Saturday, 10 June 2017

Bhutan #2: trekking in Bhutan: Lunana Snowman trek

Trekking in Bhutan is luxury, similar as in Nepal: you are hiking with just a day pack, all food is prepared by the kitchen staff, and the tents are set up and taken down by the crew. All travel in Bhutan has to be arranged through a Bhutanese travel company and for trekking this means that you will always have at least a guide, a cook, a horse/yak driver and a couple of horses/yaks even if you travel by yourself. We had joined an organised group tour and were part of a group of 10 clients. Our group had a tour leader, 3 Bhutanese guides, a cook and 5 assistants, 3-4 horsedrivers, and 30-35 horses.

A standard day went as follows: in the morning we were woken up at around 06:30h by 2 cheerful kitchen assistants offering a cup of tea/coffee, and 10-15 minutes later they came around again with bowls with hot water for washing. We then packed our bags and cleaned the tent before meeting up in the dining tent for breakfast around 07:30h. While we had breakfast, the guides and some of the kitchen crew started packing up the tents and the horsedrivers were looking for their horses and driving them back to the camp. We usually started walking around 08:30 together with the guides and tour leader. The crew would spend another hour or 2 packing up the camp, packing our bags and the tents in solid canvas bags and loading the horses. 

Food is transported in these baskets. Here, in Laya, the crew is reorganising and packing the new food supplies.

Packing up camp.

Packing up camp.

Fortunately, everyone could hike at their own pace during the day; our group usually spread out over a few hours, with some fast people in the front, a group in the middle that would take it easy, enjoy the views and take lots of photos, and some at the end who struggled more with climbs. Sometime between 12:00h and 13:00h, depending on a suitable location, lunch was served. The kitchen crew prepared a hot lunch and hot water for tea/coffee and this is carried in thermoses by the 'lunch man' and his horse. This is the only horse that is led on a rope to stop it joining its friends, all other horses are loose. The horses, horsemen and kitchen crew usually passed us around lunch time. 

The 'lunch man' and his horse



Some of our horses

Some of our horses

Letting horses pass

We usually arrived in camp between 15:00 and 18:00. Some days the crew was faster and we arrive at a fully prepared camp where tea and biscuits are waiting for us, other days we got to the campsite first and have to wait for the horses and luggage. Dinner was usually around 19:00 and most people were in bed before 21:00. The food was generally good and varied, and it was impressive what the cook and his crew managed to make.

Enjoying the first good weather after a week of rain and mist. Time for drying clothes and sleeping bags and having a relaxed afternoon.

Highest camp at Tshorim lake, at ca 5200m.

Camp in the forest next to the Dur hot springs.

There are several variations of the Lunana Snowman trek, most start with the trek from Paro to Laya as acclimatisation for the main part of the trek to the remote Lunana valley. There are 2 main routes exiting the valley: most tours take the route to Nikka Chhu/Sephu, but we took the longer route past the beautiful Tsorim lake and the Dur hot springs to the Bumthang valley. The map below shows our route as a blue line and the altitude profile underneath shows the passes that we crossed. Our Snowman trek was 28 days, including 1 acclimatisation day at Chomolhari basecamp, 1 rest day in Laya and 1 rest day at the Dur hot springs. The total length of the trek was 245 km, we crossed 9 passes, the highest pass was at ca 5450 m, and the total elevation difference was ca 12600 m.

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