Phu Soi Dao

  • Phu Soi Dao
  • 2120 m
  • Primary factor 1664 m
  • Laos / Thailand
  • Location: North 17.73115, East 101.00721 (GPS at the summit)
  • Difficulty: YDS class 3
  • Climbed July 6. 2018.


How to get there:
This mountain is located near a south-west corner of the border to Laos in Northern Thailand. I used the town of Nan, located about 100 kilometer to the north, as a point of departure. It takes about 3-3.5 hours to drive from Nan to the trailhead.
The trailhead is located at a spot where visitors come to see a waterfall. The location is N17.70538, E100.95230, elevation about 670 meter.
One needs a hiking permit to proceed along the trail. This permit is issued at the National Park Visitor center, located a bit further south along the road, this location is N17.69800, E100.94637, with similar elevation. The park office opens at 0800 (approximately). The permit was 200, they also ask a deposit to be refunded when you return and show that you carried any waste with you back out. There is parking for several cars just across the road from the trailhead.
Route description:
The clearly signed path first runs along the left side of the river, going by a couple of (tourist) waterfalls. rNext, the trail crosses the river on a bamboo bridge, then a second crossing a bit more upstream. Finally, there is a third (and last) crossing, this time on a more regular bridge After a bit more along the (right side) river, the trail turns right and ascends quite steeply to the top of a sm aller ridge. There are several metal stairs in place along this section.
The route now follows this ridge uphill in order to gain the main ridge. From here, one may see the summit off to your right provided that there are no clouds blocking the view. The route continues along the top of this ridge, gradually climbing higher. After a very small descent to a connecting col, one proceeds more steeply uphill. Again, steps and stairs facilitate the route.
Gaining the main crest, there is a pretty good view across into the basin on the other side, as well as back down towards the entry point. The trail now turns more right going across very nice terrain with sparse pine trees before arriving at a pretty ugly camping area. This area consists of a large number of wooden structures, a pretty bad contrast to the generally nice landscape. The entire area is covered with grassy vegetation and good-looking pine trees. This is a remarkable change from the standard jungle vegetation everywhere else.
Follow the trail directly towards these structures and continue through the most obvious passage between two buildings. There is a trail that continues on the far side, but it is appreciably smaller. The correct trail runs close to location N17.73734, E100.99030, elevation about 1610 meter. Another trail forks right near this point, stay left. This path will cross the grassy area as well as a couple of small streams, then head into more regular jungle forest. In this area, the trail may be quite hard to follow, look carefully to see traces of previous travel. Proceed through this forest and descend distinctly to a col separating the previous terrain from the peak ahead.
This col is near location N17.73403, E100.99940, elevation about 1580 meter. From here, what remains is a steepish hill. When wet and with a layer of leaves togeter with the slippery clay, this section should be climbed with extreme caution. It is steep enough that a slide will just send you at an ever increasing speed, downslope (until you hit a tree). One must use roots and rocks that are visible to secure the climb. Actually, an ice axe would not be inappropriate for self arrest as well as extra traction uphill. This trail is YDS class 3, a very special variant that one seldom encounters.
There are two steeper section with a more gentle trail in between. The upper end of the route has several fixed ropes that may be used to avoid an unpleasant slide. It is quite possible that this route gets significantly easier under dry conditions, but this is likley the exceptional case. After a long struggle uphill, it is certainly nice to pop out on the summit plateau. There is a large sign in addition to the border marker having Laos inscibed on one side and Thailand on its opposite side.
I knew this would be a lomg day. First, a long drive, next a climb that most people seem to do as a multi-day. In fact, the only detailed trip report I had read did this climb over 3 days. Thus, I left our hotel in Nan already at 0400. I knew that the National Park did not open until 0800 in the morning, but I wanted to be there when it opened.
Arriving about 20 minutes early, I met a guard person that spoke no English. I indicated to him that I knew I should wait until 0800 amd he seemed to agree. However, at 8, not much changed. After trying to explain that I needed to start hiking, I slowly realized that the permit was given out at a different location, the guard kept pointing down the road. Oh well, I took the car and drove a couple of kilometer to find the park HQ. New guards wanted to show me where to park, they also asked for 200 in payment. I only had 1000 and they did not have change. It was now well past 8 and no office open here. Fortunately, a young woman that also seemed prepared to go hiking could act as a translator. The office wsould indeed open, just a bit late. They issued me a hiking permit and collected some deposit to be refunded on returning with your trash, obviously not relevant for me on a day hike, but not very expensive in any event.
I drove back to the trailhead and was on my way. The hike was pleasant and the trail was very well maintained with staircases in steeper sections etc. I arrived at the main campground after 2:15. Most people call this a day hike in this park. The trail from the campground to the peak was a very different matter. It seems that virtually nobody hikes beyond the campground. The section between the pine area and the col was hardly any trail at all. Once you get to the uphill, the trail is clear enough, but it is really not good. A zig-zag trail up this slope would have made the ascent much easier. As it is, the trail is too steep relative to the friction (or lack of such). I needed to use my hands to make upward progress. Quite an unpleasant slope to ascend. I arrived at the summit at 1305, about 4:30 from my car, but half the time spent on a relatively short ascent.
I rested and took some pictures, but unfortunately, it started raining like it sometimes does in the jungle, quite heavy. I was not looking forward to descending, knowing that I would need to exercise extreme caution.
I left after 30 minutes, the rain did not stop. The descent was just as ugly as I anticipated. I made a couple of smaller slides confirming what I knew, just like sliding on steepish snow, you accelerate fast. The first incident happend above one of the fixed ropes and I decided to just go until the rope, my speed was then already high as I caught the rope with both hands to stop the slide. Lesson learned.
It took me 2:20 to get back down to the campground, slightly longer than the ascent. From the campground to the car was easy, an incredible contrast from a bad path to a nice trail. This took only 1.5 hours for a total trip of 9 hours.
I drove back another not so good road and arrived finally in Nan by 2200, for a total trip of 18 hours.