Day 1 – August 31 – Transport to the trailhead

We got a late start because of several technical problems I was having with my new satellite phone. In theory it was supposed to send and receive email, but the interface is so old-fashioned it was hard to figure it out. At one point, I made a change that prevented everything from working. I finally gave up and told people just to send text messages for now.

We had time, fortunately, because it was only a three-hour drive, even allowing for stops to throw water on the overheating engine of the Soviet-era military transport. In fact, we didn't need such a heavy vehicle for the trip out, since most of the road was paved and the dirt part at the end was well graded. We'll need it for the return trip, though.

The terrain was alpine, with wide glacial valleys and streams. The transition from desert to trees to alpine treeline was almost immediate.

The weather pattern seems somewhat regular. In the morning it tends to be clear and calm. As it warms up, the wind blows up the valleys from the lower elevations and clouds might build. By the mid-afternoon, the clouds might turn into thunderstorms, after which it becomes clear and cold. At night the wind reverses and blows back down the valleys. Daytime temperatures are warm (25 C = 77 F) and nights are near freezing. On the glacier later in the trip it could get down to -15 C = +5 F. Fortunately we brought our winter sleeping bags.

This is less of a five-star trip than we had in Ladakh or even Nepal. Marcia and I share an ultralight tent barely big enough for us and our stuff. There is no separate dining or toilet tent. The guide doubles as cook and prepares food over a backpacker's butane stove. We have only three porters and the guide to carry everything in huge expedition packs. A young woman interpreter rounds out the team but only carries her own stuff. The team consists of three ethnic Russians, one Kyrgyz, and one Tatar. They speak Russian amongst themselves, as is common in Kyrgyzstan.

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