Thinley Namgay   

The runners of the world’s most treacherous five-day Snowman Race from Gasa to Bumthang witnessed dramatic changes in the highland communities due to the impact of climate change.

The common changes athletes observed were less snowfall in the mountains and footprints of flood and landslide.

It is not very cold in Lunana and Laya today unlike in the past. Now the highlanders hardly migrate to Punakha in winter.

Participants navigated through snow, ice, rocky and muddy trails, steep slopes, rivers and lakes, among others. Some lost the trail in the middle of the run.

Gophula trail, located 5,470 metres above sea level was the most difficult for all the athletes. The level of oxygen reduces drastically at Gophula.  Runners couldn’t eat well and some had to take a short nap.

Despite challenging circumstances, runners completed the race which normally takes more than two weeks.

All runners call for a collective effort to combat climate change.

They said national stakeholders and international communities should act quickly to address climate change like how they covered a 203km Snowman Race in just five days.

Winner Gawa Zangpo, who went to Lunana to mark the race track in September 2017, said that the situation is different in the highland communities today.

He said that there was less snow at Gangla Karchung and Gophula, the highest point of the race.  “In September 2017, these places were covered with thick snow.”

Gawa said he saw trash in some parts of the trail and that it is the responsibility of highlanders and visitors to handle the waste.

Lhamo,23, from Lingzhi, said the snowman trail was splendid and heard the noise of birds and also saw footprints of wild animals. She said global warming is occurring in the mountains and it could threaten the lives of mountain creatures.

Women’s third position holder, Lhamo, said that to maintain a balanced ecosystem, reforestation and investment in sustainable green projects are required.

Kinzang Lhamo, who came second in the women’s group, said the race was not easy but she was glad to experience the first-hand situation in the mountains. “I want to be an advocate for climate change.”

However, she said Bhutan alone cannot fight climate change.

Kinzang said youth must set an example to solve climate issues. “Our country is clean and on the right track, but we can do even more. Future depends on youth.”