Phu Khe

  • Phu Khe
  • 2079 m
  • Primary factor 1646 m
  • Laos / Thailand
  • Location: North 19.32400, East 101.24142 (GPS at the summit)
  • Difficulty: YDS class 2
  • Climbed July 8. 2018.


How to get there:
A good point of referenced is the city Nan, about 4-5 hours drive east of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. From Nan, first drive about 50 kilometer north on a good Hwy. (This is the main road going north.) In XX, leave the main road (The road is divided here and I had to make a U-turn and go back a bit, then turning left) in order to follow Hwy. XX across some jungle hills in order to arrive in the proper valley going south-to-north immediately west of the border area.
This connecting road is paved, but it has lots of curves and your average speed will decrease. As you descend into the valley, the first main road fork (where you should turn left) is located at N19.15194, E101.15726, elevation about 730 meter.
Drive up the valley until location N19.32330 E101.17213. Turn right (onto a smaller road) here. Follow this road as it climbs the hillside. Just as it starts a slight descent, you arrive at a fork with several buildings. Fork right, then park at this location, N19.32801, E101.18116, elevation about 1090 meter. This was my trailhead. A 4WD vehicle may certainly continue to a small farm at location N19.32615, E101.19268, elevation 1160 meter. In this case, you need to ask permission to park there, perhaps the former trailhead is your best option. The road continues also after the second location, but then gets increasingly bad and not worth the trouble of driving.
Route description:
From the first trailhead, follow the road to the second location described above. The route crosses nice traditional farm land. Here, the road turns uphill and gets pretty bad. Follow the road as it climbs until location N19.32559, E101.20833, elevation about 1450 meter. At this point (in an uphill left curve), leave the road (right) as you get onto a clear trail that subsequently descends to the river. This river is crossed on a wooden bridge. Follow the trail as it heads gently uphill in order to cross into the next drainage. The trail will descend a bit and generally stay at the upper edge of farmed land, now following a water pipe for quite some time. Eventually, the route will also cross the main river in this (second) drainage, no bridge, but an easy crossing on a couple of rocks.
The trail now turns more uphill and is generally vague as it gradually traverses a bit back, crossing a few smaller streams (now coming down from your right side). The slope is never really steep as the route follows a broad ridge to gain the upper part of the mountain. Finally, the route will approach the crest that has a slope going down into Laos. A trail that seems more used comes up from the Laos side. This trail now follows the final ridge across a false summit, then onwards to the highest point with an official border marker.
The main challenge was actually to find information about a possible trailhead, find some local contacts etc. I had searched extensively on the net with very limited results. I finally discovered that Sarisa Duangsri from Bangkok, had actually been there. Trying to contact here did not work very well, I got no reply. Then on our first day in Nan, a small miracle, Sarisa actually sent me a reply on Facebook. She recommended to contact Mr. Khun Tanin, (+66-871839143) and this proved to be a good hint. He subsequently identified a local "carry-boy" wuth the phone number +66-871794639. This last young man spoke no English, but together with a friend, could show me the way.
All issues were not resolved as I was told to meet them at 0700 the next morning in a place which name did not show up in my map or search. I asked help to locate the meeting place, but people seemed to think that this was no big deal. All translated messages back to me also implied that this would be a hike with a camp, except that it looked very doable in a day when only looking at the map. I had a confirmation that Sarisa had spent a night camping.
I left Nan around 0430 in the morning and arrived in the general area near 0700. I turned uphill at the obvious side road (see above), and soon came to a small area with a few houses and a fork in the road. Asking there, the people insisted that I should drive back down to the road fork in the main valley. OK, returning down, I asked the same questions and was equally clearly told to turn around and go uphill again. This time, I drove a bit further, discovered some sort of large building with unknown purpose on the top of a dead end road, then continued downhill to an intersection where going left would likely put me back into the main valley.
Here, I met a truck driver. I asked him to wait, while calling back to my hotel in Nan. They could then explain the problem in Thai language. At the same time they could call my "carry-boy". I had already called him, but with no English, the best I could hope for was to alert him to the fact that I was searching for him. This all concluded with the advice to go about 2 kilometer back the road I just had driven. This put me back to the exact spot where I had stopped in the first place, almost one hour earlier. However, this time the "carry-boy" identified himself there.
In this way, the hardest challenge had been solved, all that remained was to climb the mountain.
We started (from the first trailhead) at 0830 and walked steady, but not fast, to reach the summit at 1230. There were leeches along the trail in its lower section - annoying, but not as bad as in Malaysia. We met a group of young hikers from Laos at the very summit. It does look as if more people arrive from that side. After about 20 minutes on the summit, we descended in 2:50, back to my car. Thus, this is indeed a very doable single day ascent.
I drove back to Nan with plenty of time to make a nice evening dinner with my wife Heidi.