Days twelve to fourteen of the Luana Snowman Trek, following for the first time a track only used by the Snowman. The previous tracks had been shared with the Jhomolhari Circuit, Jhomolhari Trek, and Laya-Gasa Trek. Even so there was hardly anyone around, we saw far more locals on the tracks than other hikers, helped by everyone walking in one direction so we’d only meet other groups at camp.
The challenge of the Snowman became apparent when we lost three members of our group after Laya. They decided after eleven days on the track to leave at this point, the only opportunity to do so before the final fifteen days of hiking. They had different reasons for leaving, it was a real shame that they didn’t continue with us, but their reasons were understandable.
We walked the Snowman at the same time as a private group of two American couples. One of the couples (the ones who had persuaded the others to do the walk) also left at this point as the husband had a chest infection. From here the track goes up to around 5,000m about sea level. Altitude and sickness isn’t a good combination, even a small cut on my finger took weeks to heal.
After a rest day in Laya it was a bit of a struggle to get back into walking. We headed down the valley, past plenty of chortens and prayer flags, and through more thick mud, a constant feature of the Snowman.
By mid-morning we started a thousand metre ascent up to our campsite at Rodophu, with increasingly expansive views of the wooded valley.
There was no high altitude pass to cross but this was still one of the longer days on the Snowman, heading up a rhododendron filled valley, reaching Rodophu by late afternoon.
The monsoon was finally coming to an end, but a low pressure system came in overnight, bringing rain and light snow on the hillsides surrounding the campsite. Yet again we were both lucky and unlucky with the weather, thick cloud obscured the views but the following day we only had light drizzle and snowfall during the day, with heavier rain not arriving until shortly after reaching camp at Narethang by mid afternoon.
The day started with a misty 800m climb through a lightly snow covered landscape.
Along the way was the surreal sight of more Rheum Nobile surrounded by snow, metre high tubular plants that appear to grow in nothing at high altitude.
There were more Rheum Nobile, and snow and prayer flags at the 4,905m high pass at Tsema La.
Shortly after we stopped for lunch, at much warmer spot than the photos may suggest, particularly as there was no wind.
There were more unending rocks and mud to navigate, but at least it was fairly flat to reach our campsite at Narethang, 4,900m above sea level, easily the highest we’d slept so far on the Snowman. It was rather cold, even wearing four merino tops, a thick fleece, three down jackets, a waterproof jacket, two pairs of socks, thermal long johns, fleece trousers, normal trousers, mittens, two scarfs, and two hats! A decent coating of snow fell during the evening and overnight.
Across from the campsite is the epic 6,395m high Gangla Karchung, parts of which briefly appeared but had disappeared again by the time I got my camera. It was clear but unphotographable at 5am, and half an hour later when the sun started to rise it was hidden by cloud again.
Thankfully by breakfast time at 7am the clouds finally cleared and on the 13th day of hiking the Snowman we finally got our first clear view of a big Himalayan mountain.
The other mountains around also looked pretty good with a fresh coating of snow.
Narethang to Tarina is one of the longest days on the Snowman, ~17km long with ~250m of ascent to cross the 5,240m pass at Karchung La, and ~1,200m of descent down to campsites by the Tarina river at 3,900m. Unfortunately it was even harder for me as I came down with an upset stomach overnight, making the ascent over the pass particularly challenging, fighting for oxygen while feeling unusually weak.
Thankfully the views were clear from the pass and I could have a small rest.
The hard work wasn’t over though with undulating terrain along the valley. Thankfully as the descent got much steeper, and as muddy as usual on the Snowman, the clouds parted to offer a rare spectacular view ahead.
A pair of impressively large eagles were circling overhead.
Heading down the hillsides were covered in rhododendron, which would be incredible to see in bloom in spring, other than it is even wetter at that time of year than when I walked the Snowman in autumn.
The final couple of hours were spent walking along a very pleasant valley, filled with autumn colour, if little sunlight. After seven and a half hours of walking it was a relief to finally reach the campsite, ready for an early night and rest.