A happy trekker on the Karakachu La (5020m) pass in Bhutan | Matt Brazier
In the second half of 2016, traveller Jon Herring took a 6-month break from work. The aim? To do concentrated travelling, including hiking in the Karakorum, Himalaya and Bhutan, trekking the Alps and Tatra mountains, and then heading down to Tasmania where he celebrated his 50th birthday rafting down the Franklin River.
Now that he’s back at his home in Oxfordshire (UK), he was pleased to share his experiences of trekking in Bhutan with you.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in the North of England, grew up in the South, studied in The Midlands, and lived in Canada for 3 years and the USA for 5 years. I work as a software engineer, so that does not involve much physical activity and not much travelling.
I started going on trekking holidays almost 20 years ago, gradually increasing the level of excitement on each trip. I’ve now done over 40 trips in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia. These have mainly been trekking trips, but I’ve also done some mountaineering, as well as some water based activities. I particularly enjoy challenging trekking at altitude in remote areas.
Why did you choose to join the Snowman Trek in Bhutan?
Having experienced the Himalaya in Nepal and India, I wanted to try something a little different and visit a country that still has a certain mystique about it. I also wanted something fairly tough, which essentially meant the Snowman Trek in Bhutan.
How did you experience your Bhutan trekking trip?
In my early years of trekking I used to prepare for trips by just doing a bit of walking and cycling on the weekends before. It’s only when I started doing mountaineering trips and other trips with a full pack, that I started taking fitness more seriously. These days I like to keep a reasonable level of fitness throughout the year, but increase it as trips get closer. I am a fan of the early morning workout at the local gym. My cardio regime consists of spending time on the treadmill, rowing machine, and twice weekly spin class. I find that this, combined with a reasonable acclimatization schedule (which tends to be the case on these types of trip), means I won’t have major issues with walking at altitude.
The trails on the Snowman Trek are often rough, with mud churned up by pack animals, roots, logs and rocks. I found some of the slippery forest paths, which do require full concentration, quite challenging, and was much happier when we had decent traction. I found the overall difficulty of this Bhutan trekking experience no worse than I was expecting.
What was the most memorable part of your trekking holiday in Bhutan?
One of the highlights was the local Bhutanese crew – one of the best I’ve ever been with. We had rugs in the tents (never seen that before) and on rest days, there were twin shower tents produced, complete with wooden pallets to stop feet getting muddy. The food was excellent – there was no danger of three weeks of unrelenting dal bhat here – but beware of the chili and cheese. Then there were the little touches, like giving the tents auspicious names (I was in “Dragon”), prayer flags for each of the 11 high passes, as well as daily insights into Bhutanese culture.
I particularly enjoyed the high passes and the more remote camps. Specific highlights of hiking in Bhutan included the walk up to the Karakachu La (5020m) where we had a light dusting of snow overnight and then a beautiful crisp clear morning. Other were the walk out of Chozo and up to the Sintia La (5200m) where the mountains above the village finally chose to reveal themselves to us, and the walk up to and the view from the highest pass, the Rinchen Zoe La (5326m).
What do you like about trekking in a group?
We were with travellers from different nationalities and to hear about other people’s experiences added another dimension to the trip.
Do you have a travel bucket list?
I don’t have a big list of places I want to go and I don’t feel the need to go places just to tick boxes. I just go year by year and decide on trips based on what I feel like doing at the time. This could come from my own research or from what people I’ve met on previous trips have said. I try to establish what the experience will be and whether I will be satisfied with it both during and in retrospect. The ideal is to target the upper end of Type I fun, perhaps straying into Type II fun, but avoiding Type III fun.
In the short term, I had such a good time on the South Coast Track in Tasmania last year that I plan to continue the coastal backpacking theme with the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island. Then a trip to the mountains, somewhere in east or central Asia.
Longer term I don’t see myself running out of places to visit any time soon. An interesting question is, if I was planning a future 6-month break, would I go after a single epic trip, like the Great Himalaya Trail, or a number of smaller trips to different parts of the world? Not sure, but it’s good to think about these things just in case the opportunity arises.
What advice do you have for other travellers doing the Bhutan Snowman Trek?
- There is a reason why Bhutan is so green, so I would repeat the pre-trip advice of our leader, Jo Haines; take an umbrella.
- Be prepared to take many pictures (I took over 1600 just on the trek).
- Enjoy each day because even though this is a long trek it will be over all too quickly.
Jon joined the 27-day Bhutan Snowman Trek. In 2018 there will be a departure on 27 September. For more information, contact our teams of travel experts around the world or download the trip notes of this Bhutan trekking holiday here.