Thursday 5 June 2014
Almaty Office, Kazakhstan
Day two of our 3 day field trip to a proposed mine site in the remote western mountains of Kyrgyzstan again started before dawn with a 6 a.m. departure on Saturday 22 March from Ala Buka in Western Kyrgyzstan, after a reasonable night in Ala Buka village hotel. Of course there was no breakfast at this time and we made do with fruit bought from the local market the night before and water. The second day saw us checking the route from Al Buka to the site and back again to Ala Buka, a distance of around 200km each way, 400km round trip.
We passed through the narrow Devil’s Tower gorge in the dark, with its overhangs and a narrow road alongside a fast-flowing river with tight bends. We decided to view this more closely on the return journey later that day.
Dawn broke as we reached the lower approach to the 2,900m Chapchima Pass. It was misty with light rain on the lower elevations turning to light snow as we climbed towards the summit by way of a number of tight switchbacks. The increasingly heavy mist/cloud made surveying the route challenging. We rested at the summit wrapped in our cold weather gear, the smokers in the small convoy adding to the foggy conditions. While the road was snow-covered at this height, it was hard-packed and the light snow had little impact.
As we descended into the valley to the north of the pass, again carefully negotiating the numerous switchbacks, the weather became clearer and the snow stopped almost immediately after the summit. We stopped regularly to inspect avalanches and it was very clear that this valley has more than its fair share of slides, many of which appeared to be recent as would be expected in spring.
On reaching the Chatkal River Valley, we turned roughly eastwards towards the proposed site. The road was wider but in most places single track as we followed walls of snow caused when clearing a snow passage. This is a wide river valley and snow was still thick on the ground unlike on the other side of the mountains to the south towards the Fergana Valley where there was no snow at all. Temperatures were well above freezing and the slow spring thaw had begun.
After inspecting the entrance to the proposed site – the limit of the survey - we turned back to the nearby village of Kanysh Kiya where the company’s agent had fixed lunch for us. There was no opportunity to visit the proposed site – the snow lay thick and deep and it would take a while to clear it with the right equipment.
The main lunch event was a large soup bowl containing big chunks of root vegetables, potatoes and a huge knuckle of meat which may have been mutton or goat, all swimming in some sort of clear seasoned stock. Although we were all so hungry by now and would have eaten the table, the meal proved to be delicious and with copious amounts of the fine local flat bread, we left full and satisfied.
On the return leg of the journey, our second car stopped in a village as we turned south into the valley climbing the north side of the Chapchima Pass and was 10 minutes behind us. As we neared the summit, we regained a mobile signal and a text message from the second car informed us that the road below was blocked by an avalanche that fell between our passing and their arrival. The heavy earthmoving equipment we had seen road repairing in that vicinity was no longer available as another avalanche had also fallen in the village and they were working on that. It was later that afternoon when they eventually trudged into the hotel.
We spent time at Devil’s Tower gorge, with its towering cliffs and overhangs. By this time the weather was excellent with spring-like temperatures in the low teens Celsius and any snow that had been here had long since disappeared. As this is an area of natural beauty, nothing can be done about this constraint to transportation, and nothing should be done. It is most definitely an area of natural beauty. We also spent time at a roadside workshop seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where the first low bed trailer of the season was transporting a Caterpillar D9 dozer to site.
By late afternoon we were back at our hotel at Ala Buka and early evening saw us in a different local restaurant near the small market. Again the food was good enough and very filling, and on the way back to the hotel we raided the market to buy more fruit and water for breakfast next day.
A good day’s work. Day 3 follows.