Windhorse Tours – Above the Clouds Trek – October 2017
Our group of 5 from Seattle was hastily formed in late summer 2017 for an October trip. Windhorse did an excellent job of arranging our trip on such short notice. We took the 19- day Above the Clouds Trek that involved 12 days of trekking and 5 days of visits to cultural sites. The five of us joined three other trekkers to make a group of eight. Our guide, Yonten, and driver, Gudo, were both excellent. Yonten provided in-depth explanations of Buddhist practices and beliefs as well as information on Bhutan, its people and their lifestyle. Gudo was friendly, knowledgeable and transported us safely. Our hotel accommodations were comfortable and the staff at each place was friendly and attentive.
The trek passed through interesting villages and beautiful mountain scenery. We crossed two passes at elevations over 15,000-feet and one at an elevation of 16,400-feet. The total distance covered was over 90 miles and the total elevation gained was over 20,000-feet. The trek proved to be extremely arduous for our group of 60+ year olds, all of whom had spent considerable time hiking and climbing in the Cascade Mountains. The food on our trek was healthy, nutritious, tasty and filling (and extremely low-fat). Meals were a bit repetitious which was to be expected on a self-supported trek without refrigeration but our cooks came up with several delicious surprises: a birthday cake and pizza, to name two. The entire crew of our guide, two assistant guides, two cooks and two or three horsemen provided excellent support for our group of eight trekkers. The camping equipment supplied by Windhorse was very good – good quality tents and foam mattresses. Some additional training in the pitching of the tents should have been provided. Crowded campsites were a problem and several times we had to travel an additional hour or so because of a lack of space at a campsite. We experienced some logistical problems that made our first and last days of trekking very difficult.
Be prepared for muddy and difficult trail sections, camping areas that require careful walking to avoid manure piles and partially filled, old privy holes, strenuous trekking and very cold conditions once the sun goes down. It is necessary to be flexible and to be able to tolerate some adversity. Bhutan is struggling to accommodate high tourist demand. There is a lack of permanent facilities for trekking (campsites, tent pads, toilets) that results in some very primitive conditions. The tourism experience and its impact on the countryside could both be improved with some permanent infrastructure. Despite this, the trip to Bhutan and the trek were amazing experiences that all of us will never forget.