Day 5 – Sept 4 – Crossing to Echkilitash

We woke in good spirits. The weather was perfect and seemed sure to stay that way all day. Our clothes were dry and we had only a short climb to the final pass separating us from the Saryjash valley to the south.

When we reached the pass, we had a wonderful view of the big valley and the Saryjash range beyond. It was an amazing series of snowcapped peaks, all the more amazing when we realized these 4500-meter summits were the low ones! The hills to the left obscured the 7000-meter peaks of the central Tian Shan (Heavenly Mountains in Chinese).

We didn't have long to wait. Rather than descending the valley, our guide led us on the easy rise to the next hill. From there we could see the whole expanse of the Saryjash valley and the Central Tian Shan. In all my travels I have never seen a finer mountain panorama. On the left end was the 7000-meter (23,000 foot) pyramid of Khan Tengri, celebrated as one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. In the distance was 7450-meter (24,400 foot) Peak Pobiedy, the second highest mountain outside the Himalayas and Karakoram. To the right stretched several high ridges. We will cross the first of these at a 4000-meter pass and then spend the last half of our trip on the sixty-kilometer glacier that separates the two ranges.

(Click picture to enlarge)

The descent was long but generally easy. Near the bottom the rolling hills tightened into a narrow canyon that required numerous crossings of a medium-sized stream. Marcia waded in her sandals, but I was able to jump from rock to rock without mishap, despite the weakness of my left ankle, which was still recovering from its sprain two weeks earlier.

Our camp was along the river at a military outpost named Echkilitash. The commanding officer looked through our papers carefully to seem important, but found them all in order.

From our tent, we could look up the long inclined plane leading to the lower snow mountains. It reminded us of the Owens Valley on the east side of the Sierras, except there the inclined plane is on the opposite side of the valley. We watched sunset turn to alpenglow to a deep field of stars. The nearest town was over 100 kilometers away and there were no lights in the valley.

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