Cycling the Celestial Mountains, in Winter

Kyrgyzstan has been good to us. Our first pass over 3000m was bright and sunny, making sunburn a new and oddly welcome hazard. The good weather followed us almost all the way to Bishkek, giving out in a fit of cold and snow as we skated out of Kara Balta. Thankfully, friends were awaiting our arrival in town, and we’ve been posted up being tourists for the last few days. With the passes through the Tien Shan completed, no major obstacles remain, and with 222 kilometers between us and Almaty, the end is at hand.

Our egos were tempered just as we gained the top of our first 3000+ meter pass.  There we met the family that lives at the very top of the pass in humble buildings buried in 15 foot snowdrifts.  The father of the family's job is to drive the bucket-loader and clear the wind-loaded snow from the road as it is deposited.  Even on a gorgeous sunny day, we hurried off the pass as the wind howled.
Our egos were tempered just as we gained the top of our first 3000+ meter pass. There we met the family that lives at the very top of the pass in humble buildings buried in 15 foot snowdrifts. The father of the family’s job is to drive the bucket-loader and clear the wind-loaded snow from the road as it is deposited. Even on a gorgeous sunny day, we hurried off the pass as the wind howled.
Entering the mountains, the frequency of towns dropped off precipitously, meaning we had to carry more food and for longer periods.  It was a small price gladly paid to leave behind the flat, populated plains.  Here, the only shop for 120 km offers juice boxes, meat-flavored potato chips, ramen noodles, and fresh naan.
Entering the mountains, the frequency of towns dropped off precipitously, meaning we had to carry more food and for longer periods. It was a small price gladly paid to leave behind the flat, populated plains. Here, the only shop for 120 km offers juice boxes, meat-flavored potato chips, ramen noodles, and fresh naan.
The loneliest little cell phone store in the Tien Shan.
The loneliest little cell phone store in the Tien Shan.
We passed a large artillery piece just wrapping up some control work along the road, and an hour later encountered its leavings.  This wet-slab buried the road in a 300-foot long block of cement fifty feet high.  We carried our bikes and bags over it in an hour's effort, smirking at the hundreds of cars lined up for 14 hours.  Bikes win.
We passed a large artillery piece just wrapping up some control work along the road, and an hour later encountered its leavings. This wet-slab buried the road in a 300-foot long block of cement fifty feet high. We carried our bikes and bags over it in an hour’s effort, smirking at the hundreds of cars lined up for 14 hours. Bikes win.
In the shadow of spruce, the snow is deep.  Work-hardening a tent platform, usually the province of winter ski trips, felt novel on a bike trip.
In the shadow of spruce, the snow is deep. Work-hardening a tent platform, usually the province of winter ski trips, felt novel on a bike trip.
The difference between the north and south sides of the final pass on the Osh - Bishkek highway was stark.  Here, on the north side, the deep cold continues but the air is dry and the hillsides bare.
The difference between the north and south sides of the final pass on the Osh – Bishkek highway was stark. Here, on the north side, the deep cold continues but the air is dry and the hillsides bare.
Getting into Bishkek, we reunited with friends and immediately returned to the mountains for a blissful ski tour.
Getting into Bishkek, we reunited with friends and immediately returned to the mountains, this time with a pair of planks strapped to our feet. Truth: skinning muscles are different than cycling muscles.

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