Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Muzkol Expedition - donkey issues part 2

Within about 2 minutes of setting off the donkey carrying the food, packed in two rice sacks, managed to shed it's load and make a bid for freedom. Recaptured, the load was again balanced precariously on the poor animal and we tried again. Unfortunately for our 'mountaineers on epic adventure' image this was all being filmed by a Basque couple cycling the Pamir Highway.

We followed the route we had recced the previous day which used the river valley to access the high pass. The river was lower than the previous day due to it being earlier and therefore snowmelt not having peaked yet. Despite this the donkey-men jumped on the already overloaded animals so they wouldn't get their feet wet. We found some grazing for the donkeys at lunchtime so they could have some lunch as well. The donkey-men ate and then fell asleep by a stream. We sent Mark to wake them up so we could get going again. They had umm-ed and ahh-ed about the next part of the route so we carried the heaviest bags, lightening the donkey's load.

About an hour into our post lunch hike it was obvious that the donkey-men's heart wasn't in it. They lagged behind and dragged their heels and then finally decided to unload the donkeys and head home. This was despite us having an understanding that the trip would take two days. They got annoyed when we only paid them for one day. They were insisting that the donkeys were altitude sick. Now, I'm not entirely sure what an altitude sick donkey looks like, but I would guess they might be at least out of breath. Wayne and Rooney, as we had called them, did not seem to show any symptoms, and instead continued to try and hump each other. Although we had covered much of the distance, we had only made a gentle 400 m of ascent, not a great increase in height to inflict altitude sickness. When asked if the men would help us get the kit over the pass, as they had pursued us to employ them both on the understanding that they would help us carry the bags if needed, but when when asked they quickly made excuses and before we knew it had turned around and headed back down the valley.

We were left with a pile of bags, late in the day, well below a 5100 m pass. Quickly rearranging the kit we packed a bag each and headed on up to the pass. Progress was slow but I made it to the top at 5 pm. Dumping my pack I then returned back down to help poor Mark who, in the last week, had gone from his desk in London via 3 full days travelling to trekking over a 5100 m pass with a full pack in the middle of nowhere. In contrast, after spending 3 weeks on Peak Lenin, I was well acclimatised and as fit as a fiddle. And the amusing thing was that the donkey-men had been commenting on how 'the girl' would be tired (translated by Mark). I gave James some encouragement as I steamed passed on my second trip.

Once we'd all made it to the top we took a breather and admired the view. We could see the mountain we wanted to climb which looked, well, hard. I headed down from the pass, following the river until it turned into a gorge. Concerned that this would prevent us from reaching the bottom of the valley, I dumped my pack and recced a different route. I was relieved to find that the valley was accessible by descending the left-hand slopes. The light was now fading and, on returning to my pack, I made the decision to camp there. I retraced my steps up the valley to find Mark and James, and this time helped James carry his pack as he had sore feet from wet boots. By the time the boys joined me I had the tent up and dinner on the go.

Unfortunately there was no let up the following day, as we needed to go back over the pass to pick up the rest of the kit and return to our intermediary camp. This was another exhausting day. It wasn't until the third day that we managed to get all the kit (in two shuttles) into a suitable base camp. We were then finally established and had a well earned rest day.

Taking a rest in the dry river bed, by the afternoon this is a fast flowing river.

Sans donkeys heading up to the pass

Views from the pass

Mark and James on the pass

In base camp - Mark is finally allowed a break.

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