I climbed a mountain

08.29.09

Today, I climbed a mountain. No, that’s not an analogy – I literally climbed a mountain. After class a few of us went with Shannon and her Kazakh host family to the “mountains” that start rolling up straight from our town/village Issyk, to the backdrop of other more lofty and scraggly snow-capped heights further on to the south. We started in her back yard and climbed for about 1.5 hours to get to the top of the closest summit, in what must have been the most wild wilderness journey this city-girl has ever been on.

As we first started out with Shannon’s host father in the lead, there was a small dirt path carved up the mountain that seemed relatively traversable. We left the acrid smells of car exhaust and burning trash behind in civilization, and breathed in the fresh, cool mountain air. Soon enough the narrow dirt path itself disappeared, and we had to fight our way through completely untrodden masses of varied and often barbarious plants. We passed endless patches of stinging nettle (ouch), stiff plant stems covered in thorns (double ouch), hardy and multicolored wildflowers with long stalks, shrubs with branches poking us every which way, and the odd round bristly bulb or two that looked like a mix between plum and porcupine. Our leader used a large stick as well as his shoes to try to crush a way through the overgrowth, but there were many stings, pokes and thorns along the way for us all the same. At some point, the slant was so steep that it felt like we were crawling up the mountain on hand and knee; it must have been a 70-80 degree incline! The soil was soft and dark but would crumble and slip beneath our feet, and we were on our toes during many parts of the climb.

Very steep climb!

This mountain, though clearly a good few had climbed it, nevertheless offered one of the most untouched hikes I have ever been on. I can’t remember fighting my way through like that with nary a stone or dirt path to be seen, on any other hike I’ve ever been on. Needless to say it was an unbelievable experience and felt appropriately analogous to the beginning of our time in the Peace Corps. We struggle and sweat and acclimate in something new and foreign, but love it the whole time because the challenge and the process itself is what makes everything so worth it in the end.

Hilary, Trenton, me and Shannon on top of the mountain!

When we reached the summit at long last, we had a view of the whole town and all the surrounding mountains. It all looked like it could have been out of a movie, and we all felt strong, exuberant and excited at having made our way up. I can’t do the view or the feeling justice with a description, but you can see for yourself! 🙂

[EDIT: Added this video, too!]
On our way down through the brambles again, it started to rain. Everything was fresh, wet and alive as we traversed through a whole natural ecosystem of plants and insects. We stopped to pick the freshly washed wild berries (Shannon’s host mother knew by sight every type that was good to eat, and every type that should be avoided), and finally ended in an apple orchard at the foot of the mountain. There we picked ourselves some famous, tart Almaty apples and reveled in our perfect hike. 🙂 It was exactly what I needed – great exercise for body and soul.
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