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Ascent of Phnom Aural on 2019-08-17

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, August 17, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Phnom Aural
    Location:Cambodia
    Elevation:5948 ft / 1812 m

Ascent Trip Report

Phnom Aural (5,948ft) 

Highest Mountain in Cambodia

Eric and Katie

Aug 17-18, 2019


We were travelling around southeast Asia and had given ourselves a week in Cambodia. This would allow plenty of time to hit the highpoint plus see some other sights.


We started in Siem Reap, spending a day visiting Angkor Wat, then took a 6 hr bus ride to Phnom Penh on August 16.


My friend Travis had climbed Phnom Aural in March and said the roads were quite rough near the trailhead and only passable by motorcycle. Thus it didn't sound feasible to just rent a car and drive there. Luckily Travis had the contact info for a local with a motorcycle that knew the way to the trailhead and could take us (Chan, whatsapp +855 77 700 773). 


I messaged Chan and we agreed on a two day trip where we would leave Phnom Penh the morning of Aug 17 and return Aug 18. Chan was also able to call a guide in the village near the trailhead to make sure he could accompany us. I usually don't like hiring guides but in this case it would seem rude to go through the village obviously hiking up the trail the villagers created and maintain but not giving them any money or the chance to guide. It was only $70 for the guide for two days, 

which is over a months wage I've heard and would be the right thing to do in this case. 


I think most groups do this trip in 3 days but 2 days is much more efficient and still reasonable. One day round trip from Phnom Penh would be very long with the current state of the roads. 


We met Chan and his friend Pi at 630am August 17 and Katie and I each got on the back of a motorcycle. Chan had a helmet for each of us. We took frequent breaks to rest our butts, and they were very safe drivers. I was surprised how much traffic there was for a Saturday morning but Chan said a lot of people work in the factories on weekends to get overtime pay.


The traffic thinned as we got farther out and it rained briefly but we didn't get too wet. The road was paved for the first 3 hours then just past Oral village we turned right onto a dirt road. 


The only vehicles after that point were motorcycles and the half-tractor vehicles attached to trailers used by loggers hauling out trees. 


We rode for another half hour, passing through a few deep rivers and one deeply rutted hill. Eventually we reached a river with two bridges. One had very deep mud holes in front that would be tough for most vehicles. The other had a decent road in front but the opposite side had a locked wooden gate. We snuck around it in the motorcycle and soon got to a guest house around 10am about where the road got really bad.


Surprisingly a rav4 SUV had made it to the guest house. I'm not sure how they got past the gate but maybe they knew the person who locked it. Chan said he was surprised that the dirt road was in much better shape than back in March. It was only passable by motorbike then. He later heard the government is planning a 3 year project to pave the road and even extend it to the next province, so in time I8access to the area might get significantly easier.


I think most tourists climbing Phnom Aural spend the first night at this guest house, then do the climb the next two days. But we were on an accelerated schedule. The owner came out and had us sign in on a paper form, and I've heard this is because the area around Phnom Aural is a protected forest. 


We met our guide, Sot, here, and learned he and a friend would take us deeper into the jungle on their dirt bikes while Chan and Pi would wait at the guest house for our return. 


We got on the backs of the dirt bikes at 1030am and the road soon deteriorated further. Around the corner we rode through a 200ft long section where the road had turned into a shin deep river. Shortly after that we went over a dry section, then the road was blocked by a thigh deep river. We got off here and waded across while the drivers pushed the bikes across.


They dried out the motors, then we started what I call the bucking bronco section. The route wound through flat swampy tracks likely created by loggers. We would frequently drop into very deep mud puddles then pop out the other side and have to hold on tight to not fall off. 


Occasionally we cut through the dense grass on the side and sometimes Katie and I had to walk while Sot and the other driver navigated tricky sections. 


By 1100am we reached the edge of the flat section. Sot hid his bike in the woods while the other driver returned to the village.


From there we bushwhacked through the jungle, crossed a stream, then met up with a logging trail. It was very rough and narrow, but probably just good enough for the half tractor vehicles to get through. (They look like a small engine with two wheels sticking out, steering handles, and a hitch to attach a trailer).


We ascended the route as it started raining. We eventually reached a very nice wood shelter after an hour. This was where the logging route appeared to end. There was a stream nearby which was the last permanenrwater source we would pass. 


Shortly after the shelter the trail narrowed to a footpath and got very steep. Eventually we used fixed ropes to pull us up a 100ft long steep muddy section. 


From there we gained a ridge which was more gradual, though very overgrown in sections. By 230pm we reached another very nice wood shelter with a Buddha statue inside. It was probably big enough to sleep a dozen people.


Based on other trip reports this appears to be the normal campsite, then people summit the next day. I didn't see any permanent water source but there were big buckets to collect rain water from the roof. 


Apparently we were making good time because Sot suggested we continue on and camp on the summit. We agreed and started up at 3pm. As we got higher we passed a very steep logging route. I was surprised the half tractors could get up it. The surrounding jungle did not appear logged so I can only guess the loggers were extracting a few highly valuable trees from deep in the forest. 


By 445pm we crested the summit. Interestingly the area was cleared out with three wooden shelters surrounding a small temple with a Buddha statue inside. A small plaque read Mt Oral. 


We took pictures and ate snacks on top. I don't know how they got all the materials up there. It must have taken a lot of work. 


Sot cooked us a bunch of rice and some delicious fish he had caught back in the village. We pitched a tent in one of the shelters to keep from getting bothered by the rats and bugs and went to bed shortly after sunset. 


The next morning we were up and hiking down by 7am. We made it back to the flat section by 11am, where the other driver was waiting. I think Sot had called him on the hike down. 


The ride out was fin like before, and we soon met back up with Chan and Pi at the guesthouse. It was very hit riding back out and we took frequent water breaks. We stopped for lunch at a farmer's house where all the good was from the family's farm. All four of us had a big feast of rice and various meat and vegetable dishes and desserts for only $7.


By 500pm we made it to Phnom Penh and encountered the worst traffic I have ever experienced. It was a Sunday evening but the roads were packed solid with motorcycles. Tuk tuks and cars. Luckily since we were on motorcycles we could squeeze through small gaps and onto sidewalks and got back to our hotel before too late. 



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