Snowman Trek: traverse multiple high altitude passes and soak in unique Bhutanese culture

2 December, 2020 | Reccy Guide

Amongst the hiking community, the Snowman Trek in Bhutan is the most popular adventure. In Bhutan, rules do not allow hiking beyond 6000 meters. The government of Bhutan has made this strict norm due to the treacherous terrain and unpredictable thunderstorms that the remote areas of the Kingdom experience. Aptly, Bhutan is also known as Druk Yul or the Land of Thunder Dragon. 

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Cleverly inventing a way to circumvent this rule, the Snowman trek, horizontally traverses a series of high mountain passes thus attracting adventurous folks. It is said that the traverse of Snowman trek is even more difficult than climbing Mt. Everest as the number of climbers that summit Mt. Everest is more than the hikers completing the Snowman terrain. 

The trail of this trek runs along the border of Bhutan and Tibet, in the northern region. The trail crosses eleven passes of over 4500 meters and two of over 5000 meters. The route is not just a difficult hike, sustained trekking at high altitude offers its own challenges. The rewards of the trek are that it offers spellbinding views of the surrounding features. Breathtaking views of Jomolhari (7314 m), Masangang, Tiger Mountain (6840 m), Tsherimgang (6789 m), Kangbum (6526 m) and Jichu Drake (6989 m) peaks make it worthwhile to undertake this journey. Gangkar Puensum, one of the highest of the unclimbed peaks in the world, is a key attraction of this trek.

Traversing past a Yak during the Snowman TrekTraversing past a Yak in the Snowman Trek

The trek begins from the camps of Drukgyel Dzong after getting there by road from Paro. Drukgyel Dzong is an ancient ruin of a fortress that was constructed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who ruled Bhutan in the 17th century. It’s primary purpose was to defend Bhutan from Tibetan and Mongolian invasions. If one were to decipher ‘Drukgyel Dzong’ it would be , Druk meaning Bhutan, gyel a term for victory, and Dzong is a word for fort, thus signifying the Bhutanese victory over multiple advisories of that period.

While traversing through the next few camps, the trail will take you through two very high passes: Shingchen La pass and Ganglakarchung pass at elevations of 5005m and 5120m, respectively. The highest point of the trek is ~5300m. On average, the hikers  have to cover 17 km daily, in approximately 9 hours each day. En-route you will pass through high grazing meadows, overlooked by awesome snow-capped mountains. The local tour operators organize treks to the Base Camps of these mountains, which typically start from Paro. Local nomadic life and the ancient Bhutanese folk culture can be a blissful experience.

The Snowman TrekWalking towards a high altitude pass in the Snowman Trek

There are multiple routes of Snowman Trek offered by different operators. In most of the routes, the trail goes across pristine lakes flanked by ethnic villages. These include the Green lake, Oomta lake, and many other unnamed lakes. Passing through and camping at rustic and secluded places like Laya, Linghshi, Jangothang is an experiential journey as you learn more about the local culture and the Bhutanese variance of Buddhism. The trail passes yak herders’ camps and secluded settlements of farmers and locals. It is only through the Snowman trek that the trekkers can access Lunana, the remotest region of Bhutan.

The Snowman trek will take you through the trail of Paro Chu river valley, one of the remotest valleys in Bhutan. The road crosses old monasteries, ancient natives, ruins, shepherds with their sheep, rhododendron forests and many more interesting features that make the Snowman trek a unique experience. The route projects a quaint Bhutanese topography that is seemingly unchanged for hundreds of years. Preserving its original charm, culture and regional history, Bhutan symbolizes and breathes an air of purity and integrity. The trek showcases exotic flora and fauna, which comprise blue pine, juniper, bearded vultures, Himalayan Griffon among others. The region is also well-known for Himalayan Blue Sheep. Do not miss out on spotting one! 

The trail ends at the Sephu campsite, from where you will drive to Punakha town. Punakha is also popular for the 17th century in Dzong, attracting tourists. From Punakha, you drive on to Paro, completing the revered loop of the trek.

The duration of Snowman trek varies from 27 to 31 days, depending on the organizers some of whom cover Thimphu in their itinerary, too. Exploring the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu is also highly recommended, especially if you have spare time while acclimatizing. 

Despite knowing that this is a challenging trek, a few adventurers have tried over-ambitiously, to complete in a fewer number of days than recommended. There have thus been incidents of trekkers suffering acute mountain illness on the Snowman trek

Being as it may, in less than a month, the Snowman trek has the potential to deliver immeasurable memories of Bhutanese life and existence, hardly ever possible in that period if done in any other manner.

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