Trip Number: 13745A
Price: $5,795 (12-15)
$6,345 (or fewer)
Staff: Kate Froman
- Trek to the base of Gangkar Puensum, Bhutan's highest mountain
- Savor stunning views of Himalayan villages, landscapes, and wildlife
- Explore the Buddhist approach of respect for life and ecosystem protection
- Experience the culture of one of the least-known countries in the world
- All meals, lodging, transportation while in Bhutan, guides, entrance
and park fees, and tips
- Full-service trek with camp staff and ponies to carry our gear
Please note that the leader has changed from what was originally published. If you
have questions, please
Photo: Richard Fite
Bhutan is a world of monasteries, mysticism, towering glaciated mountains,
and ancient cultural spiritual traditions. Thanks to its isolation, small population,
mountainous terrain, and the national religion of Buddhism that stresses the
sanctity of all life, Bhutan has been able to protect its forests and wildlife.
As a result this tiny kingdom possesses one of the last truly intact, large-scale
ecosystems in the Himalayas.
This itinerary offers an exhilarating nine-day trek through stunning mountain
scenery, as well as cultural touring through breathtaking valleys and the country’s
most interesting regions. We will explore the cultural heritage of Bhutan, both
before and after the trek, by including visits to Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Trongsa,
and Bumthang, with their spectacular monasteries, temples, craft centers, and
local markets. While on tour, we will stay in comfortable local hotels.
Our trek begins near Bumthang, which itself is considered to be the most beautiful
and sacred valley in Bhutan. The trail heads to the north, toward the Tibet
border and the base of Bhutan’s highest mountain, majestic Gangkar Puensum.
At 24,735 feet, this ice-draped giant is the highest unclimbed peak in the world
and will remain so, as Bhutan has declared it off limits to climbers. The route
to the base is particularly rewarding as it is off the beaten track and rarely
used by trekkers. In fact it is likely that we will not encounter another group.
The changing landscape offers views of snowcapped peaks, profound forests, stark
plateaus, and high mountain passes festooned with Buddhist prayer flags. While
crossing the wild uplands at 15,670 feet (the highest point on the trek), we
look for blue sheep and other forms of rare wildlife that inhabit this mystical
land. During the treks, we will have the delightful opportunity to visit with
local farmers, yak herders, and their families. They normally have little interaction
with outsiders and look forward to warmly greeting the few visitors they receive
each year. There is no substitute for seeing Bhutan any other way but by an
Photo: Richard Fite
Day 1: Bangkok-Paro & Thimphu
The flight into Paro on the national carrier, Druk Air, is a fitting introduction
to the spectacular beauty of this country. In clear weather, magnificent views
of the world's highest peaks give way to the lush, green Paro Valley (7,992
feet) as we land. Even at the airport, it's clear that spirituality infuses
all aspects of life in the Dragon Kingdom. The transparent purity of the air
and absence of noise, fragrance of pine and burning juniper plants, and views
of monasteries, stupas, and prayer flags dotting the valley will initially make
us feel like we have landed on a different planet. Our Bhutanese escort will
greet us on arrival, and take us to Thimphu, the capital city.
Day 2: Thimphu sightseeing
We will visit King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk Memorial Chorten; Dupthop Lhakhang (monastery
for the nuns); National Library, Painting School, where traditional art is still
kept alive through instructions in the art of painting thangkhas (sacred Buddhist
religious scrolls); and the Medicine Institute, where traditional medicines
are prepared according to ancient practices. After lunch we will visit Lungtenzampa
to observe the traditional silversmiths plying their crafts, and tour the Bhutanese
traditional paper factory. We will return to Thimphu to visit handicraft stores
and stroll around this tiny capital city.
Day 3: Thimphu-Punakha (4,500 feet)
We will depart for Punakha early, before the clouds come in to block the views
of Bhutan’s snowcapped mountains that are best seen on the way from Dochula
Pass. The road leaving Thimphu climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar,
festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochula Pass (10,460 feet /3,140
m). This pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges, which
we also see as we descend along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley
of Punakha (1,350 meters/ 4,162 feet). We take a short 30-minute hike to Chimi
Lhakhang temple, which is dedicated to a great yogi in the 14th century, by
the name of Drukpa Kuenley, popularly known as the "Divine Madman"
to westerners. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility.
Once back to the main road, we will drive to a local hotel for lunch. After
lunch we will drive to visit Punakha Dzong, a majestic fortress situated between
Pho Chu and Mochu rivers.
Day 4: Punakha-Trongsa (7,200 feet)
We start early for the drive to the central valleys of Bhutan through the breathtaking
beauty of Bhutan’s rich flora and fauna. As we cross the fertile valley
of Punakha and enter into the valley of Wangdue Phodrang, we take an opportunity
to view the majestic fortress of Wangdue Dzong, which stands at the confluence
of two rivers. We then climb steadily through semi-tropical vegetation to Pele
la Pass (10,989 feet). With an alpine environment of rhododendrons and dwarf
bamboo, the pass is considered the boundary between western and eastern Bhutan.
During clear weather we can view the high snowcapped peaks of Mount Chomolhari
(24,355 feet). From here we will make a brief stop at Chendebji Chorten, built
in the 18th century by a Lama known to nail into the ground a demon who had
been terrorizing the valley. As we enter Trongsa valley, a huge fortress called
the Trongsa Dzong comes into view. It sits on a narrow cliff hovering over the
gorge of the Mangde River. The view overlooks routes to the south and west and
extends for many miles. In former times nothing could escape the vigilant watch
of the Dzong’s watchmen.
Photo: Richard Fite
Day 5: Trongsa-Jakar (8,500 feet)
This morning we will visit the majestic Trongsa Dzong. It was built in 1647
and was the source of many important historical events in the making of modern
Bhutan. We will first visit a Bhutanese bazaar and walk from there to the Dzong.
After the Trongsa Dzong we will continue to Taa Dzong, an ancient watchtower
that now houses the best museum in Bhutan. Here we can see many ancient religious
works of art called Thangkhas. We will continue on our journey to Bumthang by
crossing the Yotongla Pass and into the first valley of Bumthang. We will stop
at Tsungney village to observe weavers working with the famous Bumthang fabric
known as Yathra. After this stop we will arrive at the Chokhor Valley. We will
check into our hotel, where you might decide to use the hotel’s spa.
Day 6: Jakar sightseeing
We will start our day of sightseeing around Chokhor valley by first visiting
one of the many holy temples in the area. This temple, called Jambay Lhakhang,
was built in the 7th century by a Tibetan king, Songtsen Gonpo. Our next stop
will be at Kurjey monastery, where the great tantric saint Padmasambhava subdued
a local deity known as Shelging Karpo. We will then cross the Chamkhar River
over a suspension bridge and we will arrive at Tamshing Lhakhang.
Day 7: Jakar-Chokmey (10,600 feet)
Today we will travel to the trailhead of Dur Zam, where our packhorses will
be waiting. After the gear is loaded on the horses, we will begin hiking to
the village through bamboo thickets along the Dur Chu (Chu means river) and
up a fairly steep, 600-foot incline to a beautiful meadow surrounded by blue
pines and spruce. After the climb through the forest, we will camp at Chockmey
(10,600 ft, 5-6 hours, 8 miles).
Day 8: Chokmey-Loongsoom (11,600 feet)
It will be a short day. We will start by descending on a rocky trail to the
river. The trail continues to go up and down with a gradual gain of altitude
through the forests of cypress, pine, rhododendron, and birch. After several
crossings of the river, we will arrive at a small meadow that is surrounded
by junipers used by yak herders. (11,600 feet, 4-5 hours, about 5 miles).
Day 9: Loongsoom-Tashisa (13,600 feet)
We will ascend gradually through forests of rhodendron, fir, spruce, and juniper.
We will hike until we reach the treeline, which is surrounded by rocky cliffs,
arriving at Tashisa (meaning "where the horse died"). We will camp
at 13,600 feet. (4-5 hours, 5 miles).
Day 10: Tashisa-Dollythang (14,450 feet)
As we gain altitude, the trek will become more difficult. If the weather permits,
we may have views of distant glaciers and snowcapped peaks. We will ascend up
to Dolly La Pass (15,700 feet) on a rocky trail past a yak settlement and a
beautiful alpine lake where we may see Brahminy ducks. On our descent, we will
follow the stream until we reach our campsite at Dollythang (14,450 feet). We
enjoy the great views of the surrounding mountains. (5-6 hours, 8 miles).
Photo: Richard Fite
Day 11: Dollythang-Tsawa (12,900 feet)
Our trail today winds up and down, and is flanked by steep green valleys with
snowcapped ridges. We will drop about 600 feet, then descend more steeply into
forest of birch, juniper, and fir until we arrive at the confluence of Bumthang
Chu and Chamkhar Chu. We will pass yak pasture grounds and settlements, and
the town of Tsawu to an open meadow, where we'll set up our campsite (12,900
feet). We will get our first glimpse of the majestic snowcapped Gangkar Puensum
Mountain. (5-6 hours, 8 miles).
Day 12: Tsawa-Bumarpa (14,550 feet)
We will start our day along a very rocky trail winding in and out of spruce
and rhododendron forests until we reach the treeline. We will ascend steadily
until we reach dwarf rhododendrons and juniper. The valley broadens and we will
see the icy wall of Gangkar Puensum Mountain. We will camp in a high meadow
at Bumarpa (14,550 feet). From here we will see the three peaks of Gangkar Puensum.
(7-8 hours, 10 miles).
Day 13: Rest day, optional hike
On this rest day, we will enjoy spectacular views of Gangkar Puemsum; at over
24,000 feet, it is the tallest, unclimbed peak in the world. You may also take
a short hike along one of the local ridgelines to enjoy a better view of all
three of the mountain’s peaks. (4 hours hiking).
Day 14: Tsampa Gompa (12,300 feet)
We will retrace our steps back through the beautiful valley and to the meadow
near the confluence. We will camp at the Tsampa Monastery. (6-7 hours, 7 miles).
Day 15: Tsampa Gompa-Pethso (10,100 feet)
Today we will hike along the banks of Chamkhar Chu, up and down through forests
of rhododendron. By afternoon we will be hiking through large bamboo forests
as well as larch, spruce, juniper, and rhododendron. We will see many settlements
belonging to yak herders. There is a chance of seeing the red panda, but it
is very elusive. Tonight we'll set up camp at Petsho. (8-9 hours, 11 miles).
Photo: Richard Fite
Day 16: Petsho-Jakar
For a few hours this morning, our trail will lead us up and down rocky terrain
through bamboo, fir, and pine forests and along the rushing river. We will reach
some farming communities full of Bhutanese traditional houses, where wheat and
barley are cultivated. We will arrive at the trailhead at Toktu Zampa where
our cars will be waiting to bring us to our lodges for a hot shower.
Day 17: Jakar
We start our day of sightseeing around the valley, including a visit to famous
Kurjey Lhakhang. We will walk from Kurjey and visit the monastery known as Tamshing
Lhakhang. We will continue south through the valley to Badpalathang, where we
will visit Bhutan’s only beer factory. Finally, we will visit the Chamkhar
market and stroll in the small town.
Day 18: Jakar-Paro
We will drive to the small domestic airport in Jakar and take a short flight
to Paro. Sightseeing of Paro Valley includes Drukgyal Dzong, which was built
in 1647 and then destroyed by a fire. On a clear day, you can get a magnificent
view of Mount Chomolhari (23,990 feet). We will take a beautiful, leisurely
hike around the fortress. Next we will go to Satsam and see the stupa that holds
the remains of His Holiness Dilgo Khentse Rinpochey. We will then continue to
Kyichu Lhakhang, built in the seventh century by a Tibetan King, Songtsen Gonpo.
Finally, we will visit National Museum of Bhutan (Ta Dzong), which contains
works of art, handicrafts, costumes, armor, and rare stamps.
Day 19: Excursion to Tiger’s Nest (10,000 feet)
Today will go to Taktshang, meaning "Tiger's Nest," so named because
Guru Rimpoche reportedly flew to the site of the monastery on the back of a
flying tiger in the late centuries of the first millennium. The monastery is
perched on a cliff nearly 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley. The day’s
hike is not only historically and culturally interesting, but also incredibly
Day 20: Paro-Bangkok
We will rise early and proceed to the airport for a 7 a.m. flight back to Bangkok.
Photo: Richard Fite
The only way to get into Bhutan is on Druk Air, the national airline. Seats
on these flights are limited and applied for in conjunction with the country’s
visa entry application. The leader will co-ordinate these procedures for all
trip participants, applying for the whole group at the same time, but the costs
for the Bangkok-Paro and Paro-Bangkok flights are not included in the trip price.
Additional details with specific flight information will be sent to approved
trip members. The Druk Air flight will depart out of Bangkok very early in the
morning on October 7. You will need to make your own flight arrangements from
your home city so that you arrive in Bangkok by the evening of October 5 at
the latest -- which will accommodate any delays, cancellations, or give any
lost luggage a chance to catch up with you. If you miss the October 7 flight,
it will be difficult to obtain a seat on a later date.
Accommodations and Food
While staying in various towns, we will room in traditional hotels; each sharing
a double room with one other person. These hotels are simple but comfortable
and have adequate supplies of hot water for showers. On the road, we will travel
in a minibus with an experienced driver. On the nights of the trek, we will
be in dome tents; each person sharing with one other person.
After a day of trekking, as you crest the final rise before camp, there is
nothing like seeing the dining table with pots of hot tea and plates of cookies
waiting for you while the staff erects the tents and the cook busily prepares
dinner. While the menus are Bhutanese fare, the kitchen staff is familiar with
American preferences. Our lunches are prepared at breakfast time and are later
served on the trail, hot from insulated containers. The crew is well versed
with American standards of hygiene. Vegetarians are easily accommodated. If
you have any dietary requirements, be sure to discuss with the leader well in
advance. Trip members are encouraged to bring their own favorite high-energy
snacks for the trail.
In terms of water purification, boiled water and tea are always available for
drinking. Also, you will be provided with a plentiful supply of Micropur tablets.
Hot water is a precious commodity in Bhutan; a small quantity of washing water
will be supplied each morning, but do not expect copious amounts. Kerosene for
heating water is heavy, and in addition we need to do what we can to lessen
our burden on scarce resources.
Photo: Richard Fite
This trip is non-technical and suitable for anyone in good physical condition
who loves hiking and camping out. Most of the hiking will be between 9,000 and
13,000 feet, with a high pass of 15,670 feet. Our highest campsite will be at
about 14,500 feet. Our maximum elevation gain in one day will be about 3,000
feet, and our maximum altitude loss in one day will be approximately 3,500 feet.
While much of the trek is moderately strenuous, a few of the days are highly
strenuous and will require an early start. On all days, there will be many ups
and downs between the elevations indicated. The trails on this route are rocky,
steep, and often very muddy!
The combination of distance, elevation change, and altitude makes this a challenging
trek. Ideally trip members will have had previous experience and feel comfortable
hiking at altitudes above 12,000 feet with significant elevation changes. Trip
members should be comfortable hiking 8 to 11 miles a day at these elevations
while carrying a day pack. We try to allow a pace that is moderate and unregimented.
You are encouraged to walk at your own pace or in small groups.
A program of cardiovascular exercise, such as running, swimming, or biking
for aerobic conditioning will help trip members get into shape. Further exercise
such as hiking on local hills or climbing up and down steps is recommended as
the physical challenges on this trek will include not only the steep climbs
but also steep descents. Regular exercise will help you avoid knee issues on
these descents. Hiking poles are also recommended.
Equipment and Clothing
You must have a passport valid for at least six months beyond entry date into
Our guides will provide us with two-person dome tents, food, cooking and eating
utensils, and all shared group gear. Each participant will need to furnish his/her
own personal equipment, including boots, day pack, sleeping bag and pad, and
two duffel bags (one for city and one for trek). The trekking duffel bag should
weigh no more than 30 pounds. The second duffel bag, which may contain city
clothes and other personal items that you will not need on the trek, can be
left at the hotel in Bumthang during that period. Note that the total weight
of your gear should not exceed 44 pounds, unless you are prepared to pay overweight
charges on the Druk Air flights in and out of Bhutan. Do not bring anything
resembling a suitcase, nor an external-frame pack on this trip.
Photo: Richard Fite
The leader will provide extensive pre-trip information, including detailed
equipment and packing lists that are unique to this outing. Any questions about
the suitability of equipment should be addressed to the leader.
Bhutan is at the same latitude as Miami. Daytime temperatures will likely range
from a low of 40 degrees to a high of 75 degrees. Our higher elevation campsites
can have night temperatures as low as 15 degrees. There may be light snow on
the higher passes. Participants should be prepared for a variety of weather
conditions: rain, sleet, warm, dry, cold, wind, even snow. We will have to be
ready for all possibilities, and for this it is necessary to bring good quality,
mountain-tested, reliable, lightweight clothing.
Just as important as being fit is having a spirit of adventure. Above all,
you must be flexible and easily adapable to unanticipated changes and unpredictable
- Armington, Stan, Bhutan, Lonely Planet.
- Crossette, Barbara, So Close to Heaven.
- Hickman, Katie, Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon.
- Hellum, A.K., A Painter’s Year in the Forests of Bhutan.
- Pommaret, Francoise, Bhutan.
- Schaller, George, Stones of Silence.
- Snellgrove, David, Buddhist Himalaya.
Photo: Richard Fite
Few places on earth can match the physical splendor of this country. Many consider
Bhutan the last best hope for comprehensive conservation in the Himalayas. The
kingdom is steering a path toward sustainable development, and has one of the
world's toughest environmental campaigns. It aims to preserve the country's
natural bounty, even at the cost of economic growth. Whether Bhutan can succeed
will depend on how well the country can handle the pressures and problems that
have overwhelmed so many developing nations. Most Bhutanese depend on wood for
heat and cooking. The birthrate is high. Education is giving rise to a new generation
of young people beginning to question the nature-first paradigm. Television
and the internet have created great interest and many demands for what the West
has to offer.
Buddhists believe in the sanctity of life, preservation of nature, and giving
back to the earth what you have taken. The government is working with conservation
groups to protect the environment and is integrating these concerns into its
programs. We will meet with some of these groups and representatives and hear
firsthand how Bhutan is accomplishing these goals.
We will see the positive and negative effects of Western culture on a traditional
society, including confronting the dilemmas arising from our very presence.
We provide an important source of income, but greatly impact their resources
and lifestyle. We will see how luxurious our own lifestyle is compared to that
of the overwhelming majority of the world's people. Some of us will question
many of our Western ways, particularly our inequitable consumption of the world's
Perhaps these experiences will make us better world citizens and actively involve
us in searching for a sustainable way of life for all of us on this planet.
Bhutan is learning from our successes and mistakes. Those of us perceptive and
wise enough to open our hearts and minds will come away with a new awareness
of the world we live in and the way we live in it.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Kate Froman was hooked the first time she saw the Sierra Nevada. She led backpack trips in California before leading camping and hiking trips in
Nepal and Bhutan. She appreciates the serenity of the Bhutanese culture, the friendliness of the people and the grandeur of the mountains. Cross-country skiing and backpacking keep her close to the mountains, but she always likes coming home where she makes quilts, tears up the garden, and has raised orphaned possums. And she makes great pesto.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips