Friday, June 19, 2015

Snowman Trek, Bhutan

Hiker: Sally McCoy, CEO of CamelBak and Conservation Alliance board member

Executive summary by darmansjah

I have been obsessed with Bhutan since a National Geographic article I read when I was ten. I kept writing the king, volunteering for anything, including teaching basketball, since I knew he was a fan. I finally paid to go for the first time in 1988. Bhutan still feels remote. But I have never done the Snowman Trek, and it’s the one trail I most want to do someday. Two hundred tough miles with many passes in a country that carefully restricts access. Sounds great to me. —Sally McCoy

Length: More than 200 miles

The Details: Veteran trekkers peg the Snowman as the hardest trail on the planet, which makes it even more of a prize—perhaps even the top bucket list hike on the planet. Add to that the reality that most who start it don’t finish due to the unpredictability of weather in the high Himalaya and the sheer difficulty of the thing. Further complicating things, it’s only legal to do the trek with a guided tour company. That’s going to cost you close to $6,000, not to mention the $200 to $250 per day the government of Bhutan charges you for traveling in the country.

The trip takes at least 25 days to complete and traverses 11 passes, most more than 16,000 feet, including a high point of 17,388 feet on Rinchen Zoe La Pass. At the village of Thanza, you pick up yaks to navigate the mountains ahead. But it’s all of that difficulty that makes the thing so enjoyable.

A constitutional monarchy that is the last Buddhist kingdom on the planet, a place where Gross Domestic National Happiness is measured, and TV and Internet were banned until 1999, Bhutan is one of the cultures and landscapes least touched by global technology.

It doesn’t just still feel remote. It is remote, as remote as you can get on a swiftly shrinking planet. It is quickly changing, though, and only time will tell if that is better for both residents and visitors. Still, on the trail you will feel tossed back in time, in touch with the raw power of massive, little-known peaks such as 23,294-foot Zogophu Gamp and wandering into villages to take tea with the indigenous Layap people.

When to Go: April and October are the only monthlong windows when you can usually avoid the snows of winter and the rains of the summer monsoons.

About McCoy: Sally McCoy isn’t just one of the top businesspeople in the outdoor industry, she’s also one of its most important voices. The Chief Executive Officer of Camelbak—who was also the former Vice President at the North Face and President at Sierra Designs—was one of the founding members of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). OIA has overseen important moves like advocating against tariffs that hurt outdoor brands and has expanded the political power of the industry when it comes to influencing policy on public lands in the United States. McCoy is also the former chairwoman and current member of the board of the Conservation Alliance, which raises money from outdoor brands in order to fund grassroots environmental groups. In 2013, the Conservation Alliance plans to award $1.5 million to small, local groups battling to preserve land and water.

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