By Beth Whitman, on December 25, 2014
Snowman Trek: a journey in photos
By now you know about the epic Snowman Trek I took through Bhutan’s Himalayas in the fall of 2014.
This 25-day, 220-mile journey was, without a doubt, the most difficult adventure I have undertaken (so far). That said, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I’m already planning to do it again in 2016.
No two days on the trek were alike. At times we experienced rain, near-whiteout conditions, and mud so thick our hiking boots nearly got stuck. There were many days of sheer beauty, as well. We spent most of the trek at more than 15,000 feet (and once we climbed above 18,000 feet), so the air was still and the mountain views clear.
I managed to take hundreds of images along our journey. Here is a sampling.
Most of the mountains in Bhutan are unnamed. Not this one. Table Mountain is named for its relatively flat appearance. Our guide told us this view, from the village of Thanza, included just a fraction of what is actually part of the range, as much of it is hidden by a closer mountain.
We had been told to expect turquoise-colored lakes throughout the trek, but nothing could have prepared us for the beauty of these sights. Many of the lakes were surrounded by snow-dusted mountains. It was not uncommon for us to come around a bend or make our way to the top of a mountain and be blessed with a view such as this.
Every pass we crossed (there were more than a dozen of them) was adorned with prayer flags. Flags of many sizes and shapes are found throughout Bhutan and, most often, at the highest point of any village or passable mountain.nSymbolic of luck, long life, prosperity, and happiness, the flags are thought to deliver your prayers to the wind, which then carries them away. We had our flags blessed by a monk prior to our departure, and, on auspicious days determined by the Buddhist calendar, we hung them at the highest passes so that our luck and good fortune might continue throughout the trek.
Glacial lake outburst floods
Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) are a threat to this region, particularly as glaciers melt due to global warming. Right now, there are more than a dozen potential GLOFs that may one day break open, threatening floods to nearby villages. Such a tragedy happened here in 1994. In addition to wiping out villages and killing villagers, that year’s GLOF ruined Punakha Dzong, Bhutan’s most beloved monastery, located more than 55 miles away. The glacier above the lake in this photo is, remarkably, about 100 stories high.
During our longest hiking day, which comprised about nine hours of hiking, we experienced the most beautiful landscapes. At more than 17,000 feet, we were surrounded by snow-capped mountains and turquoise lakes.
All the glaciers and year-round snow produce so much water that hydroelectric power is Bhutan’s No. 1 revenue producer (most of it is sold to India). We were almost always near water of some kind: lakes, streams, or raging rivers such as this one. It’s worth noting that a number of times we had to cross rivers without the use of a bridge, as bridges regularly get washed away during the rainy season. In these cases we’d either find a large tree branch to slowly make our way across or be forced to take off our shoes and cross barefoot on the slippery rocks.