The first day of the fourth slot of the Tien Shan snow leopard expedition was an early test of the team member’s metel. Intel recieved prior to our departure from Bishkek indicated that the terrible tunnel at the top of the main pass into our mountains was the subject of some major works and that a four hour delay could be expected. A quick survey of our new group revealed that we were blessed with a plethora of experienced 4×4 drivers, including a park ranger and some who had completed a 4×4 training course. Just as well because we now had the option of taking our heavily laden cars over the alternate route, which we had discovered on the previous slot. It is by far a more interesting route and as we skirted within metres of the Kazakhstan border and on up into the range beside Lake Issyk Kul, we were treated to some awesome scenery and some great windows into Kyrgyz culture not as evident on the route, which we were now avoiding.
As we approached our entry valley we could see that the conditions, which till now were fine, were about to take a turn for the worse. Ahead was a thick dark weather system that clad the entire range down to the foothills. We ascended the valley and negotiated the tricky bits easily. Our drivers didn’t break a sweat, partly because of their experience and partly because it was freezing. When we approached the top, the cloud was so thick that we had to crawl along at a snail’s pace with our hazard lights flashing just to see the car ahead.
It was on the decent that the real test came. The last car came on over the radis ond said they could smell a problem. We stopped and foung that car three had a completely flat tyre and was now running on a rim. The smell was the shredding rubber.
The team came together then and in the freezing gale and 20 metre visibility, we jacked up the vehicle and with some effort and no feeling in our fingers replaced the wheel. It was a great introduction to the team into the valley that would be their home for the next two weeks. Go team!