Thursday, February 16, 2012

Close call in Karakol!

It snowed a bit overnight (a few cm…) so we figured we kept exploring the slackcountry of Karakol ski resort. 
There are 3 lifts that we have seen running. Only one of them give access to the top of the mountain. We still haven't figure on which schedule this one is running since we've seen it open at different hours 10h00, 9h40 and 11h25…

We we got to the mountain, it wasn't running, so we slapped our skins and hiked the 120m or so that was separating the top of the second highest chairlift from the top of the mountain. Just as we got to the top, the main chairlift just start running…. I guess we really haven't got it yet!

We kept hiking all the way to the nearby peak about 400m higher than the top of the resort. As we got to the top, we didn't have the visibility we were hoping for. We waited a little bit and we thought we were able to have a clear view from the run that we were hoping to tackle. 

We carefully stepped on the backside run and check to see if the snow was better than on the frontside. I made one turn, then another one and the snow was different but didn't feel any stable. For the first time of my life, I figured it wouldn't be a good slope to ski on since there wasn't any distinct ridge to safely ski on and decided to skin back to the top. 
From the top, we skied some low angle stuff to get back close to the slope we skied the day before. On our way down, we saw some ski tracks that looked not as deep as what we were experiencing. We thought it might be some suncrust/windcrust snow so that it might be a bit safer and stable. 
I venture a bit on the slope to check the stability and didn't like it too much, so I hiked back on the ridge. After a bit of discussion and by looking a bit more closely, we thought it would be better lower down, so the final call was to give it a go. The turns were deep and the snowpack wasn't too stable. We made our way down and saw some tracks on a nearby slopes that (again!) look good. I venture a bit further to check it when my dad scream: WATCH OUT!

I quickly checked over my shoulder to see about a meter of snow quickly making it way down. I guess what should happened finally happen since I triggered a fairly big slab avalanche. I quickly climb to the nearby ridge to get to a safe spot as the snow was raging just next to me, but the slope in front of me started moving as well… Just a few meter in front of me went another avalanche. Then, it started cracking above me…. and then around me. As you might expected, I finally went down as well! Luckily, most of the crux of the avalanche as already slid and I wasn't moving too fast. I finally had a ride of about 100m and ended up buried only to my knees. 
I would guess this was a size 2.5 avalanche and certainly the biggest one I've ever triggered. We played it safe all day to finally let our guard down as we were almost to the bottom of the run….

We skied out without any other incident but we crossed some new natural avalanche that weren't there the day before. We were both really glad about that happy ending that could have been much worst. 

That incident confirm what we were expecting since the beginning of our journey in Karakol (that the snowpack was really unstable…) and did cut a bit our motivation to ski. We figured it would be a good idea to go do some shopping at the bazar of Karakol and buy the needed souvenirs for the family! It was again a really nice experience to venture in the twisting alleys and having a view of how people shop around Central Asia. 

Walking around towns certainly has some hazards; the (really!!!) icy sidewalks, the sliding cars and the missing manhole cover!! Those last one are quite dangerous, when walking at night in the non-lighted streets!!
Even if shopping was interesting, we figured we would be better skiing, so we went back to the resort. We figured that if we stayed around the heavily skied area the snow would be safe enough. It had snowed again a bit and we had some really good turns. 


By just sliding slightly out of bounds, we were accessing some chopped up, but really soft snow. We both concluded that those were our best turns so far in our trip. 

At night, we met with Ryan Koupal from 40 Tribes over dinner. 

He has been in Kyrgyzstan for 3 years and had started a nice backcountry operation in a nearby town from Karakol. He is offering some professionally guided tour out of a traditional Kyrgyz hut. Unfortunately for us, he didn't has any vacancy and was fully booked for the complete duration of our stay in Kyrgyzstan. He told us that the conditions were really good around his hut in January, but now was also a bit unstable. 

He generously told us about some various options we were having in Kyrgyzstan. One of them caught our attention. Apparently, from the town of Arslanbob in the southwest of the country, there was some good skiing to be done. There might also be some opportunity to sleep in some shepperd's hut to access some really good backcountry. 

My Dad and I quickly agreed that it would be our best bet. If the skiing wasn't nice, then at least, it would be good to change scenery and town. We were both a bit down from not being able to ski anything steep because of a rotten snowpack and we felt like we have seen much of what Karakol itself had to offer has a town. 

This morning, we packed everything and called a taxi to make it back towards Bishkek to try to catch a plane towards Osh (Kyrgyzstan's second largest town). This 1 hour flight will cost about 40$ and save us a 10+ hour drive over some icy mountain pass. 

Mountains scenery followed us all the way back to Bishkek during this 5 hours drive. We ask our driver not to drive too fast since we heard about a car accident where 3 client's of Ryan were involved in a high speed collision. Since the driver are driving really fast with some quite crappy cars, it was good to have a safe driver. 

As we got to Bishkek, we bought our plane tickets for the following morning and went for some traditional dinner. 

Now we are just hoping that we've made the good decision to change and we are hoping for the best!



Anonymous said...

Toujours aussi fascinant...

J'espère que vous avez raporté LE casque de pouelle !

Bonne tournée dans les yourtes.

Anonymous said...

je n'avais jamais réalisé à quel point votre vie pouvait être en danger; bien contente de savoir que tout s'est bien déroulé; à vrai dire , je suis pas mal plus rassurée lorsque je vous vois dans les marchés à côtoyer les gens du milieu

Anonymous said...

Hey Evans,
Tu aurais dû ramener le casque bleu et blanc pour les futurs est anthologique!
Bonne continuité de trip and play safe.