Thinley Namgay   

Snowman Race Secretariat is gearing up for one of the world’s most challenging ultra-marathon that will kick off on October 13 coinciding with the 11th Royal Wedding Anniversary of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen.

Around 30 runners in five days will cover 222km from Gasa to Bumthang at an elevation of 5,470 metres  above sea level across the difficult landscapes of the Himalayan ranges.

Of the 30 runners, 12 are women including three Bhutanese. Thirteen of them are foreign male runners.  Runners have to cover around 42km a day starting at 6am.

Recently, 17 trekkers comprising the race director, members of the production team, Snowman Race Secretariat members, and volunteers trekked for 14 days to re-survey the entire course of the Snowman Race between Gasa and Bumthang.

It was to check the standard of the race, plan more safety measures, document the route, identify night halt locations, and make a runners guide.

Sonam Euden from the Snowman Race Secretariat said that she never experienced such a tough trek before. “All the passes along the way were difficult.”

She said that Gophula and Tshorim passes were the most challenging as the oxygen level was less in these places.  “Both the passes are more than 5,100 metres above the sea level.”

There are four-night halts during the race and four local tour companies were involved to ensure the catering services.

Another trekker Sonam Yangzom said that the places look like a desert at a high altitude and the overall view was mesmerising with beautiful vegetation, flowers, landscape, mountains and nomads along the way, among others.

“It will be very risky for those who have never been to high-altitude places,” Sonam Yangzom said.

The Snowman Race route has an elevation ranging from 2,850 to 5,470 metres above sea level crossing 11 passes, six mountains over 7,000 metres, glaciers and two national parks, Jigme Dorji National Park and Wangchuck Centennial National Park.

Race Director Luis Escobar said that 21 athletes died last year in China during the ultra-marathon race due to some problems.

He said the team will learn from such experiences and provide real-time trekking services. “We are confident to conduct the race.”

Each runner will carry a water-resistant GPS device with lithium batteries to enable tracking throughout the route.

Chairperson of the Snowman Race, Kesang Wangdi said the success of the race would be measured by the safety of the runners. “Safety is our top priority.”

He said that to acclimatise, runners would reach Gasa on October 10.

Snowman Race is intended to realise the vision of His Majesty The King to raise awareness on the issues of global climate change and to protect and preserve highland communities and the environment. The run was supposed to take place in 2020 but had to be deferred after the Covid-19 pandemic hit Bhutan.

The Snowman Race Secretariat organised a series of Snowman Race pre-event activities to date such as the 12.5km Boomers Run, 41 fun challenge for climate action, and the women’s marathon in Gasa.