Snowman Trek – Jhomolhari Base Camp to Shomuthang

Days four to six of the Snowman Trek, an epic near month long Himalayan hike in Bhutan, crossing the first and second of eleven high altitude passes over 4,500m along the track.

Leaving Jhomolhari Base Camp steady drizzle and cloud obscured what apparently is stunning mountain scenery. This weather had been with us since the afternoon of day one on the trek, thankfully the worst of the rain arrived when we were at camp, but it still wasn’t ideal. This weather is apparently typical at this time of year. We had to start the trek at the end of the monsoon season in order to be able to cross the high passes at the end of the trek before they are closed by snowfall.

Shortly after leaving camp there were views back down the valley, and up it toward the glacier face at the foot of the hidden 7,314m high Jhomolhari.

We were passed by a number of groups of ponies, carrying all the supplies for our group and others, though as our group was relatively fast it was often a challenge for them to reach and set up camp before we arrived.

The first big test of the Snowman was crossing the Nyile La pass at 4,890m above sea level. It was a bit of slog up to it, but was easier than expected given that it was 500m higher than I’d previously been, with the days of acclimatisation at the start of the trip paying off. There was some snow around but not on the pass itself.

The highlight of the day were the views of this pretty epic valley.

The descent down to the camp at Lingshi (4,150m) was particularly muddy and slippery.

To do my bit for the environment and slow down my pace I picked up as much rubbish as I could along the track, filling two bags and I could have filled two more if I had the bags with me. While better than many countries there were still so many sweet wrappers, mobile phone payment cards, and plastic bottles along the way. Thankfully Bhutan has banned plastic bags otherwise the situation would be worse. My guide of ten years had never seen a client before me collect rubbish from the track, which makes me a bit sad that so many people literally walk past the problem.

I finally saw some Himalayan mountains on the morning of the fifth day walking the Snowman, blinding white shapes revealed behind the moving clouds at the head of the valley. These were the 6,989m Jichu Drakye and 6,789m Tserim Kang.

Unexpectedly there was some sunshine today, a welcome novelty we hadn’t seen since lunchtime on the first day of the Snowman.

We visited Lingshi village, home to a couple of hundred people, and the only school in the valley. There were 48 children and 6 teachers at the primary school, after year six they need to go to Thimphu for secondary schooling. The children board, with three meals a day courtesy of UNICEF, and get to go home once a month. The school is closed from the start of November till March due to the winter weather, elsewhere in Bhutan with relatively more benign weather they close end of November to February.

Heading further up the valley the views became more impressive thanks to the sun and clouds.

The views became more epic around Goyok village.

It was fascinating exploring the village up close before having lunch in the home of a local, complete with their own altar.

We finished the day at the beautiful Chebisa village.

I had to be careful approaching the village though as an archery competition was taking place in the middle of the flat area where our camp was set up. The national sport of Bhutan, the targets are 140m away, requiring immense skill to hit, particularly on windy day. They had impressive modern bows, that typically cost USD$1,000-$1,500, but competition prize money can be that much.

I took a closer look at a scenic waterfall at the head of valley, only learning afterwards that there is a track to a pass to Tibet by the side of it, though the border is closed.

At the village I disposed of another bag I filled with rubbish from the track, and could have filled another, though there was notably less than yesterday. There were a lot more can ring pulls, which have been replaced in most Western countries to avoid the situation here, with them scattered along the track. The cans themselves were mostly thrown off the track, requiring a bit of careful foot positioning on the steep slopes to retrieve and flatten them.

No rubbish collection the following day, and thankfully there was less along the track, as I needed both hands to hold poles to climb a steep 550m up to the 4,400m high Gombu La pass. On route were panoramic views of the valley and a few yak around.

The sun made a rare and welcome appearance at the pass, lighting up the impressive scenery.

There was plenty of mud to navigate on the long descent from the pass to our camp at Shomuthang, at 3,950m above sea level only a 100m higher than where we started the day. The campsite was on a slope, causing a few challenges not to end up at the bottom of my tent overnight. Soon after arriving at camp steady rain set in for the rest of the afternoon, evening and night, typical at this time of year.

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