Pusilung mountain in northern Vietnam.
Situated near the Chinese border in Pa Ve Su Commune, Muong Te District of the northwestern province, Pusilung, at 3,080 meters in height, is Vietnam’s second highest peak after the great Fansipan, nicknamed “Roof of Indochina”.
Though the route had been shut for over a year due to some trekkers getting lost in Chinese territory, and the escalating Covid-19 situation, our group of seven finally managed to get permission to challenge the peak last November.
We, though with much trekking experience, were both half excited and half worried by the news. After all, the route to Pasilung is one of the hardest in Vietnam, taking three days of traveling over 60 kilometers. Statistically, only half of all trekkers had managed to finish.
Our group started at 7 p.m. from Hanoi, boarding an overnight coach heading to Muong Te Town of Lai Chau Province. The following morning, after a quick breakfast, we hired a car to take us to Pa Ve Su Border Post, where we would make our final preparations. Though the distance from the town to the border post is just 35 kilometers, due to the bad roads, it took us almost two hours.
At the border post, we met our four Dao ethnic porters and discussed the luggage distribution and itinerary. The porters had traveled 150 kilometers for five hours from Lang Village, Phong Tho District to meet us there, as La Hu ethnic locals at Pa Ve Su rarely provide trekking services.
After finalizing procedures, we asked the border guards for permission to store some of our luggage (clean clothing and non-trekking gear) at the border post, which was kindly accepted. Afterwards, we started our trek at 11 a.m., an hour later than planned.
The first steps in the journey to the Pasilung peak.
At first, we crossed a large stream via a makeshift bridge made of thin iron bars and ropes, which provided us with little guarantee of safety. This would be the first of 11 streams on our itinerary.
After an hour trekking through a forest, the group reached the second stream, where we took a quick lunch break, before making haste for our cave campsite.
Passing along a curvy mountain, we reached a hut of an elderly La Hu couple, who kindly lent us some kitchenware and gave us some fresh vegetables to cook.
From this point would be a long trek to our final stop for the day. As no trekker had come here for over a year, the route was covered with weed and jungle vines, which impeded our speed and enervated us even more.
From here, we were required to follow closely behind our porters and each other, as we entered the natural forest with dangerous wild animals including snakes, bears, and leopards. In addition, passing through the weeds, we walked near a long cliff, one misstep away from the eternal abyss.
Though stressful, we were determined to reach the mountain cave as planned, or else, in the second day, we would have to spend over 15 hours trekking to the peak and back to the camp, in ailing light conditions.
Camping on the way to the Pasilung summit.
We reached the cave, 2,600 meters in altitude at 7 p.m., after trekking two hours in the dark. Though it was trying, we were greatly satisfied with our decision.
We swiftly set up camp before taking a bath in a small stream nearby, while the porters prepared a full, nutritious meal including banh chung, the traditional Vietnamese sticky rice cake with pork and mung beans, and a variety of canned beef, pork and chicken.
Waking up before 6 a.m. on the second day, we started our journey with flashlights. Though temperatures were extremely cold, after 20 minutes, we all had to remove an outer layer as the sun shone through the treetops.
After four hours’ trekking, passing through bamboo, beech and oak forests, we reached Border Milestone 42, built in 2008, and the second-highest in Vietnam, at 2,866 meters.
We took a quick rest, taking some photos, before quickly returning to our trek. From this point onwards, Tan Chinh Khe, our porter, said, the whole group needed to stay close together, as it would be very easy to get lost and overstep the national boundary with China.
The group members at Border Milestones 42. Nguyen Duc Hung, the author, is fourth from left.
From the border milestone to the peak is the hardest section of the journey, passing through tall, fluctuating slopes. Therefore, many people decided to skip this part of the trek, only stopping at Border Milestones 42, according to Nguyen Hoang Bac of Lim Travelling Corps, a tour service operating many tours to Vietnam’s northwestern mountainous region. The ideal time in which to reach the border milestone is within a morning.
Nevertheless, this challenging section of our trek was the most rewarding, passing through picturesque ancient forests. The most recognizable trees here are rhododendron, denser and more beautiful than anywhere else in the region. As we traveled in November, the trees were changing leaves, creating an even-more mystifying scenery.
Ancient forests on the way to the top of Pusilung.
The group finally reached the peak at mid-noon, as planned. Though having carefully prepared physically and mentally, we were greatly enervated at this point. Nevertheless, the great satisfaction of Pusilung was something completely different, knowing we had finished one of the most challenging treks in the region.
We had lunch, took a few pictures, before heading down at 1 p.m. Due to the hard terrain, we made frequent stops every 15 to 20 minutes to prevent sweat building up, from which we might catch colds. We reached camp at 6:30 p.m.
The group spent the second night inside the mountain cave, before heading down at 5 a.m. on the third day. We finally reached the border post at mid-noon, finishing our three-day exploration of majestic Pusilung.
Conquering Pusilung is definitely the most physically and mentally challenging trek we had ever experienced. Besides good preparation and good weather, we could not have finished without the group members’ strong efforts, as well as the great assistance of border guards and porters.
On the way back from the Pusilung top.
Photos by Duc Hung, Hoang Bac,
Ba Duy, Mai Tran