Putting all the pieces together to travel independently with our skis into China took a good bit of work. We had dreams of skiing off the Karakoram Highway; no big objectives, just adventure turns in a land far, far away. Unfortunately, the Gods had other plans for us.
First, southern Central Asia is having a very low snow year this year. Everyone we talked to in Kashgar said we were crazy and stupid to try to ski, but we are used to hearing that. This time, however, they were right. Because of the political situation on the borders near Pakistan, Tajikistan and Afganistan, the West side of the Karakoram Highway is a "Forbidden Zone". Travel of any kind above 4,000m on Mustagh Ata requires a $3,000+ permit not to mention gale force winter winds and glacial ice. We might have been able to ski the East side of the road, below 12,000 ft, but it would have been on dirt. In the end, we left our skis in Kashgar and went looking for "cultural experience" in the Tajik Autonomous Zone towns of Subashi and Tashkurgan.
Our host in Subasi who curled up next to me at night and proceeded to snore like a chainsaw for 8 hours straight until he got up to pray at 5:30am.
We drank salty yak milk tea, visited Tashkurgan's 1,400 year old Stone City and absorbed a bunch of Chinese Tajik culture (and a little bad bacterial culture as well!). Hitch-hiking our way North on the chinese Karakoram Highway, we found ourselves in a small coal truck.
I've had a lot of scary moments in vehicles; from sliding backwards down the Fairy Lake Road at home in Montana to drunken Bolivian bus drivers pulling off 10 point turns on a hair-pin curve. But I've never been scared like the last hours of our journey out of Tashkurgan. The ride began with the usual basics- miscommunication surrounding the price on the ride, the Figuring of Ages and the shock and awe at our lack of children. As the "road" crested a pass, the tarmac turned to a skating rink. With a 2,000ft drop off to the river valley on the left, semi trucks choose to jack-knife right, face first into the sheer walled cliffs on the left. Our driver choose to slalomn through the insanity with his horn on permanent honk and, to our horror, actually accelerated as he made passes around blind corners. The only hope we had was that he valued his life as much as we valued ours, but with the culture of suicide bombings growing in this corner of the world, we were'nt too sure. I'll take this moment to reveal that seatbelt use is seen as a sign of weakness in the 'stans.