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Uchitel: This is Not the Way to the Top

Teacher, teacher, can you teach me?

Even the half-baked plans of monkeys and men can falter at times. After Clare had been on the ground in Bishkek 24 hours, I absconded with her to Ala Archa National Park, 45 minutes south of Bishkek.

Our goal was a two-day ascent of 4500m Peak Uchitel, Mt. Teacher. And oh the lesson we learned (get it??).

We didn’t have a map because there were only two that I found available for purchase. One only described the technical routes, and the other was only sold in a store that I forgot to go to.

But I’d seen and jotted in my notebook the dozen or so words that somebody had posted on an online forum for the hike. Since this wasn’t a hike into the great unknown, I figured worst-case scenario would be that we’d get killed or tortured. But worst-case realistic scenario is that we’d end up on the wrong trail and backtrack down, Clare reminding me what a failure I am as I sob openly.

But the first day was a cakewalk—a steeply inclined cakewalk but the trail was well marked and by late afternoon we reached a scattered camp of tents, primarily technical climbers with their ropes and gear splayed about. The gulley the campsite hid away in lay beside a 10-meter-high wall of moraine, on the other side of which was the cracking tongue of a dirty white glacier (“You want me to be true to you;
you don’t give a damn what I do to you.” Sing along!).

A lazy breakfast the next morning and we were on our way at the crack of 9ish. It was only about a kilometer in (when the hell did I start using the metric system?) when our way became ambiguous. But a confident pair of Israeli men perhaps in their early 50’s took charge and pressed onward and upward.

Soon we found ourselves addressing a steep, rubbly slope of scree. Bodybag-sized boulders to softball-sized stones presented a severely unsturdy approach between spires that we were told led toward the peak.

After a few hours of this, combined with a little bit of ice and snow crossings, we came to a corner that we decided would make or break our way. After we reached around, we came upon a wall that finished us off. But then we figured it was only maybe 10 or 15 meters of climbing up crumbling rock at an angle that shouldn’t kill us if we fell (photo at top).

And after that little bit, we were done. We estimated our peak altitude at around 4,000 meters–a conclusion reached primarily through the desire to believe we were at 4,000 meters. The trail had been long gone, and our powers of self-delusion could hold up no longer.

After a few photos, high fives, and Haily Marys full of Grace, we began our descent, during which I accidentally kicked a baseball-sized rock toward Clare. “Look out” was all I could muster to say. Maybe I could’ve said something more specific, such as “Cover your head!” but I was busy thinking, “There’s no way that rock’s gonna hit her in the head.” Okay, so apparently there was at least one way.

Back to camp and then a few hours back down to the road, call a taxi, and collapsed in Bishkek by 9pm. And there was much rejoicing.

Clare. Always intrepid, usually lost.
(L) Tents and moraine; (R) The cracking ice tongue of doom
F13, if you know what I mean.
That way. Then left.
Anklebreak Ave
The shadow people are gaining on me.
This is not the way.
Comin' down Scree Street, Talus Town, Moraine Mountain. (Alliteration is the new black. I think you feel me.)

 

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