Snowman Trek II
It is touted as one of the most challenging treks in the world. As much as it takes one into the extreme snow-capped northern frontiers of the high Himalayas, it is breathtakingly beautiful. The route traverses highland settlements, amazing vistas of Bhutan’s highest mountains, and more than a dozen scenic mountain passes where a very few have stepped before. The journey is unforgettable, as it meanders through alpine meadows, conifer, juniper and rhododendron forests, beautiful and balmy hot springs, valleys inhabited by yak herders and highlanders, glacial lakes, the head waters of Bhutan’s major rivers and spectacular views of the Tibetan plateau. This part of the world is also the home of the elusive snow leopard, the blue sheep, the Takin and many other varieties of wildlife. The experience is other-worldly, quiet and meditative with almighty nature as your only constant companion from start to finish.
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TOUR IN BRIEF
Duration: 24 days
Max. Elevation: 5,320m
Highest Camp: 5,120m
Best Seasons: Mid June-Mid October
Start: Gunitsawa, western Bhutan
Finish: Dur, central Bhutan
MOUNTAIN VIEWS ENROUTE
Mt. Jomolhari (7,300m), Jichu Drake (6794m), Tsherimgang (6,789m), Kang Bum (6,526m), Gangchhenta 6,840 m, Gangla Karchung (6,395m), Jekangphu Gang (7,100m), Tsenda Kang (7000m) and Teri Gang (7,300m), Table Mountain (7,100m), Gangkar Puensum (7,570m)
Camp Altitude: 2,850 meters
Today, you will prepare yourself for the upcoming trek, scheduled to start tomorrow. In the evening or after lunch, you will depart from Paro town, passing through an army checkpoint. At this checkpoint, you must validate your trek permit, provided by your tour operator. The permit will be endorsed, and you will spend the night at your designated campsite, situated alongside the river.
Distance 22 km, 7-8 hours, 770 m ascent, 10 m descent, camp altitude 3,610 m.
Today will be a long day. You will hike through an undulating trail and then climb uphill till the valley narrows gradually to a path. You will then descend to a meadow where you will camp for the night. From your camp you can have the first view of the popular Mount Jomulhari on a clear day.
Distance 19 km, 5-6 hours, 480 m ascent, camp altitude 4,080 m.
You will continue to trek up the Paro Chhu valley. It widens into patches of alpine meadow and scanty forest growths. You will also cross an army checkpoint along the way. You will see local yak herders tending the yaks. You will pass the villages of Soe, Takethang and Dangochang. You will camp at Jangothang from where you can again see Mount Jomolhari.
You will halt at Jangothang today. You have the option to do day hikes and there are trails in three directions. If you love photography, you can engage yourself in a lot of ways. Jomolhari and its subsidiary mountain chains lay directly west, Jichu Drake to the north and there are a number of unclimbed peaks to the east.This is also a good time to acclimatize.
Distance 18 km, 6-7 hours, 840 m ascent, 870 m descent, camp altitude 4,010 m.
After the rest yesterday, you will have the energy for a long day today. After a short walk from the camp, you will hike uphill for about 30 minutes and the climb becomes more gradual till you reach the Nyilila pass at 4,870m. From here, you will have spectacular views of Mt. Jomolhari, Jichu Drake and Tsherimgang, all of them standing tall and proud above 7,000m.You could also encounter blue sheep along the way. Then you descent and you will see yak herders’ tents. You will then enter the Lingshi basin, a beautiful U-shaped valley. You can see the Lingshi Dzong on a clear day. Tserimgang and its glaciers rise up at the north end of the valley. You will camp next to a stone just before Lingshi Dzong.
Distance 10 km, 5-6 hours, 280 m ascent, 410 m descent, camp altitude 3,880 m.
Today will be your shortest hike. After reaching a stupabelow the Lingshi Dzong(4,220m), you can choose to stay on the main trail or take a detour up to the Lingshi Dzong. After Lingshi Dzong, you will pass the villages of Lingshi and Goyul. In Goyul village, you can see stone houses clustered together to form a small compact village,which is unusual in Bhutan where settlements are usually scattered. After you reach the capsite at Chebisa, you can choose to visit the local village. There is a beautiful waterfall behind the village.
Distance 17 km, 6-7 hours, 890 m ascent, 540 m descent, camp altitude 4,220 m.
From your camp, you will ascent for about three hours through a pasture land toward Gogu La Pass (4,410m). You will then descend into a valley, climb uphill again for a while and descend again to Shakshepasa (3,980), a large U-shaped valley. You will climb again toll you reach your campsite at Shomuthang which is above a river.
Distance 18 km, 6-7 hours, 700 m ascent, 760 m descent, camp altitude 4,160 m.
You will start the day by climbing up the valley till you see Mount Kang Bum (6,526 m) and some edelweiss. You will climb again till you reach Jhari La (4,750m), from where you catch the first glimpse of Sinche La, the pass you will have to cross the day after. The big snow peak in the north is Gangchhenta (6,840 m), better known as the Great Tiger Mountain. If weather permits, Tserim Kang and the top of Jomolhari will be visible. Herds of takin, the Bhutanese National Animal, migrate to this valley in summer and remain for about four months. The valley has been declared a takin sanctuary. You will climb again till you reach your campsite at Robluthang.
Distance 19 km, 6-7 hours, 850 m ascent, 870 m descent, camp altitude 4,140 m.
You will begin the day with an ascent of about an hour after which the trail becomes more gradual for the next 90 minutes through a boulder field. You will climb uphill again for an hour to reach the Sinche La (5,005m) – the final and highest pass on the trek if you don’t intend to continue the Snowman trek from Laya onwards. Then you descend and you can see an impressive terminal moraine and a glacial lake at the foot of the valley. You can see classic examples of lateral moraines where the glacier has pushed rocks up both sides of the valley. Below the moraine, you will cross the Kango Chhu and reach the Limithang campsite. From the camp, you can see Mount Gangchhenta.
Today marks the final day of your trek. After a 2-hour downhill hike from Laya, you’ll encounter Taktsimakhang, a small army checkpoint. Continuing past the army camp, the trail splits, and the left path leads to Lunana on the Snowman trek, characterized by the shift from junipers and spruce to pine trees. As you descend the rugged trail, you’ll be treated to a view of the circular Gasa dzong. Remarkably, despite its remote location and the lack of motor roads, Gasa functions as an administrative district, housing the district governor’s office within the Gasa dzong. For those seeking the hot springs, they can be found about 1½ hours downhill from the dzong. Your driver will pick you up from Koina to transport you to Gasa.
Today is a day to spend recuperating from the trek to Laya and prepare you for the rest of the challenging trek. It is recommended to walk up to Laya to acclimatise and not just remain at the junction leading to Lunana. It is worthwhile to spend a day in Laya to enjoy the beautiful views and experience the extraordinary inhabitants of Laya.
Trek time: 6-8 hours
Camp altitude: 4,160m
Today we descend to an army camp and continue following the river till the turn-off point to Rhoduphu from Laya. After lunch, we will continue to climb through rhododendron bushes till we reach the campsite just next to a river in Rhoduphu.
Trek time: 5-6 hours
Camp altitude: 4,900m
After following the river for about half an hour, you will face a steady climb to a high open valley at an altitude of4,600m and then further hike up to 4,900, Tsomo La pass. The pas offers a superb view of Lunana, Mt. Jumolhari and Jichu Drake. You can also see the Tibetan border. The trial then crosses a flat barren plateau at about 5,000m. The campsite at Narethang is towered by the peak of Gangla Karchung (6,395m).
Trek time: 5-8 hours
Camp altitude: 3,970m
Today you will climb for about an hour to Gangla Karchung. The view from the pass is breathtaking and while whole mountain ranges like Jekangphu Gang (7,100m), Tsenda Kang and Teri Gang (7,300m) can be seen. As the pass descends along a large moraine, you can see a massive glacier from Teri Kang to a deep turquoise lake at its foot. Finally, it is a very long descent through thick rhododendron to Tarina valley, where you will find several good campsites along the Tang Chhu.
Trek time: 6-7 hours
Camp altitude: 3,910m
The walk leads down through conifer forests following the upper ridges of the Pho Chhu, passing some impressive waterfalls. The trail then climbs over a ridge and drops to Woche, a settlement of a few houses, the first village in the Lunana region.
Trek time: 6-7 hours
Camp altitude: 3,700m
The trek starts through juniper and fir forests, and further through rhododendron bushes. The climb up to Keche La pass (4,650m) leads you to great views of surrounding mountains. After the pass, you will descend to the riverside walking through a village with a stunning view of Table Mountain and others. You will then follow up the river till Lhedi Village.
Trek time: 7-8 hours
Camp altitude: 4,150m.
In clear weather, you will have great views of the Table Mountain (7,100m). Around lunchtime you will pass the small village of Chozo which has a Dzong still in use. Upon reaching Thanza you will see the Table Mountain again which forms a 3,000m high wall of snow and ice behind the village. Although there are possibilities to camp directly at Thanza, most groups prefer to camp in Thoencha.
Today we will rest at Thanza and walk around the village to experience the people’s way of life. You can also climb up the ridge for fascinating views of lakes and mountains. From here, we will need to arrange for new yaks as our companion yaks will not go further than Thanza.
Trek time: 8-9 hours
Camp altitude: 5,120m
Having chosen the route to Bumthang the trek starts by climbing a ridge with a great view of Table Mountain and Thanza valley below. The ridge altitude is 4,500m and it rises gradually up to 4,650m. After lunch, you will walk upwards towards the left side of the bridge to enjoy the view of snow-capped mountains. You reach the campsite of Tshorim after climbing more ridges.
Trek time: 6-7 hours
Camp altitude: 4,970m
Today will be the highlight of the trek. The day starts with a short climb to the Tshorim Tsho. You walk on the side of the lake enjoying a panoramic view of the Gophu La ranges. After that pass descend to the base camp, walking along the ridge to enjoy a great view of Gangkhar Phuensum. If interested, one can divert to the left side to climb up the pyramid peak for a better view or you can go down to the base camp near Sha Chhu.
Trek time: 6-7 hours
Camp altitude: 4,200m
The trail further follows the Sha Chhu and descends gradually to Geshe Woma.
Trek time: 8-9 hours
Camp altitude: 4,000m
The path continues following Sha Chhu for two and a half hours until the stiff climb to Saka La begins. Visibility along the Saka La trail is poor so one must see top of the ridge for guidance. After having lunch nearby a yak herders’ camp you climb up to Saka La (4,800m). The path then descends to a couple of lakes and another short ascent is stunning. Scenery once again is beautiful with small lakes and the mountain peaks.
Trek time: 5 hours
Camp altitude: 3,590m
A one hour climb leads to Juli La (4,700m). After the pass, you descend to the riverside through dense rhododendron, juniper and conifer forests. After the bridge a short climb leads to Duer Tsachu. These hot springs, where Guru Padmasambhava is supposed to have taken bath, might be the most stunningly beautiful hot springs of the Himalayas. You might want to spend an extra day at Duer Tsachu.
Trek time: 8-9 hours
Camp altitude: 3,850m
From the hot springs it is a long and steady climb again with great views of mountains in Lunana. You will also come across blue lakes and yak herder huts.
Today is the last day of the trek and your porters change from yaks to horses. The path follows the Chamkhar Chhu, descending gradually with a few climbs in between. The trek ends here when you arrive at Duer village.
From here you drive to Jakar (Bumthang).