Passing. Wind

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Pakistan  ,
Sunday, July 1, 2007

From Passu it was another short, easy ride to Sost. The occasional downhills providing me with an opportunity to test my new brake cable. The original had snapped at the beginning of the descent from Karimabad and been replaced, with a couple of false starts, in Passu. This minor catastrophe brought us together with a Polish couple, Pavel and Magda, who'd cycled from Poland and also hadn't learned how to change a brake cable. We four stayed in the same hostel in Sost, the last town on the Karakoram Highway. Even for a frontier post Sost was a non-event. I found a bank, and went to change my emergency dollars (only Lahore, Islamabad and Gilgit have ATM's foreigners can use, and the Gilgit one was broken. I wandered into the dark room, interrupting a conversation between the three men inside.
-erm.. I'd like to exchange some money...
-you have dollars?
-what's the rate?
-excuse me? surely I should be asking you that? erm... the rate is 62:1
-OK. 58. (60 was about normal at the time)

We all had to stay at Sost for a while, since it is impossible to cross the border by anymeans other than the bus, and that involved some organisation and some waiting. I taught the other three how to play texas hold'em poker, and we whiled away the spare time in cut-throat competition for caramel chocolate eclairs and matchsticks. We had two days ride still to go before we could catch the bus, however. 

Although it is forbidden to cross it, it is quite permissable to ride to the border at the Kunjerab pass, through the Kunjerab national park. The only minor hindrance was a major landslide, which had prevented all traffic to the border for the last three weeks and dammed the river, creating a resevoir which flooded the road upstream. The road, being underwater, could not be cleared of debris. The dam could not be breached, or not too much, for fear of flooding the valley below. Nor could it be left to get deeper and destroy more road and eventually overflow and flood anyway. This catch-22 was escapable, in the long term, by dumping aggregate on the road to build up a causeway and draining the lake slowly. But in the short term, only by scaling the valley-wall.

Climbing around a landslide didn't sound that onerous. We reasoned that if we timed it well, we could climb over, ride to the pass and ride back on the same day the road reopened. Catching the bus the next morning would minimize the time wasted in Sost. 

When we reached the landslide, the road-builders seemed to be making excellent progress. The causeway was being constructed from both ends simultaneously, by dump trucks filled with debris gauged from the valley wall. The ends were only a hundred feet or so apart, but our attempt to persuade the supervisor (an army officer) to allow us to wade through fell on deaf ears. We had to climb. It was midday when we started, which would have meant a cool 40degrees celsius in the shade, if there had been any shade. Pete leading with his bike on his shoulder, me and Pavel following with as many bags as we could carry, Magda guarding the rest. The path, borne of necessity and only 3 weeks old, was barely worthy of the name. Beginning with a sandy scramble up a  totally improbable angle, the path degenerated to a steep rocky slope, threatening to twist, bend and shatter our ankles at every step. The path ran fairly smooth and almost level along the top of the cliff, parallel with the road, for a half-kilometer or so, so we only had the roasting sun and total absence of shade to hamper that stretch. The perils of the climb back down to the road mirrored the ascent. It took uncountable relays to ferry 4 bikes, each with at least 5 panniers, across this natural assault course. We were more exhausted by this 500m detour than by a whole days ride. 

Fortunately, we found a spot 5km further on where the river and road were separated by a wide strip of land and a tree provided perfect shelter for three tents. Peter and I set up camp, and waited for Pavel and Magda, who had fallen behind. They appeared about a half-hour later, having, it transpired, spent the time behind the last corner. Pavel collapsed in exhaustion in the middle of the road.

We spent the evening trying to boil water over an open fire, which was as ineffective as it was ill-advised, since it ruined my pot, attracted the attention of some park rangers, who appeared out of the shadows to scare the shit out of us, and failed to make two pots of water remotely warmer.
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