Inquiry Submission By Maneki-neko
I had been wanting to climb this mountain for many years now, yet it was difficult finally finding someone to help me get there.
A friend of a friend of a friend is a buddhist monk living in the Aral forest and he said he would be happy to take me up there. I took a mini van to Kompong Speu, then another van to Spean Dike, then into the forest to Wat Chomkar Chuk. I stayed the night at the temple and we headed out the next morning.
We met our moto guys and went into the village to retrieve a local guy to guide us up the mountain. Being rainy season, the narrow dirt road was severely potholed or muddy, and full of puddles, some the size of large ponds. After about 8 kms of dodging puddles (or riding right through them), one of the bikes engines became flooded with water, so that was the end of that moto! We spent about an hour trying to clean out the engine, but to no avail. A villager came by and said he would drive us (for $10) and it was extremely hot and approaching early noon, so I really wanted to get going. We only got as far as 1 km down the road as the puddles were too deep and the jungle too dense. We parted with the moto drivers, I paid the guys, and we were off to do the remaining 3 kms or so on foot in the hot sun. I was quite concerned about our water situation- we were sweating so profusely and drinking so much water that I feared unless we found a river pretty soon, we would be running out. (There are rivers in the area that are full in rainy season) After a couple of hours of hiking, we came to a river a filled up a couple of liters worth of water. It was also nice to wash off as we were completely soaked in sweat. Small, yellow butterflies filled the area and it was quite a sight to see!
After another hour, we finally got to the foot of the mountain. By this time, it was after 1:00 in the afternoon, and it was impossible to try to reach the summit this late. Dhammajat, the monk, said we would try to find a hut (IF it was still there) to sleep in, if not, just pitch a plastic sheet and sleep under that in hammocks.
After 2 or more hours of hiking in the dense jungle (not much of a trial after the first hour!), we came to the halfway point of the mountain, and stopped for a break and to drink the rest of our original water (the water from the river needed to be filtered or boiled before we drank that). The scenery was spectacular, we were surrounded by thick forest and could hear nothing but the odd chirp of a bird or a loudly-humming cicada.
Continuing our hike, it suddenly began to pour rain, and I scrambled to cover my camera in plastic (yes, I hike with a DSLR!) and then get my rain poncho over my backpack and body. We continued to hike in the pouring rain for another hour or so and I wondered how the heck we were going to sleep in this. AT LAST we came to the hut! I was quite relieved, and the three of us were completely soaked. We got out of our soggy clothes and Sokha, our guide, made a fire inside near the door and we proceeded to cook dinner and boil some water to drink. I filtered another liter of water as well. After dinner, we were shivering in our hammocks- even though we had blankets, it was still a little chilly, and I imagined it would be quite cold at night during dry season.
Up at 6:00am and Dhammajat and Sohka were out, must have gone to retrieve water. It was warm and the sun was coming out. My shoes were still wet, not good, but my pants were almost dry. The men returned and Dhammajat said he would cook breakfast while we went up to the summit, “1~2 hours hike from here”. I brought a bottle of water and my camera and we started hiking to the summit. I was exhausted, having not slept well and having had nothing to eat yet, but I slogged on. The morning light filtering through the forest was breathtaking, and I stopped to take some photos. The moss was bright green and dripping with dew, lovely forest scenery. After about 90 minutes, we reached the summit! While there was not much of a view at all, it was good to be in the warm sun at the top. There were a few huts at the top, but no people in sight. After a short tiem at the top, we began our descent to the hut where the monk was waiting.
Halfway back, it seemed we took a wrong turn through the forest (there was no path at all) and we came upon the wreck of a Cambodian army plane that crashed there in the 70s, according to Sokha. As I stood there taking photos, a leech was sucking the blood from my ankle! We headed back up to try to find our route, and Sokha told me to wait there while he went to look for the proper way back. So I’m, standing there in the middle of the forest, with about 1/2 cup of water left, just thinking “What if…?” About 5 minutes later, Sokha returned, gesturing that he had found the route back! Eureka! After an hour we reached the hut, had some breakfast, and then began our descent. I was getting blisters with my wet shoes, and the bandages were sliding off as they became wet as well. Fortunately, the weather was good most of the way down, and after 9 hours of hiking that day, we made it to the moto guys who were waiting for us (after crossing a river and several fields of waist-high vegetation!). It still took another 2 hours to traverse the muddy, rutted roads and cutting through sugar cane plantations to avoid more pond-like puddles, before we arrived at the village.
I was pretty happy to have made it back, as I was going to meet a medical mission I had volunteered with two days before who said they would be in the area and could take me back to Phnom Penh that evening (no more buses or mini-vans in the afternoon).
Would I do the hike again? Yes. But NOT in rainy season. Dhammajat said he thought I was the first woman to climb Mt Aral, and I wouldn’t mind being the first woman to do it twice!
Photos of some of the action above in this link