vines strung between trees. The wind swept through narrow spaces in between trees, making a rustling sound reminiscent of some kind of a monster lurking in the shadows. At that moment, I was scared. The dark and thick forest made me feel like it held the power to hypnotize and disorient me if I were found alone.

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The dense forest seen on the way to Bach Moc Luong Tu. Photo by Xu Kien.

As if Mother Nature understood how arduous the journey was, we were welcomed by a refreshing spring at noon. Overjoyed, the whole crew quickly jumped in for a much-needed dip. At the same time, A Tru set off to the side of the path to prepare sesame rice and meat for lunch.

Apparently, the challenging and steep route we took this morning was just the warm-up. The real hike awaited us after lunch. The weather was scorching by now and the trail with acute slopes looked much more dangerous. To move forward, the crew crawled, climbed, and wiggled its way through the relief. At 5 p.m., we reached an altitude of 2,100 m and halted at our rest stop where three huts were prepared with sleeping bags and bedding. After a nice shower and a foot soak we had dinner.

When evening fell, we huddled around a toasty fire pit and enjoyed homemade regional cuisine. The dinner spread was delightful with intriguing dishes like forest greens, grilled pork and chicken appetizingly served on banana leaves. In the heart of the wild and mysterious forest, the night was silent as we sipped on fragrant rice wine and dined. The meat was indescribably juicy and delicious. After a passionate guitar performance by one of the crew members, we went to sleep in preparation for the packed day ahead.

Muoi Mountain engulfed in clouds. Photo by Xu Kien.

Muoi Mountain engulfed in clouds. Photo by Xu Kien.

Muoi Mountain is the most beautiful spot from where to catch the sunset and sunrise on the journey to Bach Moc Luong Tu. However, yesterday’s arduous climb completely exhausted the crew and we missed the sunset. The following morning, we all agreed to wake up early to contemplate the sunrise together. After a mere five-minute walk from A Tru’s huts, I was standing in front of floating fluffy clouds. The sun shone its morning rays down on the mountain, painting the clouds a light amber that slowly faded to shell pink.

No words can describe the hypnotizing beauty of Muoi Mountain. We stood in awe of the majestic appeal of nature. The inviting coffee aroma wafted from A Tru’s huts. We quickly trickled back to the lodge to have breakfast before embarking on our second day of trekking.

As if to compensate for yesterday’s fatigue and soreness, our second day was filled with easier, flatter hikes and a beautiful view. Lined along the trails were beautiful blossoms in yellow, orange, and purple.

But as soon as we passed an arresting rhododendron garden, we were greeted by a dreadfully steep slope. Perhaps, no individual has gone on this expedition without a traumatic experience here. The slope ranged from 2,600 to 2,800 m in elevation, requiring me to pass my trekking pole to A De so I could grip the rocks with my hands. The harder I held onto the rocks, and despite my heavy backpack that anchored me, the more I felt slapped about by the wind.

Trekkers at 2,800 meters above the sea level. Photo by Thang Win.

Trekkers at 2,800 meters above the sea level. Photo by Thang Win.

The closer we got to the peak the more I struggled with breathing and keeping pace due to the drop in air pressure. I grappled with moving forward to the point where my legs were dragging along the ground. Before us, was a slippery white slope.

A De said in the past hikers had to use ropes to pull themselves up but because of how dangerous it was, they built stairs next to it. As A De expertly climbed his way up to the top without a rope whilst sporting a woven basket full of gear on his back, I felt the utmost respect for him. He looked so gentle and calm as if he was vertically skating on ice. On the other hand, I opted for the staircase to prevent unwanted accidents.

Simultaneously, the air pressure and temperature radically dropped as we got higher. The northern fog and glacial air wrapped around us. I did my best to crawl forward as my energy drastically decreased. At one point, I halted and laid in the nut forest. Feeling my frailty, A De quickly grabbed my hand and dragged me forward.

He dragged me for a long distance before I saw the peak of the mountain. Encrusted with ‘Ky Quan San – Altitude 3,046 m’, the peak of Bach Moc Luong Tu appeared before me. An indescribable emotion engulfed me as I realized all my relentless efforts had brought me this magnificent view. I fell to the ground, leaned against the peak and let out a hard-earned sigh.

The Chinese mountains briefly flashed through fog holes every now and then before my friends joined me at the top. Everyone wore a bright smile, full of excitement and pride. Rapper Den Vau’s edgy songs filled the air, beating away our collective tiredness. We sat next to each other on the peak and listened to melodies blending with the wind while inhaling the earthy scent of the woods. This journey was truly one for the books.

The author, Xu Kien, at the peak ooff Bach Moc Luong Tu. Photo by Thang Win.

The author, Xu Kien, at the peak of Bach Moc Luong Tu. Photo by Thang Win.

*Before traveling

Transportation: If departing from Sa Pa Town or Y Ty Commune, you can either rent a motorbike or hop on a coach to reach the Muong Hum intersection. The road is wide enough for a six-seater car. However, a rental motorbike is recommended since the path is beautiful and you might want to stop along the way for some pictures.

When to go: The most optimal period for your Bach Moc Luong Tu conquest is from August to May. The rainy season lasts from June to July during which the trails are slippery and dangerous. July is to be especially avoided since the winds are extremely strong and violent.

Guide/porter: There are two reasons why you need to hire a porter for your hike. Firstly, the trails can get deadly dangerous. Secondly, some have reportedly climbed the mountain alone only to mysteriously disappear without ever being found. Also, porters are skilled experts and can prevent disorientation during the route. A Tru is our recommendation since he was very friendly and enthusiastic during our trip. His contact number is 0914 402 295.

Sleeping accommodation: At an altitude of 2,100 m, there are many H'mong huts where one can spend the night. These huts are fully equipped with bedding and sleeping bags. An additional cost of VND50,000 ($2) is charged for a shower and a medicinal foot soak costs VND20,000 ($0.9).

Food: All of our meals were made with local ingredients from the village including livestock like chicken and pork, forest vegetables, corn wine, and rice wine. For breakfast we had rice porridge, fried rice, and rice balls with sesame salt.

Duration: For those who are less active with less stamina, a three-day and two-night trip is recommended. More active and stronger hikers can opt for a two-day and one-night trip.

Costs: The cost is VND1.4 million ($60) for the trip if you depart from Sa Pa. If you choose to be picked up by a porter from Muong Hum, the cost is less at VND900,000 ($39).

Hiking gear: You will need trekking poles, hiking shoes, hiking gloves, a wide-brim hat, flashlight, and medicine.

*Xu Kien, 28, is from the central province of Quang Ngai and lives in Ho Chi Minh City. She travels around Vietnam and writes books and a travel blog.

 
 
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