Bhutan’s Snowman Trek: Day 21 – Tsho Tsho Tshampa To Tampoe Tsho

Previous Post: Day 20  – Jichu DramoTo Tsho Tsho Thampa

  • calendar date: October 18, 2019.
  • time: just under 6 hours total, including lunch and rest breaks
  • distance: 15 km.
  • start point altitude: Tsho Tsho Thampa  (aka Thsongsa Thang)  4342m
  • endpoint campsite:  Tampoe Tsho  4323m – see OpenStreetMap topo here
  • high pass crossing: none
  • Maps: Bart Jordans’ Trekking In Bhutan has some useful overview maps of the many possible variations of the Snowman, as well as of other treks.
  • See here for a Google Earth view of the day’s walk. It helps to use the Google Chrome browser! The location marker is for Rinchen Zoe La.
  • 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!)

Coming up – Day 4 of our 5 1/2 Day Lunana to Sephu Traverse! We had already done:

  • Chozo to CS West of Tsho Chena on Day 1
  • Tsho Chena CS to Jichu Dramo Via Loju La on Day 2
  • Jichu Dramo to Tsho Tsho Tshampa Via Rinchen Zoe La on Day 3

satellite view of the walk from Tsho Tsho Thampa to Tampoe Tsho

Re: the day’s walk:  We had five kilometers less to cover but the topo map showed that we’d be crossing a series of closely bunched up topo lines as we left the river and headed for our lakeside campsite in a side valley whose lake –  Tampoe or Thempe Tsho – flows down into the Thampe or Tampe Chhu.

Note: wouldn’t it be nice if the Bhutan Tourist Board initiated a standardization of the spellings of the country’s various places and geographical features.  We do not need seven different spellings of Jomolhari!  This particular day was a special treat!  Tsho Tsho Thampa to Thampoe Tsho? Or is that Thsongsa Thang instead of Tsho Tsho Thampa and Tempe instead of Tampoe Tsho?   … it is confusing!  Go to Google to find out about a spot on the Snowman Trek and what it will turn up will depend on how you spelled it!

trekkers’ tents at Tsho Tsho Thampa –  morning cloud

some of our horses at Tsho Tsho Thampa – camp takedown

We had some sad business to take care of as the day began. A severe stomach issue led the guides to call in a helicopter from Thimphu to pick up one of our trekking group. A landing area was established some distance away from the camp; we said our goodbyes and set off as she and the guides waited for the ‘copter’s arrival.  We were perhaps two kilometers down-valley when we saw it come by.  Two minutes later it was on its way back to some medical care. She would rejoin us three days later in Thimphu; she was doing okay and was relieved that the insurance coverage for the medivac had come through.

The cost for the helicopter extraction? An extortionary $10,000 U.S.! A more fair charge for the 90-kilometer flight would be in the $2500. – $3000. range.

  • Costs would be covered,
  • a small profit would still be made, and
  • Bhutan’s government would be fulfilling its role as a concerned and caring host for the “high value, low impact” trekkers whom it charges U.S. $250.  a day to traverse isolated and high-altitude regions of the country.

Instead, what visitors to Bhutan get is a state-sponsored version of the decades-long helicopter scam that has plagued Nepal and led to foreign insurers threatening not to provide insurance for travellers to that Himalayan country. (See here for some background on the Nepal situation.)

The company providing the medivac (the state-owned  Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services)  has had 2 helicopters – older Airbus H130s-  since 2015. Before that, Indian Army helicopters would be called into service if needed!  In 2020, RBHS is gouging a tourist in need of medical aid of at least US$7000.  Of course, as with Druk Air,  the helicopter outfit has a monopoly and can charge whatever it wants. This does not make it right.

The first part of the morning’s walk was down a broad valley. The early morning snowfall lingered for a while on the scrubs we passed by but by mid-morning it would all be gone.

the start of the day’s hike – down a broad section fo the Thampe Chhu

We would never cross the Thampe Chhu during our descent of the valley, remaining on the west side right to our lunch spot.  the three following pix capture some of the scenery.

looking down the Thampe Tsho

looking upriver from the trail along the Thampe Chhu

the trail on the west side of the Thampe Chhu

We had started off at 4342 m; we were at 3989m by noon and our lunch stop. as the table got set up, some of our horse team passed us by.  We had come down 350 meters in some easy walking.  Kinley and Karma and the horses who were on lunch hauling duty remained behind to organize everything!

lunch spot at a clearing on the banks of the Thampe Chhu

the horse lunch team gets a one hour break on the banks of the Thampe Chhu

That 350 meters of descent in the morning? Well, we’d gain most of it back on our afternoon hike to the day’s campsite on the west side of Thampoe Tsho(4323m) 4312m.     Once or twice I remember thinking – “Will this never stop going up?”  It was relentless. As always, with a rest break or three to let my heart rate fall below 130 again, it got done.  Parts of the heavily forested mountainside had me looking for Frodo and his fellow hobbits off on their own Bhutanese adventure – it was magical.

forest trail above the Thampe Chhu

some serious uphill to get to Thampoe Tsho campsite

Walking around the corner and into the hidden Thampoe Tsho valley was a WOW moment.

trekkers approaching Tempoe Tsho on the Snowman Trek

the outlet from Thampoe Tsho

the Thampoe Tsho trail to the campsite

When we got to the camp, the tents were mostly set up. Soon everyone had hauled their duffels inside their “room with a view” just above the lake.  Outside, I could hear the pitter-patter of rain hitting the tent fly.  I’d stay inside the tent until tea and biscuit time an hour or so later. In the image below you can see the blue cook tent on the left, the trekkers’ dining tent to its right, and two of our 12 trekkers’ tents on the right.  The lake was just below our tents.

Thampe Tsho campsite – morning shot

Sad to report that this campsite was a mess – garbage all over the place. Floating in the water, badly hidden behind rocks…the site needs a real cleanup.  Perhaps the Jigme Dorje park officials could hire some locals to tend to these sites. 99% of the garbage is produced and left by Bhutanese people. It is either those young men working for trekking agencies who get careless after their clients have left and they take down the camp – or it is local travellers passing through and making use of the campsite.

some garbage left behind by previous trekking groups or local travellers

On Day 1 of our trek, we had each been given a World Expeditions- labelled nylon sack to put litter in. I assumed it was for my litter and it kept my Clif Bar wrappers and all other refuse I generated in one place; at the end of the trip I handed it over to the assistant guide.

Given that it gets at least half the trekking traffic in Bhutan, the trail from Shana to Jomolhari is especially bad for trailside and campsite garbage. Congrats to those in my trekking party who also stopped to pick up random bits of Bhutanese-generated garbage on the side of the trail;  I did not do so and focussed just on my own.

a view of Thampe Tsho from the campsite

garbage left by previous trekking groups or local travellers

Day Four of our Lunana-Sephu Traverse – the last of the Snowman Trek’s sections – was done. Still to go – a full day the next day and a half-day to finish it off. After 21 days on the trail I was definitely motivated by a shower and some different food, hopefully vegan-friendly.

Next Post: Day 22 – Tampoe Tsho to Revethang

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