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Friday, 3 November 2017

Trip report for Lunana Snowman in Bhutan led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2017

Photo: Tshorim Lake before Gophu La pass

This is the ninth time The Mountain Company has organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan starting in Paro and finishing in Bumthang. Our Snowman 2017 went well and this group successfully made the full traverse through Lunana out to Bumthang. The Mountain Company has 100% track record of organising this challenging 28 day trek through the remote Bhutanese Himalaya.

This year we had fourteen trekkers signed up for Lunana Snowman and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Australia, Singapore, Belgium and Denmark. Our 2017 Snowman group was led by Almas Khan and he has now completed this trek nine times too!

For our 2017 Snowman we had a strong and experienced local crew who have worked with us for many years. The two regular guides are Tashi and Tsering Dorje, I remember leading the first TMC Snowman trek with these two back in 2008! It has been wonderful to see both Tashi and Tsering develop as guides over the years coached by Almas and also we have invested in their training by sending them to Kathmandu for their Wilderness Medical Training at KEEP. Thanks Tashi and Tsering for all of your help over the years!

The cook, Sonam, and his kitchen helpers were new for last year's Snowman and as they did such a great job we requested their services again this year. I have heard from both Almas and group that the food was very good and has certainly improved since Sonam came on board. I have copied Almas’s comments on the food below:

“The quality of the food was very good and most of the clients commented they loved it. Hygiene standards by the entire kitchen crew were up to our standards. Quantity of food was adequate too.”

Photo: view from Karchung La

Overall the weather and conditions were favourable compared to previous years although this group had some rain & cloud crossing Karchung La into Lunana however they got lucky with stable & sunny weather on the exit passes over Gophu La and Saga La. We received weather forecasts of over 1m of snow for the day this group crossed the last passes over to Tso Chenchen as there was a low pressure system coming off the Bay of Bengal. However luckily this group was spared the extreme weather as the system tracked away from Bhutan at last minute! I have copied Almas’s assessment of weather and conditions below:

“The weather on the trip was very kind to us. Most of the time it only rained after we reached the camp. Not the best views at times. Rained and snowed on us while we walked on the day we walked over Karchung La to Tarina. Had excellent weather at the Tshorim lake and over the Gophu La. It was not as cold as I had expected. The lowest temperatures experienced were at Tshorim and Michigang -12. 8 Celsius at night outside and about -5 Celsius inside the tent in the coldest hour before dawn. Some group members found the trails a bit muddy - personally I have seen them worse on some previous treks."

Throughout our Lunana Snowman trek we receive bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and this information is sent through to Almas on his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.

Our Snowman 2017 group made good progress and did not lose any days due to bad weather or other delays along the way. This year Almas decided to have two nights at Thanza to allow the group and crew to rest as the weather forecast was showing stable weather for a week allowing adequate time to cross Gophu La and Saga La.

Photo: Gophu La pass

Of interest on the day crossing Gophu La out of Lunana one of the cook boys saw a snow leopard while having a rest sitting on a rock near Geche Woma camp. Almas told me how this person was so startled that he dropped his chocolate bar (!) on the ground. Two members of the group also saw the snow leopard from afar as the cat quickly moved away. On further inspection of this area there were print mark seen in the sand that looked like snow leopard so we will take this is a confirmed snow leopard sighting! Blue sheep were also seen around Chomolhari Base Camp.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group and each night Almas checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress --->  see the way points overlaid onto a map for Lunana Snowman

The Mountain Company has a pledge through AITO Project Protect for our groups to collect at least 120kg of rubbish/ trash in the Himalaya and Karakoram during 2017. Our 2017 Lunana Snowman trek has collected 40kg of rubbish from the trails and around campsites and was carried out to the road head by the ponies during resupply at Laya and out to the end of the trek at Minchugang. Well done to Almas, crew and group!

Photo: Tsering weighing the rubbish collected on Snowman

Photo: baskets of rubbish collected

I have copied below feedback received from one member of the group now published on AITO review site:

"The Lunana Snowman trek is a major logistical challenge for the leader to organise horses and food over such a long remote trek. On this trip everything worked really smoothly. TMC offer the Bumthang exit to the trek which is much less frequently visited and we had a real sense of being in a quite different world in Lunana. The scenery is fantastic, the walk is long but most days are quite straightforward. There is a bit of a sting in the tail going over the last few passes but by then we were all pretty fit and acclimatized. The Mountain Company was very efficient. Potential trekkers are screened for suitability so the risk of being held up by someone unfit is minimised. From personal experience I can confirm this is important!"

Many thanks to Almas, Tsering Dorje, Tashi, Tsering, Sonam and rest of the crew for all of their hard work with organising and leading another successful Snowman trek. Thanks also to Kinley and Dawa in the office in Thimphu who have provided an excellent service with their logistics and planning for this long and remote trek.

We have now launched the dates and prices for Lunana Snowman 2018 on TMC website so please get in touch soon if you would like to join this group. We have already received strong interest and this group is likely to fill fast as Snowman 2017 was fully booked with fourteen trekkers by April over six months before departure date.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

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