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30.01.10 16:18 Age: 8 yrs

Altin-Emel pass, slowly but surely

By: Roger and Megan

The Assault on the pass, and Chechynn Banquets to celebrate

After a few days of waiting for the weather to fine up, it was finally time for our assault on the pass. It was supposedly only 12km to the top of the pass from where we were (though some people said there was 2 passes, others said it was 8km away, and others said some other complete wild figures...our map giving us no better indication), which we hoped to make by nightfall. Starting out we immediately felt how tough the going would be, every pedal stroke ended up with us slipping backwards by a huge amount, meaning it was more like 3 revolutions forwards, and 2 backwards. Between the slick ice and soft snow, we were only left with one other option: pushing. Getting off the quike, we attemped to push, only to have ourselves slipping and sliding all along the ground on our hands and knees, it was like trying to walk on an ice skatingring, but worse! We could barely walk on the slick steep ice, let alone push or pull a quike at the same time!


It's not that we weren't prepared for these conditions - we had brought snow shoes, with crampons, and sled harnesses, and studded ice tyres, but we estimated that getting out all this gear and switching the tyres over (in very cold conditions) for a short 5 km stretch might be slower than just gearing down and pedalling away. Thus gearing down, and scoffing down some more biscuits, we proceeded to pedal and pedal, and pedal, and pedal away, in very low gears. Averaging around 1 km per hour, we finally topped out at the pass (it was alot closer to the top than expected), before the attempt on the dreaded down hill.


In the mountains, the problem for us when going down hill is not so much the braking, or skidding, but the wind. Even with full wind proof gear on (with not and inch of skin showing) it still gets mighty cold. With all the snow splashback splashing onto you and freezing added in. Gearing up for the long awaited (yet dreaded) descent, we ended up having to go quite slow for safety on such a rugged road (due to the traction/slipping/sliding), that this didnt turn out to be an issue for us this time round. Rolling down the hill at a gradual pace, we were stopped on the roadside by a Chechynn man collecting/moving snow, who promptly invited us in for tea (and to stay the night). It turned out that although his house was very nearby, the bumpy, slippery snowed-over tracks proved slow going to actually reach the front door.


Following the man out through the snow (we think he greatly over estimated our speed, when he said to follow him!), we entered his house, only to see a table laid out with a glorious array of foods, a huge banquet. This man's family was all in town for the day and all the relatives from that village and those nearby had come over for a party. How lucky we were! We had been waiting for a banqueet like this for months, it was heaven! Amidst all the gorging ourselves silly (including horse intesting stuffed with pure horse fat...which we kindlt declined), we were told that his Kazakh neighbor ( a herder) had had 7 of his sheep killed by wolves only a few nights before. It seemed that some wolves had managed to jump the fence and enter the secure (or so they thought) compound where his sheep were kept, killing them, but only eating 1 of them, leaving the other 6 for dead.


These wolves he warned us, were extremely clever, vicious, and hungry. Being a long cold winter, with no other food sources around, the wolves were starving and would go to great lengths to find something to eat, often killing many sheep at a time, and coming back in the next few days to eat from their dead carcasses (like storing meat in a freezer). Thus this was proof for us, of how credible a threat the wolves posed to us, and explained why the mayor of the other town was so adamant that we didnt sleep in our tent at night. If wolves could break through the secure enclosure that was designed to protect the sheep from wolves in the first place, and kill 7 sheep without anyone knowing, what would they do to the two of us sound asleep in our tent at night in the middle of the steppe? Now it was not just the harsh winter (Semey, Astana, Ust Kamenorgorsk were all around -40c at the moment, which was the same distance north that we were heading) that we had tot fear, but the wolves.


Departing from his house the next morning, all we could think about was the cold, the wind, and the wolves, which ones would pose the greatest threat to us, and what we could do to ensure our safety. It wasn't far to the next town, and purportedly all downhill, so we hoped to make the village that night, before we succumbed to the wolves, as their long awaited next meal (and meal for the next few days, as we were basically just living in one big gigantic freezer!).

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