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Mukaghali Peak, Central Tien-Shan, Kazakhstan by Olga Kulakova

I don’t remember exactly who came up with this idea to go to this mountain. I was trying to remember this while climbing through the scrubby lands along the rough shores of Bayankol River. I was hoping that probably there were some old shepherd’s paths and we just need to find them, but they don’t actually exist and that’s why the first two days of our expedition were a complete mess.

Having passed this trial we found ourselves on the wonderful alpine meadows with the purest mountain streams and set up our camp there. The next day we had to climb the southern slope of the mountain and find a camping place with water. So we passed through the endless moraines and within few hours reached the altitude of 4000 meters and have set our camp at the surprisingly beautiful place. The weather was perfect but by evening it became worse and the following day early in the morning it became obvious that we should go back. The weather was going to break within few hours.

My friend said that the circumstances are very bad and the only way for us was to climb to the top of the mountain and then quickly come back before thunderstorm starts, we shouldn’t stay overnight at the top as it was going to start raining within a couple of hours, it was not safe enough to spend a night at the top and there were absolutely no chances for any landscape photography in any case.

However I didn’t bother so much about safety or whatever else; I was ready for any weather conditions and any other difficulties whatsoever. My goal was to capture some new landscapes from the top of the mountain. Even though I realized that in the mountains there are no guarantees about the weather my disappointment was too strong to accept the fact that I was not lucky this time.

Finally, after a long discussion we left most of our equipment in the camp and packed our tent. I was allowed to take with me only one camera, three lenses and one tripod, second camera with one more lens along with other stuff was left in the camp but still my backpack was too heavy, but I don’t see any other options.

I was not sure what we were going to do on the mountain top in such weather conditions, the chance was zero and the risk was too high. Overnight on the top of the mountain in the thunderstorm was not a good idea and I perfectly knew that. But something was telling me that we should stay there in any case and wait.

Sometimes when it seems that the situation is very bad and you don’t have any chances, there still is a little possibility that it might change. If you listen to your intuition, even if it conflicts with the common sense, even if you don’t believe in yourself, you can take a risk. Certainly I would never advise anyone to risk a life for photography, but in my case it was worth it.

By the time we reached the top we could see the thunderstorm approaching us and actually we should have descended but we decided to set up the tent and stay.

The rain started as we finished with tent installation on the rocky slope of the mountain, and after an hour it started snowing. Summer has immediately turned into winter and the temperature was rapidly decreasing.

As we were sitting in the tent I have once again realized that one thing is to reach this location, second thing is to survive this night and the third thing is to manage to capture some landscape pictures. But what can I do if it’s snowing and the mountains are not visible?

Heavy snowflakes were slowly covering our tent and everything around as I crawled out from the tent and understood that I had to somehow accept the fact that this adventure was a complete failure. Moreover I had to accept that we were suffering here due to my fault. It was going to be extremely difficult to descent from the top of the mountain next morning as the visibility was zero and there was a risk to get disoriented in the fog and go in wrong direction.

All these thoughts took away the rest of my energy and I was trying to sleep, but it was impossible. It was too cold and uncomfortable to sleep on the stones.

But if you imagine a soft pillow instead of a stone under your head you can get a good sleep in absolute silence. Eventually, at some point, I fell into a delirious state; I woke up many times and couldn’t make a difference between dream and reality.

I was dreaming about the stars shining in the endless dark skies and mountain peaks sleeping peacefully under the moonlight.

The alarm woke me up at 4.45 a.m. I looked outside and the sky was clear and I could see the silhouettes of the mountain peaks in the twilight. In in two minutes was already standing at the top with my camera.

Khan-Tengri Peak was illuminated by sunrise and moonset both at the same time and I could not believe my eyes. At the break of the day the mountains smell with wind and fresh snow.

P.S. The Khan Tengri Peak (6,995 meters) is the highest summit of Kazakhstan and the second highest summit of Tien Shan Mountains. “Tengri” is the highest heavenly deity in ancient religions. ”Khan Tengri” means the “Lord of the Skies” and is one of the most beautiful peaks in the world due to its almost perfect pyramidal shape.


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