This proved to be a very popular hike with a combined total of 47 hikers appearing at Central Festival (Chiang Mai) and Bangjak petrol station (Doi Sakhet) first thing. Unfortunately, six hikers had to return home at 8am because there were just too few seats in cars at Central Festival for the onward journey.
And so the presidential motorcade, flanked by security motorcycles, wended its way inexorably north along the 118 before turning east onto the 3005 at Wat Ban Pong (Doi Sakhet hot spring and spa is in this village: 40Baht for a half-hour bathe). A long cross-country route followed, tracking respectively the: Mae Lae Noi, Pang Daeng, and Mae Wong rivers, passing our lunch stop coffee shop at Ban Pang Hai. Five kilometres further, just above the village of Ban Pang Ton, we reached our destination: Wat Tat Moei. The weather was set fair for the day with a thin patchwork quilt of high cirrus clouds across the sky, a refreshingly cool temperature initially, and hardly a breath of wind.
Following the obligatory group photo in front of the Wat, the 41 hikers walked crocodile-fashion into the forest led by Matsu. The recent bush-whacked sections that were previously overgrown with bamboo, scrub, etc. were still open and accessible, and the trail proved relatively easy to follow throughout. Anyone who was chill at the start soon warmed up tackling the steep descent into, and then the steep ascent out of, the coffee plantation valley and onto the minor ridge.
Although not quite as clear as previous visits, views from the main ridge were splendid to the east and to the west. The furthest hill ranges were pretty much obscured by low-level smoke haze trapped underneath a temperature inversion. The boundary between Chiang Mai and Lampang provinces followed the ridge for a time.
On descending from the main ridge, a 1719 metre predominantly treeless peak loomed large to the north.
Hikers were given the option of scaling the peak or descending into the valley, thus forming two groups. With so many hikers it again proved difficult to contain groups; several individuals took it upon themselves to ignore the need to stay together and went ahead on their own, in the absence of a leader. Fortunately, of those who acted unilaterally, no-one got lost between the split point and the return to the cars.
The ascent of the peak, although short was quite tough with a little scrambling just beneath the summit. However, the views from the top were magnificent, indeed, several hikers commented that they did not want to descend because it was so, so nice! As last time, the top of the peak was thronged with butterflies, lifted up on all sides of the mountain by thermal updrafts.
The peak group headed back and eventually followed in the footsteps of the other group down into the valley, where, incidentally, there was a sprinkling of Sakura (cherry) trees in bloom. There was plenty of evidence too of the initial stages of processing coffee beans.
Finally back at the temple, and on to the cafe at Ban Pang Hai village for beverages and food.
(Report by Peter D)