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Saturday, 8 November 2014

Trip report for Lunana Snowman led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2014

This is the sixth time The Mountain Company has organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan starting in Paro and finishing in Bumthang. I am delighted to report after another successful Snowman in September/ October 2014 that The Mountain Company has 100% track record of organising this challenging trek.

This year we had twelve trekkers signed up for the full Snowman and we also had five trekkers for the half Snowman (i.e leaving the main group at Laya village). Like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Belgium, India and Holland.

Photo: view from Limithang camp

Our 2014 Snowman group was led by TMC regular guide, Almas Khan. Almas has now visited Bhutan twenty times to lead many treks including his personal favourite the Lunana Snowman. Almas has completed Snowman trek five times including both Bumthang and Nikka Chu exit trails from Lunana. Almas has been involved in helping to train our trek crew in Bhutan and over the years has developed a strong rapport with our local staff. For our 2014 Snowman we had our regular Bhutanese trek crew on board again with Dawa as the Sirdar; Tashi & Tashi as guides and Tenzing as the cook.

Photo: The Snowman guides. Tash 1, Almas and Tashi 2 (credit: Jim Valentine)

I was in Kathmandu when most of the group arrived on September 21st and I enjoyed meeting them to discuss their upcoming trek in Bhutan. Almas flew to Paro a few days before the group arrived on September 20th, this always works well as he can check the preparations and meet the crew before the start of the trek.

Photo: Laya village

This year several members of this group decided to fly to Paro via Bangkok, Singapore and Delhi rather than coming through Kathmandu. These days Druk air (and new Bhutan Airways) has a more reliable and frequent connections from these other cities. As we realise this may be more convenient for some people, especially if coming from USA or Australia, we have decided for 2015 to start all of our Bhutan trips from Paro.

I think in practice quite a few people will probably still decide to transit through Kathmandu at least this gives people the option and it might save time and money to transit through another country. If you like we would be happy to book your Druk Air or Bhutan Airways flights for you to/ from Paro and also book your hotel in Kathmandu.

As discussed in previous trip reports we start our Snowman trek quite early in the Autumn season and several weeks before our treks in Nepal. This timing has been carefully thought out and tested over the years in order to put the team in a good position to cross the exit passes of Lunana before the winter snows block the way. Therefore the first few days of Snowman can sometimes be rainy as often at this time of the year the monsoon is still lingering.

Photo: prayer flags on Karchung La
Photo: view from Karchung La (credit: Jim Valentine)

However from the start for Snowman 2014 the weather was settled and sunny during the day although I heard there was abit of rain mostly after the group reached camps and this group only walked in the rain for several afternoons during the whole trek. As has been widely reported in the media Cyclone Hudhud caused heavy snowfall and storms in the Nepal Himalaya on October 14th. The Mountain Company received extreme weather warnings on 11th and this was communicated to all of our groups in the field including Snowman. Almas decided to make some changes with the itinerary and to keep the group moving by not having a rest day at Thanza.

Luckily in the end Cyclone Hudhud did not cause much impact in Bhutan and the group successfully crossed Gophu La out of Lunana. To read The Mountain Company statement on Cyclone Hudhud and its impact on trekking in the Himalaya Whereas last year Cyclone Phailin impacted the east of Nepal and Bhutan, there was much more snow experienced by Snowman 2013 however our leader Paul managed to find a way to get the group safely to Bhumtang. To read Snowman 2013 Trip Report

Photo: near Tarina

The conditions on the passes for Snowman 2014 were good throughout the trek and there was very little snow on the trail. For all of our treks crossing high passes in Bhutan and Nepal we included on the kit list: micro spikes (eg Yak Trax XTRs), two trekking poles and gaiters. This equipment can really help when there is snow or ice such as experienced with Snowman 2013 however luckily was not required for Snowman 2014.

Regarding the conditions some members of this group found this trek to be colder than expected, as per our Trip Dossier you can expect to maximum overnight lows of -20 Celsius. Therefore you should ensure you have a sleeping bag rated to this temperature or plan to wear more clothes at night to keep you toasty warm! The coldest night on the trek is normally at Tsorim Lake as at 5,250m is the highest camp on Snowman trek.

As the group skipped their rest day at Thanza they decided to spend an extra day at the wonderful hot springs at Dur Tsachu. This place is always enjoyed by groups as at this point in the trek a good soak is normally required!

Photo: view from Kesha La

For Snowman 2015 we have made one change in the itinerary, we have decided to include two nights at Soi Thangthanka (3,510m) in order to help acclimatisation before ascending to Jangothang also known as Chomolhari Base Camp (4,080m). Therefore our Snowman itinerary has now increased by one day to 29 trekking days.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Almas checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress. Click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for LunanaSnowman

Most of the feedback for Snowman 2014 has been very positive and I have copied Charles comments below:

“Almas and his team were a credit to your company. It’s difficult to think of anything which would have improved the trip. In my view it was a great success and very well organised. That said we were very lucky with the weather. But if things had not worked out on that front I’m confident Almas and his excellent team would have steered the right course through it.

I’m not blind to the amount of organisation that needs to happen behind the scene to make a trek of this type work- but yet it has to be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances, such as weather and the health of the participants. I would just like to add how much I enjoyed the whole trip.” Charles Whiteaway (UK)

I would like to thank Almas very much for leading Snowman 2014 and also our excellent Bhutanese crew: Dawa (Sirdar), Tashi 1 (guide), Tashi 2 (guide), Tenzing (Cook), Chencho ( Astt Cook) and the rest of the crew Tashi Dorji, Tashi Wangdue, Lhaba and Hapa. With Almas’s guidance and training we have noticed large improvements from the Bhutanese team's level of service and experience from variety and quality of the food, their guiding skills and the efficiency of completing tasks around camp.

We have just launched the dates and prices for Snowman 2015 on TMC website so please get in touch soon if you would like to join this group. Almas has confirmed his leadership for next year’s Snowman and hopefully we will have the same Bhutanese crew on board as well.

Roland Hunter

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