A glimpse of the Pamir mountains and a smashed foot

Day 20 – 19th August – Sary-Tash to Peak Lenin basecamp to Sary-Tash (172km)

Bert, the Belgian guy riding to the Himalayas posted this picture from Peak Lenin basecamp two days ago.

Peak Lenin is 7134 metres high and is considered the most accessible peak over 7000 metres, partly because it is relatively easy to climb, partly because it is not too technical, partly because the basecamp is accessible by motor vehicle, so there is no need to spend days carrying stuff on donkeys to make the approach. It was this last fact that made us decide that we wanted to visit it while we were in Sary-Tash.

As fate would have it, shortly after we got here we discovered that Bert and all the other people who were going to cross into China were staying at a guesthouse next to ours. It seems he survived the snowfall at the basecamp. Not only that, he said that the dirt road up there was quite easy, so we decided to go visit it and come back down to sleep in Sary-Tash, where it was already quite cold as it was.

We got on the bikes, but Marc’s wouldn’t start. It had been a cold night, alright, but not that cold. It turns out that he has a lithium battery and it doesn’t like the cold. Fortunately, it only took a bit of sunbathing for the KTM to start, and we set off.

On the outskirts of the town the road branches in two. To the left, the start of the legendary Pamir highway. To the right the road to a different border with Tajikistan that is only open to locals, and on the way there, the turnoff to the basecamp.

We really did not need to get that far to find spectacular views – as soon as we turned onto that valley we had a view of the full north face of the Pamir mountains to our left. It was such an alluring view that it was hard to keep our concentration on the road.

40 kilometres later, we left the main road, crossed a rickety suspension bridge and rode through a metal arch over the road with big lettering indicating the way to the basecamp. The track itself was fine, narrow and with loose gravel or sand at some points, but nothing too technical. There were also a few river crossings, but contrary to what we feared seeing how much it had snowed on the peaks overnight, the water level was very low.

We rode across brown grassy plains for most of the way, and in the last few kilometres the road started climbing and led onto a wide valley right at the foot of the Pamirs. There was not one, but several camps scattered over the valley. We rode to the middle of it, right up to a river crossing that was a bit too complicated for us to negotiate taking into account that we would have to turn back shortly after, we parked our bikes and walked around for a while, speechless at the beauty of the place. These were by far the highest mountains I had ever seen. As I have said before on this blog, distances in this country are deceiving, and it looked as if the peak was really close at hand, but it takes a minimum of three days to reach the top.

After having something to eat we turned our bikes around and started going down. We got to a small stream we had crossed on the way up, and it already looked as if there was more water flowing through it. I went first, it was not complicated, but just when I was about to exit on the other side, the front tire caught a pebble and it snapped to the left. I opened the throttle to straighten the bike, but instead of getting traction, the back tire spun and the bike slid from under me. I fell backwards into the water and the bike fell onto my left foot. It was not trapped, as I could get up immediately, but I could feel it had been hurt.

We got the bike upright and after checking that I could still ride we went on to our guesthouse in Sary-Tash. I could change gear without problems, but when we stopped for petrol at the end of the ride I could barely walk. It was a combination of the pain in the foot and general pain all over my back from the previous fall, made worse by this one.

I got to the guesthouse, removed the boots and put the foot in cold water. The good news was that I could move it and when I pressed in different points with my hands it did not hurt that much, so there was nothing broken. A Dutch physiotherapist who happened to have stopped by for coffee also examined it and confirmed my impression. However, I still felt as if I had been beaten up by a bunch of crazy skinheads.

I had doubts about continuing into the Pamir Highway like this, but I decided that I would wait until the following morning and see how I felt. If I went into the Pamirs, it was two or three days to Khorog, where there was a good hospital, and I would be sticking to the main road, the M41, no Wakhan and no Bartang. If I went back to Osh, it was only one day ride, but then it was probably the end of my chances to ride the Pamir.

The morning would bring an answer, I thought.