Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Spring Skiing in the Babash Ata Range

Blue skies in the Babash Ata Range.

     We were married high in the Andes Range in Peru, with the mountains as our witness. Deb will tell you I tricked her into it while she was in a weakened state of high altitude craziness, but that's just not true. We learned then to trust and listen to the mountains.
     We stared at the steep and rocky slopes of Babash Ata from Arslanbob all winter, and could only dream of what the hidden North facing aspects held when stable springtime conditions might allow us access. We also dreamed of a first ski descent of this noble mountain.
     With our friend Fazil as our guide, we set off on horseback with five days of food and packs laden with ski and climbing gear. 

     We left the horses at the snow line, and after two days touring up and over the range, we set basecamp beside a still frozen glacial lake beneath the fantastic couloirs that rose to the summit of Babash Ata. We slept restlessly in the cold night in anticipation of another perfect day climbing styrofoam-like snow up and skiing corn snow down during our first descent. Once again, however, the mountain Gods had other plans.
     After coffee and oatmeal, (yes, even Fazil the diehard Uzbek chai drinker joined us for some instant black magic) we headed up into thin clouds that looked like they might give us passage. 200m from the summit with 40 minutes of climbing to go, the snow began to rage and it was time to listen to the mountains. Babash Ata said "No".
Turnaround time as the clouds smack down.

     The storm raged on for two days and two nights with Deb and I snuggled up in our cozy tent and Fazil somehow happily surviving in his plastic wrap burrito bivy system. I will say this only once so I don't offend - Fazil is one tough F#€^er! We took advantage of the brief pauses in the storm to shovel out the tent, drink a bit of chai and wolf down some naan. During the long windy nights as the snow sifted up under our vestibule and dusted our faces as we slept, I lay wondering if the muffled sounds I heard from Fazil's burrito were snoring, singing or praying.
Fazil emerges from his cocoon as the storm breaks.

      On the fifth day we made our escape, vowing to never camp again. Of course after beer, vodka and plov with Hayat that night in summer-like Arslanbob we'd hatched a plan for horses and first ski descents above Friendship Pass. For our adventurous friends, a first ski descent of the gem of the Babash Ata range is there for the taking if Hayat does not get there before you!
The consolation prize- first turns down the mountain we will call Lugge Apa, the mother of the skiers.

Deb cruises through wet corn down Friendship Pass towards camp.

       We'll leave our skis behind again tonight as we head South towards Tajikistan and more adventures.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tragedy On Everest

Everest from the summit of Kala Patar 18,044 ft.

      Thirty-four days of walking in Nepal! Yes, our bodies suffered with the altitude, we climbed a few minor peaks and Deb got blessed by a Lama on her 45th birthday. But this time, instead of focusing on our adventures, I'll write a bit from our perspective about the recent climbing tradgedy on Mt. Everest.
      We were one valley East of the Khumbu when rumors arrived two days later at Chhukung of an avalanche that had taken the lives of 16 Sherpas working on Everest.
Sherpa man counting his prayer beads.

     Those who perished, included five men from the small village of Thame, a hamlet we'd spent a few days in during the early segment of our trek. Because of our affinity for Thame and it's nearby monastery, the loses here hit us especially hard, and it is difficult to even imagine how it is affecting this small community.
     The 16 who died were not your average load carrying Sherpas, though they did carry gigantic burdens up and through the mountains. These men were charged with finding the path, breaking the trail and setting the fixed ropes that make the climb up Everest a relative walk-up for Western mountaineers. They were the elite of the elite.
Butter lamps line the wall in a Nepalese monastery.

     Though the Sherpas are paid relatively well for three months of work walking in these beautiful mountains, none that I spoke with or watched enjoyed their jobs. Over-burdened to the extreme, they were working hard in the mountains purely to support their families at home. There was little joy and a lot of grunting.  Over use and a lack of respect for the environment has left a mark on the region, and left a bad taste in my mouth, not only from the polluted waters of Gorak Shep.
Looking out over the Third Gokoyo Lake.

     Out of respect for the Sherpa people, and also for lack of a safe route for Western climbers, Everest climbing was shut down for the season after the accident. Unfortunately, neither insurance nor the wealthy Nepalese government offered much support to the workers and families who have now lost both loved ones and a years worth of wages in an already hand-to-mouth economy. I asked a man in Namche Bazaar how many of the dead were his friends. With tears in his eyes, he said he knew every one of them.
White pebbles at a Gompa near Thame.

     An odd transition from the poverty and sadness of Nepal to the opulence and excess of Kuwait awaited us as we slowly made our way back to Central Asia. One day we were giving alms to limbless beggars on the streets of Katmandu, and the next morning we enjoyed brunch with a group of Generals from the U.S. military in an overly air conditioned four star hotel in the capital. After a quick and relaxing family reunion with Deb's dad, brother and brood, we headed back to Bishkek again, to again seek more snow in Arslanbob and our favored mountains. Maybe Babash Ata this time?
Reunion in Kuwait!