[img::aligncenter:medium:]The odyssey from Montreal Airport to Bishkek’s, with stops in Brittany and Muscovy, lasted 26 hours including all stops and flights. Anticipation of what we had not yet imagined was enough to prolong our positive thoughts in expectancy of Kyrgyzstan. As we get off the aircraft, exhaustion hits us brutally. We still need to stand up, as the Moldalieva Family is watching us and bringing us to their rustic household full of attention to care for our exiled soul.
Before we experienced the height of hospitality around a festive table especially prepared in our honor and for our pleasure, we witnessed the steppes’ famous traditional game called ‘’kukburu’’ or ‘’bouzkachi’’. The game consists of two horsemen disputing a goat’s carcass that has to be dropped into the opponent’s goal. It appears to be the ancestor of European polo; only the ritual sacrifice of the goat (others call it scapegoat) represents the man kicking his dog instead of his boss.
The sacrifice plays the role of symbolically ‘’purging’’ the social group of their undesirables by concentrating their aggressive stress on one victim. The goat can be killed, there will not be revenge.Include text here.
The trio is now complete. We survived the Bishkek-Osh flight aboard a Russian Yak 40 from the Khroutchtchev days! After three months of Internet communication with our local agency, the meeting with Jazgul was rather deceiving. A bad understanding of our requests has lead to a one-day delay.
Today is Kyrgyzstan Independence Day, a national holiday that made us discover in depth the country and its traditions as we visited the Osh bazaar and Salomon sacred mountain surrounded by yurt-restaurants. If compared to Bishkek, Osh appears to be more traditional; if only by looking at people’s clothing and at the Central Asia cultural blend.
Tomorrow will be a preparation day and equipment purchasing for the ascent.
Heading to Base Camp
We left the very Muslim city of Osh. Ten hours of jeep and ‘’terek’’ (small car). Ten hours in a mineral kingdom made of rock, sand and steppes before any sight of Base Camp. When you think about it, high seas and high altitude are somewhat similar. As you need a port to reach the sea, you need a camp to reach the mountain.
It is Sunday, hi everyone! At 6h50, we are awake, awake and amazed to be at an altitude of 3,600 meters, beside Base Camp, at the yurt’s doorstep that sheltered us along with a new roped party companion, a packer from the region. Today’s objective is to reach Base Camp (from now on BC) in order to start our altitude acclimation and install required equipment. At night, when lying horizontally, there was an opening in the yurt’s roof; the elders religiously name it ‘’heaven’s window’’. Simple happiness and joy; it’s for us.
Advanced Base Camp
What a relatively unexpected brutal morning; there are 5 cm of snow. We have made the route from Ashik Tash to advanced BC for a goodly eight hour. There are now two packers : Manas and his friend. They are coming with us carrying sixty kilos of equipment each on horses. We are now settling down for two weeks of which at least two days will be dedicated to altitude acclimation. During the day, we talked with members of the Russian-International expedition who explained the particularities of the upcoming route. In addition, they gave us gas tanks and food supplies; this is always appreciated especially in a mountain situation with our strictly measured reserves.
Yesterday, the 7th, we attempted to reach Camp II. We brought all the equipment in order to stay the night, but close to 5,000 m : sickness, slowdown and turn back. Was our altitude acclimatation process unsatisfactory? What is happening? Simple answer : the water is undrinkable and food insubstantial. We must say that water from BC was most probably contaminated due to terrible hygiene and toilet’s lack of sanitation. True blue ascent of the mountain ideal is now confronted with diarrhea and stomach ache. This is all followed by a lack of energy preventing us to face the climbing. Today, the 8th, after sleeping at advanced BC at 4,400 m, we are resting and hoping to relaunch the climbing toward C II at 5,400 m. Happiness is not so simple anymore.
Rip-off Instead of Takoff
On the 9th, we made a successful attempt and reached C II at 5,400 m. We spent the night, all fast asleep and had recovered from our stomach problems. Then, on the 10th, we came down to advanced BC to notice with consternation that our food had been stolen along with some pieces of equipment. Only a few mashed potato pouches and tinned tuna were lefty, all that for the equivalent of 2 days, no more. Huge disappointment and inevitability. We are forced to turn back without any other option. Everything called food plays against us an dis our enemy. We have read Mahmoud Darwich and we quote him : ‘’Those who cry the mountain do not cry for the mountain but for the memories it begets’’.
We have to get to Ashik Tash as soon as possible and wait for transportation to Osh which is organized by the agency. Departure tomorrow morning…
After the Robbery’s Shock
Today, the 13th, a Kyrgyz family is welcoming us in their yurt offering meat kebabs and beer with a ‘’Moscow’’ sticker in Cyrillic alphabet of course. Know that our vital support was stolen by ‘’Mountain People’’. We are no longer in the sacred space of altitude, in the mythical time of Heights. We are lead back to regenerate ourselves in the steppe’s unitiated zone where we can still find these bandits. We don’t want to ear about human distress, we have been walking for two days carrying 40 kg each. We are slowly taking over our idealist climber and nature lover values.
At 2h30 this morning, we were sitting at the Ala-Too Cafe, on Osh’s main axis, passionately tasting the famous shashilik we have been dreaming about for days. This moment has been delayed for hours. Using our satellite phone, we had originally agreed with Jazgul (the girl from the agency) for an 8 o’clock pickup at Ashik Tash. After spending the night at warmth in a yurt with decent food, we searched for any sign of our transportation. At 9h30, still nothing except for two Israelis we met in Osh who came out of nowhere. We shared tea and waited toghether. Two satellite phone communikcations later, we finally got confirmation that our driver was on his way. ‘’Manane’’, the local nomad and our former packer, invited us to share bread, tea and yogurt while waiting. At 14h30, a car’s noise, Abjali has arrived! After removing and reinstalling the carburetor, we are ready for farewells. We promise Manane to send pictures of our meeting.
Sightseeing and Resting in Karakol
After the mountain experience and many hours of walking, it is time for us to enjoy a ride on the back of Kyrgyz horses through Karakol’s steppe and mountainous region. We are leaving in a couple of hours with Valentine’s old Soviet jeep. Valentine is an old Russian seadog involved in the tourism business and other things. He will lead us higher in the valley to meet Kyrgyz nomad guides. From there, we will begin an improvised trek based upon personal demands and intuitions. Nights will most probably be spent in yurts. We can already imagine what food will be like… as on Lenin Peak’s foot; stale bread, yak butter, yogurt and tea. Happiness and joy are simple again.
Goodbye Lenin Peak
Hi everyone! The return from Peak Lenin is already behind us. We unwillingly returned sooner than expected. This experience was incredible. If certain Westerners think that Kyrgystan is hollow, they are on he wrong track. We were touched by the warmest welcome. What is there to tell about this Central Asia that transformed us into dreamers in front of this land marked by immensity? But even more, not only this land presented itself as a tremendous sensation but all our senses were awakened listening to a human expression : Kyrgiz language. While we experienced this language’s strangeness, we were stirred by the families’ intensity and presence.
In the center of the world; twelve mountain days to be remembered for the rest of our lives. Almost every means of transportation were used to reach Base Camp. We first spent more than twenty hours in an airplane between Montreal and Bishkek. Then, from the capital, we flew one hour in a small size and very noisy aircraft toward Osh. From this Muslim town, a nine hour ride in a taxi, eyes riveted on the Pamir’s summit, brought us to Base Camp. Thereafter, horses carried our 120 kg of equipment to advanced Base Camp and our feet traveled the required eight hours. The ascent was finally atreach knowing that the climbing season was over. We were not surprised to be almost the only ones on the mountain.
At one point, our 6 square feet tent and its fragile canvas were submitted to all high altitude elements. To forget about potential dangers while appreciating powerful moments. Frédéric Bleau’s nightly scenarios of being awaken by ambulance sirens and motorcycle backfires on St-Denis Street were replaced by more extreme noises of avalanches and falling glacier pieces.
After six days, all other expeditions had left leaving us alone with ice, rock, crows and our moods. We were slowly progressing with good confidence in our capabilities. On the 9th day, we were leaving advanced Base Camp to sleep higher at Camp II. The following day, when we got back to advanced Base Camp, somebody had visited us. « Bon Dieu de merde » what was stolen? Our grub ‘’/$%?&. We never could have imagined this shit. We don’t understand. Uh! No food and still two days of walk before reaching the closest yurt. We then had to bring back all the equipment ourselves while setting a very quick pace haunted by the idea of starving to death. To be robbed by somebody who knew exactly the consequences of its action. This episode was truly demoralizing. Fortunaly we had a satellite phone to arrange for a taxi pick up.
Beyond the questioning on the whys of the robbery, we loved the Kirghizian land. In fact, this journey’s unpredicted stop did not overcome the reasons motivating us to return, each time, to challenging places and to surpass ourselves. We need difficulties to be from a tangible and dynamic nature. When we were walking, we clearly saw the path we were making. When eating, we physically felt the energy effect. And, when we were deciding on an action, we immediately were aware of its consequences. We are also bearing in mind millions of small discoveries popping up at all times during such an adventure. Back to Osh, a couple of beers and brisk discussions cheered us up a bit.
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