Almost to the date, 32 years ago, I set out on a 3+ week trek around Annapurna, in the Himalayas Mountains of Nepal. Next week, I will return to Nepal to begin a 3+ week trek to Everest Base Camp, with a side trip to Gokyo Lakes. To make this new trek even more fun, I will begin my walk from Jiri instead of flying into Lukla. This will add an additional week to the trek as I hike the original approach to Namche Bazaar, the gateway to the Everest region.
During that first trek so long ago, I trained by lying in the sun, drinking beer, and otherwise cavorting around Thailand for three weeks before arriving in Kathmandu. My now 62 year old lungs and legs would have little chance in Nepal if I followed the same training regime this time around. So, for the last few weeks, I have been hiking the jungle trails up and down Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep – Doi Pui Mountain.
From Chiang Mai city, Doi Suthep Mountain appears as a large completely forested hulk, with the famous Doi Suthep Temple perched on a promontory about 2000 feet up. The temple is serviced by a well-travelled, paved road plied by fleets of buses, fans, and songtaews that ferries 1000’s of tourists up to the temple every day. Only a handful of people take the direct route, up the walking trail. The first part of the trail, known as the monk’s trail, begins at the mountain’s base, and proceeds up to a lesser known temple, Wat Pha Lat, perched about 700 ft above the trailhead.
From there, the “trail” makes a direct beeline for Doi Suthep temple sans switchbacks. This being the dry season in Thailand, the trail consists of a series of steps stomped into the hard clayey soil. During the rainy season, I imagine that the trail would make a great muddy waterslide; temple to trailhead to hospital in 5 minutes!
I have now been up and down this trail many times – I know every root and rock along the way – I’m pretty sure I could navigate the trail blindfolded.
Yesterday, as an alternative, I chose a very lightly used trail that diagonals up the mountain toward the northwest to the small hill-tribe village of Ban Khun Chang Kian (บ้านขุนช่างเคี่ยน) a small settlement spilled across a high ridge about 3000 ft above the City.
The trail is mostly used by mountain bikers who get hauled up the mountain in the back of pick-up trucks, and then come tearing down the trail, hikers beware. I also saw a couple of crazy farang trail runners – not many hikers though, mostly the trail is empty and quiet.
From the village, I traversed about 9 km south to Doi Suthep temple, following a four-wheel drive road that led eventually to a poorly maintained trail. The first part of the traverse passed by numerous strawberry fields that thrive in the cooler mountain-top environment. Trail finding was a bit of a challenge – the jungle hides a spider’s web of jeep trails and walking paths going every-which-way. After climbing over what seems like 100s of fallen trees, I arrived at the bustle of Doi Suthep and descended the steep trail to just above Wat Pha Lat, where I finished the 20 km long hike with a 3 km traverse back to my parking spot along the Doi Suthep road.
Hiking this trail gave me a great workout – the distance and elevation gain probably equals or exceeds any day-long segment I will encounter in Nepal (albeit at low altitude). The trails are pleasant enough, although quite steep in places. During the dry relatively cool season (temps in the upper 80s- low 90s F) the cooler temperatures up high are pleasant. There were only two real downsides to this hike. One was the constant cloud of kamikaze gnats that enveloped my head. These terrorists had a penchant for exploring any orifice of mine they could find, and apparently they thought my eyes were portals to a bug’s paradise. I spent much of the hike wondering if the swarm consisted of the same 200 bugs who found me at the trailhead and followed me for 20 km, or whether they were a tag-team outfit that each had their own designated section of trail. I imagined attaching a nano GPS transmitter to a few of the gnats to answer this question. Such are the thoughts that occupy my feeble brain when my legs and lungs are on autopilot.
The second downside was the 20-30 inevitable spider-web-face-plants. A face-first meeting with this guy will get your attention!
I am hopeful that these forays into the Thai jungle will amply prepare me for the hiking in Nepal. My next post will likely be next week from Nepal….