Even with the landscape outside cold and coated under snow, it was warm in the bed. The yurt was draughty, and the fire that transformed the tent to a sauna was long extinguished, so the single weighty blanket must have been made from some magical stuff (my guess is wool, given how many sheep are around). Last night it was t-shirt temperatures inside the tent before we went to bed – that’s how effective the cow-poo fuelled fireplace is.
I was woken at around 5AM by the sound of heavy rain. There were two thoughts in my mind – one was that we are wasting our time if the weather is going to be like this again today, the other was at least it’s warming up now… Finally stepping out of the warm bed at 7:30 I saw that the skies were still cloudy, and there had been a lot of fresh snow, but most if it was higher up the mountain.
Breakfast was organised for 8, but Risa managed to ignore all the hints to get out of bed so the host could pack the mattresses away and set up the breakfast table. Risa was waiting for the fire to warm up the tent. The host ended up giving up and just served breakfast in the tent next door (which sadly didn’t have a fire).
By the time we’d had breakfast and dressed and packed for the day, the skies had small patches of blue and I was starting to feel optimistic about the day. During the night I was contemplating leaving the tour early and moving our flight to Istanbul forward – that’s how bad the weather felt yesterday.
We had to climb from 2800m where we were camped, to the pass at 3400m before descending to Song-Kul at 3000m. The horses didn’t have too much trouble, though I felt like I was maybe too heavy for mine – it certainly seemed to struggle at times.
When the clouds cleared a little, the view across the valley to the other range was truly amazing. I was euphoric, this is the Kyrgyzstan that I wanted to see, and I didn’t think that we were going to be able to see it.
As we ascended higher, it began to snow heavier. Even though we were a lot higher than yesterday, and it was a lot colder (it was proper snow, not sleet or rain), it felt warmer because we were still dry. I was also wearing all the layers I had, which included thermals underneath my jeans, and a second thermal top and a second windbreaker. Our clothes dried so quickly in the yurt yesterday that I thought it wasn’t that important to save a dry pair of clothes and risk being cold the whole day.
It was surprising how deep the snow was as we got closer to the top of the pass. It was probably close to 20cm deep, which is enough to snowboard on (if you were on a rental board). The horses were having a hard time, not helped by them not being able to see the rocks and holes covered by the thin blanket of snow. They slipped and slid occasionally, but generally were quite sure footed.
But there came a point where the horses could travel no further and we had to dismount and walk with them. It wasn’t far, maybe the last 100m vertical of the ascent. Walking actually helped us to stay warm, as it was quite chilly with the wind blowing – and it was blowing.
From the top of the pass looking down towards the lake, it was surprising how flat it was – like a big snowy plain. Even though we’ve spent a lot of time in the snow, it was still a bit of a novelty for us as we really didn’t expect to be hiking in snow. It stopped being so funny when we realised we couldn’t mount our horses just yet, and we were going to have to walk down lower until it was flatter and the snow was thinner. Risa only had low cut boots, and mine aren’t technically waterproof, so we weren’t quite equipped for trekking through snow, even if it was only 10-15cm deep.
As we got closer to the lake, the skies started to clear. I really couldn’t believe it after the weather yesterday and this morning. It wasn’t perfect, but we were so happy to see blue in the sky and to feel some sunshine.
At one point I tried to get to the front of the group so I could take some photos without the other horses in the frame, but Risa’s horse, Kashika, took offence to being overtaken and kicked at my horse. Luckily for my horse it missed. Unluckily for me it was because my leg was in the way. It wasn’t too bad, fortunately only hitting muscle (and not bone), but it just reinforced my lack of trust in horses. A motorbike wouldn’t do that. A motorbike rider though…
As we continued towards the lake, the sun, which didn’t feel warm, was rapidly melting its way through the fallen snow. From the top of the pass we could see nothing but white, but now that we were halfway down, patches of grass and dirt were appearing – even more closer to the lake.
We stopped for a quick lunch on a hill beside the lake. I bought some average meat, cheese and what I thought was bread (I’d say it was closer to cake) and made the best sandwich we could using dental floss instead of a knife. Somehow we managed to lose our giant Kit-Kat that I was really, really looking forward to. We weren’t in a rush, and the weather was fantastic, so we made the most of it and took in the views for as long as we could.
From here we followed the shore of the lake to the east for another two hours, still in disbelief about the weather. To speed things up (and to make things more interesting) we’d occasionally get the horses to pick up the pace and start running. It’s fun, just not very comfortable with a backpack and a camera hanging from my neck (tucked into my jacket) – every bound of the horse my solid and heavy camera would thump my bony chest.
The camp was beautiful, and our yurt had some amazing handmade rugs and other items. After the mandatory tea with the hosts (not a complaint on my behalf) we explored a little around the lake.
I thought I could brave a dip into the water, but standing on the shore, I didn’t even want to dip a toe. It’s deceptive with the sunshine just how cold it is. I guess being at 3000m will probably do that.
There were a few other tourists staying here tonight, too. We joined them in their tent and played a game with dice (10,000, which was interesting and I hope I don’t forget the rules). Just before sunset (8:30), we popped outside to take some photos. It wasn’t quite the sunset that we were hoping for, but it still illuminated the mountain ranges beautifully. Even though it was beautiful, it was snowing sideways and far too cold to be outside.
Dinner was fish caught in the lake by their son, and was a welcome change from what we’d usually been eating. It was a little hard trying to find the bones in the candlelight however…
It was still snowing when we left dinner and returned to our roasting tent. For some reason I was paranoid about being cold again, even though last night had been quite comfortable. Our beds were made with single blankets again, but not wanting to be cold, I grabbed all the blankets that I could find in the tent. It may have been difficult to breath under all that weight, but if it meant a warm and uninterrupted sleep, then it would be worth it. Interestingly, it was the first time that they had made as a double for us.