Trekking Ta Xua – Yen Bai – Part 1

Ta Xua Mountain, at 2,865 meters above sea level, is located in Tram Tau District, Yen Bai Province. The Ta Xua Mountain is Vietnam’s tenth highest peak, but ascending it is generally regarded as the most challenging of all mountain-climbing experiences in Vietnam.

For years, I had planned a trip to Ta Xua Mountain. Photos of amazing peaks in an ocean of clouds, mossy trees in a woodland reminiscent of fairy tales, spectacular views of mountains and valleys… are breathtaking and motivating. Job and life are always hectic, and it’s difficult to find a time when the weather is mild and I can take a day off from work.

Then came summer, the hottest summer of my life, I’m sure when I checked the weather forecast and discovered that the coming days were going to be the hottest of the summer! When you marched down the streets of Hanoi at midday, it felt like you were on the brim of a glowing oven! It was high time to get away for a bit.

It was about 40oC in Yen Bai at the time, and going mountain climbing in the province was not a good idea. But it was the only one left to me at the time. Wrapping up work and packing up took no time, and my morning was just as enjoyable as usual: coffee and finishing work. The sun rose early and shone brightly. It was a humid day, and what could be better than getting away from the city heat? It was late in the morning and really hot when I left for another adventure in life!

It took a long time to get out of the district, which was under renovation and had congested streets under the scorching sun, and into the quiet countryside to the northwest. Roads were nearly deserted out here as people sought refuge indoors. It had been hot all day before I plunged into the Muong Lo Valley. The sun’s rays became lower, and the air temperature soon rose to a more comfortable level. The omnipresent green shades made it so eye-pleasing.

The narrow path to Tram Tau climbs slowly, following a river and being flanked on both sides by two sets of high mountains. Except for the noise made by the flowing waters of the river, it was a calm landscape. The rice terraces on the mountain slopes remained dry. Tram Tau Township is tiny and had not changed since my last visit. I went straight to the hotel and had a wonderful rest. It can be hot during the day, but once night falls, the temperatures in the mountains are nice. A light dinner and an early bedtime were the perfect plans for the adventure that awaited us the next day.

The local guide called me when I was still half asleep; it had not been a particularly good night, but it had also not been particularly bad. At 0715 A.M., after a short breakfast, we headed off into the mountains. The sun was shining brightly, indicating that it would be another hot day. Yes, it was always preferable to a rainy day.

Ta Xua’s peak is 17 kilometers from Tram Tau. The first leg is 5 kilometers to Ta Xua Village, which is situated high on a mountain slope. In the mud, the steep dirt road to the village must have been treacherous. All the way to the village, there were green rice terraces.

The trek began in the village with steep 45-degree gradients that we will have to repeat for the next 7 hours to reach the first hut tonight. The first peak, located near the first hut, is about 5-6 kilometers from the village.

The first 30 minutes of the climb were filled with low bushes on the sides, and I could turn around to see the narrow road we took to get here. Then we were in a thin forest with a few trees that didn’t do anything to provide shade from the bright sunlight that was becoming more powerful. The path was steep, but the villagers had recently built steps that made it much easier to hike up. We had some good views of the villages and valleys through the trees.

We came out in the open after 2 hours of hiking, with just low bushes around us, and the route became much steeper without any steps. It was bad enough without rain; imagine how bad it would be if it rained. The trick was that there were no reliable trees to catch. It would have been more of a free fall if we had slipped or tripped!

We think we were almost as strong as the mountains above us after 3 hours of struggling up. The views were more beautiful, and the temperatures were much warmer. The winds were much heavier up here. We were not in a rush and took our time to relax and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. The landscape would have been different if it had been the cloudy season.

We arrived on a steep mountainside with mainly low fern bushes after 4 and a half hours of hiking. My tour guide identified it as the Turtle Head Boulder. That was a nice spot for admiring the scenery and eating lunch. The sun was bright, and so were the winds. It had a very nice vibe about it. We spent a half-hour sitting on the rock, attempting to pose for a slew of photos of our teeth. We were overjoyed!

I might have napped if the guide hadn’t told me to keep going after lunch. The road continued to ascend with more low trees, but it was not as steep or slippery as before. The hike was much faster, and I didn’t feel as strained in my knees as I had previously.

We marched for the next two hours from the boulder, then the ground flattened out and we were surrounded by head-high dense bamboo bushes. The temperatures were so low that I could sense the chill, and we came face to face with a threatening and formidable mountain range, the top of which was shrouded in dense fog. That’s where my guide said we were going!

Yes, we had set a lofty target of summiting Ta Xua Mountain’s three peaks in three days and two nights. For a split second, I wondered if I should go. This was unusual for me on my journeys, but I was certain that my instincts were guiding me in the right direction…

The cloud was spinning in columns, and the sky had darkened. I had the impression that the whole world was whirling at breakneck speed, and that the planet on which we stood was still moving… This went on for a bit, until the fogs dissipated and the sky brightened again. The winds continued to howl, and I trembled as I strolled leisurely to the nearby hut.