By Lovisa Rosengren
Everything started with an e-mail from my Dutch friend, Ernst. He wrote: “We will be going to Kyrgyzstan for a ski-oriented expedition. The trip will be 24 days in total and we are going to the Ak-Shirak range. There are eight unclimbed peaks in the 4000-5000m range which we will be targeting. And in a world where much has already been discovered, don't you want to join?!”
Many emails later, I met the team at the Istanbul Airport. We were nine people from different countries such as Austria, England, USA, Holland and Sweden. A bunch of friends and new faces with different skis and mountaineering experiences.
The fog was close over Bishkek as we flew in. Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan with just under a million inhabitants. The city is right at the foot of the 4,800-meter peaks of the Kyrgyz Mountains. Wladimir, our local contact received us warmly in his office, while we enjoyed his self-made 60, 70 or 80 percent grappa and planned for departure to the mountains.
“On the road again,” sang Jonathan, as we slowly rolled out of Bishkek. The Jeep struggled up along a bumpy road and a fantastic landscape opened up before us. The feeling of being completely extraneous to nature was a fact. A trip that should have taken three hours was now upwards of seven hours.
We drove down beside the river that lead us to our camp, getting stuck in the snow along the way. We looked at each other and said, “anything can happen on a ski expedition in Kyrgyzstan.” We continued to drive but it was so muddy that we had to camp 15 km away from the planned base camp.
“We get to climb everything that is close,” said Ernst as he smiled. Backpacks were packed and we climbed three hundred meters up the nearest mountain of 4,000 meters in order to acclimatize. We went uphill slowly, our breathing became heavy and my feet swelled. I had to take my insoles out to get some more space. I now understood that acclimatization is really something to respect and it is important to listen to your own body.
We had accepted that the off-road vehicle could not drive further than it had done. This meant that we had to go on foot to the planned camp, where there were more opportunities and undiscovered peaks.
After a few days of acclimatizing climbs, the big day had arrived. We packed up all the equipment needed to move the camp 15 km into the valley. We walked with ski boots over stone, small streams and met wolf prey along the road. We put up our tents after four hours of hiking and looked out over the new views. It was magnificent.
We split up into two groups and agreed to communicate every two hours on our walkie talkies. My group would be on the Pik Volk, a peak that looked like Europe's Mont Blanc. We climbed up with crampons and ice axes. With powerful steps, we slowly emerged into the blistering sun. It would be a long day.
The rope stretched between us when Anton led us across the glacier.
“Watch out here,” he said. “There is a black hole, so jump!”
I took a few steps forward and with my heart in my throat, I jumped over. I turned around and in the same second, watched John fall into the hole. The rope tightened and John extracted his ice axe, pulling himself up. With shaky legs, we continued forward and summited, exhausted, at 4,988 meters.
Looking down over the steep and exposed face, we watched sluff suddenly disappears a few meters in front of us. A large glacier crack peaked out from below. We navigated quickly off of the peak and found steep, wonderful skiing. With 10 hours of travel, it felt so good to get the adrenaline out. The surrounding mountains were by far the most beautiful I have ever seen.
After many long days in Ak Shirak range, we moved to the Suek range to continue our trip. Here the terrain was playful with steep descents and nice couloirs. In Ak-Shirak, we carefully planned every climb, but here we enjoyed three days of fantastic freeride skiing.
In a flash, 24 days of an unforgettable adventure was over. It was time for spring as we looked out over the melting mountains.
“On the road again…,” sang Jonathan and we sat down in the Jeep, tired but super happy.
The plans we had from the beginning were not completely fulfilled. But what does it matter after the many unforgettable summit tours in Kyrgyzstan?