Horror Story : October 25th Stuck out at night near Doi Langka Luang
A few days ago I got back from a trip that went wrong to Doi Langka Luang in Khun Jae National Park.
Doi Langka Luang is the sixth highest mountain in Thailand at a height of about 2030 m. It is across town past Doi Saket in the same mountain range as Mae Kampong home of Flight of the Gibbon’s where I had previously hiked. I was very excited to go back to try to attempt to ascend Doi Langka Luang after having been to Doi Langka Noi on Saturday and successfully climbing that with my girlfriend. I got in touch with several keen strong hikers to ask if they wanted to come with me but only gave them a couple of days notice and there were no takers which I was secretly quite glad about as I was quite looking forward to the peace and quiet of doing the hike alone, enjoying the scenery and the challenge.
I woke up unusually early at 5 am, no less! And I was out of the house by 6 and on my way. After having stopped for supplies and then having had to search for someone to give me a jump start for my car which the battery freakily failed on, I arrived at Mae Dtoon Luang at 8am ready to start hiking. You can walk straight up into the mountains from this village as I did on Saturday to go up to Doi Langka Noi (1750 m). Then you can walk along the mountain ridges and through forest across another couple of mountain peaks to Doi Langka Luang. I planned to walk down the other side of Doi Langka Luang, had been told there was a trail that went down to the road on the other side of Doi Langka Luang past Doi Mae Tho and down to Doi San Yao where there is a road marked. I did not know if I could do this all in one day but I thought I would give it a go and if I didn’t have time, turn back.
I made record time up to the peak of Doi Langka Noi. Previously with my girlfriend it had taken us 3 hours, on my own and I had been moving quickly as I wanted to get on to Doi Langka Luang. I had done the most difficult uphill part of the journey in only 2 hours 10 minutes and I had a whole 8 hours of daylight left! I think you can tell by now with the title of this piece and what you have read so far where this story is heading!
The peak of Doi Langka Noi is great, it is this open plateau with a little golden stupa on top. I stopped here for lunch and enjoyed the delicious guacamole my girlfriend had made for me.
Now the next part of the journey was pretty flat compared to the first tricky ascent of Doi Langka Noi. I had not been on past Doi Langka Noi before but I had seen the path that went on and I could see on the maps how it must follow the ridges of the mountains around to Doi Langka Luang. So I set off.
On the whole the path was pretty easy and I seemed to be making good time. I found the trails difficult to follow in a woods along the way and it took some time to find my way out of the woods but it didn’t seem I had lost too much time there. On I went to Doi Langka Luang.
I made it to Doi Langka Luang. The path had been difficult to follow, it was often faint and ill defined but it was a great journey, along ridges and through fern valleys and woods. I had made it to highest peak which was my goal.
I began to look for the path back down the other side. It was not there! Could not find it. I then looked at the time and realised, oh! It is 3pm. I have only 3 more hours of daylight and I have walked 7 hours from the nearest way out of the forest. Actually even if I had found the way down the other side, I guess I had assumed it would be a big trail and it would have been easy to rush down but I still would have been very rushed. In terms of distance I had made a great start on the first part of my trek, I had done all that uphill work in 2 hours, that was a quarter of the distance and it was the steepest bit but then the next ‘quarter’ of the journey had taken me 5 hours! Although it was flat, it was an unknown path and it had taken me a long time to navigate it.
I knew I was in trouble. How was I going to walk back the way I had come, that had taken me 7 hours in only 3 hours? Ooops!!@#@XXX All day I had not really been watching the time, had been busy navigating the route and enjoying the views. Had thought from the start that I would just see how far I could get and go back if it didn’t look like I could get all the way across. What hadn’t really registered with me I guess until now was how little day light there was left and how long it would take me to get anywhere at all out of the forest!
This is were I made my big mistake I think. I decided extremely stupidly that I would try a short cut!
What a classic mistake!
I had seen a well defined path that looked like it was going back down in the direction of a road on the way and I thought rather than going all the way back the way I had come I would try that!
So I did. It started really well. Was going in the right direction to go down to the road. But it kept on getting narrower….. and narrower… and ever so slowly….. narrower and less defined. But the path was definitely still there and I was close to the road now. Only a few kilometers away. But the ridge I was on was going in the wrong direction it seemed. I started heading down into the valley down a not too steep side of the mountain. I quickly found myself fighting with undergrowth and brambles, tripping on loose rocks and rotten branches.
And then the power went on my phone.
And then about the same time it getting darker quickly. I could see far enough around me to see if there might be a way through to the road that was only 1 / 2 km away now. And I couldn’t see my position on the map anymore as I view my GPS maps through my phone. I had been using the phone and had the screen on so much during the day that the batteries ran down very quickly. There may have been a way through that valley but I wouldn’t have been able to see a path or where there was likely to be a path even if the path was just a few meters in front of me.
Soon it was pitch dark and I could see even less and also simultaneously Athit ran off after a wild pig. It very quickly pitch black so I couldn’t see anything at all. But I could hear Athit giving chase to the wild pig in the distance. And it seemed like the pig was standing it’s ground and fighting back.
By this time I was well down into the valley amongst the loose rocks and brambles. I was exhausted since I had been keeping up a very fast pace and running some of the around 10 k journey back to this dead end which was on top of the 10 k journey I had done to the summit.
I felt like I was a wild animal stuck in a trap and when I tried to struggle to get out the trap just shut tighter shut. I was quite panicked and since it was pitch dark, I was exhausted and the path back up to the ridge and the path along the ridge could be treacherous in the dark I decided the best thing to do was get some sleep.
I had worked it out as a last option in my head. I was only wearing shorts and thin shirt. But I had a magazine in my bag. I stuffed my shirt with the sheets from the magazine, put on the 25 Baht Seven Eleven disposable rain coat I had brought with me and sprayed myself on all my exposed parts (and some parts that weren’t) with a deet based anti mosquito spray and I had Athit lay against me for warmth. I think this was probably one of the best decisions I made all day. I found that even though my clothes were pretty soaked in sweat and I was at around 1600m above sea level, I was quite warm, except for my legs which were exposed. I figured as long as I kept my body warm and my legs didn’t get too cold I would be OK. Athit was a great source of warmth and without him I would probably have been too cold to sleep. I just flopped out on a patch of grass nearby. I managed to relax enough and stop panicking and then I could really enjoy the wonderful panorama of stars in front of me and I realized it was going to be OK, slightly uncomfortable but OK.
I got up several times in the night and just slowly picked my way first further down in to the valley and then when I realized I could not get through the undergrowth, back out of the valley, the moon was out and I could see pretty well. This movement was useful as it generated some body heat so I was then more warm and comfortable to go back to sleep again. Was not comfortable and didn’t think I got much sleep but just like on a bad coach journey or on a long plane trip somehow the night went past in a flash. Although I didn’t think I had slept I must have done or the sun would not have been rising so soon.
When the sun did come up I decided I was going to give up on my short cut and go back the way I had come up. This meant retracing my steps back to where the short cut diverged from the path back the same way I had come, this was 5km and then I had another 5km to do down to my car. Luckily I had enough food and some water left over from the day before.
On the way back I saw what looked like a Malayan Pit Viper on the path. It did not move as I approached at all, it just lay in the middle of the path. Was lucky I saw it before either me or Athtit stepped on it.
All in all the trip back was pretty uneventful. I didn’t have my GPS but the way back from my ‘short cut’ and the return part of the path was pretty easy to follow in daylight without the gps, was very careful not to get lost or disorientated somehow.
Made a lot of dumb mistakes that day. Should not have gone alone to an area where the hiking is a lot more challenging than I am used to. Short cuts down unknown trails are often (?always?) a bad idea. Was OK sleeping out but would not want to risk it again, especially if it rained.
I am going back to try to find that path down to the road on the other side, must be there somewhere! Have found another strong hiker who is keen to go to. Will just wait until my blisters heal. Am going to plan to be out overnight, am going to buy one of those cool hammocks that is water proof and has a mosquito net. Will make sure I know how to put it up before I leave, dark falls quickly and it is best to be prepared!