In September 2019, five women from Montana traveled to Bhutan for the challenge of a lifetime. The mission: to complete the Snowman Trek, or as they dubbed it, the “Snowwomen Trek.” The adventure lasted 26-days, covered 200-miles, and took them deep into the Greater Himalayas along Bhutan’s unforgiving northern border.
This trek is considered one of the most strenuous in the region –notorious for the amount of time hikers spend at high altitudes. The trail crosses fourteen mountain passes, eight of which are over 15,500 feet.
The Bhutanese place a strong emphasis on the preservation of their land and cultural history. The Trek passes through the working landscapes of northern Bhutan, where yaks have long grazed in high alpine pastures. Yak husbandry is both a livelihood and cultural framework in the small, mountainous country. The seasonal shifting of pasture lands dictates the movement of people and their animals. In many ways, this grazing system parallels the way the Helles manage the Rambouillet sheep here in Montana.
The women of the crew, Marcia Hogan, Madeline Mazurski, Sarah Halvorson, Mary Morrison, and Hannah Gosnell-Schneider, have years of experience as mountaineers. All between the ages of 51 and 67, they know the importance of having the right gear for their expeditions. They gladly report that their Duckworth layering systems played a critical role in the success of the trip and helped them stay prepared for a wide range of conditions.
With monsoon season lasting longer than expected last year, they were faced with rain and biting cold–especially during the many nights they spent at high elevations.
The women wore seven different Duckworth pieces during the trek, and most days wore a three-piece layering system that performed in varying conditions.
Snowman Trek Packing List:
“The deep, thick mud and slippery trail conditions were particularly challenging, and certainly not good for doing laundry. It seemed to take a week or more for our gear to dry out. Duckworth wool was ideal because the fabrics stayed fresh and did not feel damp in spite of all of the long days on the trails. The layering system was a perfect solution to September’s damp monsoon conditions and the hot sun of mid-October,” she says.
This all-woman team overcame many obstacles including tent-camping around 13,000 feet for almost a month, trekking upwards of 10 miles a day through arduous terrain,managing the effects of altitude sickness, and fighting off the elements.Ultimately, they completed their goal.
Marica Hogan, a full time professor of Geography at the University of Montana, has been studying the region of Bhutan since 1988. She had her eyes set on attempting the Snowman Trek since her first visit to the country in 2002.
“While the trek was intimidating, we recognized that such an opportunity does not drop out of the sky. It’s not easy to find a group of women with similar interests, physical stamina, and a commitment to plan and prepare appropriately for a trip like this,” says Marcia. “We trusted each other because we all approached this challenge with the same ardor and effort.”
The landscapes of the Snowman Trek are filled with sacred trees, prayer flags, and rock cairns—physical reminders of an incredibly rich cultural heritage. “We are especially grateful for so many opportunities to experience the Bhutanese culture throughout this adventure,” says Marcia.