the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

March 16, 2012

Kyrgyzstan: The yurt locker.

Filed under: snow — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 8:49 am

I have got to admit, until a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to place Kyrgyzstan on a map. It’s a different story now. Now I know where it is. I know what the people look like. I know how cold it gets there. I know what they speak there. I know what they eat (it’s not a very vegetarian-friendly place I can tell you). I know how bumpy their roads are.

I just spent the last 10 days in this ex-USSR central Asian country shooting a story on staying in a traditional yurt at 2650m and splitboarding the adjacent rugged mountains. Let’s face it, a comfy yurt with its wood stove to dry kit, is a way friendlier place to sit about in post-shred than the usual sub-zero tents that seem to have become my home-from-home on the TGR Deeper/Further trips of late, and with local villagers’ horses on hand to porter our kit up the initial 800m climb to our base, things were looking easy from the off.

How naive. After seeing a stable snowpack for all of february, seasonal weather effects on a continental snowpack began a heavy avalanche cycle just before our arrival, meaning with our guide (, we had to tread lightly in this uncompromising terrain. This isn’t the place to have things go wrong. And then there was getting up there. Everything we rode meant 1000m of climbing from the yurt each day, with the usual huffing and puffing that goes hand-in-hand with altitudes of 3500m/11,500 ft. And then there were the local taxis. Kyrgyzstan is the place where VW Passats go to die it seems.

But that’s what adventure is all about: new experiences and acquaintances, hardships, bumpy hours in the backs of decaying vehicles, and the absence of tofu burgers. I now feel a little better acquainted with Kyrgyzstan. Now where on the map is Ulaanbaatr…?

Camera-wise, I headed there armed with the Nikon D3s & Nikon 2.8 glass for the action stuff and my quintissential, less invasive Leica M8 for the travel shots. the story will grace a number of snow-related titles next winter.

James Stentiford rides 'eggs and bacon', a safe, if mellow line at last light before another night in the yurt locker. Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8.

Our Russian taxi driver is called 'Schumacher'. His taxi is a 1985 ex-soviet army bus. He starts the engine by touching 2 bare wires together. Nikon D3s, 50 1.4.

Italian Tania Detomas skins the slow grind up to a line way above the valley floor, long before she has had her morning cappuccino. Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8.

This was the scary scene that greeted us on the mountain: Leeward NE faces that were self releasing and cleaning out. Time to take it easy. For scale, this face is about 900m vertical. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8.

Horses are more important than cars for a lot of Kyrgyz people. At a sunday market, young Kyrgyz lads encourage their horses to barge each other in training for local 'no rules' polo, called Kok-Boru, that uses a headless sheep carcass as the 'ball'. Leica M8, Zeiss 28 2.8.

The Yurt locker. Home from home for 5 tired nights in a land inhabited by wolves and bears.The seeds of a vegetarian diet have now been sown here. Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8.

Sheep and Ladas and mobile phones. Rural Kyrgyz gather from 3am at the Karakol livestock market to buy or sell sheep, bundling their live purchases into the boots of Ladas. Leica M8, Voigtlander 15 4.5.

It took 4 hours to skin to this face at 3500m, only to find the snowpack stability less than friendly and we were forced to retreat. The real art of mountain riding is knowing when to back away. Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8.

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