Campfire and frost on a Central Highlands walk



Vietnam Heritage, August-September 2011 -- At 9 a.m., we started from the forestry station Klong Klanh on National Road 723, 50 km north of Dalat. The _towering peak Bidoup, covered with dark cloud, seemed to appear just in front of us, but the tour guide said, ‘It looks pretty close, but it will take us the whole day to reach it.’
We had walked 500 m along a track in pleasantly fresh forest, when Mr Son, a technical officer of the Bidoup-Núi Bà National Park, said that in the area, earlier this year, Dr Jodi Rowley, from Australia, had discovered a frog that could fly from branch to branch aided by its webbed feet. When this frog is a tadpole it has long, pointed canine teeth, so it has been nicknamed ‘the flying vampire frog’. Dr Rowley’s was the first discovery of a frog with these characteristics.
At 10.30 a.m., in green tropical forest 1,930 m above sea level, one of our group glimpsed a group of monkeys. They ran fast into dense cover, to everyone’s regret.
In forest with pines hundreds of years old, the leader, Mr Truong Hoang Phuong, M.Sc. in geography, specialist in topography and geomorphology, said the Bidoup-Núi Bà forest had a kind of pine, with flat, double leaves, that was rare and valuable, which used to be thought extinct, until, at the end of the 19th century, a German botanist, M. Krempfii, had discovered it. In 1921, a French scientist, H. Lecomte, confirmed the species was not just prehistoric. In the 1940s, two American scientists, Litenle and Krisphind, decided the tree was a kind of Ducanpopinus which existed at the time of the dinosaurs.
At 13.15, we ate lunch in an even, flat place near a brook.  After lunch, we had walked a short distance when we came across several clusters of orchids hanging on trees. A forest ranger said that in the Bidoup National Park there were nearly 300 species of orchids, 200 to be found in the area where we were. Humans stole them to sell. Forest officers found it hard to stop this.
In the area, there are also many kinds of valuable timber trees, the most valuable the pơmu, many of which are 40-50 metres high, their girth equal to a circle of six or seven men holding hands; one has a girth equal to a circle of nine men and is over 1,300 years old.
The peak of Mount Bidoup 2 had a lot of ‘đỗ quyên,’ Rhododendron, with flowers blooming, which, from a little distance, made the whole area purple. Mount Bidoup 2 has the nickname ‘the Do Quyen Peak’.
About 300 m from the top, we had to climb slowly, on a steep slope. Though it was cold, I sweated.  At 4.40 p.m., we arrived. Cloud and mist on the skin made me cold.
Mr Phuong said Bidoup was 2,287 m in altitude and had the coordinates N1205472-E10839732. We had come 7.8 km from our starting-point. The peak was the highest of the three high peaks of the Langbiang highland. We could not see the scenery, because of the dense foliage. On the way through Bidoup-Núi Bà, in this thickly wooded area, visibility was extremely limited.
Mr Vo Duan, a technical specialist from Bidoup-Núi Bà National Park, said the Bidoup peak and the adjacent areas constituted one of 221 endemic-bird centres of the world. Not only were there many resident species but there were also dozens of endemic ones. The latter were on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list.
It got completely dark. The night screen of the
forest together with the dense mist that formed below the foliage made the space thicken. Flashlights were on. The temperature was about 10°C. I didn’t feel cold when I walked, but as soon as I stopped for a moment I felt very cold.
At 7.30, we stopped and ate dinner beside a blazing fire. After dinner we felt dead tired and cold. Everybody glided headlong into the tent or coiled himself in a hammock.
At 6 a.m., the forest was covered with frost. Several people huddled up to the fire while breakfast was prepared. It seemed nobody had slept, because of the cold. We were in February, 2011.
On the first day, we had climbed. On the second we went up and down, through green, subtropical forest. At 10.30 a.m., the group came to an area called Liên Ca Đá, 2,004 m above sea level, where we found a lot of footprints of deer and boar. In this area there were also gaurs and langurs, according to Mr Duan.
At noon we ate lunch near the border of the Bidoup-Núi Bà and Phước Bình National Parks, 1,762 m above sea level, and kept on along the border. Toward dusk we pitched camp near the Đạ Đen brook.
One of the largest national parks in Vietnam, Bidoup-Núi Bà is the source of several rivers that flow across the Central Highlands, Central Vietnam and south-eastern Vietnam. This forest is also the place the culture of several ethnic groups is preserved. It is an ideal spot for  scientific research and the preservation of a diverse ecology.
I wondered why there were tracks in the tall forest. Mr Binh To Ha Lung, of the Chu ethnic group, said his grandfather had told him that in the old days people had used horses to carry rice and salt from Ninh Thuan, on the coast, to Lam Dong, to exchange for products of the forest. In wartime, people from Ninh Thuan had used the track to carry rice and salt for the military. Mr Nguyen Xuan Vinh, from the Institute of Tropical Ecology, said that from time to time ethnic-minority people still used it.
On the third day, visibility was better. Ranges of hills and mountains wore old pine trees, trees alternating with plots that looked like gigantic green carpets on the slopes of mountains or in valleys.
We were trekking up hill and down. Several stretches were on sharp ridges.
At 3 p.m., we came across a rock as big as four-seater car, which did not look like anything special, but the guide said it was a genie, very spiritually alive. People living in the Phước Bình forest used to go here to pray. He then suggested we all say prayers, pick a flower or a twig, put it on the rock and make wishes.
After we had said prayers, we walked down an abrupt mountain slope which was also particularly long, about 2 km. At the end of the slope was the confluence of two streams, the Đạ Mây and Đạ Đen, with a wide and very flat area, where we decided to pitch camp.
At 6.30 a.m. on the fourth day we came to a stretch with rocks all over it, about 100 m long,
5 m wide and 7 m deep, which looked like a tunnel without a roof.
Mr Phuong, the geomorphology specialist, said the Đạ Mây brook had eroded the half-tunnel during thousands of years. Mr Tuan came up with the coordinates N1205916-E10844840, and altitude, 541 m.
After more than an hour exploring the area, we came back to take a rest, ate lunch, then kept crossing and recrossing the brook, through bamboo forest. We walked a few kilometres, when we saw the first house, a little bit further, and a village with 10 rudimentarily houses on stilts on the slope. Nearby a few women were heading rice with their hands and putting the harvest into bamboo baskets they carried on their backs.
At 3.30 p.m., we came to a village of the Bo Lang ethnic group and rented motorbikes for 10 km to the Bạc Rây 2 hamlet. We crossed a suspension bridge over a 100 m wide river, then saw a black gaur, huge in comparison with 50 cows and oxen grazing nearby.
Mr Chung, an employee of the management board of the Phước Bình National Park, said, ‘ . . . No bull dares stand within 10 m of him. He is like a king among pretty imperial maids.’ This gaur, weighing nearly 1,000 kg, had been there less than a year. Early on, it had butted and killed an ox. Sometimes it had swum the river looking for cows.n
NOTES:
The Bidoup-Núi Bà National Park covers 64,800 square hectares in the province of Lam Dong. It is mostly high hills and mountains and has a subtropical climate. There are 1,561 botanical species, 74 of them rare and valuable and recorded in the Vietnam red book and 258 animal species, 14 in the Vietnam red book and 17 listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list. The Phước Bình National Park, in Ninh Thuan Province, southern Central Vietnam, covers 19,814 ha, is 1,500 m-1,800 m above sea level and reaches from hot, dry zone to subtropical. Big differences in temperature and rainfall mean as many as 14 types of forests. The botanical system consists of 1,225 species, 75 of them valuable and liable to extinction. The animal system consists of 327 species, 50 in the Vietnam red book and 29 on International Union for Conservation of Nature list.
The trip was undertaken in February, 2011, and organised by the management boards of the two national parks Bidoup-Nui Bà and Phước Bình for scientific and tourism purposes.
Participants included representatives of the travel company Vietmark, scientists and journalists.  Mr Phuong from the Vietmark travel company invited the author to join the group.
The gaur is the same one as was confronted and described in some detail by Dang Khoa in the May-June edition of Vietnam Heritage.