Adventurers aim for a glimpse of Bhutan’s highest peak

A view of Gangkhar Puensum Photo: Steve Shaw

An adventure company has set its sights on reaching the peak of an unexplored mountain in Bhutan to get a glimpse of one of the highest unclimbed mountains in the world.

Secret Compass will lead a team of amateur adventurers on the expedition, trekking to the 5,400-metre peak of an unnamed and previously unclimbed Himalayan mountain in 2017.

A view of Gangkhar Puensum Photo: Secret Compass
A view of Gangkhar Puensum
Photo: Secret Compass

From the peak the team will get a clear view of Bhutan’s highest mountain, known as Gangkhar Puensum. It is nestled among the jagged Himalayas and stands at an elevation of 7,570 metres.

Tom McShane, operations director at Secret Compass called the expedition unique and ambitious, “This expedition doesn’t strive to be an Everest-styled box-ticker,” he said in a statement. “It’s unique and ambitious, it’s far from the madding crowds of Everest base-camp and it will attract people who enjoy pushing their own boundaries in unusual, culturally fascinating and little-visited destinations.
The 5,400m peak is what we call a ‘trekking peak’ and this physical part of the expedition is achievable by fit amateurs rather than technically competent mountaineers.

The real aim of this pioneering expedition is to explore a hidden corner of the Himalayan world in this remote and isolated Buddhist Kingdom, achieving something extraordinary in a quiet, low-impact way in one of the world’s wildest untouched places.”

Mountain expeditions have been rare in Bhutan since the government prohibited anyone from climbing mountains higher than 6,000 meters in 1994. The ban was part of an effort to respect local spiritual beliefs and aimed to prioritize the country’s conservation efforts.

In neighboring Nepal, the effects of mountain tourism have become a major environmental issue. A large amount of waste has been left behind on trails around Everest and tree lines have been reduced due to firewood being burned for heating and cooking.

Many of Nepal’s Sherpas have urged their government to temporarily limit access to areas surrounding Everest so the area can be cleaned and reforestation and conservation efforts can be put in place.

Speaking to the BBC, Lindsay Griffin, chairman of the Mount Everest Foundation screening committee said: “The Bhutanese are very keen on protecting their own people. They just looked at what was going on in Nepal with Everest and decided that they’re not going to be part of that.”

Secret Compass previously traveled to Bhutan when they supported the production of a British television show called Walking the Himalayas. The show followed the journey of TV adventurer Levison Wood as he made his way across the long stretch of mountains on foot.

Before summiting the 5,400-metre peak the expedition team will make their base-camp in the same remote valley as Wood when he visited Bhutan in the climax of the TV series.

Steve can be reached at [email protected]