Snowman Trek in Bhutan is one of the most beautiful treks in the whole Himalayas. Billed as the most difficult trek in the world due to altitude, duration and distance, far more people climb Mount Everest in Nepal than completing this alpine quest. Many return incomplete due to altitude sickness. The trek goes on northern Bhutan along the border with Tibet crossing thirteen Himalayan mountain passes some as high as 5000m. You will have spectacular mountain views of Jumolhari, Jichu Drake, Masangang, Tiger Mountain and Gangkar Puensum and other conspicuous peaks along the norther border.
Paro to Sharna Zampa
17KM | 5-6 HOURS | 500M ASCENT | CAMP ALT 2850M
You will drive 12km north of Paro valley from your hotel to the historic Drugyal Dzong ruins at 2,580m, from were your trek starts. Your trekking crew will be waiting here for you. After a brief meeting, you will walk downhill on a wide trail following the Pachhu (river), which then climbs gently traversing through well-maintained rice terraces and fields of millet. Soon the valley widens and the route enters an area of apple orchards, traditional farmhouses and the tiny settlements of Mitshi Zampa and Sangatan. You reach the army post of Gunitsawa at 2,850 after walking for a while through blue pine forest. Here your trekking permit will be checked and stamped. This is the last stop before Tibet and border close to it. You will then cross Pachu River on a wooden bridge and then climb to Sharna Zampa at 2,870m. Just beyond Shana Zampa, there are several meadows surrounded by trees where you will camp for tonight.
Sharna Zampa to Soi Thangkha
22KM | 7-8 HOURS | 900M ASCENT | CAMP ALT 3750M
The trail again follows Pachhu (Paro river), ascending and descending through pine, oak and spruce forests. After 2 hours of continuous hiking and crossing several streams, you will reach at Shingkharap, a stone house at 3110m. A hot lunch will be served after crossing the bridge towards the left side of the river. Little ahead is the trail junction – left an old trade route and invasion from Tibet and right leading to the wooden bridge (we follow the right). After climbing up through rhododendron forests and finally crossing the bridge again, we reach our camp at 3750m, which is amidst beautiful meadows.
Soi Thangkha to Jangothang base camp
19KM | 5-6 HOURS | 300M ASCENT | CAMP ALT 4050M
Although today’s is not a long trekking day, a significant height gain will take place as your trail goes above tree line. From the camp, your path ascends for a while till you reach the army camp. Then follow the river above the tree line enjoying the stunning view of surrounding peaks. We walk through a very muddy section of trail, pass a mani wall and enter yak country. Hot lunch will be served inside a yak herder’s camp. After lunch, we walk past yak herder settlements of Soe and Takethang. Common crops that people grow here are barley, potatoes and turnips. We walk our final approach across a plateau and up a stream bed and Dangochang village to the awesome campsite of Jangothang at an altitude of 4,040m. From here, the views of Mount Jumolhari and Jichu Drake are superb.
Jangothang acclimatization and exploration
Today, you will spend a day by doing four-hour acclimatization hike to the north of your camp. There is practically no trail but you will climb on a open and endless slope till you see the view of Mt Jichu Drakye (6989m). You can scramble further up till 4895m (higher than Mount Blanc) to see amazing view of Mount Jumolhari. You are likely to spot rare blue sheep, Himalayan rhubarb, griffon vultures, golden eagles and the remarkable blue poppy.
Jangothang base is a flat grassy land with an old ruined fortress on a hillock in the foreground, beneath the colossal Mount Jumolhari and its neighbour Jitchu Drake. Most people show signs of mountain sickness at this altitude and it is recommended that all trekkers halt here. If you do not wish to hike but simply wish to just relax in camp, whichever option you choose, its certainly going to be a memorable day.
The trail follows the stream for half an hour and crosses the bridge to the right side. Start the climb up to the first ridge with a breathtaking view of Jumolhari (7314m), Jichu Drake (6989m) and Tshering Gang (6789m). Then walk towards the valley, almost flat for a while, until you climb to the Ngye La pass at an altitude of 4,700m. After the pass, it is a gradual descent to the camp, enjoying the panoramic view of the surrounding peaks and Lingshi Dzong. Camp at an altitude of 4010m.
Lingshi to Chebisa
12KM | 5-6 HOURS | 160M DESCENT | CAMP ALT 3850M
Visit the Lingshi Dzong, perched on the hilltop with a commanding view of green hills, the winding river and magnificent peaks. For centuries, Lingzhi Dzong was a way station for weary Buddhist pilgrims and defense fort against Tibetan and Mongol invaders. It is an easy day and pleasant walk through villages and yak herders camp. After lunch, a short walk will take you to Chebisa, a charming little village adorned with a beautiful crystal clear waterfall. Camp by the side of stream at an altitude of 3,850m.
Begin your trek with a stiff climb up a ridge to Gogu La pass (4,500m) taking nearly four hours. The sights of rare blue sheep is common on the rocks near the top of this pass. After the pass, descend through rhododendron bushes to a lunch stop. Afternoon continue along the trail with intermittent ascents and descents and after crossing the stream, through rhododendron forests and yak herders camp we arrive at Shakepasa at 3980m. From there, we walked down through a thick rhododendron forest until our next camp in Shakshepasa at 3980m. Climbing steeply up to the northern side of the valley and passing by a couple of yak herder’s camp, we arrive at our camp, which is beside a stream at an altitude 4,250m.
The trek starts by walking through edelweiss bound trail with a climb to Jari La pass at altitude 4,700m. The snow capped peak visible to the south-east is Kangbum at 6526m. Then descend to Tsarijathang valley, the summer residence of rare Himalayan Takins (national animal of Bhutan). From here we may have to cross the stream as most of the time the footbridge is washed away. After crossing the stream towards the left, the trail ascends till you reach Robluthang, a rocky meadow camp at an altitude of 4,200m.
Today, you will cross the highest pass in our entire trek. Climb all way up through boggy patches crossing stream, traversing marmot holes and moraine, you will reach at the top of Shingchen La pass (5005m). The view of snow-covered Gangchenta or the Tiger Mountain (6,840m) filling the northern horizon is simply stunning. After the pass, descend through rough rocky trail following moraine river valley to Kango Chhu River. The path is quite narrow and you may have to cross a stream again and get wet. After walking through cedar forests we arrive Lingmethang (4,140m), which is a beautiful scattered meadow by the river with Tiger Mountain towering behind your campsite.
Lingmithang to Laya
10KM | 3-4 HOURS | CAMP ALT 3850M
In the morning you wake up with a superb view of Gangchenta peak in front of you. The walk to Laya is very pleasant with wonderful views. You will pass through a damp forest, filled with moss and singing birds. Arrive at Laya village, the second highest settlement in the country, at altitude of 3,800m.
Rest day at Laya
Explore around Laya village. You can go and visit any of the houses around. Even to a perfect stranger, traditional Bhutanese hospitality is extended and a cup of tea and Chang (local, wine) is always offered. The people in this valley are very interesting especially the women. They wear traditional black wool kiras and conical bamboo hats decorated with turquoise, silver ornaments and strings of beads.
The trek leads down to the Lunana trail junction and then climbs to hilltop with good views over the Mo Chhu and the Rhodo Chhu. The trail follows Rhodo Chhu valley, first through mixed conifers and then through rhododendron, above the tree line. From top of large rockslide, there is a view of the glacial valley and a massive glacier on Tsenda Gang (7100m). Our camp is at Rodophu at 4160m just beyond a wooden bridge across the Rhodo Chhu river.
The trail today also follows the alpine grassland where yaks bound in plenty. The path follows the river through rhododendron shrubs before turning right up the hill. You will then climb to a high open valley through meadows to Tshomo La Pass (4915m). The views of the Mount Jomolhari and Tibetan borders are absolutely breathtaking. Next you will hiking on the barren plateau intersecting several yak trails and after some time you will be arriving at Narithang (4900m), which is your camp for tonight.
Today you will be climbing Ganglakarchung Pass at an altitude of 5120m. From the pass, the views of Kangbum (6530m), Tsendhen Gang (7100m), Teri Gang (7300m) and Jejegangphu Gang (7120m) are superb. You will descend through massive moraines to the edge of straight cliff with views of glacial hanging from Teri Gang that forms two turquoise-colored lakes at the base. The lake towards the left in 1961 due to outburst has caused a flood downstream in Punakha destroying the Mochu Bridge. Descend through a steep path to the U-shaped valley following the Tangchu stream towards right to arrive at your camp at 4350m.
Your trail passes through the junipers down the Tangchu River on the left passing through amazing waterfalls. After a gentle climb out of the valley for sometime, you will be making a steep ascent to Woche Village, the first settlement in Lunana region at an altitude of 4350m. The Woche village marks the beginning of the Lunana region and above the village, you will see tomorrow’s route to Ledhi.
Start climbing up the Woche valley and cross a small stream to go over a moraine. You will then descend to a wooden bridge across a Woche Chu River and climb up past a clear glacial lake to reach Keche La pass (4650m) with magnificent views of nearby mountains including three-prong peaks of Jejegangphu Gang mountain. The trail then descends to Pochu Valley and reaches Thaga village at 4050m. In the late afternoons, one can expect bitterly cold winds at Thaga Vilalge in autumn. From the Thaga village, we descend passing few scattered settlements, waterfalls and reach Lhedi (4200m) after walking along the Phochu River bed. Lhedi village consists of a school, Basic Health Unit and a wireless station.
Lhedi to Thanza
19KM | 5-6 HOURS | 250M ASCENT | CAMP ALT 4250M
The trek is slightly easy today. We will follow the north bank of Phochu River passing through several small farms and then reach Chuzo Village (4090m) sometime around the lunchtime. Enroute visit the Chezo Dzong. We follow the trail along the riverbed and then climb a steep hill overlooking Thanza valley at 4250m.
Rest day in Thanza
You have two optional activities for today. You can either visit the Thanza village or explore nearby glacial lakes. Thanza Village is virtually untouched, medieval-like society. Most people wear clothes they make by hand, weaving and dyeing their own material. They fashion their own unique hats, boots and and jewelry. Their homes are built from stone walls, hand-hewn wood shingles and clay mortar. They survive on grains battered with yak meat and cheese from the lower valleys.
Optionally, you can hike through small moraine rocks to clusters of Raphstreng Tsho and Thorthormi Tsho. These lakes are the source of Phochu River of Punakha, which caused a flood in 1994 due to moraine outburst. The view of 7100m Table Mountain (locally known as Zongphu Gang) is superb as it forms 3000m high wall of ice and snow behind Thanza Village.
Thanza to Tshochena
18KM | 7-8 HOURS | 750M ASCENT | CAMP ALT 5000M
You will climb to a large boulders hill towards south of Thanza and after few hours of easy walk, we reach Danji (4500m), which is a summer grazing ground for the yaks. At Danji, you may also see herds of blue sheep grazing on the meadows. From Danji, we climb few hundred meters up to the top of the ridge, which offers excellent views of surrounding mountains. Walking for another 20 minutes, will reach at the junction of trails leading to Gangkar Phunsum and Tshochena. We take the trail to the right that leads to Jaze La pass. The Jazela pass, which is at 5200m, offers majestic views of surrounding mountains in all directions. From the pass, the trail descends through snow-capped peaks and lakes to Tshochena at 5000m.
We follow the shore of a blue-green lake and then climb to a ridge at 5150m, which offers panoramic views of snowy peaks in 360-degree. From here, the road and the microwave tower at Dochu La can also be viewed in far distance. The trail goes up and down over a small rounded hill. We then pass a glacial lake and reach Loju La pass (5170m), which is a yak pasture with many crisscrossing yak trails. We take a trail that crosses a small saddle-like hill at 5120m to a wide glacial valley. We descend further down to Jichudramo camp (5050m) – this is the highest campsite on our entire trek.
We will climb through a moraine path to the picturesque Rinchen Zoe pass (5350m), which divides Phochu and Mangdechu basins. The Gangkar Puensum (7520m), the highest mountain in Bhutan can be seen from this pass. Further, the demarcation between the forests and the barren high altitude areas are remarkably seen from here. Descending through a broad marshy valley with strings of lakes, steep face of moraine and yak pastures, we reach Tampe Chu, which is amidst rhododendron and Juniper forests. We camp at Thongsa Thang (4400m) some distance away from Chukarpo.
Chukarpo to Tampetsho
19KM | 7-8 HOURS | 80 DESCENT | CAMP ALT 4320M
We descend following the right bank of a river to a Galapang yak pasture at 4025m. We will then climb steeply through forests of junipers and silver firs until we reach Tampetsho. The trail to Tampetsho follows a stream to a beautiful clear turquoise-colored lake, which is set like in a bowl surrounded by steep ridges. We will camp at end of the lake at 4320m.
Today, we will climb steeply to the Tampela Pass (4600m). The sight of blue sheep on the mountain slopes above trail is common here. We then descend to the Omtsho Lake. The legend has it that, in 15the century, the famous saint Terton Pema Lingpa miraculously discovered a treasure from this lake. The trail goes toward the shore of the lake and reaches it’s outlet marked by the prayers and then descends steeply pass a waterfall to a small lake. The trail finally meets the left bank of Nika Chu River. After sometime, we reach to a large open area close to the confluence a major tributary flowing from east. We will then cross a wooden bridge and walk along mixed forests to reach Maraothang (3620m), which is a wide open area with yak herder’s camp and your last night camp.
Maraothang to Nika Chhu Zam
20KM | 6-7 HOURS | 970M DESCENT
The last day of the trek goes gradually downhill through mixed deciduous and bamboo forests. Descending through the rhododendron forest, deep mud pools and streams, over slippery boulders and tree roots, we come to a large grassy area overlooking the motor road and bucolic Sephu Village (2650m). You will head by bus to Punakha, where the first hot showers is awaiting you in nearly after a month.