Bhutan's Gangkhar Puensum expedition, with secret compas


the hidden Himalayas

DATES: 20 Oct 201904 Nov 2019 TEAM SIZE: 12 COST: £4,799 (DATES & PRICES TBC)

Ever dreamt of claiming your own first ascent? This ambitious Himalayan trekking expedition is your rare chance to summit what is believed to be an unclimbed and unnamed 5,400m mountain for unrivalled views of the highest unclimbed peak in the world, Gangkhar Puensum. Forge your path through the untrodden heights and wild heart of Buddhist Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon.

Bhutan expedition
Bhutan Buddists praising dance
Bhutan expedition
Bhutan mountains
A child in Bhutan pictured with a pet dog
Bhutan by night
Bhutanese masks

As part of an arduous ten-day trek, the primary aim of this epic Bhutanese trekking expedition is to make a summit attempt of what is believed to be an unclimbed and unnamed 5400m mountain. At the summit you’ll be rewarded with clear views of the world’s highest unclimbed mountain, Gangkhar Puensum.

Before summit day you’ll make a basecamp in the same remote valley visited by Levison Wood at the climax of his Walking the Himalayas TV series (Channel 4, broadcast in January 2016 in the UK).

This is a pack-animal supported adventure and teammates will carry a daysack while trekking.





  • Attempt to summit what is believed to be an unclimbed and unnamed mountain at 5400m (a neighbouring peak to the mountain attempted by Secret Compass in spring ’17).
  • View the world’s highest unclimbed mountain, Gangkhar Puensum (7570m), considered sacred and banned from future climbs.
  • Fly past Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and Jomolhari on your journey into Bhutan.
  • Explore ancient fortresses including the precipitous Tiger’s Nest monastery.
  • Trek for ten days through rugged and remote valleys that few have seen.
  • Follow in the ‘Walking the Himalayas’ footsteps of adventurer Levison Wood

Gross National Happiness (GNH)

Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist, with Hinduism also practiced. It was voted the happiest country in Asia and is the world’s first country to adopt ‘gross national happiness’ instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as its main development indicator (though curiously, on the UN’s 2016 World Happiness Report, Bhutan remains at number 84). For a glimpse into this enigmatic nation, look out for a local screening of Crossing Bhutan (see trailer below), an adventure film premiered in spring 2016.

Bhutan’s terrain

Landlocked Bhutan is surrounded by China and India, touching borders with Sikkim, Assam, and West Bengal. Its terrain is hugely varied. Depending on altitude you might encounter subtropical plains and sub-Alpine Himalayan heights.

A 5400m peak

The Bhutanese people believe that mountains over 6000m in height are sacred. In 1994, the Bhutanese government prohibited climbing on all 6000m+ peaks.  This means there are hundreds of unclimbed mountains in Bhutan including the world’s highest, Gangkhar Puensum. The highest point you’ll aim to achieve on this expedition is 5400m. Several days of acclimatisation are planned and as teammates you’ll be briefed on the symptoms and treatment of altitude sickness by your experienced Secret Compass expedition leader. The trek to basecamp at 4500m is a gradual ascent giving plenty of time to acclimatise to the altitude. On arrival day at basecamp, a further acclimatisation trek up to 5000m will take place to further reduce the risk of Acute Mountain Sickness being felt on summit day.

Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this epic and exploratory trekking expedition – the ‘substance’ rather than the specifics. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Bhutan Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.

Teammates arrive

You will assemble and meet your expedition leader in Kathmandu, Nepal by 1130 on 20 October, before flying on to Paro in Bhutan (this flight – with its incredible views of Everest – is included in the expedition cost). Day one in Bhutan is a 3000m acclimatisation trek whose goal is to see the iconic Tiger’s Nest monastery. An internal flight then takes you to Jakar, Bhutan’s cultural heart and the city nearest to the trailhead. You’ll receive a blessing from a monk wishing you safe passage (at one of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries) before the expedition proper begins, accompanied by a local cook, support crew and pack animals.

On expedition

The expedition proper now begins. You’ll trek up steep-sided valleys and past turquoise blue rivers, Buddhist stupas, prayer flags and tiny yak herding settlements. Altitude will increase gradually to help with acclimatisation, until you get your first glimpse of the foreboding Gangkhar Puensum, weather permitting. With the mountain’s peak looming in the distance, basecamp will be pitched ready for a very early morning start to your 5400m summit attempt. If successful you’ll receive impressive views of the highest unclimbed mountain in the world and the eastern end of the Himalayan ranges. On the return trek, you’ll explore valleys it’s believed no westerners have ever trekked in. After the trek, you’ll celebrate with Swiss cheese and locally brewed, wheat beer! You’ll then drive back to Paro via further cultural highlights such as imposing fortresses and a village adorned with phalluses (see final episode of Wood’s Walking the Himalayas for a spoiler or just wait to see it for yourself…).

Goal achieved

After the return to Paro and an opportunity to relax or visit the local market for souvenirs, the expedition will end following the flight back to Kathmandu on the 4 November. At this point you and your fellow teammates will be free to return home or to organise onward travel. Flight times between Paro and Kathmandu will be confirmed later in 2018 and meanwhile we do not recommend booking international flights home until after 1500 on this day.

Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. The biggest challenge of this expedition is likely to be the altitude and the rough terrain.

Applicants will receive a Handbook with further expedition information. View Secret Compass’s suggested Expedition Training Advice and get in touch with any fitness, health, training or kit questions that remain.

Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go! Teammates must be comfortable with the following.

Minimum fitness requirements

  • Trek: up to 20km per day for 11 days with a max. daily ascent of 1000m.
  • Daily activity: varies but up to approx. 8 hours per day and up to 11 hours.
  • Carry: up to 10kg in a daysack (pack animals will take the rest).
  • Terrain: on small footpaths over often rough, uneven and mountainous terrain with the possibility of snow underfoot at altitudes up to 5,400m.
  • Climate: Daytime temperature averages 15°C which can drop to -10°C at night/ at altitude.
  • Swim: not required.
  • Age: 21+



  • Professional Secret Compass expedition leader carrying full communications and medical kits.
  • All local guides, pack animals and drivers.
  • All meals and accommodation (tents).
  • All transport as outlined in the itinerary.
  • All specialist and safety equipment.
  • All local permits including Bhutan minimum daily package fee.
  • Bhutan visa.
  • Internal flight Bhumtang to Paro.
  • International flights Kathmandu to Paro return.

Not included

  • International travel from home country to and from Kathmandu.
  • Nepal visas if required.
  • Excess baggage costs on flights provided by Secret Compass.
  • Tips to local guides (discretionary but always appreciated).
  • Beverages and any costs of a personal nature.
  • Any travel etc outside of the Secret Compass itinerary.
  • Personal equipment (your Handbook will contain a kit list).

On application, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.

Where should I stay in Kathmandu?

There are plenty of hotels to choose from in Kathmandu if you wish to make arrangements for the night before the team meets or to extend your stay outside of the expedition dates. Secret Compass does not yet know the team hotel as this will be decided closer to departure. A WhatsApp group will be set up so teammates can make plans together if desired.

Can I charge my electricals?

There will be charging points in hotels (using a combination of type C, D and G plugs; a universal adapter could be a wise investment). Once the trek begins you will be unable to charge electronics. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.

I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?

Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying, Secret Compass may request further details. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab and the local cooks are very used to catering for dietary requirements.

Can I arrive a day late?

As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates out to and back from Paro and so start and end dates are not flexible.

How can I find out more?

Apply for this expedition team using the button on this page to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. The Application page explains the joining process. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team.

The Journal