After a brief afternoon rain spell yesterday, we are pleased to wake up to a sunny morning that’s not too chilly. After breakfast we pack up and set off uphill knowing that we have a long day that begins with Akotor Pass at 11,500 feet. The incline as we head up the valley gets our heart rate going right away. We are all in a good mood as today will complete Phase 1 of our trekking in southern Kyrgyzstan. The mountains in front of us are impressive in scale. I love how they subtly change shape and complexion as we walk slowly closer.
And I love the mystery of a mountain pass, guessing where the trail will ultimately lead us, and seeing how the mystery unfolds and reveals itself with each step. This, for me, is part of the allure of walking in high mountains. As if it were a sign that we are on the right path, an eagle flies low in front of us, contouring around the rock face of the mountain and disappearing down into the valley. The pass always seems closer than we think, but we make steady progress and, before long, find ourselves ready for a rest at the pass.
The views from the pass in both directions are amazing. As we relax and enjoy a snack, two white vultures fly low overhead. We take some time to get a group photo…think Christmas card photo op!
Although we would love to stay and bask in the sun, we have many kilometers to cover and so down we go, rather steeply at first, on a cross-country route as we contour right and down toward a river below. Much of our walking in Kyrgyzstan has been like this, not so much following a well-trodden and easily identified path as bush-whacking our way through low vegetation and occasionally picking up a sheep path. It’s tough walking as it bends our feet in odd ways, but it also gives us the sense of finding our own way, which is a fun trade-off.
Once we cross the river we find ourselves walking through a lush field of wildflowers in bloom. The flowers come up to our knees and keep us visually distracted although they obscure the path. This can be dangerous as huge marmot holes appear once in a while, so we shout out warnings to those walking behind us.
Next we find ourselves walking through a “forest” of stalky plants taller than us, and we lose sight of each other. We emerge staring at a huge bundle wrapped in plastic and suspended on stilts about 10 feet above the ground. Timu explains that this is winter yurt storage, and the family that owns this one has not been here for at least two years. Perhaps the shepherds rotate valleys and prefer to set up a different yurt rather than haul this one from place to place.
It’s getting well past lunch time, and we are all wondering when we will stop to eat. We can see a shepherd’s camp off in the distance, but when we approach it becomes clear that we are not particulaly welcome here, so we must continue on. This means another 30 minutes of steady downhill pounding which is becoming punishing to our knees and feet. It’s hotter as we descend making us even more weary. We pause at a stream to splash our faces and pick up our moods.
Finally, we reach a second yurt camp where the Timu and the boys have laid out a picnic for us on a blanket in the sun. We are relieved to take a load off our feet and eat a legitimate lunch. Some days the plan doesn’t always work the way we would expect, so we have to be flexible. Our hostess here is very friendly, and, when we say rakhmat, she offer us kurut and insists we take some for the road.
It’s only 10 more minutes down to the road where a car is waiting to take us on to the village of Sary-Mogol. The boys load packs on top of the car while we all shed our walking shoes and splash the feet in the creek before piling into the car along with all our gear.
We know it’s over 3 hours drive to Sary-Mogol, much of it on unpaved road. What we don’t know is that the road takes us through a spectacular canyon with the river often rushing just beside the road. The canyon walls have been smoothed over the centuries by the rush of the river, and the road has been shored up with river stones. This river must flood from time to time making the road impassable. The whole scene reminds us of driving into Leh at the northern end of the Leh-Manali highway.
We emerge from the canyon and eventually hit paved road. We stop at a petrol station to drop off Dani and Zafar. They will catch a taxi back to Osh and await their next portering assignment. Before saying our goodbyes we buy cold sodas for them and tip them to thank them for all they have done to smooth our journey so far.
Then it’s back in the car to continue our journey. The road takes us up over a high mountain pass (possibly the highest in Kyrgyzstan) and back down. We are all a bit drowsy from the heat and the exhaustion of hiking until we round a bend in the road and Alison exclaims “Look at that!”
We all snap to attention and look out the window as we get our first glimpse of the Pamir Mountain Range, a long line of snow-covered mountains that stretches from west to east. Clearly, our driver has witnessed this reaction before, and he knows what to do. He gestures and says good place to stop around the corner. He pulls to the side of the road, and we all jump out to snap pictures and exclaim at the size and grandeur of this range. On a clear day, we would even be able to see Peak Lenin which is hidden from us at the moment.
Rob and I play with our Peak Finder app to see what peaks are visible and which are the highest. The rest of the car ride keeps these mountains to our left as the road parallels the range. I’m fairly sure none of us stopped gawking at the incredible sight.
We pull into the tiny village of Sary-Mogol which is the base town for climbers attempting to summit Peak Lenin. Our guesthouse is simple but sufficient on this windswept stretch of highway. The four of us share a room. We are reunited with our extra clothes, which we will need to repack for our next 6-day trek tomorrow.
Alison and I get first crack at the Russian-style sauna, a warm room where we mix hot and cold water and give ourselves bucket showers. It feels like a real treat after three days of sweating our way up and over mountain passes. It starts to rain just as we walk back inside the guesthouse.
While we are relaxing and literally recharging batteries, Alison notices the light outside and spies a rainbow. We dash out and find that it is brilliantly colored, and, for a few moments, a complete arc. We hope that this is a good omen for our next trek.
We procure some beer and have dinner seated around a low table filled with goodies. Our dinner companions are three older French travelers who are horse trekking in the area. They are traveling for 12 days with Visit Alay as well, and their guide for their trip is a young whipper snapper, who is all of 17 years old! We wonder if they know how old he is.
We enjoy conversation with everyone over dinner. One of the Frenchies was a Latin teacher before she retired. All too soon it is time to retire to bed. Tomorrow will be a big day as we begin phase 2: Heights of the Alay!