Monday, July 27, 2009

The Lowlands

Though my time in the villages was immensely rewarding, the main reason I originally went to Kyrgyzstan was for the trekking. It has a reputation as being remote and wild, and fully lived up to it. If you're the type of person who complains about how over-populated all national parks and wildlife areas are now, and how it's difficult to get out into the "middle of nowhere," then Kyrgyzstan is for you. I frankly don't buy the idea that nature is only natural when humans aren't there. Humans are part of this world too, and after hiking for ten days and seeing only two other trekkers, I have to say that a little human conversation would have been welcome. There's something to be said for being alone, but it can get old.

The trek started at about 7,000 feet and worked its way slowly up to around 14,000. It was a pretty straightforward trek, basically climbing up the remains of the Inylchuk Glacier, the second longest glacier in the world. This meant walking over what was basically a 75-km long morraine field, with ice compacted underneath. If you ever doubt the power of glaciers, walk along rock shards for seven days and you'll begin to understand. The rocks I was walking across -- often several meters deep and constantly shifting under my feet -- were once a mountain, and it was the power of moving ice that reduced them to rubble. That and the rivulets snaking everywhere. It was the water that actually made the trek tedious at points, as they basically carved hills into the piles of rocks, so that you were constantly going up and down (but always ultimately up), trying to find the best place to cross the icy streams.

Below are some shots from the first part of the trek, before we reached the snow line.

The area where we trekked was so remote that we needed an old Russian military vehicle just to get there. I spent about five hours bouncing along in this truck, several times getting out with a shovel to either clear or create road. It was a beast.

The first day of the trek was my last encounter with civilization. You can get a sense for the scale of the mountains as this goat herder drives his herd home.

I ran across these boys a couple hours later. They lived in the yurt by the waterfall (shown in the blog post on yurts, below) and were only too happy to show me the baby lambs. I shared a few cashews with them before taking their picture, as experience has taught me that people of different cultures often expect a little gift in return for posing. But I later found this not to be true in Kyrgyzstan. I even had kids run up to me and ask me to take their picture.

Almost every day, the rain clouds would start moving up the valley in the afternoon. You could always see it coming...

A couple of brave marmots. You can hear their squeals everywhere in the mountains, but usually only see their backsides scurrying down holes. This was taken at maximum zoom on my camera.

After a few days of trekking, we arrived at the only grassy area along the glacier, Merzbacher glade. It was a relief to pitch my tent on such a forgiving surface.

Merzbacher Lake is close by. You can see it here full of small icebergs at the foot of this mountain.

As we got higher, the terrain grew rougher. A day before reaching base camp, I basically had to find a bunch of large, flat rocks to create a tent platform. This was my mattress.

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