After our initial foray into Kashgar, we left the next morning to head for the hills (literally). Our whole trip was organized with the help of the Beijing Hikers, so all we had to do was role out of bed in the morning and head down stairs to meet our local guides and bus, along with our four other traveling companions (Steffan, Chuck, Han Ye, and Jo).
We drove out of the poplar-lined city of Kashgar and towards the Pamir mountain range on the far western border of China. The 3 1/2 hour drive along the Karakoram Highway was beautiful, through fruit market filled towns and past golden fields of wheat (we were there during harvest time), towards white, snow-capped mountains. After stopping for a few photo ops along the way (at the red and sand mountains, respectively, pictured below), we ended at the incredibly beautiful Karakul Lake. The lake is home to a large Kyrgyz settlement and is the starting point for many camel treks into the surrounding mountains. As such we were no novelties to the locals, who swarmed around our bus and seemed to haggle with our local guides on all manner of camel-loading (I think…) related issues. For our four-day trek around Karakul Lake and to the base of Mutzagh-Ata we loaded up five camels (who did not spit at me, despite several warnings to the contrary, and who I thought were pretty awesome) and set out from the lake at just before 2 o’clock to begin the trekking part of our adventure.
The first day we hiked about five hours around the lake and through a dry riverbed to our first camp of the trip. After getting in to camp we were all pretty exhausted and a little out of it from the altitude (about 3,900 meters), so we spent most of the (very chilly) evening resting in our tents. By the time we had rolled in to camp the clouds had rolled in, too, so it was an awesome surprise to wake up in the middle of the night to a serenely starry sky lighting up Mutzagh-Ata (Father Ice Mountain, in Uighur) in the background. I made Craig get up too, and we wandered out of our tent to spend a cold twenty minutes admiring the moonlit mountain and the incredibly quiet beauty of the valley. In the morning we poked our heads out of our tent again to see the picture above — soft sunlight rolling across the snowy mountains, shaking us from our sleepy stupor with its beauty.
The second day we backtracked slightly from our riverbed camp and walked through the valley floor, stopping along the way at a Kyrgyz village where our local guide happened to know a family who let us in and graciously shared their food; bread and yak yoghurt, the local specialty, which were incredibly tasty after a long morning’s hike. Most of the area locals are nomads and walking out of the village we saw many herds of sheep and goats and yaks across the valley floor. It was walking among these many animals across the increasingly lush (and wet…) valley that we came upon our second night’s camp, nestled in the outskirts of another small Kyrgyz village. After an incredibly delicious dinner of a western pasta and a local lamb dish served with naan, we went to bed to rest up for our hard climb up to Mutzagh-Ata’s base camp the following morning.
For more photos from the trip (yes! there are so many more), view my Picasa page here. More updates on the remainder of the trip coming soon!