We left Kochkor Village early in the morning and after about 40 km we turned off the main road and onto a narrow dirt one that wound it’s way up the side of a mountain. The beauty was breathtaking and at the top of the first pass we saw a man and woman on touring mountain bikes laboring up the hill from the opposite direction. Stopping to greet us, the man introduced himself as Rudy. He and his girlfriend had ridden 5000 km from their home in Switzerland. They were mere wisps, thinned and toughened by their long journey and heavily laden bikes. I asked if they were camping along the road ” oh yes, and the people are wonderful, they come out to greet you and bring you food.” We laughed about the heat of the deserts, I couldn’t imagine crossing them by bicycle! After several minutes of chatting, we bid them safe voyage to Kochkor and they were off.
Son Kul Lake is one of the larger alpine lakes of Kyrgyzstan. At 3000 meters the landscape was cold and barren of bushes and trees. Herds of horses and sheep ran freely or grazed on the stubby grass. Our yurt camp was owned and operated by nomads. As soon as we arrived, Christy and myself were corralled by a pair of women and taken aside. They carried a plastic bag between them and pulled out bits of dry bread, a greasy joint of lamb and a bottle of vodka. Feeling obligated by our new hosts we ate, drank, then joined in a traditional blessing of their children.
Heading over to the kitchen yurt, we met mountaineer Ted Fairhurst. Ted was climbing the “Seven Summits” and had just completed Mt. Elbrus. He was a terrific guy, full of good stories and great advice. After tea, a hike took us high above our yurt camp looking through the rocky outcroppings for petroglyphs. We found three of long horn sheep just as we had seen in a museum. These petroglyphs were at least three thousand years old and were early examples of the long running theme in nomadic art of rams horns.
The night was cold and my warm weather clothing wasn’t much help. In our effort to travel light, I had neglected to anticipate the needs of our two mountain camps. Ted kindly sold us his spare headlamp which he had taken up Everest, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and many other mountains so we could see in the pitch black camp.
Breakfast was a bowl of hot oatmeal. I noted that a nomad man sat across from me wearing a tall felt hat. He was scraping the flesh from the base of a boiled sheep’s head with his pocket knife and putting it into his toothless mouth. I watched in horror and fascination for several minutes as he turned it this way and that to get at the meat. The sheep’s ears still look pliable and soft. I glanced guilty back at my oatmeal, feeling like an intruder. A short while later Christy, Sasha, Ivan and myself climbed into the car and journeyed to Tash Rabat by way of the “33 Parrots!”