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Base camp

29. July (day 7) A truck stops outside the house around half past four in the morning, waking me and the whole building up. They don't discover me before a couple of hours later, but don't ask me about my mission in the table tennis hall. Finally, I have to go and clean everything up, but the road worker staff are anything than happy about my choice of campsite and soon kick me out of the place. Not for base camp, but for a ride back to the hotel for a rest-and acclimatization day, something crucial with my altitude jump yesterday after cycling 130 km. I am pretty amazed to find Peter and Steijn at the hotel, as I expect them to be about to climb for camp one, but it turns out Peter got ceririal edema (altitude sickness) and looks real bad.

He must under no circumstances go to sleep here tonight in his condition as it potentially can be fatal and the only solution is to bring him down to Ghez checkpoint, the sooner the better. It turns out more difficult said than done as Steijn and I try throughout the day to find a willing driver, while Peter is laying in bed. At last it happens, when a climbing party is going back to Kashgar and the Uigur driver fells to tempted by a offer of 200 yuan for a two extra passenger on a drive he is going to do anyway. I go to sleep for a couple of hours afterward and spend the rest of the day hanging around, dazzled by the view of Mustagh Ata and Karakul lake.

I run into a expedition leader from Holland, who informs me that some crazy cyclists are in base camp and want to climb the mountain by bike in their naiveté about what awaits. I try to convince the guy that they not are all that crazy, but don't success. His team has just abandoned the mountain, due to severe bad weather the last two weeks, except two climbers who want to wait out good weather to arrive. He also tell me that a Slovenian climber has died in his tent at 7.000 meters due to fatigue, the second death on the mountain ever to happen. This really spoils my mood the rest of the day, because the guy only did what we are about to do, challenge the mountain, but a possible fatal outcome is not something I have considered possible, while planing the trip. Now reality takes its tolls. I use the rest of the day to take a cold bath in Kara Kul and find some oil for my dry bicycle chain, before I go to bed.

30. July (day 8) Johan's Alpex expedition caravan is today going to Mt. Kongur across the lake and they use the morning to load the defiant camels, while Kyrgyz traders line up in front of the hotel, hoping landcruiser tourists to arrive. I get on the bike and start cycling up the asphalt road to a the turnoff I took last year in order to reach base camp. I bicycle and walk for a couple of hours before I reach a small house of stones, where I photographed the people living there last year and now I got the pictures for them. But they are of cause not home and I leave the pictures at the doorstep as I move my way up the increasing steeper hills near base camp. The mountain looks like torn apart by a daemon, ice and snow floating out from the wound. It has been awaken by sunshine and the freezing cold glacier rivers crossing my way are not pleasant experiences.

I reach base camp at 4.440 meters where time seems to stand still and Jim, Sieg and Luc find it rather difficult to believe on huge landslides, missing bridges and violent rain, because they got strait through to Subashi. Bastards!

Our highly expensive dinner tent turns out to be a shelter next to the cooks living room, but good for desempling a bike. Every unnecessary screw and part soon disappears from the bike, even the seat and the breaks. Luc has a more hard-core look on how to set records and brings his mountainbike to the record, fully intact.

The biggest attraction in base camp is the high altitude pool table which the local donkey Kyrgyz drivers have dragged up to here for killing time in-between bringing loads up and down the mountain. We end up playing a lot of pool until we incidentally drop the white ball into the snow and cannot find it again. The Muslim cook makes a tasty dinner, using our supplies bought in Kashgar, before I go to sleep in the 300 yuan Chinese base camp tent Sieg bought in Beijing. Needless to say, the first 10 cm of snow marks its destiny as it collapses. Sieg still wonders why.

31. July (day 9) I am behind in acclimatization and need to stay the day in base camp, while Luc and Siegfried carry their bikes up to camp one at 5.400 meters. It turns out be anything than pleasant for Sieg as they arrive back again late in the day exhausted and dehydrated, which don't fit with my experience when I walked up to camp one for fun during last years bicycle trip. Luc (like me last year) got the huge advantage of cycling across the Kunjarab pass (4750+) before we met in Kashgar and is ahead in acclimatization. 56-years old Jim already established his camp one yesterday and move up there today, quite impressive. Peter's condition has improved considerably and is now together with Steijn in base camp, but knows he has to be really careful during futher ascend.

Luc at the start of the walk from base camp to camp 1 The Kyrgyz traders didn't have much success at Kara Kul lake and try throughout the morning to convince an expedition about to leave, on the high quality of their carpets. Prices wave around in the air for hours, arms also, attitude signal on too high and low prices, a gathered crowd and the finial handshake marking that this area indeed is on the old trade rute.

I use the day fully to play it lazy and it become a success as I have done absolutely nothing at the end of the day.

1. August (day 10) Reality emerge as I have to bring up a load of gear to camp one. Steijn join up with me while Peter cleverly choose to stay in base camp for a day extra. Jim, the go-before-sunrise superman is already half way up to camp one when we finally start the walk after a deep breath. We use ski poles as everyone else to support and relieve the pressure on the upper part of our bodies while walking up the back of Mustagh Ata. I cannot help feeling like flea scratching the bag of a giant as we walk for hours up over four huge moraine chunks before reaching camp one. Here I really feel the difference of being acclimatized or not, because last year´'s ascend was much faster and enjoyable than this hard work I do now. Reaching camp one there Jim hangs out, is only half happiness as we only are halfway. I wait a little for Steijn to catch up, before we walk down again together in no-time. It strange to think that the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin in 1894 four times attempted to summit this mountain, at that time believed among locals to be the highest mountain on earth, on the back of a Yak, but unsuccessful. The leader of the famous 1920's British Everest expeditions, Shipton attempted in 1947, but had to give up near the summit due to deep snow. He lived at that time in the neighborhood of the mountain, being the British consular in Kashgar. It wasn't climbed until 1956 by a huge Chinese/Soviet team, three years before all cooperation stooped between the two countries. Mustagh Ata indeed has a past.

Route - Click to enlarge2. August (day 11)

Rest day for me, while Sieg and Luc move up to camp one. Jim come for a short visit to bring up food supplies for two weeks. The team now split up, Jim making clear from beginning that this was a solo trip for him. I desperately need to catch up the Sieg and Luc in order to set the record together with them. Steijn and Peter join up as they have done a countless number of times in the Alpes.

Life is peasant here in base camp with clean water in handy from a nearly glacier river and lot of people to chat with. There is now a huge amount of expedition tents covering the area - from small two person groups to highly commercial client ones with sunpowered computer-and communication systems.