Places to go – The Chokes

Our ride from the Ban Loboy Ford will go back down Route 912 to the junction with Route 911. This is where the two routes join with Route 91 leading to Tchepone (Xepon). The area of the junction was an obvious chokepoint for almost everything that made it through the Mu Gia and Ban Karai pass areas.

Although there were many natural “choke points” on the HCMT, this is the area pilots always called, “The Chokes.” It was “chokes”… plural… because there were several chokepoints in the area. Right at the R911 – R912 junction, there were three of the “chokes;” “Alpha,” “Bravo,” and “Charlie;” each one to designate a specific area near the junction.

Map of the main routes from the Mu Gia and Ban Karai passes going to Tchepone (Xepon)

Click on any of the pics in this post for a larger view. (They will open in another tab.)

The map above shows “The Chokes”. These were the key Continue reading

Places to go – Ban Karai Pass

Our Trail ride takes us south from the Mu Gia Pass area to the other major pass  into Laos from North Vietnam; the Ban Karai Pass. This pass was nearly as important to Hanoi as the Mu Gia Pass… and nearly as deadly to the US.

Riding the HCMT to the Ban Karai pass will only take us part of a day. This doesn’t mean there is only one “Trail” to get there. There were hundreds… maybe thousands of alternates and bypasses. If we were to try riding all those, it would take years. Even Don Duval, who has been doing this for years, is still finding new trails. He even found a new one with the classic HCMT cobble roadbed in the last couple of weeks.

This is a 1973 map showing the mountains and the trail. Examine the map closely and you will see many of the alternates and bypasses. (In the top left there are at least 8 alternates for Route 23)

We will take mostly the main routes. Take a look at the map. Continue reading

Places to go – Mu Gia Pass Part 3

There is lots to see and do around the Mu Gia Pass. If you’ve been following along in parts 1 & 2, you know just how much effort the US put into trying to interdict this area. Part 3 is the final installment for the Mu Gia Pass. I hope this has given you a glimpse of what went on. I’ll finish talking about those efforts, and then I (and Don Duvall) will go over the places to go and things to do.

In the sixteen months from Nov 68 through Mar 70, there were 30 more aircraft shot downs near Mu Gia; 22 KIA and 2 POW. There were also Continue reading

Places to go – Mu Gia Pass Part 2

The more I learn about the Mu Gia Pass… and the more I look at images of the area, I can’t figure out why the US couldn’t shut it down. I guess that’s part of why I want to go there… to see for myself.

Before Nov 68, the Laotian side of the Mu Gia pass, indeed all the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos, was secondary to the US bombing in North Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh trail in general and Mu Gia Pass area in Laos received comparatively few dedicated missions. Many attacks in Laos were made on return trips with munitions not used up in North Vietnam.

This makes sense. It was far easier to hit targets in the relatively flat areas in North Vietnam before getting to the pass than it was to hit them after they entered Laos. It would have been even easier to hit the truck depots in the Haiphong harbor and other mass staging areas, but that’s a story for another discussion.

This recon photo and “intel” analysis (above) shows the amount of truck traffic to the Mu Gia pass typical during the dry season in 1967. In the pic there are seven trucks going through a bombed out area. This is likely a section of “The Trail” inside North Vietnam. The “intel” analysis also suggests Continue reading

Places to go – Mu Gia Pass Part 1

The Mu Gia pass will probably be our first area to explore on our trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail (HCMT). There’s so much to talk about that I decided to break this into three parts rather than one very long posting.

The Mu Gia Pass enters Laos through a gap in the Annamite Mountains. In this area, this mountain range forms the border between North Vietnam and Laos. The pass sits in the bottom of a canyon with 3,000-foot ridges on either side. As it enters Laos, elevation at the bottom of the canyon is about 1275 feet and is only about 1/3 mile wide.

Party suit patch. Not really any snow there, but the “100 Exciting Trails” part is true.

The HCMT (Route 12) winds its way through the canyon as it drops down out of the mountains until it enters Continue reading