The training and induction days of the final slot went off without a hitch except to say that, due to a problem with the partner organisation’s cars we got to base camp a car short. It was expected to arrive the next day, driven by NABU’s Aman, after being repaired. When it did not arrive we waited, thinking that the serious nature of the problem might have resulted in a delay in Bishkek. When, by the afternoon of the next day Aman still hadn’t arrived, we set out to find a phone signal about an hour down the road towards Koshkor. We discovered that the car had left Bishkek the previous day. We discovered also that he had reached his birth village at the foot of the range that day. At this point I became concerned that he may have run into trouble, so we went on into the village to ask around.
The concensus in the village was that he had left that morning, but he had not made it to the base camp. All this took quite a while and it was dark by the time we all agreed that we would need to search. A slow and poorly lit drive back yielded no results despite numerous stops to peer into the deep gorges in the moonlight.
The next morning I told the team of the situation and the need to mount a potentially grizzly search for our colleague who had dissapeared without a trace. To their immense credit, everyone on the team stepped forward to participate in what could easily have turned into a very unpleasant task. A basic plan was formed and with the ready collaboration of the entire team we honed the search on the fly with one car canvasing locals while the other two slowly cruised the valley stopping to scan the deep floor at the bottom of the precipitous valley walls. Wherever a view of the bottom of the slope was not possible from the car, the car would stop and the searchers would fan out to investigate the valley floor. The other car would pass them and do the same at the next occluded view point. In this way they leap-frogged each other to the end of the valley. At the bottom of the range, as we gathered and I prepared to push further on into the flats below and raise an official search, a car appeared and we quickly realised that it was Aman. His breakes had begun to fail after leaving the village, as had his mobile phone, fully in line with Murphy’s law. For safety sake, he had headed back to fix this second car issue but no-one was the wiser. Needless to say he was surprised by the overly happy welcoming party that had come down the mountain to meet him. A very good ending, all things considered.
From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan