It rains throughout the night, and, when I wake up at 6 am, I am desperate to get out of the tent and use the bathroom. But, with the rain still coming down, I play possum for a bit, and, when it’s apparent that sleep is no longer an option, I read to distract my attention from my full bladder.
Matt finally wakes up at 7. His air mattress has been leaking since we arrived in Kyrgyzstan, and it has completely deflated, even with blowing it up twice during the night. Back at the guesthouse in Jyrgalan he did his best to find the leak by submerging it in a tub of water and looking for air bubbles, but he didn’t have any success in finding it. Now it’s gotten even worse, and there’s not much he can do out here in the field.
We read our books and edit some of our writing to help pass the time, but we have been stuck inside this tent for way too long now, and we are going a little stir crazy.
When the sound of the rain drizzling on the tent fly finally let’s up, we throw on our coats and shoes and make a break for it. It feels so good to be upright, and we linger outside doing stretches and trying to loosen up our stiff bodies beside the fast-flowing river. Several low clouds hang in the trees and enshroud the mountains all around us. I’m no meteorologist, but it looks like this rain isn’t going anywhere.
When the drizzle starts up again, back into the tent we go. We can hear that the boys have started to stir, and soon they bring us a breakfast of instant mashed potatoes in a cup, cheese, cookies, bread and jam. We eat in the tent, and, once the rain lets up, we return the dishes and see that they are starting to pack up. We are eager to get moving, so we get all of our things together and help break camp.
The first order of business today is to cross the river we are camped beside via horse bridge. Urmat and Adis load up Bob with one set of barrels, but Bob seems irritated when Adis climbs into the saddle and rides him a few meters down the river. Adis turns him around, and Urmat takes over. For whatever reason, this suits Bob better, and off they ride upstream to a better place to cross.
We grab our backpacks and follow after them, intently watching to see how Bob handles the cold, deep, swift-moving water. Urmat takes off from a little spit of land, but the water gets deep just a few steps into the river. Bob soldiers on but clearly has to work hard to fight the current in the middle. The water is up to his belly now, and he jerks his head back, eyes wild and panicked from the freezing temperature of the water. We breathe a sigh of relief when his body starts to rise out of the river. There’s another little channel to cross, but this one has no current and only comes up to Bob’s shins, so it’s a piece of cake by comparison.
Safely on the other side of the river, Urmat jumps off Bob’s back, unloads the gear bags and crosses the river again. He trots Bob downstream to our campsite and picks up the remaining two gear bags. These two are a little bigger than the first, and the bottoms of them get submerged on this trip across the river.
Next up is Matt’s turn. He wears his backpack and climbs up onto Bob’s back. This horse bridge is much more technical than our two others, so Urmat will ride in front, which means Matt has to scooch to Bob’s bare back and just hold on to Urmat for dear life. As they start off, I yell at Matt to grab Urmat around the waist. I can see from the shore that he is a bit reluctant at first, but, as they enter the river, he grabs hold. At the deepest spot in the river, Bob lurches one way while Matt leans the other, and Urmat reaches behind to steady him. Despite the scare, they make it across, and Matt has to jump off of Bob’s back sans stirrup. It’s a long way down, especially with a backpack on!
Urmat pauses a few minutes on the other side to give Bob a bit of a rest before coming back to get me, which only gives me more time to get anxious about the crossing. Soon enough, he is galloping toward me, and it is my turn. I climb up onto Bob’s back and take my spot in the back as Urmat hops up. And, just like that, we are off!
I am not shy about holding on to Urmat. I grab him so tightly around the waist, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had trouble breathing. I plead for him to go slowly, but, before I even finish getting the words out of my mouth, we are in the river, fighting the strong current. I grab hold even tighter and bury my face into Urmat’s back. Please let us get across!
Bob doesn’t fail me, and, next thing I know, we are on the shore. Urmat tells me to jump off, but I can’t use the stirrup to help me get down. I grab hold of the saddle with both hands and slide down Bob’s back while Matt grabs my waist from behind. It’s a glorious feeling when my feet hit the ground, and I am so grateful to both Bob and Urmat for getting us safely across. How wonderful it would be to be so confident and skilled on a horse.
Urmat and Bob have one final trip to make across to get Adis. By the time all is said and done, our heroes have made ten trips across the freezing river. Once the crossings are finally done, they load Bob up again with the gear bags, and we begin making our way up the steep trail to Boz-Uchuk Pass.
It’s 11:30 now, and the rain has finally stopped for long enough for us to feel confident about taking our rain pants off. Of course, as soon as we set off on the trail, it starts up again. The rain is light enough that we decide to just go with it, and quickly we discover that we have bigger things to worry about than wet pants.
After all the rain over the past two days, the dirt trail is a muddy mess, and it is steep enough that we have to really work to find good footing. We search for grassy spots, embedded rocks and flat spaces to act as footholds as we make our way up the trail.
It’s a good challenge for us, but it’s even tougher for Adis and Bob, whose hooves have a difficult time on the slippery mud. We are ahead of them, but Urmat pauses every few minutes to see if Adis needs any help rearranging the bags on Bob’s back. Guiding a horse up a steep slope like this must be exhausting. Every time Adis stops to take a break, he doubles over fighting to catch his breath. These guys are really earning their pay today!
Despite the miserable weather and the tough climb, the scenery is still beautiful. We first climb above evergreen trees into the shrub zone that seems to attract so many birds. There’s even an impressive red rock wall to spice things up today.
Eventually, the narrow muddy trail gives way to the open grassy jailoo that will take us up to Boz-Uchuk Pass. The grasses, flowers and small leafy shrubs here are drenched with rain, and soon our shoes and socks are soaked through.
The ascent here is much more gradual than the steep trail we took up from the river, but I find it almost more difficult and tiring. It’s on a slight tilt that has us always leaning to our right to compensate. Mentally, I find that I gear up for the tough climbs and let my guard down when the trail seems like it should be easier. This lopsided jailoo is toying with me today.
We break for lunch before we reach the top. It’s a standing room only affair, as all the available rocks and flat patches of ground are still drenched. We have a fried egg and cheese sandwich and a banana, while the boys each eat a Super-size Snickers. Matt says they should be the poster children for Snickers in this part of the world.
From our lunch spot, we see a bright orange tent, and it appears that someone is in the process of taking it down. As we make our way closer, we can see that there are actually three tents, three men and no horse, meaning these guys are going solo.
By the time we reach them, the hikers are ready to go, and the first thing we notice is the ginormous packs on their backs. These guys must be carrying 75+ liter packs, circa-1998, and one of them even has stuff strapped to the outside. With the rain flies on, they look even more huge, and, though we are no ultra-light hikers ourselves, it’s all we can do to not ask how much weight they are carrying.
It turns out that they are from Norway. They took a horse trek up the Jyrgalan Valley to the junction for the Boz-Uchuk hike and started hiking on their own from there. They did the Terim-Tor Pass down to the river, camped there, and then crossed the river on a footbridge(!) about a half-kilometer up the way from where we did our horse bridge (don’t tell Bob!). Last night they camped here, and today they plan on making it into the Boz-Uchuk Valley.
We learn all of this as we hike for a few minutes with them, but, as soon as we get through their itinerary, they beg off, saying that our pace is too fast for them with all the weight they are carrying. Dedicated readers take note: this a first for us–OUR pace is too fast!
The trail now begins to get steeper and more straight-forward as we make our way up to the Boz-Uchik Pass at just over 11,000 feet. This one is more of an up and over with no huge rock cairn to mark the milestone. Someone has spelled out the word Jyrgalan in Kyrgyz using rocks on the ground, but, other than that, there’s not much to see.
We pause for a short break and then continue on down the pass. With the tough stuff now behind us, Urmat and Adis press ahead, and Matt and I wander behind, enjoying the first downhill of the day. We are back in a wide jailoo now, and this one has gentle undulating hills that cause us to lose sight of the boys every now and then as we dip in and out of the depressions. At one point, we realize that we have veered off-course a bit and have to make a sharp turn to correct our direction.
When we finally catch up to them, they are parked on a promontory overlooking a river in a small gorge about 30 feet below. There is a commanding view of the mountains beyond, if only the sky would clear up. They have unloaded the bags from Bob and are pulling out the camping gear. It looks like this is going to be home for the night.
We had been thinking that we were going to camp further on, closer to the Boz-Uchuk Lakes, so we are a little surprised. We pull out the map to consult. We point to the lakes, but Urmat tells us that getting to the lakes crosses terrain too difficult for a horse and that it is too wet and marshy for camping up there. The spot we are currently at is near running water and is far better as far as they are concerned. We decide to go with it and help set up the tents in the wet meadow just as the rain starts up again. We take the opportunity to rest for a bit but pack up our super light backpacks for a late afternoon hike to one of the three lakes in shooting distance from our camp.
To get there, we have to rock hop across the river and then head up a valley and over a rise to reach the lake. It rains the entire time, and, when we finally get there, the dreary skies and steady drizzle keep our cameras safely in their dry bags.
We pretty much tag the lake and turn around, but we decide to hike up to a ridge on the way back, primarily so we can spend some more time out of the tent and keep moving on this rainy day. We contour up the hillside and boulder hop our way up above the valley to a rocky prominotory where we can see across the jailoo to our campsite and down into the Boz-Uchuk Valley. The rain finally lets up as we make our way down to our campsite.
Just before getting there, we have to cross the river again. We’ve come in a little upstream from where we crossed before, and we are happy for the mistake because there is a beautiful series of waterfalls here that we are excited to photograph.
We didn’t bring our tripod with us on this little excursion, so we do our best to handhold the camera using as slow a shutter speed as we can get. Matt remembers a trick that a camera club buddy told him about to get a long exposure look with his iPhone and gives it a try. It’s not as good as the real thing, but it allows us both to shoot and enjoy this beautiful little scene. On top of that, the skies begin to clear, and the sun comes out. What a thrill!
We climb the river embankment back up to camp and arrive just in time for dinner. With the sun shining, we grab a flat rock and dine al fresco for the first time in a long time. The early evening sunlight is gorgeous, and the clouds have lifted on the mountains beyond. We can barely eat our food for the constant distraction of the ever-changing scenery.
And then something magical happens. After 24 hours of rain, the intense sunlight that has arrived starts burning off the dew on the waterlogged vegetation down in the valley. Clouds begin to form below us and drift in our direction. We all sit in awe as we watch the parade of white mist clouds slowly but surely envelop the distant peaks and finally our campsite. This is Mountain TV at its best!
After the big show, it’s time to get ready for bed. We are camping over 10,000 feet, and the temperature is dropping. We bid Urmat and Adis good night as we climb into our sleeping bags for the night. We could have never guessed the way this day would end based on how it began. That’s definitely part of the fun of spending so much time in the outdoors–Mother Nature is full of surprises. When we step out of the tent to use the restroom for the final time before turning in, the sky is lit up with millions of stars. We are already excited to see what tomorrow will bring.