Day 4 Jomolhari Trek

The morning broke cold, clear, and windless. The ground was frosty and there were plenty of stars. The temperature dipped to about 20F last night. Jomolhari was beautiful at 5:44 AM (left) and also at 6:22 AM (right) when it was in sun.

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This was to be our big day crossing the Bhonte La (pass) at 16,007 ft, almost 3000 ft above our camp at Jangothang.  First we would visit two beautiful high altitude lakes and after the pass descend far into the valley of the Dhumzo Chho near Soi Yaktsa at around 12,500 ft.

Breakfast was porridge with cashews, cheese sandwich on very soft white bread, scrambled eggs, sausage, and apple juice.

By 6:45 AM we were off, soon crossing the tributary of the Paro Chhu that flowed by our camp. Mount Jichu Drakye is in the background.


We started our long climb to the lakes. Looking back at camp we could see two of our tents were still erected. They can be seen in the second photo below on the left side of the image above the stream away from the other groups of tents.



The photo below shows Jangothang camp with Jomolhari in the background and the Paro Chhu running between them in the deep valley we hiked the previous day.


Stephen photographed our last view of Jangothang while I made a panorama of the mountains.



We had reached a bit of a plateau as we headed toward the sun and the lakes. But we still had more climbing to do to reach them.


We hiked continuously uphill with Jomolhari, Jomolhari 2, and Jichu Drakye  in the background.


As we neared Tsho Phu (lake) I made a panorama of the scene. The lake is to the left in the image; we came from the right where you can see Jichu Drakye. Just to the right of Stephen and Phub you can see a pile a rocks with prayer flags and a “no fishing” sign.


Here is a close-up view of the prayer flags  and the “no fishing” sign. Phub said the lakes have trout.


But it was still farther to get to the head of the lake. I hurried on ahead of Stephen and Phub hoping to get there while the lake still had mirror-like reflections of the mountain peaks.


I reached the head of Tsho Phu. It was a beautiful scene.


The lake wasn’t quite as mirror like as I had hoped. So when I got home I created the vision I had hoped to see. Still reality was pretty special.


I made a large panorama composed of 17 individual images. You can see Stephen working his way to the head of the lake on the right.

You can double click on the image to zoom way in and use the left mouse to pan around. You can also use the + and – keys to zoom and the arrow keys to scroll. Please wait for the resolution to download.

I took yet another photo of Tshu Phu with Jichu Drakye before Stephen arrived, shed some clothes, and headed down to the shore to take a photo. He left his real camera behind. You can see it on the ground beyond his jacket and trekking poles. I guess his first thought was to use his iPhone on the scene.


Here is Stephen after taking some photos with his phone.


Phub was waiting for us up the trail above the lake. Stephen and I had to walk downhill from the trail to get to the shore of the lake, so we had some climbing to do. When we reached Phub we stopped for a brief water break, and I found the water in my bottle was frozen. The lake behind my water bottle is the second lake, Upper Tshu Phu.

We were now at 14,550 ft, 1165 ft above last night’s camp and not close to half way up the altitude gain we needed to cross the pass.



I made a 13-shot panorama of the upper lake. You can see the pass we must cross on the left. On the right are two peaks and piece of the lower lake.


As we climbed farther, I could get a telephoto shot back at the lower lake. I took the photo on the left below from a position above the head of the upper lake seen in the photo on the right.



Another 5 minutes of walking yielded this view of the head of the second lake.


From the position of the photo above I got this shot of Stephen, the two lakes, and the peaks of Jomolhari 2 and Jichu Drakye


A raptor circled above and below us. Getting a good shot was hard. Below are perhaps my best two.



Above the lakes, I made this panorama showing Stephen on the trail to the right. Behind him is the peak of Jomolhari 2 and temporarily out of view are the lakes. On the left you can see Phub crossing the partially frozen stream that flows into the lakes. From Phub’s location, the trail heads up to the right over the hill before dropping down into a valley and then climbing again to the pass.


Crossing the stream and climbing the hill produced a view back down over the lakes. In the photo on the left you might be able to see two of our crew with a horse, seen clearer on the right photo which was taken 5 seconds after the left-hand photo. This horse would come in handy an hour later.


Stephen paused to watch the pair approach, and I made a whimsical pan of the scene.



In the pair of photos below taken 20 seconds apart a person stands on the trail coming up. If you study both photos you can figure out where along the trail the person is.




From the top of the hill we could see Bhote La (pass) in the far distance. It is on the right edge of the range of mountains in the center of the photo on the left below. The photo on the right shows a closer view taken with a long lens a few minutes later. The pass is on the right side of the image just to the right of where the snow ends.

I observed that there was a deep valley between us and the pass. I thought to myself, “I sure hope we don’t have to drop down into the valley”.  Sure enough, we did.



Before tackling the valley and steep uphill to the pass, we stopped for a snack. In the panorama you can see our group with a sun flare lines pointing at us left of center. Directly above the right hand horse is Bhote La in the distance. A bit right of center is Jichu Drakye and below it, out of sight are the lakes.

You can double click on the image to zoom way in and use the left mouse to pan around. You can also use the + and – keys to zoom and the arrow keys to scroll. Please wait for the resolution to download.

After a short rest we headed DOWN into the valley. As we did the pass was getting closer but higher. It is at the far right end of the mountain ridge in the center of the photo on the left. While we were resting a pack train passed us. You can see them in the right hand photo below as they entered the wet valley.


BHU-9741Phub and Stephen were well behind me as we started up from the valley. The two of our crew with the horse were well ahead of me. Phub started yelling “stop, come back” to the crew. I relayed the message as loud as I could not knowing what was happening. It turns out Phub was sensing Stephen had a touch of altitude sickness and decided he should ride the rest of the way to the pass. Here the crew is unloading the horse.


But Stephen was not so sick that he couldn’t take a photo. In the pan below you can see the valley we crossed on the left. If you zoom in you can see other trekkers and horses crossing the valley. Our camp the night before is to the left of this photo. The pass is in the far right hand top corner of the pan.

You can double click on the image to zoom way in and use the left mouse to pan around. You can also use the + and – keys to zoom and the arrow keys to scroll. Please wait for the resolution to download.

Stephen mounted the horse and was quickly off uphill. Dhamey provided an extra horse just in case, and it came in handy.


Twenty minutes after Stephen headed quickly up hill I took the photo on the left below of the pass. Forty minutes after he departed, I got a shot of him at the pass. But I still had a long way to go — photos with a telephoto lens can be deceiving.



Finally, nearly an hour after Stephen mounted the horse, we were reunited at the pass.


Below is a panorama from Bhonte La. On the left side is where we came from and on the right is where we were heading.



We descended a short distance then stopped for lunch on the left side of the trail. You can see Stephen and Phub got there before me. Stephen was now breathing heavier air — but not much heavier — and Phub is younger and strong. Lunch was a great break from the five plus hours of climbing to the pass.

After lunch we had  new, fresh scenery and a long, long way down to our spot for the night.


It was a long but beautiful hike down to Soi Yaktsa. You can see Stephen and Phub way ahead of me near the center of this image.

You can double click on the image to zoom way in and use the left mouse to pan around. You can also use the + and – keys to zoom and the arrow keys to scroll. Please wait for the resolution to download.

Below you can see us continuing downhill. We came from the trail on the left. Stephen and Phub can be seen ahead of me at the far right. The peaks and the sandy “landslides” at the left of the image above can also be seen on the left side of the image below. You can see the valley of the Dhumzo Chhu (our destination for the night) far below us in the right bottom of the image.

You can double click on the image to zoom way in and use the left mouse to pan around. You can also use the + and – keys to zoom and the arrow keys to scroll. Please wait for the resolution to download.

Phub has a great surprise for us. He had made arrangements — somehow — for us to spend the night in the home of a nomad family. You can see their compound near the bottom right of the photo below.


It was a long way down to the nomad compound. But it was downhill.



The destination was in sight. The remaining distance was short but steep.


Below left is my first close-up photo of the nomad house as we approached from the rear. I didn’t know it yet, but our bedroom would be inside that second-floor door.

We were greeted by a young woman and her energetic son.



Their electricity came from the sun. They used wood for heat and cooking.



Their many yaks produced cheese and butter. The cheese hangs from the ceiling and what looks like rolls of toilet paper is actually the butter.



It was 3 PM, 30 minutes after we arrived from our nearly 8 hour walk, and our cook (in the photo on the right) was frying potatoes for a snack. We had French fries often on the trek and gobbled them down with gusto whenever they were served.

It was amazing that our crew broke camp in the morning and left long after we did and yet arrived at our sites for the night and set up the tents (except this night when we didn’t use tents) well before we arrived. They must have known some short cuts. That is the only way I can explain it.



We were shown to our bedroom. It was their prayer room, a place of honor. We hardly minded having to first pass through a hall with covered, but quite strong smelling, drying yak meat.


The family, at least part of it, posed for us. The young boy did a lot of posing. He couldn’t seem to get enough photos taken.





Here he is with his grandmother. He had a bandaged finger. In this photo there is a knife on the floor pointing toward him. Maybe just a coincidence.


The nomad house was almost three houses — a center one with two floors and an open-air loft for grain drying and storage, and two one-floor-plus-loft buildings on each side. The toilet was outside downhill from the front of the house, and they had running water outside from the cement “fountain” that you can see on the right in front of the solar cells.


At 4 PM the yaks started heading home for the night, with some encouragement from the nomads.






Our gear was piled outside. Stephen read by the fire. On the floor is a hand-cranked centrifugal blower to assist in fire starting.



The roundup of the yaks continued. There was some excitement involved as the calves were separated from their mothers for the night so there would be milk for the nomads to collect in the morning.



The nomads had a beautiful and peaceful place to spend the winter, which would start soon.


Our cook outdid himself for dinner. We had virtually 3 dinners. There was pizza with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and cheese as seen below. This was followed by a whole roast chicken, far better than the small pieces of “bones with chicken” one gets as standard fare at many restaurants in Bhutan. Finally there was spaghetti with sauce, an assortment of vegetables, and warm fruit cup.

We ate on a table sitting on folding chairs all of which were carried on the trek for us. Most people in Bhutan eat sitting on the floor.


With dinner Phub shared sips of whiskey he brough on the trek. Below is part of the label on the bottle. You will note it is the same scene as earlier on this page of Mount Jichu Drakye reflected in Tsho Phu.


Here are some of the other photos I took on Day 4 of our Jomolhari Trek.