Not only was the uphill walking a struggle but also trying to find camping was a struggle because the ground that looked the most suitable to camp on didn’t look safe, there had been large amounts of earth moved all over from either natural causes or just work on the roads, I couldn’t tell. My only choices were to camp out in the open next to the road. The noise from the cars kept me up all night and each night before it got dark I would witness the fog roll over the mountains that surrounded me and as it began to snow I would quietly slip into the bivy and zip it up in the hope I could get some sleep.
The bishkek lifestyle was a far cry from the mountain life. I had put on a bit of weight and enjoyed the food there, here on the other hand I was subject to literal continuous uphill struggles, my weakened physique from the copious amounts of sharmas and lagman had made this a very difficult feat.
Nevertheless eventually I managed to get halfway through the mountain range and found a lonely wagon doubling as an old lady’s cafe at the corner of a road. I introduced myself and she invited me in for some manti (meat in dough) and tea. We had a few conversations with my limited Russian and then she felt compelled to warn me about wolves and show me her weapons, I think in the hope to make sure I had a weapon to protect myself with at night.
That night wolves weren’t my worry, the worry were mini avalanches as the snow had reached ridiculous levels and cracks had formed in the snow that made it look like segments of snow could slide down at any moment, made evident by the amount of snow that had already been cleared from previous avalanches.
Also the snow was just too deep for me to set my bivy up in. My only option that night was to camp next to the road again, on the other side of the barriers to the road. This would become a frequent thing. The only problem was that on one side of me was a road next to a steep mountain with a lot of snow on it. And one metre to the other side of me a cliff. Being very nervous at the prospect of being pushed off in the case of a mini avalanche I decided to tie my bivy to the barrier in the hope that if anything were to happened whilst I was in it, it would at least buy me some time to do something. That evening was a very nervous night. As I heard a few cars and lorries roar past I found myself shushing them in the hope and blocks of snow falling around me wouldn’t lead mountain sides falling on me. I led there completely awake all night, held only to the cliff by a few metres of rope. Safe to say I didn’t get much sleep.
Waking up to no snow related problems except the cold was great. Yet again I ventured uphill through multiple little tunnels untill later on in the day I got up to pass to which I was unsure if they would let me walk through. To my surprise the guards took pity on me and invited me in for some tea, which was delightful, if not just to be in the warmth. Whilst having some tea they said they would allow me to walk through as there were men dotted throughout the tunnel undertaking maintenance. The tunnel was 3 km in length and quite narrow with my bag being so wide. I found there was a very narrow pavement like raise to the left which I decided to use but had to walk sideways on every 500m when there was an emergency phone making it a balancing act. Luckily there were lights in this tunnel unlike many others I would later come across, so I could see what I was doing. Near the end of the tunnel was the obviously more derelict side, made evident by the bowing and breaks in the wall with water, ice and earth coming through. On the other side once I had exited the tunnel, it was amazing, being so high I could see for miles, but unfortunately there was nothing to see, it was all covered in snow and the whole landscape was bright white, to the point it physically hurt to look at. On my walk down I came across a little town consisting of only wagons that were all empty and looked as if no one was living in them, I imagine vacated for the winter maybe. I found one was open as a cafe, so I decided to have some warm food and make a few phone calls whilst I had signal.
Later that night the terrain levelled out and I came across a guy who’s lorry had broken down, I asked him if he needed anything, knowing full well that I would be no help, but just wanting to talk to someone and he introduced himself as Nurbek. I offered him some water or food and he refused but told me that there was a cafe up the road and that he would have to walk there and if he could walk with me. An hour or so later we got to the cafe, which only then he told me was also doubled as a small hotel with a few rooms that were free. The owner was lovely and made me some food and I sat there with Nurbek and his friends having dinner and talking in a mixture of English and Russian. The English parts mainly confirming he was saying the English swear word correctly. That night I had no snow to worry about and slept like a baby.