Bhutan’s Snowman Trek: Day 18 – Chozo To Tsho Chena Via Sintia La

Previous Post: Day 17 – Rest Day In Chozo

  • calendar date: October 15, 2019.
  • time:   8 1/2 hours total, including lunch and rest breaks
  • distance:  16 km.
  • start point altitude: Chozo 4120m
  • endpoint campsite: camp west of Tsho Chena  4925m
  • high pass crossing: Sintia La 5200 m
  • Maps: Bart Jordans’ Trekking In Bhutan has some useful overview maps of the many possible variations of the Snowman Trek, as well as others.
  • See here for a Google Earth view of the day’s walk. It helps to use the Google Chrome browser! Sintia La is indicated (28.016522    90.186121 ).
  • I used a Sony RX100 III to frame most of the images you’ll see below; a fellow trekker’s Huawei P30 captured the others. (Thanks again, O, for letting me use them!)

The Snowman Trek can be divided into main sections:

  1. the trail from Shana past Jomolhari and on to Chebisa and ending at Laya – 11 days.
  2. the trail to Lunana from Laya to either Chozo or Thanza –  5 days
  3. the trail south from Chozo or Thanza to either Upper Sephu or Duer Village – 6 days

The last section of our trek – and reputedly the toughest one – was about to begin.  Coming up were the two highest passes of the trek and a couple of nights’ camping at around 5000 meters.  This high altitude trekking would remind me at times of my walk across the high plateau on the north side of Nepal’s Annapurna range in Upper Mustang.  The views over the next five and half days would sometimes rival the ones of that earlier trip, even if there is nothing in Bhutan as dramatic as our crossing of Nepal’s Saribung La (6040m). [See here for pix of the Saribung La area.]

Laya To Upper Sephu – high passes and campsites graph

Some trekkers had gotten up early to see off the seven ultra-marathoners on Day 3 of their five-day Snowman Race Calibration Run. [See the previous post for more information.  The first official race will be held in October 2020.]  It was a sunny morning in Chozo and by 7:30 breakfast time, trekkers and staff were milling about in the building below the tents in the image below.  After a day off the trail we were keen to get back to it.

our Chozo campsite in the morning sun

looking up the Pho valley to the top of Lunana

To get to the bridge crossing the Pho Chhu, we had to retrace our steps about a kilometer downriver. As we did, I turned around and got a fairly clear view of Table Mountain, one you don’t get when you’re in the settlement itself.  The view would only improve the further we walked downriver.

walking downriver from Chozo to the bridge crossing

Some Snowman route itineraries take the trekkers through Thanza and turn south from there.  Our route could be called a shortcut since we were accessing a route just across the river from Chozo. As we neared the bridge, a team of ten horses were coming towards us. They were from Toncho or one of the settlements near Thanza and on their way to our campsite as part of the horse team our guide had arranged to take us down to the endpoint at Upper Sephu above the Nikka Chhu.

a local horse team on its way to Chozo

From the other side of the river and from higher elevations as we started our climb to Sintia La,  there were more great views of Table Mountain (aka Gangchen Singye, Tjojokang, and yet other names with variable spellings).  I much prefer this kind of trekking – and the views it offers – to the muddy trails on the heavily forested slopes of the first two and a half days of the Snowman Trek.

a view of Tshojo (Chozo) and Table Mountain from the other side of the Pho Chhu

looking back at Chozo and surroundings from the other side of the Pho Chhu

The first couple of hours were steady uphill but the trail was fairly clear and the walking easy. We had as company a Chozo local who was looking for a yak who had gone missing the previous day.  We left him without finding out if he had any luck.  It was the top half of the day’s climb where things got a bit more difficult –  it involved walking through a boulder field on a  steep slope.   The two following pix will give you an idea!

trekkers and horses heading up to Sintia La

a rough trail up to Sintia La from Chozo

Somewhere along the way – making ourselves comfortable in the rock rubble – we had lunch.

We had left around 8:30; by 2:30 we were walking alongside the glacial lake on the Chozo side of the Sintia La (aka Chinchu La).  The most taxing part of the day was over since the pass is just beyond it.

the glacial lake on the north side of Sintia La – trail visible on the right-hand side of the image

the trail passes by the lake before Sintia La – See here for a similar shot from 2017 with prayer flags!

Sintia La was the least pass-like of the eleven we did.  Once beyond that glacial lake on the Chozo side, you reach a high plateau and it takes a moment to realize that is it. There were no prayer flags or rockpiles to mark the spot. The red pin on each map indicates the location of the “pass”, which we marked  with the customary “Lha gyalo” shout. We were at 5200 meters, the high point of the trail that would take us to our camp.

Apple Maps Satellite view – Chozo to Sintia La

And here is the Google Earth view;  the shallow lake south of Sintia La is partially visible.

Google Earth satellite view – Chozo to Sintia La 5200m

As noted, no prayer flags, no cairns.  The trail marker in the bottom left of the image immediately below is about the only marker I can remember seeing.

Sintia La – the day’s high point from Chozo to Tsho Chena

the shallow lake just south of Sintia La in Bhutan’s Lunana district

A five-centimeter snowfall on the plateau would hide any evidence of the path trodden by previous pack animals, traders, and trekkers and make the walk that much more interesting!

terrain south of Sintia La

For some reason, I took no photos for the next hour and a half!  We would lose about 250 meters in altitude as we walked across a high plateau to our campsite 2.5  kilometers west of Tsho Chena.

my Garmin inReach track of the route from Sintia La to our campsite west of Tsho Chena

a Google Earth View of the terrain from Sintia La to a Campsite 2.5 km. west of Tsho Chena

Snowman Trek Day 18 Camp (4925m) west of Tsho Chena

Day 18 campsite near Tsho Chena

Next Post -:Day 19 – Tsho Chena To Jitchu Dramo Via Joju La

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