The Lost WorldA small expedition to the mountains of Naryn region, Kyrgyz Republic, near the border with China, took place in March of 2016. The event is not a world scale, most of the regional, but, in my opinion, it will be interesting to people from around the world.
Every year, the world around us becomes smaller. Airliners, Internet, satellites have significantly reduced its size. In the past it would’ve taken a year to get to a place that now can be reached in a day. There are very few places on earth not studied thoroughly by inquisitive man. Once the images of the Earth's surface from space became available to anyone pioneering spirit slowly began to fade. Now people, traveling on the earth's surface and having accurate information, are no longer surprised by new horizons. They know what to expect – the novelty effect disappeared. However, there are still places on our beautiful planet not reached by the ubiquitous satellite lenses. In March 2016, micro-expedition out of two adventurous risk takers climbers headed to one of these places.
The idea to make the first ascent in Kyrgyzstan was born in our heads out of the blue.
Not long ago we discussed the idea of climbing in Siberia, and all of a sudden our thoughts zoomed off to Central Asia.
This change in the plans two weeks before the start forced us to spend the rest of the time in searching for the information about the area we were about to go. Because of little time left we had to seek help from people who have been in that area before. We are very thankful to Alexei Tsvetkov and Dmitry Suponnikov for the current information about that area. Because of them, we had started to realize where we are going and what to expect. We started stocking up with a bunch of Soviet time’s maps and minimum of climbing equipment for all possible cases. And then we began to realize that this expedition is not confined to the first ascent to the summit where one hasn’t been before.
We began to realize we have now several missions.
1) Research mission - research and the subsequent description of life conditions, customs and traditions of local shepherds who live far from big civilization.
2) Geographic mission - description of the two At-Bashi valley’summits, finding out the names and mapping the local mountains.
3) First ascent - climb to the summits one haven’t been before and describe the trip.
Our team, Ivan Braun from Denmark and Rustem Amirov from Russia, had a chance to be tested on similarity, teamwork, and emotional stability last year during winter ascent of Elbrus. We were on the same wavelength, like two musical instruments sounding in unison, not interrupting but complementing each other. I could have not wished for more: to have a buddy similar in spirit and as adventurous as me. We encouraged and helped each other throughout the trip, worked and rested together.
Path to the unknown.
It does not make sense to describe the modern transportation of «homo sapiens» - we're flying through the air, move in comfortable transportation on equipped routes. We are so used to it that we are afraid to leave our comfort zone, like snails in the shells. Moving from Bishkek on the modern «Silk Road», which is thousands of years old, I have constantly tried to imagine this road 200, 300, 500 and 1000 years ago. «Great Silk Road» in the modern version, rolled up in the asphalt, comfortable, was not showing up as an ancient legendary road. Only after slipping Naryn’mountain and turning off from this giant asphalt snake to the unpaved road toward Ak-Mooze village, I saw what I was looking forward to. I began to feel the breath of the history. The further away from civilization we moved, the more vividly I imagined trading caravans and horse Bedouins.
Even during the preparation of the expedition, we have identified three possible area for our trip : one primary and two spare. Since we arrived in early March, it was impossible to drive to the main area and also to one of the spare area. Due to the large amounts of snow in the Bosogo Valley no cars, no horses could not help us to get there. We knew 70-80 km trip in the deep snow would eat all our reserved time. As a result we chose the only available option to us - the upper reaches of the valley between the ridges of the Naryn and At-Bashi.
The Lost World.
We have responded to very hospitable offer of the local shepherds to live with them in Kosh - shepherd’s hut. Kosh became an excellent base and a launching pad for big trips to the surrounding summits. During the tour, we lived with these people in the same house, we ate the same food, and watched their way of life and household work. Most importantly - we talked to them, although it was not very easy for all of us. Ivan speaks English, German, French, Italian and Afrikaans, I know Russian and English, but we both did not understand Kyrgyz. Local shepherds don’t know any languages other than their native language. Communication turned out very funny. I had one sheet with 20-25 words in Kyrgyz as a dictionary, that’s why we used facial expressions, gestures and drawings to communicate. It was fun.
Watching a simple, but very harsh life of shepherds and the valley as a whole, I have come to the conclusion: if cataclysm ever happens in the world, the locals, mountains, rivers, and valleys will not even notice it. The world can fall into the abyss, it may be World War.
But all this will pass as the events in a parallel reality. And it will not disturb the way of life in this broad valley surrounded by magnificent mountains. Wild animals, livestock and people live in harmony here.
When we got here, and began to live together with the shepherds, I had a feeling that I dipped into the past, 100-150 years ago. Life here is slow paced, the time step is different. The perception of life is more contemplative; people here look at the world through narrow slit eyes on dark-skinned faces.
We settled in Kosh owned by shepherd Kairat Asanakunov. He lives with his wife Dzhazgul and his 14 years old teenager cousin Amandos. Kosh is a small farm with a house. The house consists of the entrance hall and room, divided in two by a metal stove and a small screen.
We eat by a small table with 15 cm (5.9 inches) legs sitting on the floor. We sleep on the floor on mats in sleeping bags. Shepherd’s family slips on quilted mattresses with the quilts. They receive electricity from the sun's energy. Asanakunov’s family is the proud owners of a solar panel, with which they charge the battery and then mobile phones. No TV, no Radio, cellular communications is extremely unstable. Toilet is outside; it’s an Asian type with a hole in the floor. Although it seemed to me that the purpose of this facility is likely to have a shelter from the wind, but not from prying eyes. Animal manure in the cosh is everywhere.
There is a small paddock with canopies - for sheep and driving horses. Semi-wild yaks and meat and dairy horses spend the night in the open-air enclosure. The morning starts early in Kosh. Oddly enough, the first to wake up are men. Very early morning, still in the dark, shepherd put cattle to pasture, feed the newborn lambs, and perform a variety of work on the farm.
By sunrise, the men return to the house and heat up the stove with the dung (dried horse and yak manure). There is not much firewood, it is saved. Small spruce trees on mountain slopes can’t be cut down. This is followed by a special person. Then women wake up, clean beds, and cooked breakfast. Traditional shepherd’s food is bannock, jam, and lots of tea. Sometimes they cook potatoes with yak meat or manti - dumplings. The food is simple but very rich. It is not easy to prepare this simple food in local conditions. Women have to cook on the stove. It's a long process requiring constant attention. Fruits are very rare, but the meat is very popular. Shepherds do not cultivate the land, all their food, all their income - it is livestock. Herds are constantly looked after, so the wolves won’t attack, and are accompanied by the shepherds on driving horses.
Generally, the shepherds are very good riders and know all the character nuances of their driving horses.
Studying the old Soviet maps, I saw vague outlines of ridges, peaks without designation of heights and names, tentatively indicated riverbeds. But the main thing I saw in it was huge potential for first ascents .The reality surpassed all expectations. It tore off rose-colored glasses, presenting a completely different world. Maps we used turned out very exemplary and sometimes contradicted each other in detail.
evening of traveler
It was decided to re-open the area, not particularly trusting our data. We could rely only on our own eyes, instincts, and intuition. The peak in the mountain range of At-Bashi, the closest to our Kosh, was chosen to become first summit in our ascents. We decided to carry out a preliminary exploration of accessway to the mountain.
alpinists - cowboys
At the same time we learned to ride a horse. «Climbers-cowboys» - called us ironically my partner Ivan. For both of us it was the first riding lesson in life. It’s very difficult if you aren’t used to it, but at the same time so excited that I felt like a hero of the movie Avatar. I could not figure out what my horse wanted and apparently our fillings were mutual. Looking ahead, I will say that after 4-5 days Ivan and I quite confidently managed horses without assistance.
During our first exploration we didn’t ride far in accessway. Pretty soon it became clear that climbing cowboy has no future. Horses stuck to their bellies in the snow at the beginning of the trip. I decided to use ski-tours and Ivan used snowshoes. After a few hours it became clear that we misjudged the scope of accessway to the mountain and the amount of snow on them. Even without a backpack and ski-tours I fall into the knee high snow. Ivan on his snowshoes was continually cursing at the snow crust and dust underneath. Modern snowshoes provided him with an exciting opportunity to sink into the snow above the knee at each step in the virgin snow. After sweating a lot we realized the futility of trip in such deep snow. The north side of the ridge At-Bashi with a huge amount of snow made us to respect it and cooled our exuberant heads. The first survey was very useful: we had a new look on the surrounding mountains. Accessway to the mountain in the valley was much longer than expected, and there were a lot of snow on the mountains. Crystal clear air has played a cruel joke with us. It seemed that the mountain is on the doorstep. We're riding already an hour or two, but it looks like we are standing on the spot. And only then, by the third hour, with a sudden surge the mountains get close to you.
Talking to the shepherds, we learned about the non-traditional climbing danger. In this area, there are a lot of winter flocks of wild wolves. This is a disaster for all living creatures. Initially we perceived information as a children's horror story or a joke.
We began slowly believing in the urgency of this threat when we learned that a few weeks before our arrival a woman was bitten to death by wolves. Subsequent events have forced us to rethink the degree of the threat.
Due to the fact that the first exploration showed the duration and complexity of the accessway from the north of At-Bash ridge, we decided to turn our attention to the other side of the valley. We were attracted by beauty and most importantly little snowiness of the southern slopes of the Naryn’ ridge. For the first ascent we chose the pyramidal shape summit. Since the accessway didn’t have much snow, we decided to hit the ground running and tried to climb on it boldly.
Very early in the morning we start from Kosh when the sun has not yet risen, and «Shamal» (in Kyrgyz), cold headwind, is rushing towards us along the valley from China.
We have to warm ourselves, clap eyes on the hood in order somehow to escape from the cold air flows; fingers even in gloves freeze in minutes.
Every morning the wind in the valley is blowing in one direction from the summits down.
Constantly it stops only in the afternoon around 1-2pm. By horse riding, we are reaching the foot of «our» mountain in three hours. The local name of the Kumdobe’summit is «Knuckle Fist» in Kyrgyz.
Kairat - Shepherd, whose house we live in, remains at the foot of the mountain with horses, Ivan and I are on our way to the top. We chose the route along the south-western ridge. We go quickly, in a very good pace, without stopping and not binding to each other with the rope. Climbing at the beginning is safe. An hour later, we are on the slope, and it seems to us at the end of the next ridge we’ll see the summit. One and a half hour later on the unpleasant mellow rotten stone road, and, slightly disappointed, we are standing on top of another false summit. Ahead of us there is a ridge again with rocky tower we immediately dubbed the «black castle». We are forced to start using crampons and ice tools in next one and a half hour.
Sometimes the mountain ridge is too narrow. There is the steep scree slope on one side and the snow puffs (eave overhangs) on the other side; so it’s impossible to see anything; and we absolutely don’t want to check. What do you think where are we within the next hour and a half? That's right - on a false top!
on the ridge of the route
The ridge is farther up. We have to go over the mountain ridge, scalding the small gendarmes (pinnacles) on it, or bypassing them on left.
An hour later, we are finally at the top. It’s 3:25 pm. The top is a small rocky gendarme/pinnacle with a tiny platform.
First ascent - Summit of Kumdobe peak
Congratulations to each other. We are the first people on this top! Gadgets show height 4249 - 4250 meters (2.64 ml).
Photo and video shooting. I am building a small gabion (corbeil) out of stones and put inside a note in a plastic bag with the date, the name of the mountain and our mountain climbers names.
in the Kumdobe summit - Ivan
in the Kumdobe summit - Rustem
Our thermoses are already empty, so I pull out mini Hornet burner (the sponsor is Fire Maple) and few minutes later we get water out of snow. Now we are preparing water for the trip down at 4 pm. We hope to get down the mountain before 7 pm when it gets dark. We starting going down very carefully and don’t want to spoil such a great day.
In the middle of the climbing down we hear wolf howling in the valley below. We look at each other in bewilderment. We continue to climb down, don’t letting go off hands ice tools, that we need now not only for the climbing, but as well for the peace of mind. Twilight looming. We are feeling bad: «Shepherd Kairat left with horses; a long journey in the darkness of the valley At-Bashi is ahead of us, the long journey, surrounded by wolves that noticed us long time ago and are looking forward to meet us at the foot of the mountain, dinner comes down from heaven».
We hardly speak with each other. Ivan gave me another nickname «Robot». Because I didn’t stop to rest. At 6pm we start screaming loudly and hooting, hoping Kairat would hear and won’t leave without us. Darkness is rapidly approaching. By 6:45pm, at the bottom of the mountain we see the outlines of the horses and shepherd, impatiently waiting for us. We reaching them at 7 pm, removing crampons, putting gear in backpacks. There is no time to relax. We are sitting astride horses and starting return journey in dim opaque light of the headlamp flashlights. Very dark night. Neither stars nor moon help us.
On the way back my horse’s front hooves suddenly falling into some hole or snow Groundhog hole. Before I knew it I front flipped ahead from the horse I am sitting on. The good thing is that snow is deep and soft, and there is backpack on my back. I am safe and don’t even have a bruise. At some point in the darkness we get lost, Kairat is getting a little nervous. At times we have to lead tired horse by the bridles through the deep snow. We are walking along the snow crust, but horses are sinking up to their bellies. Encouraging each other we are joking we made two first ascents today. Kairat had his first journey at the small unknown valley along the shallow river, while we were climbing pick Kumdobe.
Thank shepherd! At 10pm finally, tired and wet, we get to riding stables in Kosh. We are so tires we can’t even eat dinner. We are having one and a half liters of tea and lying down with a sense of accomplishment.
It took 15 hours to climb peak Kumdobe from the start upon returning to Kosh.
The complexity of the mountain climbing is evaluated in International Classification as PD +, in Russian Classification as - 2B.
Next few days after the first ascent we undertook reconnaissance radial riding trips. According to shepherds, metal triangulation marks were installed in Soviet times on top of two Naryn summits. But we couldn’t see anything even looking through binoculars; perhaps tripods were covered with snow. Shepherds assured us no one ever climbed the visible peaks of the At-Bashi Ridge Mountains.
During reconnaissance trips Ivan making a lot of pictures and I am sketching and noting local mountain names. There is almost no information on the maps we use. Occasionally you can find the designation of the altitude of the mountain passes and a pair of summits.
I talked head off shepherds with my questions, but wrote all the local names of mountains.
explorers of geography
Now we are consolidating all the information we gathered to create the full picture of peaks and mountain passes of this beautiful valley for future travelers.
explorers of geography - maps
A bit of drama.
The day before our departure, on the same route we were scouting first, wolves tore the shepherd’s horse. It happened very close, 300 - 400 meters away from house we used to live!
Now, when our mini expedition is over, sitting at the computer and typing this text, I am trying to go back in my thoughts to this cold, windy and wild land, to this good and a bit naive people whom he shared shelter and food.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to do every day living in the big city.
It seems that this journey into a lost world, meeting with its inhabitants did not occur to me; that all this is gradually closing by the haze of time and big gap in cultural differences.
The memories keep the pictures of an amazing, distant, and very unique world.
March of 2016
Special thanks to sponsors provided part of the equipment for the expedition:
• Trekking sticks Masters, model Scout Red - excellent sticks with reliable locks. In the face of very tough operation, sticks had been perfect .
• Gas stove Fire Maple model Hornet - used during the ascent, the weight of only 45 grams. On the first ascent we took the thermoses and a supply of water, but route is very long. Good thing I took a gas stove "Hornet". Right on top of Kumdebe peak height of 4250 meters, where we were the first people, we used this gas stove to take water from the snow.
• Sleeping bag Alexika model Delta - was as always on top! Living in Kosh with shepherds away from the great civilization is very interesting, but not easy. I slept on the floor, on the karemat, and the sleeping bag, as always, allowed to feel comfortable in all conditions.
• Gas stove Fire Maple model Volcano - my favorite stove! Powerful, robust, allows food to cook quickly. We used them early in the morning, when we start. Shepherds cook on a metal furnace. The process of cooking in Aboriginal takes considerable time: 1.5-2 hours it takes to boil the kettle! At the end of the expedition, I presented to the shepherds this gas stove and all cartriges of gas.
You should have seen how happy they are. They have a very difficult life, a harsh, detached from the great civilization, I would make their life a little easier.
• Leggins Tasmanian Tiger - reliable and easy. Excellent protected roe from sharp climbing cats and horses' sides. During this expedition I had a lot riding on horseback at the approaches during the research part. At the very end of the descent from the mountain on the sharp stones were broken and lost the lower sling one of leggins. Not critical.
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