Alpine Club of Canada

WinterGazette2016

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A raven perches among strings of prayer flags on a chorten in Jangothang Laya village rests at 3,700 metres Punsum (7,564 metres), the world's tallest unclimbed mountain. We enjoyed the local cuisine prepared by our camp cook. Chillies are a national dish that, along with very potent rice liquor, amused the locals by their effect on foreigners. Nettle soup was a pleas‑ ant discovery. Our camp staff would use their spare time to gather wild herbs. e natural medicines of Bhutan are in such demand in Tibet, China and India that raiding parties are frequently discovered crossing the high passes during growing season. One coveted medicine is cordyceps sinensis or caterpillar fungus, which produces such riches on the black market that it has replaced the traditional livelihood of farm‑ ing and herding in some villages. Today you can spot the successful fungus pickers by their large houses with satellite dishes. While every day had its share of memories, those that remain most vivid are worth recounting. While descending a steep pass, we came upon a lone man struggling to haul a pair of heavy steel brick presses to his village for use in constructing a new school. As he had no money to contribute, his role was to bring the equipment and he'd been on the trail for two days! One afternoon we were entertained by a game played between our yak herders. A pop can was propped up some distance away and they proceeded to fling stones in an attempt to strike the can. ere seemed to be money involved and a good deal of shouting accompanied each suc‑ cessful strike. In fact, this was essential practice for their occupation. e yak, being a very stubborn animal, can only be as well as his three Bhutanese assistant guides and nine fellow trekkers. We were fully supported by ponies and occasion‑ ally yaks when the terrain warranted. With travel and rest days, plus time set aside for cultural tours, the entire trip was to occupy 35 days. Druk Yul is the traditional name for Bhutan, meaning Land of the under Dragon in their native Dzongkha dia‑ lect. It always brought a smile to the face of those we greeted with a friendly "Kuzoozangpo" or joined in shouting "Largyalo!" from the high passes. A big anticipation was seeing the forbidden peaks of Bhutan, as the deeply Buddhist country has not allowed climbing for many years. A few of the giants we passed were Jomolhari (7,326 metres), a sacred mountain to Himalayan Buddhists; Jitchu Drake (6,990 metres); Gangchen Tag or Tiger Mountain (6,784 metres); Zongophu Kang or Table Mountain (7,094 metres); and Gangkar story and photos by dean albrecht More people have summited Everest than completed the Snowman Trek. T his statement was a tantaliz‑ ing advertisement for the epic Snowman Trek across the top of Bhutan. e route facts—360 kilometres in 28 days, crossing eight mountain passes mostly above 5,000 metres—seemed to reinforce its reputation as the world's toughest trek. Recently retired, my spouse, Diane, and I were looking to celebrate with just such an ultimate challenge in an exotic location. e tiny Kingdom of Bhutan resides in the Himalayas between India and Tibet. We imagined it as the last Shangri‑La, famous for measuring Gross National Happiness alongside Gross Domestic Production. e Royal Government of Bhutan recognizes trekking as a benefit to remote communities that may otherwise suffer during a period of rapid urbanization. To this end, they impose a minimum spend‑ ing requirement (currently $250 USD daily in the high season) to support local econ‑ omies. Included is a "sustainable tourism" tax that contributes to Bhutan's free education and healthcare. Independent travel is forbidden and tourists must be accompanied by a licensed Bhutanese cul‑ tural guide provided through an approved tour company. It was late September when we flew from Edmonton to Kathmandu and then on to Bhutan's only international airport at Paro where we met our guide from UK‑based e Mountain Company, Members visit Druk Yul—Land of the Thunder Dragon

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