Blizzards, Kazakh tombs, and One Tree Plain
After a long night of intermittent sleep, due to the wildly flapping tarps on the tents, we awoke to more stormy weather. We set out with just a slight drizzle that steadily turned into persistent rain. As we climbed (or rather our stoic horses walked) higher in altitude (from around 2,600 meters to 2,800 meters) the rain soon turned to serious sheeting snow which because of the wind was coming horizontally straight at as. So on we trudged, heads down, straight into the blizzard. After about an hour we had to dismount and walk to keep warm. After a few hundred more metres, our Kazakh guides were getting worried, so we had a quick huddle, and decided that we had to turn back. According to the map there probably would have been at least another three or four hours in these conditions and even then no promise of shelter at the other end – just another bleak high altitude lake with no trees. I usually like to be an adventurer and risk taker but I think frostbite and hypothermia could have been very real possibilities if we had continued in these conditions with our ill-suited clothing (I had a flapping, green, Vietnamese poncho which was also scaring all the horses more than the snow!).
We spent the next four hours huddled up in a herdsman’s winter cabin, melting snow for water, sharing magazines, and generally making light of our thwarted attempt to get to Potanin Glacier. Once the storm passed, we decided it would be best to descend as there was a lot of uncertainty about what the route to the glacier would have entailed in terms of snow and possibly impassable rivers. As our eternally optimistic friend pointed out, ‘it’ll be fine – views always look completely different when you are going the other way’ and sure enough they did. As the storms cleared we had a stunning descent.
By about 6:30 pm we reached the base of the Molgoit Valley and plains. A rainbow emerged and we had incredible light illuminating the Kazakh mud brick tombs starkly against the shaded black mountains in the background.
We made camp beside a lone tree by a river on the plain. It was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever camped and we had an incredible two hours of light before the sun set. It was hard to believe we had been in a blizzard only a few hours ago!