Kyrgyzstan: in the footsteps of Alexander the Great (Part 1)

Taking time from where there is none, I have not been able to resist the temptation that my friends from The Fun Plan have offered me. Starting at the end, I have decided to tell you about my last trip, an adventure that was born in Galicia and that took me last August 2013 to visit one of the countries located on the old Silk Road, the eastern gate: Kyrgyzstan.

Always looking for a place where culture mixes with the high mountain ranges, last March I devised a new and ambitious mountaineering project: get to know the 5 highest peaks of the former USSR. A project that was formerly awarded to the strongest Russian mountaineers and that today continues to be an example of adventure, courage and struggle. These five mountains are located between the Pamir and Tien Shan mountain ranges, in the republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, in the border area with Pakistan and China. As you can see, a place somewhat far from conventional circuits.

Why a project like this? The idea of going to the Himalayas did not appeal to me, for the simple reason of escaping the crowds of commercial expeditions. Although it may seem like a lie, mountaineering has become fashionable. I would try to visit the 5 mountains in the period between 2013 and 2015, starting with Lenin Peak, a mountain 7,134 meters high.

In addition to all the above, the attractiveness of the country, a different culture, between the Mongolian, the Ottoman and the Russian, the remoteness, the unknown, and above all, the approach to the trip: alone, without porters, sherpas, companions or outside support, made the trip very worthwhile.

Would Alexander the Great's soldiers have been able to enter these mountain ranges so many hundreds of years ago? It seemed impossible to me.

From A Coruña I took a plane to Bishkek (capital of Kyrgyzstan) via kyiv. I had to spend the night in the capital of Ukraine (as always, complications with our friends from the airlines) and, as there is no better way to go, I took the opportunity to visit a city that pleasantly surprised me. A very well-kept historic center, beautiful buildings from the beginning of the century, wide, neat and orderly avenues and a conglomerate of temples and religious centers that characterize Kyiv as the capital of Orthodoxy, and make it a particularly interesting destination.

After several hours of flying, I arrived in Bishkek with no time at all (I would take the opportunity to visit the city on the way back from my trip) and took an internal flight to the city of Osh, in the south of the country, near the mountains. Curiously, the transfers were the worst I have experienced on the trip. Dozens of times I have said this: Sometimes ground transportation is worse than the expedition itself.

Kyrgyzstan is a poor country, which lives off of agriculture and livestock, a subsistence country where the Russians continue to control practically all levels of society and business.. I had the opportunity to see the country, the south at least, in the more than 7 hours that the van ride from Osh to the Lenin Peak base camp lasted. At first, the paved road became quite bearable, the problem came when we left it and began the infernal rattling along dirt tracks, paths, paths, we forded rivers, crossed logs, etc. Nothing compared to the return, when the torrential rains forced us to push the vehicle... this would be stressful... but the trip was still beginning.

As I said, the project consisted of carrying out the entire ascent alone, without the help of Sherpas or portersYes, from Spain I contracted the transportation and accommodation services at Base Camp. This is a must for a reason. The location of the Base Camp, in the border area with China, makes it essential to cover and manage a series of permits that are only granted to local agencies. My travel package included these procedures, transportation by van and accommodation and food in “comfortable” tents..

You will wonder countless things about the life of a mountaineer in the mountains. It's like any other, at least for me. Get up early, work, sleep, eat and get tired as little as possible.

The Base Camp, located on an old glacial moraine, without snow, is very comfortable. They call it “the Edelweiss glade” because of the number of these flowers that cover the green ground. From there we can already see the summit, 4000 meters higher, in the distance. From Base Camp I still have many days left to reach the summit.

I have divided the trip in two. Like all those who climb high mountains, the first part of the trip consists of acclimatizing (adapting the body to the altitude) and gradually ascending the material.. The most important thing is to adapt well, without getting tired, to get the body to adapt to the lack of oxygen and perform at altitude.

The day after arriving I took a short route to 4200 meters high, a little more than 3 hours to a large hill from which I finally saw the amazing Lenin Glacier, a kilometer-long tongue of ice that made its way strongly over the valley. The next day the hardest thing awaited me. I climbed with my backpack loaded to the brim (27 kilos) to Camp 1, where the difficulties begin and the most technical part of the route begins; feather bag, clothing, ice axes, rope, crampons, tent, food, etc... all without sharing with anyone, all on your back. All day, under the sun, I thought my shoulders wouldn't hold up. I arrived at Camp 1 extremely tired, praying for a day of rest the next morning.

There was still most of the trip left and I had already rediscovered what I had felt on other expeditions, the weight of the backpack, the sensations of loneliness, the lack of dialogue with my companion... and I saw the glacier, enormous, moving, creaking there in front. I would have to go through those enormous cracks, alone, at night, at more than 5,000 meters high and with the certainty that it was the only obstacle separating me from my dream... (To be continue…).

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