This trek is recognized by enthusiasts as the toughest trek in the world because its altitude, distance, climate and remoteness
This trek is recognized by enthusiasts as the toughest trek in the world because of its altitude, distance, climate and remoteness. At the same time, the Lunana region of Bhutan is one of the most beautiful areas of the world and the least visited.
Though many do not finish the entire trek, we have developed a plan that will help anyone complete the entire distance in 18 days. We have included acclimatization (first 3 days in Bhutan), rest days, and cultural experiences that will refresh and encourage you along the way. You do not have to be brave, you just have to have to be determined. Your experienced guide will help you set the needed pace for each day of the trek.
Careful planning for each trek to the Lunana region includes our expert local guide, pack horses, cold weather equipment, and a cook. From the time you arrive you will be cared for and know exactly what to expect. Your guides are also prepared for any emergency that could happen.
Day 1. Arrive Kathmandu. transfer to hotel.
You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. You might like to venture out to Thamel for your evening meal, or eat in the hotel restaurant if you are tired from your journey.Overnight: Shangri La Hotel, Kathmandu
Da 2. Fly to Paro, 2,250m/7,380ft.
Transfer for the flight to Paro, the country's only airstrip. The flight often gives fantastic views of the Himalaya, including Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga. Particularly exciting is the section through the Bhutanese foothills and the thrilling landing. Try to sit on the left-hand side of the plane. On arrival you will be met by your Bhutanese Guide. You should have time to look around Paro township this afternoon.Overnight: Hotel Olathang Or Similar, Paro
Day 3. Sightseeing in the Paro Valley. Walk to Taktsang Monastery.
Today you will walk up to the famous 'Tiger's nest', Taktsang Monastery, perched some 2,000ft/609m up on a cliff overlooking the Paro valley and one of the iconic buildings of Bhutan. It is said to be the spot where the legendary Indian saint, Guru Padma Sambhava flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to defeat five demons who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. The walk, which will provide good acclimatization, is quite steep and takes about 2-3 hours to go up - less to descend. You may choose to walk just as far as the tea house for fantastic views or climb to some prayer flags just above where the views are even better. If there is a particular religious gathering or VIP visit in progress, you will not be able to enter the Monastery but in any case it is worth climbing for a further half hour beyond the tea house to another viewpoint directly across from the monastery. If you are allowed to visit the temple itself you have to descend steeply from this viewpoint about 100m/330ft on steps, only to climb again to reach the temple where it clings to the rock face. It was built to be isolated!
You then descend to your vehicle and return to your hotel. In the afternoon you will have time to relax and prepare for your trek. You will have time for further sightseeing in the Paro Valley on your free day on return from your trek. Overnight: Hotel Olathang Or Similar, Paro
Day 4. Trek to Kyichu, drive to Gunitsawa, short walk to Shana, 2,788m/9,147ft – 5-6 hours walking.
You leave the hotel and walk up a hill to a village. You continue trekking along forested ridges until you reach Kyichu. Here you will visit the ancient temple of Kyichu Lhakang, one of the oldest in Bhutan, which was one of 108 temples built by Songtsen Gampo an important early Tibetan king, to pin down the Bon demon that was thought to hover over the whole of Tibet. You go down to the road where our vehicle will take you to the setting-off point at Shana for the trek to Chomolhari base camp . You may need to walk the final hour or so down the track as the road is not always in the best of condition Overnight: Camp
Day 5. Trek to Soi Thangthanka, 3,519m/11,545ft - 7-8 hours.
The route follows the river in heavily-forested country, with isolated farmhouses and plenty of wildlife. The Bhutanese advise you to walk in pairs as there are bears in this area. You pass a junction en-route, where another path leads north over the Tremo La to Tibet. Spencer Chapman crossed the Tremo La in 1937 on his way to climb Chomolhari. Overnight: Camp
Day 6 Trek to Jangothang, 4,080m/13,386ft - 5-6 hours.
It is worth getting up early to photograph the dawn colours on Bhutan's second highest mountain, Chomolhari, which is framed at the end of the valley. After about an hour's walk, you slowly leave the forest line and gradually climb into a beautiful valley, passing Tengethang, a winter home of Yak herdsmen. You should see lots of yaks today before you arrive at a large round hut, which is the base camp for Chomolhari. The 7,314m/23,997ft high mountain overlooks the camp and nearby there are the ruins of an old fortress, which used to guard Bhutan against Tibetan invasion.Overnight: Camp
Day 7. Rest and acclimatisation day.
Today you will the have chance to acclimatise and walk up to the Chomolhari glacier ( If the path is in condition) or to visit some lakes in the opposite direction. On the walk to the lakes it is not unusual to see Blue Sheep plus birds of prey, also keep your eyes peeled for Marmot. There is time to relax in the afternoon.
Here you usually transfer your luggage to yaks.Overnight: Camp
Day 8. Trek to Lingshi, 4,149m/13,612ft, crossing the Nyele La Pass, 4,694m/15,400ft - 6-7 hours.
You will have a good day's walking today with spectacular views of several stunning Himalayan peaks, including Jitchu Drake, 6,850m/22,470ft, and Tsering Kang, 6,994m/22,946ft. You start climbing straight away and after some 3-4 hours reach the Nyelela Pass at an altitude of 4,694m/15,400ft. You pass yak herders' pastures and will see, if they are still in the area, their camps. Coming down to Lingshi there are the first views of a dzong atop its 600ft/183m high hill. The Dzong is still standing despite being badly damaged by an earthquake which has made it too dangerous to visit. Overnight: Camp
Day 9. Trek to Chebisa, 3,849m/12,628ft - 5-6 hours.
This is a magical day. Leaving Lingshi behind, you contour and climb gently to reach another delightful village, Gang Yul which is set right below a 300m/1,000ft cliff. Another hour's walking brings you to a lovely little valley with a huge waterfall at one end and the Shangri-la village of Chebisa, where you camp by the side of the river. Very leisurely walking today, with plenty of reasons and opportunities to linger.Overnight: Camp
Day 10. Trek to Shomuthang, 3,954m/12,972ft, crossing the Gobu La Pass, 4,349m/14,268ft - 6-7 hours.
A walk up to the chorten en route to the waterfall before breakfast is recommended for lovely early morning views of the valley. You will have quite a stiff climb up to the Gobula at 4,349m/14,268ft, before dropping to a deserted valley and crossing a river to camp alongside it.
Note: You may, if time and energy allow, opt to go onto a higher camp site just below the Jarela Pass which makes the next day a lot more do-able Overnight: Camp
Day 11. 4,409m/14,465ft, crossing the Jarela Pass, 4,599m/15,088ft - 7-8 hours.
There is now a long haul over the Jarela at 4,599m/15,088ft, where once again you get stunning all-round views and the mountain of Tsering Kang 6,994m/22,946ft. You drop steeply down a forest trail to the Tcharijathang Valley, where herds of Takin are said to roam at certain times of the year and then cross a knee-deep river before climbing up to Robulathang where you camp.
Day 12. Trek to Limithang, 4,140m/13,583ft, crossing the Shingela La, 4,899m/16,072ft - 6-7 hours.
This is one of the hardest days of the trek. You climb slowly up to the Shingela, which takes some 5 hours, to be rewarded with stunning views of mountains, including the spectacular Gangchentak 6,794m/22,290ft at the head of the valley. On a clear day, almost all the mountains on the northern border are clearly visible, 10-20 miles distant. Eagles, Griffin Vultures, Blue Sheep and yak abound in this area and on your descent you may once again see nomadic yak-herders. On the way down you will pass a glacial lake that recently burst through the moraine that contained it; the remains of the flood damage are still evident. You camp in a lovely spot by the river bank. Overnight: Camp
Day 13. Trek to Laya, 3,700m/12,139ft - 4-5 hours.
You will have a relatively leisurely walk today alongside the river to reach the largest village on the trek, though the walk does entail quite a bit of ascent and decent and quite a stiff climb. The people of Laya are famous for their vertically striped yak-hair clothing and strange conical bamboo hats. The women wear their hair long and have a great deal of turquoise and jade jewellery. The features of the people are even more Tibetan/Mongolian than the Bhutanese who live in the central valleys. The rest of the day is spent at leisure or visiting the village. Good views of Masagang, 7,165m/23,507ft, and other peaks.Overnight: Camp
Day 14 Rest day in Laya.During your rest day there will be an opportunity to meet local people. Hot stone baths are also on offer, something not to be missed. Overnight: Camp
Day 15. Trek from Taksaka to Rodhophu, 4,121m/13,520ft - 6-7 hours.
You descend from the village a long way down into the start of the gorge. Look out for the ancient wooden gateway leaving the village. It is an hour, or two to reach the small army post of Taksaka. After a further half hour down the gorge you turn left, 3,240m/10,630ft, and start to head east towards Lunana. This is the start of your journey to Lunana proper.
Turning east you gradually climb through forest to a clearing with the remains of an old hut. There may be nomads camped near here. You proceed in and out of the tree line, all the time climbing gradually into a high altitude valley with an impressive river and rapids. Eventually, you enter a flat-bottomed valley ringed with rocky mountains. This is a long hard day and if the weather is inclement can be quite a challenge. Overnight: Camp
Day 16 Trek to below Gangla Karchung La, 4,900m/16,000ft. Cross Tsome La Pass, 4,709m/15,450ft - 5-6 hours.
2-3 hours walking brings you to a small pass called the Tsome La, 4,709m/15,450ft. You are now in a region that is totally remote and exceedingly beautiful and as the day wears on the views and remoteness become even more acute. After the pass the route crosses an undulating series of ridges and then contours around a large mountainside; you may see a yak herders camp below. On and on, closer and closer to Gangla Karchung, until it rises sheer in front of you. This is one of the few mountains in Bhutan that has been climbed - in this case by a French expedition. The campsite below the face is spectacular. Overnight: Camp
Day 17. Cross the Gangla Karchung La, 5,081m/16,670ft, to Tarina, 4,000m/13,120ft - 6-7 hours.
The climb up to the pass is rewarded by wonderful views of the glacial lakes and Kang Bum, 7,100m/23,294ft, hemmed in by moraine dams at the head of the first of the Lunana valleys. These lakes are the source of the Po Chu and are like snakes twisting down the valley. The path then runs down through a wide belt of rhododendron and is extremely steep and slippery. It is a long decent. A choice of various camp sites are available amongst stunted heather. Overnight: Camp
Day 18. Trek to camp above Woche, 3,819m/12,530ft - 6-7 hours.
A pleasant walk down the valley past a clearing named Tarina. The valley is hemmed in by rock walls and rocky peaks on all sides. Every half mile, spectacular waterfalls come thundering into the valley with its pine clad hillsides. The valley itself is a mass of colourful heather, flowers, brushwood, with no sign of human habitation. Finally, there is a steep climb through the forest at the end of the valley and contouring round to the first Lunana village of Woche. There are only thirteen households in Woche. You may possibly visit a house and have yak butter tea and be given an interesting talk by your guide into aspects of the way of life for the people of Lunana. You will certainly be treated with great hospitality. Overnight: Camp
Day 19 Trek to Lhedi, 3,700m/12,140ft, across the Kashe La Pass, 4,435m/14,550ft - 6-7 hours.
From the the camp site near the river there is a steep haul to cross the Kashe La, 4,435m/14,550ft. On the way you pass a sacred lake, a beautiful pea green colour, into which you should not throw stones as this will anger the spirit of the lake. Continuing, there is a huge cairn of stones and prayer flags on the pass before walking down the other side quite steeply, to the little village of Tegar. Watch out for the very pretty chorten just before the village. Again, take pleasure in watching and participating in Bhutanese family life before carrying on towards the day's stop at Lhedi. The path now contours high above another big river, eventually dropping to it. There is a particularly exciting cantilever bridge over a roaring torrent coming down between two cliffs. Lhedi is a string of houses on a terrace high above the river, rock walls behind and terraced fields in front. Overnight: Camp
Day 20. Trek to Thanza, 3,969m/13,020ft - 7-8 hours.
There is an interesting little temple above Lhedi, which is well worth the climb, before starting off towards the upper valleys of Lunana. On a previous trip we were lent the services of a 10 year old boy who guided us for the day and we stayed with his relatives overnight. Firstly, you follow the river for several hours to a junction of valleys, the main river flowing out of a much higher plateau down through numerous rapids. You cross another exciting cantilever bridge, to a large chorten where you stop for lunch. Once into the upper valley it broadens right out flat, with the river forming lakes and broad reaches and shortly afterwards you arrive at the village of Chozo. This is the only village that has a dzong in Lunana, which is well worth a detour to take a peek at. The people of Lunana are very superstitious and have very strong beliefs in the spirits of seven Tibetan brothers who many hundreds of years previously were defeated in a battle in Tibet. Each of these spirits dwells in their own locality in Lunana. The most powerful, Chumna, lives in a wood near the dzong of Chozo.
Carrying on across the plain, (look out for the large area of rippled sand) you eventually reach another rise into an even higher upper valley. Here there is a big village split either side of the river. To the north are the rock-walls behind which is the 7,300m/24,000ft Table Mountain and to the south are more snowy mountains. Again the village people are friendly, although they see very few westerners. Thanza is the largest village in Lunana. Overnight: Camp
Day 21. Rest day in Thanza.
The rest day today will be well-earned and extremely welcome. You may wish to do a few personal chores before spending time wandering around the village, meeting people and discovering something of the hard way of life of these remote tribes-people. Overnight Camp
Day 22. Trek to before Gophu La, stop at Tshorim, 5,051m/16,570ft - 6-7hours.
You will climb steadily for an hour to a cairn, undoubtedly sad to be leaving Thanza, but full of excitement about crossing the Gophu La. Looking back down the valley, Chozo and its dzong can be picked out and as it is an early start, smoke will still be drifting off the roofs of all the houses in the villages below. You carry on now, up a valley, more rapids and minor waterfalls, towards a large, pointed rock peak at its head. Slowly, but surely you come opposite the granite mountain, to have lunch in a circular low stone wall shelter. Carrying on, the scenery becomes more magnificent, until you camp near a lake surrounded by snowy peaks. This camp can be very cold at night though. Overnight: Camp
Day 23. Cross the Gophu La, 5,243m/17,200ft, to Geche Woma, 4,450m/14,600ft - 8 hours.
This surely must be one of the most beautiful trek days anywhere in the Himalaya. Try to see the sunrise, as the pink colours on the high snows are really fabulous. It is, in fact, not far to climb to the main pass, skirting around the edges of lakes, which, on a still day, mirror the ice-fluted peaks that you are passing between. As you come to the Gophu La, the highest mountain in Bhutan, Gangkar Punsum, 7,550m/24,770ft, towers above the horizon. It seems to be a piece of earth elevated to a higher, purer plain and is completely dazzling. It is a long and tiring descent to Geshe Woma. This is just a camping place with old fires and semi-stone shelters and wind breaks, in a deep valley below the pass. Coming down into the valley look back and see a 'Rupert Bear' peak framed at the end - perfectly conical and if you are lucky, ringed with cloud. Overnight: Camp
Day 24. Cross the Saga La pass, 4,760m/15,617ft. Trek to Sachu Kheti, 4,152m/13,612ft - 6-7 hours.
The path follows on down the valley now, completely uninhabited, before a track leads back up the hillside to a small plateau. From there it climbs for 45 minutes to the lunch spot. After a welcome rest you cross a small pass and wind down to some yak herder huts. You then cross a narrow defile, past a large slope of sand, perhaps part of the old Tethyan Ocean. Coming to the top of the slope you are faced with an amazingly beautiful lake, locked in by a circle of rocky peaks, with a path contouring up and around to a col, the Saga La Pass. From this pass you drop down to a wonderful camp site, next to a small lake, with cliffs and rocky peaks all around. This is long day and the leader may consider splitting it. Overnight: Camp
Day 25. Cross unamed pass, 4,445m/14,583ft, trek to Demsho Wom, 4,425m/14,517ft - 5 1/2 hours.
A fabulous day as you strike out for a week into the mainly uninhabited stretch of mountains between you and the road head. There are many blue sheep in this area. From camp it is steeply, but easily, down for an hour to a bridge. Stop and enjoy watching the yaks cross over. It is now a lovely afternoon climbing slowly up to a small 'pass' above the camp at Demsho Wom. The climb takes about 3½ hours including a brief lunch stop. As you get higher there is a great vertical cliff on your right. To your left is a stream cascading over the lip of a valley above and crashing down steep rapids. Looking back you can see the other side you have just descended, and the horizon is a line of snow peaks and cliffs. The granite ridges produce odd shaped towers, unusual spires, mushrooms of rock and great cantilevered flakes. There are the sounds of Himalayan pheasants and choughs, and rhododendron everywhere. You also get views of the Saga La Pass. The path contours improbably and rises to a small pass. Camp lies just below, next to the stream. A huge valley meanders off to your right with more intriguing peaks and cliffs. Overnight: Camp
Day 26. Cross Demsho La pass, 4,725m/15,502ft, and continue trek to Tshering Dorji Yak Herder Camp, 4,190m/13,747ft - 6 hours.
The yaks are gathered and you're off again. In 2016 the yak men had names for all the yaks. One recalcitrant one was call Psycho! What a day! Another big challenge. 45 mins from camp you come to a large lake, Demsho Lake, and above that two smaller lakes. Now you turn right for the pass which may be snow covered. In 2016 we saw the tracks of fox and snow leopard. Just near the pass we saw, close to, a small rodent-like creature with ears like small saucers. We also saw three deer sprinting across the snow. Below the pass is a huge, beautiful valley containing two big lakes, one behind the other. You are so far from civilisation now. The air is clean and clear and nature is completely unspoilt. A magical place. From the end of the second lake you come to a 'lip' in the valley which falls away below you. The stream is like a snake heading off into the distance. Further down you come to some hillocks on your left and behind one of these is a yak herder's summer hut belonging to Tshering Dorji and his wife Pem Dem. They live here for 7 months of the year. Pem's brother Namgay lives over the other side of the hill to the east. Camp below their hut. Overnight: Camp
Day 27. Rest and exploration day.
To begin with you will probably want to do a bit of clothes washing and maybe take a shower, write diaries and general admin stuff. There are several possibilities for local exploration. A good objective is to walk to the top of the long hill above camp to the east. The summit is 4,655m/15,272ft and gives fantastic views. It takes about 2 hours from camp. A beautiful lozenge shape lake lies below. There are other possibilities too, but we advise against trying to climb the sharper looking summit to the east as this involves some rock climbing! Overnight: Camp
Day 28. Cross small pass, 4,360m/14,340ft, trek to Padim, 4,325m/14,189ft - 5 hours
A grand day! You leave the lovely camp at Meluthang behind with its yak hut on the hill and its resident ravens, and it is steeply downhill for less than an hour to a bridge. After this it is a steep zig zag climb of 250m for an hour to then follow a traverse around a bowl in the mountains which climbs to a 'pass' and a small cairn. There is then a slanting descent to above a most beautiful lake. It is hemmed in by mountains and granite cliffs and is a lovely colour of green. The path goes around the lake, but several hundred feet above it, eventually climbing up and out of this bowl with big drops below, to a level grassy platform. This platform gives the most wonderful views of the massive main valley stretching several days hard walking in either direction. Hugely impressive! The mountains you have passed through are stacked on the horizon. Leading off the main valley are many side valleys, and right opposite is the valley where Tshering Dorji, Pem Dem, their son Wangchuk and their herd of yaks live. Beyond their valley is the one Namgay lives in, and beyond that again are various other valleys that the herders from the Tongsa region inhabit in the summer. It is said there is a path that leads to Gangkar Punsum heading north, but for humans only; it is too difficult for animals. That must be something!! After soaking up the view the path traverses around the mountainside to a small bowl with room to camp. If the weather is kind the sunset and sunrise from this eyrie are sensational. Overnight: Camp
Day 29. Trek across the Khemi La, 4,340m/14,239ft, to below the Chachi La, 4,210m/13,812ft - 7 hours.
Worth getting up early for the fiery orange sunrise over the peaks to the east and north. In 2016 it was here that a 4 year old yak was given its first load. He did not like it at all and ran around bucking and jumping much to everyone's amusement. A steep short path leads to a small unmarked pass, and then there is a very fine path to the left of the mountain leading to the Khemi La marked by a cairn and prayer flags. One hour to the pass. Fantastic views on both sides of un-named, un-climbed mountains on both sides of the pass in an un-known area. Our guide and our cook had been this way previously with friends and came upon a herd of thirty Takin here. It is now three hours to the river far below (3,560m/11,680ft). As you get nearer the river there is a massive rock wall on your right. The bridge and the ferocious rapids stun and amaze, and lunch will probably be taken near here. Then it is a long ascent through giant moss encrusted rhododendron with a thundering stream to the left. A 565m climb brings you to a huge lake penned in by mountains. The sting in the tail is another forty minutes to a great camp above the lake. Overnight: Camp
Day 30. Trek to Maurothang, 3,480m/11,417ft, across the Chachi la pass, 4,570m/14,993ft - 6-7 hours.
Above camp is another lake which is traversed on the east to enter a small cwm. Half an hour to the lake, half an hour to the top of the cwm. Now the climb to the pass begins in earnest. The pass could well be snow covered. Again to reach the Chachi La Pass is about an hour from the head of the cwm. Great exultation on reaching the pass, the last big crossing! Many a group photo is needed here. If there is snow on the pass then again you may well see evidence of wild animals. Wonderful, wonderful views and on a clear day you can see Gangkar Punsum and many, many of the biggest peaks on the border with Tibet. There is a great colossus of a black rock peak looming over the pass too. Now begins the big descent. An hour brings you above a lake fed by a stream in the shape of a serpent. Civilisation approaches! First a summer village of 13 huts, and at the bottom of the valley another 7 huts. Then you reach a junction with the main path coming from Lunana. This is the route many parties use. Five and a half hours from last night's camp to this point. Fifteen minutes more and you reach the first shop, but it is still an hour to the flat campsite of Maurothang. Here in 2016 one of the yak men cut his leg to the bone by accident and we had to turn the Mess Tent into an Operating Theatre to clean the wound and stitch it up! Overnight: Camp
Day 31. Trek to Sephu, 2,815m/9,235ft - 6 hours. Drive to Punakha - 3 1/2 hours
The last day's trekking! It is a long walk down the valley, mainly through forest. The path is pretty 'bouldery' and focus is needed. After the first hour you cross the main river to the left bank. Another forty five minutes brings you to a rather odd pagoda. Several more bridges and forested paths lie ahead with ever increasing signs of human habitation. Finally you come to the end of the trek at the Wangchuck Centennial National Park sign and transport awaits. In 2016 four or five of our yak herders wrestled with several of their yaks tilting their heads up so that they could pour down their throats a full bottle of olive oil 'to keep them strong' and we all laughed long and loud!! All aboard the magic bus to hot baths, warm comfortable beds and beer in Punakha. Overnight: Zhingkham Resort
Day 32. Drive to Paro - 4 hours.
You will have time in the morning to do a little sightseeing in Punakha. A visit to the dzong is a dazzling experience. It is one of the largest and oldest monastery fortresses in Bhutan and the history and legends surrounding it are fascinating.
In the afternoon you will drive over the Dochu La pass, and bypassing Thimphu, you will carry on to the Paro valley.Overnight: Hotel
Day 33. Fly to Kathmandu. Afternoon at leisure.
Again, a sensational take-off and scenic Himalayan flight, including views of Chomolhari that you trekked past. In Kathmandu, you transfer back to the Shangri La Hotel, with time to relax reflect on you adventure and for a celebratory last dinnerOvernight: Shangri La Hotel, Kathmandu
Day 34. Fly to Back.
After breakfast there will be a group transfer to the airport for your flight back to London.
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