Saturday, 10 June 2017

Bhutan #2: trekking in Bhutan: Lunana Snowman trek

Trekking in Bhutan is luxury, similar as in Nepal: you are hiking with just a day pack, all food is prepared by the kitchen staff, and the tents are set up and taken down by the crew. All travel in Bhutan has to be arranged through a Bhutanese travel company and for trekking this means that you will always have at least a guide, a cook, a horse/yak driver and a couple of horses/yaks even if you travel by yourself. We had joined an organised group tour and were part of a group of 10 clients. Our group had a tour leader, 3 Bhutanese guides, a cook and 5 assistants, 3-4 horsedrivers, and 30-35 horses.

A standard day went as follows: in the morning we were woken up at around 06:30h by 2 cheerful kitchen assistants offering a cup of tea/coffee, and 10-15 minutes later they came around again with bowls with hot water for washing. We then packed our bags and cleaned the tent before meeting up in the dining tent for breakfast around 07:30h. While we had breakfast, the guides and some of the kitchen crew started packing up the tents and the horsedrivers were looking for their horses and driving them back to the camp. We usually started walking around 08:30 together with the guides and tour leader. The crew would spend another hour or 2 packing up the camp, packing our bags and the tents in solid canvas bags and loading the horses. 



Food is transported in these baskets. Here, in Laya, the crew is reorganising and packing the new food supplies.

Packing up camp.

Packing up camp.

Fortunately, everyone could hike at their own pace during the day; our group usually spread out over a few hours, with some fast people in the front, a group in the middle that would take it easy, enjoy the views and take lots of photos, and some at the end who struggled more with climbs. Sometime between 12:00h and 13:00h, depending on a suitable location, lunch was served. The kitchen crew prepared a hot lunch and hot water for tea/coffee and this is carried in thermoses by the 'lunch man' and his horse. This is the only horse that is led on a rope to stop it joining its friends, all other horses are loose. The horses, horsemen and kitchen crew usually passed us around lunch time. 

The 'lunch man' and his horse

Lunch



Lunch

Some of our horses

Some of our horses

Letting horses pass

We usually arrived in camp between 15:00 and 18:00. Some days the crew was faster and we arrive at a fully prepared camp where tea and biscuits are waiting for us, other days we got to the campsite first and have to wait for the horses and luggage. Dinner was usually around 19:00 and most people were in bed before 21:00. The food was generally good and varied, and it was impressive what the cook and his crew managed to make.

Enjoying the first good weather after a week of rain and mist. Time for drying clothes and sleeping bags and having a relaxed afternoon.

Highest camp at Tshorim lake, at ca 5200m.

Camp in the forest next to the Dur hot springs.

There are several variations of the Lunana Snowman trek, most start with the trek from Paro to Laya as acclimatisation for the main part of the trek to the remote Lunana valley. There are 2 main routes exiting the valley: most tours take the route to Nikka Chhu/Sephu, but we took the longer route past the beautiful Tsorim lake and the Dur hot springs to the Bumthang valley. The map below shows our route as a blue line and the altitude profile underneath shows the passes that we crossed. Our Snowman trek was 28 days, including 1 acclimatisation day at Chomolhari basecamp, 1 rest day in Laya and 1 rest day at the Dur hot springs. The total length of the trek was 245 km, we crossed 9 passes, the highest pass was at ca 5450 m, and the total elevation difference was ca 12600 m.



Friday, 17 February 2017

Bhutan #1: Acclimatisation

Finally some photos of Bhutan! In September/October 2016 we joined a group tour to Bhutan to hike the Lunana Snowman Trek through the Bhutanese Himalayas. The trek was expertly organised and led by The Mountain Company. The kingdom of Bhutan, the land of the thunder dragon and the gross national happiness, is an amazing country, both in terms of culture and nature, and it was a privilege to be able to spend 5 weeks here, of which 4 weeks hiking through the remote parts in the north. We will certainly come back to explore more of this beautiful country and its friendly people.

The first 4 days in Bhutan were used to acclimatise to the altitude, as the main trek would bring us to camp at 4000 m within 2 days, which would otherwise be too fast. The first morning we walked up to the number 1 tourist attraction in Bhutan, the iconic Taktsang monastery or Tiger's Nest high above the Paro valley. It is 1.5-2 hours walk up to the monastery which is perched on a cliff at ca 3120 m. It was quite foggy when we walked up through the forest with moss and lichen covered trees, but every now and again it cleared up and we would get a glimpse of this beautiful monastery. As we had started early, we had the monastery for ourselves and our knowledgeable guide Tshering showed us around. Like most monasteries and temples in Bhutan, it is not allowed to take any photos inside. Walking down we met many tourists struggling their way up, it is pretty tough for those not used to hiking in the mountains.


Landing at Paro airport

First glimpse of Taktsang monastery high up the cliff


Yellow-billed blue magpie



Opening in the mist: Taktsang monastery

In the afternoon we drove across the Chele La pass to the Haa valley, where we would stay for 2 nights. This valley is at ca 2700 m, 400 m higher than Paro and therefore better for acclimatisation. We stayed in the comfortable Lechuna Heritage Lodge, a renovated farmhouse, and made a day walk around the valley through forest and farmland. The second day, we stopped on the top of the ca 3800 m Chele La pass on our way to the start of the Snowman trek back in the Paro valley, and walked along the ridge. Again foggy, unfortunately, so we didn't get to see the great views to the snowy peak of Mt Chomolhari, but we enjoyed photographing the many wildflowers that were still flowering.

Paro

Lechuna Heritage Lodge

Haa valley

Chele La pass with prayer flags. The poles with the long white flags are erected to honour deceased family members and guide them to their next life.


edelweiss



After a buffet lunch in Paro we drove to the end of the road in Paro Valley where the trekking staff and the horsemen were already waiting. The road was just a narrow rough farm track, but the capable driver managed to drive the small bus to the end without too much problem. At the end of the road there were 2 small shops, a simple guesthouse and a busstop. From here all freight is by horseback (at higher altitudes also yaks) and people walk.

First camp in a muddy field at the end of the road

End of the road, start of the trek. Two small shops and a busstop

Drying chillies; chillies are an important ingredient in the Bhutanese cuisine

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Tromsø February 2017

This week the rain is back, but last week was really nice in Tromsø. Not a lot of snow, but sunny and a full moon. The weather forecast predicts some snow for tomorrow and sun in the weekend, let's hope they are right!

Deze week regent het weer, maar vorige week was het prachtig in Tromsø. Er ligt niet veel sneeuw, maar het was helder en zonnig met een volle maan. De weersverwachting meldt sneeuw voor morgen en zon voor het weekend. Hopelijk hebben ze gelijk!


Vengsøya


View back to Tromsø and Tromsdalstinden


Tromsø from Fjellheisen top station


Northern lights and Tromsdalstinden

Hiking in Fanes-Sennes, northern Italy

I am still not finished with sorting the photos from Bhutan (soon I hope!), but life goes on, of course and we have been doing other things in the meantime. The days are quickly getting longer again, and last week we had beautiful sunshine. However, there is very little snow at the moment and the rain in the last couple of days has washed away much of the snow along the coast and the skiløype which we walk to work is pure ice. They do expect some colder weather and snow over the next few days, so hopefully this will improve.

Ik heb nog steeds niet alle fotos van Bhutan gesorteerd (hopelijk snel!), maar we hebben natuurlijk ook andere dingen gedaan de laatste maanden. De dagen worden nu snel langer en vorige week was het prachtig weer. Er is echter erg weinig sneeuw en met de regen de afgelopen dagen is veel sneeuw langs de kust verdwenen en het pad naar de universiteit is puur ijs. De weersverwachting is beter voor de komende dagen, kouder en wat sneeuw, dus hopelijk wordt het beter.

Here first a few photos from a nice week in northern Italy, in the Fanes-Sennes natural park. Tony was at a meeting near Rome and in Florence in January and I flew down afterwards to meet him in northern Italy where we spent a week up in the mountains staying in 2 different comfortable mountain huts Rifugio Fanes and Rifugio Sennes. Both huts are in a beautiful area, 1.5-2 hours walk from the nearest road, with many hiking and skiing options, and both serve very good food. But, like Tromsø, there was hardly any snow! We had brought our snow shoes, but we only used them on the last day around Sennes after it had snowed over night; the rest of the time we went hiking. The first 2 days were the best with bright sunshine and we walked up a local peak with fantastic views over the region, Col de Bechei. Other days the visibility was more variable and we made round trips in the lower areas.

Hier eerst een paar fotos van een mooie week in noord Italië, in het Fanes-Sennes natuurgebied. Tony had een conferentie in Rome en Florence in januari en daarna zijn we samen een week naar noord Italië geweest waar we in twee verschillende mooie berghutten, Rifugio Fanes en Rifugio Sennes, hebben overnacht. Beide hutten liggen in een prachtig gebied, 1,5-2 uur lopen van de dichtsbijzijnde weg, met veel wandel- en skimogelijkheden, en serveren heerlijk eten. Helaas lag er ook hier weinig sneeuw. We hadden onze sneeuwschoenen meegenomen, maar hebben ze maar een dag gebruikt rond Sennes, nadat het de 's nachts gesneeuwd had. De eerste 2 dagen waren het mooiste en zonnigste en we hebben een prachtige wandeling gemaakt naar een van de lokale bergtoppen met schitterend uitzicht, Col de Bechei. De andere dagen was het weer meer variabel en deels mistig en hebben we rondwandelingen gemaakt in de wat lagergelegen gebieden.

Enjoying the first sunshine


Rifugio Fanes


View from Col de Bechei

On the way from Fanes to Lé Parom


Rifugio Pederú, the end of the road and start of the walks to both Fanes and Sennes


Fodara Vedla

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year!

The year 2016 ended here with a snow storm and the mountain fireworks in Tromsø were cancelled. For me it was a good year with interesting and challenging projects at work and with a fantastic trip to Bhutan, but I found the unexpected results for Brexit and Trump worrying. It will certainly be interesting to see how European and world politics develop in 2017.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and adventurous 2017!