Night Halt 2 – Snowman Race 2022

Following a magical month hiking the Snowman Trek and preparing for the Snowman Race in the Kingdom of Bhutan I returned to the United States to work with my clients at a trade show in Las Vegas. From the Snowman Trail to Sin City, talk about culture shock!

The Boyz In Vegas.
The Boyz In Vegas

Vegas was fun but the twinkling lights of the Strip have nothing on the starry nights in the Himalaya. Luckily not long after the trade show closed I was heading back to Bhutan to help manage the Snowman Race. With my ears still ringing and my hangover waining I boarded a flight back to Asia and once again found myself sleeping in airports.

Chris sleeping in an airport.
Home Sweet Home

Back in Thailand I celebrated my 39th birthday in Bangkok, met the Snowman crew and racers at BKK, and caught a flight into the Paro airport to start our adventure.

Snowman crew arriving in Paro, Bhutan.
Arriving In Paro, Bhutan

The 2022 Snowman Race kicked off with several days of cultural experiences. Before my Night Halt 2 crew set off for Lunana I was able to join in the group hike up to the iconic Tiger’s Nest monastery perched high on the cliffs above the Paro Valley.

The Tiger's Nest monastery.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery In Bhutan

The next day I met my crew including Sonam Norbu who was a guide on our 2 week recon hike of the Snowman Race Course in August. This time it would be Sonam and his brother Sangay leading a crew of cooks, pack animal handlers, a doctor, a Bhutanese athletics representative, various military personnel, and me on a 5+ day hike to set up and manage Night Halt 2 in the Lunana Valley. We loaded the Mahindra 4x4s, packed in the crew, and set out on a long rainy drive into the highlands.

Chris with trekking guide Sonam Norbu.
With My Guide Sonam Norbu

After sleeping on floor mats in a guesthouse in Gasa we woke early to drive the rest of the track to the trailhead. Our Mahindra navigated the rutty washed out roads while I watched the windshield glass shift in the truck frame from the weight of the overstuffed roof rack rocking back and forth. The previous night in Gasa I ran into our medic from the recon trek and at the trailhead I saw one of our horsemen as well. Later one of the army guys from August joined our team and seeing so many familiar faces gave me a distinct feeling of returning home.

Loading gear at the start of the trek.
Organizing Our Gear At The Trailhead

Snowman Race Night Halt 2 Film

This 26 minute film documents the journey of the Night Halt 2 Crew from Gasa to Lunana and back. Watch our Snowman Race Recon Trek film here to see the full 2 week hike across the Snowman Trail in August preparing for the race in October.

The Night Halt 2 Adventure

We set out on foot to hike to Roduphu, our first camp of the trek. Since I’d done this trail just over a month ago I settled into the lead, showing my new crew the way. They seemed happy to follow and I’m sure they were just giving me the chance to be a bit self-reliant as over the next two weeks I’d become completely dependent on them in the highlands.

Chris leading the crew up the trail.
Leading The Crew, For Now…

We made it to Roduphu by mid afternoon under looming gray skies. As we waited for the pack animals it started to rain and with a sharp chill in the air the army guys started a fire in the herder’s hut. I sipped tea and warmed my hands by the flames as the crew sat scheming about how to find me a Bhutanese wife in Lunana. The horses finally arrived at dusk and after quickly setting up camp we had dinner and retreated to tents, falling asleep at 13,870 feet above sea level.

Sitting in Roduphu Hut.
Staying Warm In The Roduphu Hut

On Day 2 we hiked to the location of Night Halt 1, or the runner’s first camp of the Snowman Race. The 5 day race was divided into stages and each day the athletes would run roughly a marathon from one camp to the next, or what we called Night Halts. The day started out clear but snow began to fall as we crossed the first pass. We stopped to test our communications connection to home base and then with a chill in the air we continued briskly toward our campsite.

Night Halt 2 Crew.
Night Halt 2 Crew

We reached camp by 2:00 PM as more snow started to fall. Our team of pack animals was so large, 37 in total, and they were carrying so much gear for the race that it took them a few hours to get packed and on the trail each morning. With no wood to scavenge on the open hillside to start a fire we paced in circles, hands shoved deep into pockets to stay warm until the gear arrived. The animals wandered in around dusk and we quickly set up camp, ate dinner, and crawled into the tents. After a good nights sleep cocooned in my warm sleeping bag at 16,000 feet above sea level I woke to a fresh blanket of snow.

Snow covering camp.
Snow Covering Night Halt 1

We started Day 3 walking next to shimmering turquoise glacial lakes under wispy clouds hovering in the deep blue sky. Our pack animals got an early start and paced with us to the top of the first pass where we took a quick break next to fluttering prayer flags before dropping down the steep trail into the next valley.

Crew on Karchung La Pass, Bhutan.
Karchung La Pass – 16,950 Feet Above Sea Level

The trail into the next valley was a long grueling descent made more difficult as we got drenched by rain. On the valley floor I sloshed along trying not to kick up too much pony poop or lose my shoes in the sticky mud. Reaching camp long before the gear we collected wood, made a fire, and huddled around it to stay warm and dry our feet. In the morning the foggy mist hanging in the air made the campsite feel otherworldly.

Campsite along the Snowman Trail.
Camp Along The Snowman Trail

We left two military personal and supplies at this spot so they could serve as a checkpoint during the second stage of the race. The rest of us hiked down the lush, muddy valley and followed the trail up a mountainside to higher ground and a small village. I watched as kids shot arrows on the archery field and popped into the canteen to share a few drinks with the locals and crew. Eventually we continued on to our camp for the night perched on a dry grassy patch beside a beautiful glacial river.

Child shooting a bow and arrow.
Young Bhutanese Archer

The next day we crossed one more muddy pass and reached the Lunana Valley, the Shangri-La that stunned me during our last trek and nearly made me decide to stay forever. We walked through the local school to an open field where our crew began setting up camp with tents for the athletes, a kitchen and dining room, communications and medical tents, outhouses and more. It was a big operation and as pieces were falling into place I joined the doctor to walk back to the village and sit in a house with local friends drinking tea by the wood stove.

My home tent during the race.
My Home At Night Halt 2

The next day was clear and sunny for the first time all hike. Everyone was ready to dry out from the relentless rain and mud and we spent the day setting things up for the race. A massive antenna was installed for radio communications, the medical kit was unpacked, and we prepared all 15 of the athlete’s tents with their drop bags. At the same time the race was kicking off at the starting line in Gasa and the runners were on their way to Night Halt 1. That night we continually checked race updates with great anticipation of welcoming them to Night Halt 2 the following day.

Athlete's tents.
The Athlete’s Tents

Race Day started out cool and clear, perfect weather for the runners on course. The crew put finishing touches on the homemade finish line and the local school kids came down to hang climate change awareness banners that they made for the race. Around mid-morning, way too early to be a legit racer, we noticed movement under the arch. We wisely decided to let this race bandit go.

A yak on the race course.
Snowman Race Bandit

While waiting for the athletes to arrive we were invited to a special lunch program at the school. It was a treat to share a meal with the entire Lunana Primary School and I think the kids got a kick out of watching me try to eat traditionally, without forks and spoons.

Lunch with the Lunana Primary School.
Lunch At The Lunana Primary School

After lunch the kids formed two lines and held Bhutanese flags, waiting to cheer the runners on to the finish at our camp just outside the village. By mid-afternoon athletes began arriving and as the runners crossed the line they were greeted warmly by our entire crew, checked on by the medical staff, and then shown to their tent so they could change, get cleaned up and relax.

Runners finishing at Night Halt 2.
Runners Finishing At Night Halt 2

That evening, with all runners accounted for, the entire village visited camp and the students from the school put on a performance for the athletes that included music, dancing and more. It was an incredible evening but eventually everyone needed to go to bed, Day 3 would start early the next morning for the athletes.

Lunana school students.
Lunana Primary School Students

My alarm went off at 3:45 AM and I set about getting the runners ready for the Stage 3 of the Snowman Race. The crew was already busy in the kitchen tent boiling large pots of water for coffee and tea and preparing a massive spread of breakfast foods. I walked up and down the line of tents announcing breakfast and making sure that everyone was stirring. As sunlight filtered into the valley myself and the representative from the Bhutan Amateur Athletic Federation did a gear and safety check with each runner while the doctors completed morning medical checks. By 6 AM all of the athletes were on the starting line and then 3, 2, 1, they were off!

Runners at the starting ling.
Day 3 Starting Line

And just like that, camp went quite, save for a few helicopter landings dropping off villagers and a stray journalist. We couldn’t dismantle camp yet as there was one military checkpoint at the high pass between Night Halt 2 and Night Halt 3 and we needed to be prepared to host any athletes if they decided to come back, so the crew milled around, played games, and lounged in the warm sunshine while a herd of yaks meandered through camp looking for scraps of energy bites to munch on.

Yaks in camp.
Yaks In Camp

That afternoon, knowing that we had to stay put one additional day to wait for the team at the next military checkpoint to return I set off with the doctors to hike further up the Lunana Valley to visit friends. We stopped at the school where the Academy Award Nominated film Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom was made. It was the weekend so no students were there but we dropped off left over energy snacks and chatted with the teachers.

Chris standing in a classroom.
Where A Yak In The Classroom Was Filmed

That night we stayed in a house that belonged to a man they all called “Grandfather”. Lots of friends walked in from around the valley to join us for good food, strong drink, and interesting conversation late into the night. I even met Pem Zam, was one of the star actors in A Yak in the Classroom who actually lives in the Lunana Valley.

Chris with Pem Zam, actor from the A Yak In The Classroom film.
With Pem Zam

The next day I followed the doctors as we continued up the valley. We reached a village where the Queen Mother was sponsoring a women’s clinic and stopped to watch her helicopter land. The local doctor stayed to help with the clinic and me and our camp doctor joined two local ladies to hike up to the headwaters of the valley. An hour later I stood in awe at the turquoise blue shimmer of Raphstreng Lake under the Thorthormi Glacier. I won’t even attempt to put into words how magnificently beautiful this place is, I could never do it justice.

Glacial lakes and big mountains.
Raphstreng Lake And Thorthormi Glacier

Even more incredible, our hosts hiked a few Druk lagers all the way up for us to enjoy! I’ve said it before but the beauty of this land can only be matched by the beauty of the Bhutanese people and this trek was truly one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.

Druk lager beers at the glacier.
Druk Lagers At The Glacier

With that our time in the Lunana Valley was winding down. Walking back to Grandfather’s house we followed a group of Lunap girls herding baby yaks down the mountain. We said goodbye to our friends and hosts and the doctor and I set off toward Night Halt 2, arriving after dark with dimming headlamps and dying cell phone batteries. I was physically spent but completely fulfilled by new friends and the once in a lifetime stories we shared.

Prayer flags in Bhutan.
Prayer Flags In The Lunana Valley

The next morning we were up at dawn, packing away the last of the camp, selling extra supplies to the village, and preparing for our 5 day trek back to town. I received a text message from Luis saying he could arrange a helicopter ride for me and that I could be back in the city in 45 minutes for a hot shower, cold beer, and warm bed, but I’d already spent more than a week with this crew and there was no way I was going to let them walk out of there without me. I declined the offer, we donned our packs, and the full Night Halt 2 Crew started walking back to Gasa, together.

The Night Halt 2 crew all together.
Night Halt 2 Crew

On the return hike we were lighter and faster, and I think everyone was ready to get back to town. We were blessed with warm sunny weather and as we climbed the first pass to cross into the next valley the crew stopped now and then to try to get cell reception and check on the race standings. That afternoon we passed the riverside camp we used on the way to Lunana and under clear skies it looked even more like paradise on earth.

Glacial river on the Snowman Trail.
A week ago we camped next to this river and I asked the guides if I could stay forever. They laughed. I wasn’t joking.

As perfect as it would have been to camp there again, we were on a mission. We pushed on to the a village and set up camp next to the archery field and village canteen. The next morning was chilly and cloudy but still dry. We ate a quick breakfast around the campfire then continued our march across another pass and down into the next valley.

Eating breakfast by the campfire.
Bhutanese Breakfast

We spent the day hiking up the valley with waterfalls cascading down each side spilling into a turquoise glacial river. We reached the location of our 3rd camp from the hike in and picked up the 2 military guys who were stationed there as a checkpoint during the race. They had spent several days alone and showed us how they created games out of rocks and fashioned arrows out of twigs to play darts. When we reached camp that night Sangay surprised me with a few Druk lagers he carried all the way from the last canteen and solidified himself as one of my favorite trekking guides ever!

Chris and Sangay with Druk lagers.
With Sangay And Druk Lagers

The next morning was a relentless hike back up out of the valley. As strenuous as it was, they say that the third time is a charm, and this was my third time on this section of trail. During my previous visits I’d peered off into the distance shrouded by clouds hoping to catch a glimpse of the glacial lakes at the head of the valley. This day was perfect and I almost didn’t feel my legs burning from the climb as I kept looking out at the majestic view.

Beautiful glacial lakes.
Glacial Lakes Along The Snowman Trail

The day turned into an 8.5 hour slog as we all, humans and animals alike, pushed ourselves beyond exhaustion, up and over 16,500+ foot passes and along barren windy highlands in an effort to make it to Roduphu and reduce our return hike out by 1 day. We stumbled down the final descent as the daylight faded, pitched tents, ate dinner, and collapsed into bed. The next morning we woke to a fluffy blanket of snow, the Himalaya not wanting to let us go without one final farewell.

Snow on Roduphu camp.
Snowy Roduphu Camp

We hiked out of the snow and down to the valley where we merged with the trail to Laya which was bustling with people heading up for the Royal Highland Festival. By midday we reached the road, unloaded the pack animals, loaded the Mahindras, said goodbye to much of the crew, and started the long drive back to Thimphu.

Loading gear on the trucks.
Loading The Mahindras

Around 9 PM I got dropped off at the race hotel, quickly took my first shower in 15 days, and headed out with Luis to grab a drink and debrief. While we sat at a corner table in the back of a bar the owner walked over and said “Are you Mr. Escobar?” Apparently I’d missed all the hubbub in the media about the race while I was out in the highlands and Luis was a bit of a celebrity in Bhutan.

Toasting to top shelf whiskeys on the house Luis told me that our adventure wasn’t over quite yet. We’d been invited to attend the Royal Highland Festival, which meant that I only had one night in town with hot water and a warm bed. The next morning we’d be driving right back to where I came from and hiking back up into the mountains. With that in mind I decided that while hot water and warm sheets sounded nice, cold beer sounded better and we walked over to the local pub and met up with everyone else from the race to celebrate a successful inaugural event late into the night.

The next morning we drove back to Gasa and started our trek back up into the highlands and I was stoked to be setting out on another adventure with a new crew, but I knew that when I boarded my flight to leave Bhutan the highlight of the trip wouldn’t be the festival or the magnificent views, it would be the 2 weeks I spent trekking and camping with my Himalayan family, the Night Halt 2 Crew.

Night Halt 2 Crew on the trail.
Snowman Race – Night Halt 2 Crew

One Comment

  1. I am in awe reading of your adventure, the beauty and the people. That’s what adventuring is all about. You never cease to amaze me Tarzan. Happy adventuring!

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