The Snowman Trek (Laya/Gasa Trek to Sephu) Summary:
The Snowman Trek is an extension of the beautiful Laya/Gasa Trek, and leads from Laya into high altitudes of the Bhutanese Himalayas. The trail takes our resilient and enduring trekkers into the Lunana region. It then goes further on to Gangkhar Puensum and Bumthang or down to Sephu in the Trongsa district, depending on which route you choose. The Snowman Trek leads you through the most remote areas and up to very high altitudes. Trekkers have to camp in altitudes above 5,000 meters more than once, and depending on the seasonal temperatures, the camps are sometimes on snow. The Lonely Planet describes The Snowman Trek as one of the most difficult treks in the world. Many groups that attempt this tough trek do not actually finish it due to problems with the high altitude or snow blocked passes. Therefore, unlike the other high altitude treks in Bhutan, the best time to undertake The Snowman Trek truly is in the summertime. Still, those trekkers who conquer this trek will remember it as outstandingly beautiful and maybe as the most rewarding trek of their life.
Day 11: Rest/Acclimatization day in Laya
If you have trekked from Drukgyel Dzong you should spend a day recuperating from the trek at Laya and preparing yourself for the rest of this challenging but spectacular trek. If you have started from Tashitang/Damji (Punakha), you should also walk up to Laya to acclimatize and not just stay at the trail junction in Lunana. It’s worthwhile to spend one day in Laya just for the great views that Laya has to offer and for its extroadinary inhabitants.
Day 12: Laya – Rhoduphu (distance 19km and takes six to eight hours with 1,030m ascent and 750m descent, camp altitude 4,160m)
From Laya, you descend to an army camp and continue following the river till the turn off point to Rhoduphu. After lunch, the climb continues through Rhododendron bushes till you reach the camp at Roduphu just next to the Rhodu Chhu.
Day 13: Rhodophu – Narethang (distance 17km and takes five to six hours with 740m ascent, camp altitude 4,900m)
After following the river for about half an hour, you will have a steady climb to a high open valley at 4,600 meters and then walk further up to Tsomo La (4,900m). Tsomo La offers a superb view of Lunana, Mount Jomolhari, Jichu Drake, and the Tibetan border. The route then crosses a flat, barren plateau at about 5,000 meters. The campsite at Narethang is towered by the peak of Gangla Karchung (6,395m).
Day 14: Narethang – Tarina (distance 18km and takes five to six hours with 270m ascent and 1,200m descent, camp altitude 3,970m)
From the camp, you will climb for about an hour to Gangla Karchung La (5,120m). The view from the pass is breathtaking and a whole range of mountains including Jekangphu Gang (7,100m), Tsenda Kang and Teri Gang (7,300m) can be seen. The pass descends along a large moraine. One this time has great views of a massive glacier descending from Teri Kang and of a deep turquoise lake at its foot. Up here once, a glacial lake burst through its dam in the early 1960s causing widespread damages among which partially destroyed the Punakha Dzong. Finally, the trail leads to a very long descent through thick Rhododendrons to the Tarina valley, where you will halt at a good campsite along the Tang Chhu.
Day 15: Tarina – Woche (distance 17km and takes six to seven hours with 270m ascent and 330m descent, camp altitude 3,910m)
The walk leads down through conifer forests and follows the upper ridges of the Pho Chhu, passing some impressive waterfalls. The trail then climbs over a ridge and drops to Woche, a settlement of a few houses, the first village in the Lunana region.
Day 16: Woche – Lhedi (distance 17km and takes six to seven hours with 980m ascent and 1,190m descent, camp altitude 3,700m)
The trek starts through juniper and fir forests, and further ahead, through Rhododendron bushes. It then climbs up to Keche La pass (4,650m) where one can have a great view of the surrounding mountains. After the pass, you descend to the riverside walking through a village with a stunning view of Table Mountain along with other summits. You follow up the river till Lhedi Village. Lhedi has a basic health unit, a school and a wireless telephone connection.
Day 17: Lhedi – Thanza (distance 17km and takes seven to eight hours with 450m ascent, camp altitude 4,150m)
In clear weather, you will have great views of Table Mountain (7,100m). Around lunchtime, you will pass the small village of Chozo (4,090m) which has a dzong that is still in use. Reaching Thanza, you will again have a great view of Table Mountain which forms a 3,000 meters high wall of snow and ice behind the village. Although there are possibilities to camp directly at Thanza, most trekking groups prefer to camp at nearby Thoencha.
Day 18: Rest day at Thanza
In Thanza, you walk around and experience some village life, or you climb up the ridge for fascinating views of lakes and mountains. As it takes time to arrange new yaks (the yaks from Laya will not go further than Thanza), you might have to spend one day at Thanza anyway; so, make use of the time to get a little R & R.
Day 19: Thanza – Danji (distance 8km and takes three to four hours with 80m ascent, camp altitude 4,230m)
From Thoencha, the trail climbs up to a large boulder from where you will have excellent views of the villages of Thanza, Thoencha and Choso and their surrounding mountains. After a few hours of relatively flat and easy walking, you will reach a yak meadow with several yak herders’ huts. An excellent site to set up camp, it provides you a great chance to spot some blue sheeps on the hills above. A trail junction near the campsite will give you the choice between two routes: the trail up to Gangkhar Puensum base camp which will take you further onto Bumthang or the trail up to Sephu (towards Trongsa). If you chose the route to Sephu, the final 6 days (Day 20 – Day 25) of The Snowman Trek are described further on in details.
Day 20: Danji – Tshochena (distance 12km and takes five to six hours with 980m ascent and 240m descent, camp altitude 4,970m)
Having chosen the route to Sephu, the trek crosses a creek and after a long climb, you will reach Jaze La (5,150m) with spectacular panoramic mountain views . The path then descends between snow covered peaks and a couple of small lakes taking you to the campsite near the shore of Tshochena Lake.
Day 21: Tshochena – Jichu Dramo (distance 14km and takes four to five hours with 230m ascent and 150m descent, camp altitude 5,050m)
You follow the bank of the blue green lake before arriving at a ridge at 5,100 meters. At particular this point, there is another spectacular view in all directions. You then go up and down over small hills to reach a glacial lake. The route descends first before climbing again up the next pass known as Loju La (5,140m). Finally after crossing a small saddle (5,100m), you will enter a wide glacial valley from where the trail descends gradually to the campsite at Jichu Dramo.
Day 22: Jichu Dramo – Chukarpo (distance 18km and takes five to six hours with 320m ascent and 730m descent, camp altitude 4,600m)
Right after leaving camp, you will climb through a moraine to Rinchen Zoe La (5,320m). Spectacular mountain scenery with Gangkhar Puensum prominence amongst other impressive mountains is the reward for climbing the highest pass on this trek route. Rinchen Zoe Peak (5,650) towers above the pass in the west. Descending from the pass, the route leads into a wide valley with several lakes and goes steeply down along a moraine to the Thampe Chhu. Here, the vegetation begins to thicken again and you will see the first real trees since Lhedi. After a couple of hours, you reach campsite at Chukarpo.
Day 23: Chukarpo – Thampe Tsho (distance 18km and takes five to six hours with 400m ascent and 700m descent, camp altitude 4,300m)
The descent continues along the river till you reach the yak herders’ huts at Gala Pang Chhu (4010m). From here, the trail climbs steeply towards Thampe Tsho which leads to a beautiful clear turquoise lake, with a campsite next to it.
Day 24: Thampe Tsho – Maurothang (distance 14km and takes five hours with 330m ascent and 1020m descent, camp altitude 3,610m)
From the lake, you climb steeply to the last pass on this trek, the Thampe La (4,600m) with a good chance to spot some blue sheeps on the way. Then the path descends to the sacred lake Om Thso. Passing a waterfall about 100 meters below, you will reach a smaller lake. The trail then descends steeply to the Nikka Chhu which finally leads through mixed forest then to a large clearing known as Maurothang. It is near the banks of the river where several yak herders’ huts can be seen.
Day 25: Maurothang – Sephu (distance 18km and takes five to six hours with 990m descent)
On the last day of this extraordinary trek, your porters will change from yaks to horses as the yaks will not be willing to go further down. The path follows the Nikka Chhu to reach a large grassy area overlooking the road and the village of Sephu. When you finally reach the road at the Nikka Chhu bridge in Sephu, you will find several stores (mainly selling bamboo products) and several small restaurants.