Thursday, 15 September 2011

Muzkol Expedition - donkey issues part 1

Prior to leaving on this extended holiday we had broken the trip down into shorter stages and invited friends to join us. Only one brave soul took up the offer - Mark Redhead. Mark had been camping before, at a couple of music festivals, so was the perfect candidate for an exploratory mountaineering expedition to the remote Muzkol Range in the Eastern Pamirs about 100km from Murghab.

Mark met us in Murghab and came bearing precious gifts - a Saturday Guardian, the Economist, a resupply of paperbacks and a very good single malt. In his 2 days in Tajikistan he had also managed to pick up a rather violent stomach bug.

The team united, we got a jeep out to the where we would leave the Pamir Highway and head into the mountains on foot. Conveniently, at this exact point, a yurt stay had been established, enabling us to have a couple of comfortable nights whilst acclimatising and organising logistics. The yurt was at 4200 m so we needed to spend a day resting at this height before doing a recce of the approach route. Speaking to the owner of the yurt we managed to ascertain that it would be possible to hire 3 donkeys for 2 days to get all our supplies into base camp. Everything was going incredibly smoothly and that evening we settled down to a good meal and comfortable bed. Sleep was only interrupted once by Mark violently vomiting in the corner of the yurt when he failed to locate the door (not that yurts have corners as they are round but you know what I mean).

Predictably there was some confusion regarding the donkeys the following morning and things weren't quite what we had thought we'd arranged the previous day. We renegotiated and were assured that the donkeys would arrive for our inspection by midday, so we delayed our recce and waited. At 2pm 4 donkeys had arrived, one sitting in the back of a Uza (Russian jeep), which was quite comical. Despite 4 donkeys being brought to the yurt it turned out that 2 of them were just for show, leaving only 2 that were able to carry loads the following day. We had no other option but to accept this and hurried out on our recce.

Following the river bed on foot we successfully located the pass which would give us access into the adjacent valley from where we would be able to set up a base camp. With evening drawing in we hurried back to the yurt for a final packing session and check of supplies for an early start the following day. After we had settled down for the night we were visited by a rather drunk policeman who checked our documents and angled for a bribe but he soon got bored, or forgot what he'd asked us, and drove off into the darkness.

The start wasn't quite as early as we would have liked the following day but the donkeys were loaded, obligatory photos taken and we were ready to leave.

Recceing the approach route. Xmena (climbed by an EWP expedition in 1996) in the background.

Loading the donkeys

 Ready to go

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