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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Kyrgyzstan First Ascent - Training Day

After setting up base camp the previous afternoon, we packed up and headed out early in the morning to look for a good site for the first advanced base camp, and to do some alpine mountain climbing training.  We walked along the riverbed in some places.

[Note: I love making the photos huge, but I know this causes issues on some people's laptops.  To make them fit on your screen, you can press Control-Minus once or more times to shrink it.  Also, you can click on any image and it will pop up in a viewer sized for your screen.]

It took a few hours of hiking to get up to a good site for advanced base camp.   Millions of years of glacial motion has ground solid mountain rock into gigantic moraines of gravel, hundreds of feet high.  Moraines are no fun to hike on, because rocks are rolling and sliding under your feet with every step.  This photo was taken from the area where two glacial valleys join together. 

The aquamarine color of the pond is typical of glacial runoff water all over the world.  Water running off of a glacier contains stone dust created by all these rocks rubbing together.  The dust is so fine that much of it stays suspended in the water, rather than sinking to the bottom.  I've seen glacial water this same color in Canada, Norway, Argentina, and other places too.  

Here we are just after setting up our tents at advanced base camp.  This is where we'd launch the first summit attempts from.  For those of you who aren't sure, I'm the one on the left.  That's my brother John on the right, the one responsible for getting me into this crazy adventure.

After we set up our tents, we hiked up onto the glacier and did some training with crampons, ropes and ice axes.  Here's the team, all roped-up and ready to go.  That's Misha, our local guide on the left.  Then Dave, our guide from Secret Compass, John, Rhys from Sydney, Syco (pronounced seeko) from the Netherlands, and Alan from the UK.  We just found out Misha is going to be a member of a team attempting a rare ascent of K2 in winter.  So, yeah, Misha is a world-class mountaineer.  I'm actually worried for him on that trip.  That's extremely dangerous, even for elite climbers.  Here's a link to the climb.  Misha is a nickname for Mikhail.  His full name is Mikhail Danichkin.  

Misha set up a route to practice using our ice axes and crampons.  When I saw what he was doing, I was asking myself if it was OK to opt out of the exercise.  Of course it wasn't.  After climbing down one side of this glacier runoff stream, we had to jump down from one side to the thin ledge of ice on the other side.   Here's John mid-jump.  That's Misha watching over him.  

Once on the other side, we had to climb up and across the nearly vertical ice wall.  Here's John using nothing but his toe spikes to climb the wall.    

In this close-up, you can see the bottom spikes of his crampons are touching nothing.  

This is hard on the calf muscles, not to mention scary!  You have the sensation that the grip these two small spikes jutting out in front of your toes might break the ice any second.  Each time you take a step, you must always have two other points of support: ice axe in one hand, and the toes of your other crampon.  The most precarious points along a traversal are at the ice screws that secure the safety line to the ice wall.  At that point, you have to unhook one of your two carabiners from around the rope, then re-attach it to the rope on the other side of the ice screw.  Then you have to do the same with your second carabiner, so there is no time when you're not secured by at least one carabiner during the crossover. The whole time you're moving the carabiners across, you're supported by nothing but toe spikes dug into the ice.  

It was a great relief when we got to the top.  The relief was short-lived though, because Misha made us do it all over again for more practice.  Happily, having learned a lot from the first time across, the second time was considerably less nerve-wracking.  After this, we did training on crevasse rescue.  That was truly fascinating, as we learned how to use knots and carabiners to create leverage that allows a smaller person to pull a larger person up out of the crevasse.  

During this time on the glacier, the clouds came and went. Sometimes, it was all gray looking up the valley from where we were standing.  I couldn't get enough of staring at this peak, even if I was supposed to be concentrating on the training.  

There were glacial runoff streams all around us, like the we were training on in the photos above.  While we were in the middle of crevasse rescue training, I took a few minutes to run over and catch this one, taking advantage of a brief period of full sunlight. 

Other times, the sun broke through and brought the mountain tops into sharp relief.  You can actually see the advanced base camp here if you're looking at this on a computer screen, through probably not on a mobile phone.  You can see the green, blue, and red tents on the flat area just this side of the lake. 

Here's Misha over there taking photos later in the evening.  See him?  He's on the ridge, just under the cloud a bit to the left of center.

See the next article for photos from our first climb. 

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