Haa Valley Trek Bhutan means three days of amazing views. Trekking is the main reason people visit this small Asian country. Now I know why. I did two moderately challenging day hikes to Cheri Monastery and Tiger’s Nest Monastery, the most famous of all monuments in Bhutan. Neither of these treks require special equipment, trekking poles or shoes, or even a high level of fitness. You don’t have to be fit to do these treks, but they will be easier if you are. I saw people walking up to Tiger’s Nest in sandals, and while I wouldn’t recommend that, trainers are sufficient. Hiking shoes or boots are not necessary.
The three day trek we did started in the Haa Valley and included two nights camping, three days trekking, and unimaginable views every day.
We started near the small (tiny?) town of Haa Valley where we walked through some farm land and gradually climbed throughout the day. After a leisurely picnic lunch at 12000 feet, we continued on for about an hour and camped at Saga La at 11,800 feet. We arrived at camp around 2:00 I think, and I fell asleep in my tent just as rain started to fall. We had tea and snacks around 3:30 and dinner at 6:00. Lots of time to rest, read, write, and chat.
The next day we started out around 8:00AM and had about 5 hours trekking, but with frequent rest breaks that we didn’t really feel we needed. It wasn’t actually that strenuous even though we were trekking between 13000 and 13800 feet nearly all day. We had amazing views of Jomalhari on this day. We arrived at camp just as a hail storm and rain hit, but our guide, Sonam, and the other members of the staff set up our camp and managed to dry our tents on the inside so we could wait out the rain. On this night we camped at Ningula above 13000 feet where we were surrounded by rhododendrons and had an incredible Jomolhari view the next morning before the clouds moved in.
On day three we started around 7:00AM so we could finish before the afternoon rains, but not to worry! It didn’t rain at all on this day! We ascended to the highest peak of the trek, Kung Karpo, at 13500 feet where there is a small temple highly revered by Buddhists. From there we walked down to Chelela Pass through the thousands of prayer flags where we met our driver. Day three had a couple of steep uphills, but wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. The steep uphills were fairly short and had switchbacks.
We arrived at camp in the early afternoon both days and had plenty of time to read, write in a journal, have tea and snacks, and talk to our guide who has some interesting insights into Bhutanese culture and how it has changed in last 15 years. If you do decide to book a trek in Bhutan, take some time to talk to your guide and learn about the country and the culture.
Preparing for Your Haa Valley Trek Bhutan
Preparing to trek in Bhutan is not difficult because the tour operator will provide nearly everything you need. Mine did at least. If your tour operator doesn’t specify what they provide and what you should bring, ask them. Don’t arrive unprepared because, oddly enough, you cannot buy any gear in Bhutan. It’s not like Kathmandu where you can arrive with nothing and buy whatever is needed for trekking, although I don’t recommend that. There are no shops selling gear or even trekking clothes in Thimpu or Paro.
Most likely, tour companies will provide the tent and either a foam or air mattress. Snow Leopard Trekking provided a wonderful foam mattress and even a pillow! But you will need to bring your own sleeping bag, trekking poles, headlamp, and clothes. Although, for my Haa Valley trek, I didn’t even use my poles. I carried them for three days and never once used them. The downhills weren’t that steep and I preferred to use my hands for balance on the brief steep, rocky downhills.
◊ Shoes are very important and a personal choice. I wore hiking boots, but for the Haa Valley trek hiking shoes would work just as well. Because trekkers only carry a day pack with the essentials for that day’s trek, the support of a boot isn’t really necessary. The terrain isn’t particularly rocky either. In my opinion, based on my backpacking experience in a variety of terrains, I think trainers, hiking shoes, or hiking boots are all suitable for this trek. I think it depends on what you are comfortable in and the level of support you need.
◊ Socks are also important. It’s cold at these higher elevations. Wear wool! Wool socks help prevent blisters and naturally repel water. They keep your feet warm and dry and offer additional padding. I’m a big fan of Smartwool socks.
◊ I recommend a sleeping bag with a 0 degree rating or lower. It’s cold at higher elevations, no matter what time of year it is.
◊ It rains year round in Bhutan, even when it’s not the rainy season. You’ll need a rain jacket and a pack cover for your day pack and you should carry both with you while hiking. Horses will carry your sleeping bag, clothing, and anything you need at camp, but you’ll need to carry your rain gear, camera, etc. You’ll need to bring a backpack or duffel bag to use for anything you want the horse to carry. Your backpack will be carried inside a waterproof duffel.
◊ A headlamp comes in handy in camp for getting around, making a midnight toilet run, or reading in your tent.
◊ Other things you might want to bring include a pack towel, bandana, sunscreen, lip balm, and wet wipes.