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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Trip Report for Lunana Snowman (Bhutan) led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2012

Photo: Mount Jitchu Drake

This is the fourth time The Mountain Company has successfully organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan starting in Paro and finishing in Bumthang. This year we had twelve trekkers signed up and like last year this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Italy and Germany. Our 2012 Snowman group was led by Almas Khan who is originally from India now living with his wife in Tasmania, Australia; Almas knows Bhutan very well and in particularly Lunana region having led groups here many times over the past 13 years.

Photo: steam near Dur Taschu

Overall our Snowman 2012 trek went very well with far better weather than our 2011 Snowman trek. This year the monsoon wound down ending early so when group arrived to Paro on September 24th they experienced sunny weather including their morning walk to Taktsang (Tiger’s Next) monastery plus on first days of trek which are often rainy and rather muddy at this time of year.  After 10 days walking the group arrived to Laya on schedule where they met up with our Sirdar Dawa’s wife who had come in from Punakha with ponies for the resupply of food and provisions as planned.

Photo: view from Saga La

On October 9th and 10th once the group had crossed the Karchung La pass into Lunana there was some rain during the day and night. When the group arrived to Thanza village it became clear that our yaks from Bumthang had not yet arrived and the news was they were unable to cross Gophu La into Lunana due to snow blocking this pass. However Almas spoke to our Laya horseman about the possibility of them continuing the trek with their animals and after some discussions agreed to continue as long as we provided road transport for their animals back from Bumthang to Punakha for walk into Laya.

Photo: Yak herder's camp

Almas decided to forsake the rest day in Thanza and to continue next day onto Danje campsite, this was certainly a good call to keep the group moving and to ensure the Laya horseman did not change their minds about continuing! With the unknown conditions on Karchung La it was wise to keep this extra day in hand in case of any delays however in the end conditions were fine on all passes as the new snow quickly melted off the trail. There were several other smaller groups around in Lunana valley however they all decided to take the shorter exit trail down to Nikka Chu valley rather than the more interesting and beautiful trail out to Bumthang following the “Complete Snowman” trek. Therefore The Mountain Company’s Snowman group was one of few (and possibly only group?) that completed the entire Snowman from Paro to Bumthang in Autumn 2012.

Shortly after Danje campsite there is the turn off trail for Nikka Chu and our group saw a spectacular sight of over 200 yaks making their way out of Lunana, this was the village’s annual shopping trip out of the valley to purchase supplies for the winter.  The walk to Tshorim was on a  sunny day with spectacular views of the fluted mountains surrounding this beautiful lake, this is certainly one of the best campsite locations anywhere in the Himalaya (and a place one misses if takes quick exit via Nikka Chu).

Photo: Tshorim Lake camp

On Day 27 of the trip they arrived to Dur Tsachu where there are hot springs, this is a lovely place where the group and crew can relax and as there was extra days in hand at this stage Almas decided to spend two nights here which was a popular move so everyone had a chance to relax and wash in the hot springs. To use up the second rest day in hand Almas also decided to split the walk to Tsochenen into two days as otherwise this is a very long day crossing two passes Gongto La (4,327m) and Djule La (4,551m).

To get a further feel and understanding how our Snowman trek went I have copied below several testimonials from some members of this group which helps explains their experiences in more detail, we really appreciate receiving positive feedback like this and make all of the hard work getting this trek off the ground well worth while!

“I wanted to write and thank you for a truly spectacular trip on the Snowman Trek. I can honestly say this trek was one of the best organised, most efficient, well thought out treks that I have been on. Every staff member spoke very highly of your company, as did the guides and the many repeat guests for the Mountain Company that I met on the trek.

Almas is a fantastic team leader - I would follow him anywhere he went - he leads with authority, he is fair, hospitable, kind and generous to all, and his knowledge of the mountains and search and rescue means that guests can feel safe with him, no matter where they are. I cannot recommend him highly enough - without a doubt the best team leader that I have met on my treks so far - and I would go so far as to say that I would want him on any trek that I went on.

You must know that each and every one of the Bhutanese crew was a joy to work with. Every single one. Best crew ever. And if you pass messages on to Kinley, then Nima my guide for after the trek is a consummate gentleman and professional and made my trip to Bhutan a magical and enchanted experience.

I wanted to thank you for everything. From the outset, you have been extremely efficient and professional and your company has provided me with a once in a lifetime experience.” Alexis Fosler (Hong Kong)

“Robert and I had an amazing experience in Bhutan and we had the best trekking holiday walking the Snowman Trek. Thanks for all the pre-trip advice and support! We admired The Mountain Company for having the itinerary that includes extra days for acclimatisation rather than others who are more concern about commerce gained.

Special thanks to Almas! Almas is the best trek leader and we will travel anywhere with him. He shown great leadership and planning skills and ensured that horses, staffs and trekkers were all well cared for during the trek. He has great experience of this trek, he planned and modified the daily plan according to weather condition and to ensure that the group had enough time in the beautiful places/pass.

The trek was well organised, I can see that The Mountain Company has great experience in this trek and has planned and tested the daily routines to the highest level. We were well cared for - from setting up camp, food to having a shower! All trekkers in our group had commented that this is the best-organised trek and the best food trek.

We like to thank Tashi Snr, Dawa and Tanzin (and our drivers)! They are excellent in what they do! Thanks to everyone who is working behind the scene to make this a great trip. Looking forward to trek with The Mountain Company and hearing from you.” Robert and Cindy Sim (Australia)

“I would like to acknowledge you and for congratulate for the excellency of the services received.  Also your pre departure e-mails before departure had been valuable indeed. In my more than 15 years experience in trekking, this is the first time that everything in the organisation was perfect and really well managed. Even more than my best expectations! Almas was a great leader and he cared of everything carefully. He solved very well also the problem of the not-coming yaks caravan in Tanza! 

The Snowman trek was in my dreams since years, the Group was one the very few that successfully crossed every Pass this year. The weather had been good and better than the previous year, so the mountain views were extraordinary.

Also the bus journey of the last few days was very well managed and enabled me to enjoy many spots of Cultural Bhutan. I especially appreciated the most high Camps, the high Passes, the organisation (that in my opinion was perfect); at the end also the Swiss Guest house and the Cultural Bhutan. To be mentioned, also the Group of people never met before has been a nice surprise: everyone was  really enjoyable! 

So the choice to choose "The Mountain Company" proved to be a great one, to be continued in the future... thank you a lot again, Mr. Roland and I wish for you a very nice trip in Nepal.!" Marco Morello (Italy)

As ever I would like to thank very much everyone involved in organising this trek from Kinley and Wangmo in the office in Thimphu; the trek crew including Dawa (Sirdar), Tenzing (cook), Tashi Wangdi (senior trekking guide) and of course Almas for doing a great job leading this group!

The Mountain Company is organising Lunana Snowman again in 2013 and this group will be led by Paul Burditt (leader of our successful Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in October 2012), we already have quite a lot of interest so if you are considering joining this trek please get in touch soon.

Roland Hunter

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