(45) Inylchek base camp, Kyrgyzstan: Gasp!

I’m so sad I don’t have more (any?) notes from this excursion in real time. It was definitely a highlight of my entire trip. Below comes from memory and photos.

The first flight in the morning was to the North Inylchek area (i.e. the north arm of the Inylchek glacier). The documentary crew were shooting there, and we were picking up a camp that was closing up.

We generally flew only a couple of hundred metres above the river valley, which extended for ages. Everything was so stunning, I was just amazed. As we got to the head of the valley, the peaks got bigger and bigger. We passed over an “iceberg lake” in which a lot of chunks of ice build up and eventually the dam bursts in summer. We ascend next to peaks that go up to over 7000m. If I had to guess, we got up to about 6000m. In a helicopter with the windows open. It was amazing. The views and the altitude quite literally took my breath away. And those of others. When we landed at our destination the young boy got an oxygen treatment. The documentarians did there thing. I got pictures with the crew.

And then we did the trip all over again. Back to the lower base camp where I spent the confused night, where we dropped everyone off except me, and headed back, this time more or less directly (i.e. less of the scenic route) to the South Inylchek base camp. I got out, along with some supplies. The helicopter takes off while I duck down with the camp manager. I have arrived.

I get set up in a tent. The tents are set up on palettes, above the moraine rock that the camp is set on. Within the big tent I have lots of foamy, and, as hoped for, a big warm sleeping bag. I set up my bed and my food and my water and my books.

The camp manager tells me the basic rules and points out key locations. Outhouse down the hill. Dining tent. Don’t wander off alone. Spend the next day getting used to the altitude. I think we are at about 4000m. It’s sunny and I bath on a makeshift palette/platform.

My stomach is a bit off still. At dinner that night I meet some mountaineers and hear stories. One solo guy attempted Khan Tengri (>7000m, the peak is split between Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China) with a guide, but didn’t make it. He believes that the camp and the main companies that serve it for mountaineers are more focussed on groups, and aren’t as invested in individuals. I hear about the group that summated Pobeda (also over 7000m, on the border of Kyrgyzstan and China), but had two casualties on the way back – two got stuck in bad weather and couldn’t descend. The peak is a very gradual, so climbers are over 6000m for a long time, making it dangerous. The rest of the group hadn’t returned yet, but they were expected the next day.

I cozy up in my tent for the night. Nice and warm. My technique is to read sitting up for a while so that I get my feet toasty before I stretch out. A few snowflakes fall outside.

In the morning I wake up, and….it’s snowing. Hard. About 16 inches has already fallen. It doesn’t look like anyone is up. Nothing has been shoveled. I don’t see any footprints to the toilet. I go in behind my tent. It snows perhaps another foot throughout the day. It’s cold, but beautiful. Foggy, not great views. It’s not until after dinner that a trail can be found to the outhouse. Where have people been shitting and pissing all day? There are going to be surprises behind each tent when the snow clears, I expect.

At lunch there was concern about the Pobeda crew getting back in the snow and fog, and by dinner they have arrived. The mood is both celebratory and sombre. I finally have my appetite back, and have double helpings of pasta. I think perhaps that my issues all along have been from water. While I don’t drink the water in Central Asia, I do use it for brushing teeth, and up here the only water is bottled.

I spent most of the day in my tent. I’m thankful to have the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy, which I’m thankful for, as I finish all three books in the day and a half of snow.

The next morning, the fog has lifted, the sky is blue, and OH THE MOUNTAINS. Snowcapped peaks are what I came up here to see, and I get them in clean white spades. The sun shines brightly on Khan Tengri and I take tonnes of photos. TONNES!

I overhear something about a helicopter arriving this morning, and I ask if I can get on it. I never was clear about how long I was staying (I thought 3 nights, then going back to the original lower camp) but it seems this might be the only option. All of a sudden the base camp is in a flurry of activities. A group of guys starts clearing a landing pad for the helicopter, which has already left the lower base camp. I pack up quickly. And then we hear it coming. A group of us rushes to the makeshift landing pad. The more experienced around me tells me to get duck my head down to the ground. Snow flies everywhere. We load up and get on. And then we’re off, blowing snow all over camp.

And then we fly, not to the original camp, but to a different lower camp on the north side of this range. We fly over the mountains I was taking pictures of this morning. It is crazy amazing. As we travel further on the other side, a bit of green pops up here and there. So many valleys to explore.

We land at the green base camp. It’s technically in Kazakhstan, across the river from Kygyzstan. It’s pleasant here. Flowers. A cute but aggressive puppy. Trees. Hawks. Some rich Kazakh dude lands in an ultralight helicopter.

I don’t remember the name of this place, but I found the unnamed area on Google Maps (satellite view).

Some final highlights of this unnamed place.

  • Walked up behind the camp, further into Kazakhstan. Was told it would probably be OK, but that if there are bored military it could be a problem. I saw dudes a while into the walk and turned around. Lots of flowers and prettiness.
  • Tented. Slept sooooo well.
  • Enjoyed food with other guests on my first night, many of them mountaineers from Inylchek. They were pretty proud. One of them was…if I have this right…Kazakstan’s first female mountain lion (?). It means she has done a certain number of 7000m peaks. I think.
  • Do another walk up the other side of the river. Too steep. Get tired walking up the grass. I sit down and pretend this was where I was planning to get to all along.
  • Decide to stay a second night. I’m the only one there the second night, the camp is closed. I enjoy a night at the camp “bar” with staff. There is vodka.
  • I settle my bill with the rich owner (i.e. ultralight helicopter dude) and he tries (successfully) to overcharge me on what I was quoted. Blargh.
  • If I remember correctly, a group comes out for lunch. I get a ride back with them into Karakol and head up to the fancier place I stayed at the first time in Karakol.