Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Pakistan  ,
Monday, July 2, 2007

Every meter climbed the next day represented a new record altitude for me. I'd been concerned about this fact for some time. I'd read about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of acute mountain sickness (AMS), and established that I wanted none of that information first-hand. Unfortunately, most of the advice is weighted with caveats, pointing out that different people react differently to altitude, symptoms can be delayed, can onset gradually or suddenly, and research into the area is still limited. So good luck. All everyone seems to agree on is that if you're coughing up pink stuff it's time to head down. Since, at 4700m, the Kunjerab pass is a good 700m lower than the highest point of the Xinjiang-Tibet highway, and at that point I'll have very few options for escape, I can't overstate how much I didn't want to get any kind of AMS at this relatively low altitude.

The ride was hard, but rewarding. The landslide kept almost all the traffic off the road, so there was nothing to scare off the golden marmots or threaten our lives. Only the last 8km or so were really tough to climb, when the road finally turned away from the river. We climbed the valley wall in long, slow switchbacks, stopping at every second corner to admire the view, which was more breathtaking every time as peaks and glaciers came into view. The final two kilometers were level, as the Kunjerab Pass is a long, wide and flat plateau, rather than an abrupt watershed. Magda, Pavel and I reached the border post at about 2pm. Peter, having Tibet-conditioned legs, had been waiting half an hour for us there. For me, reaching the top of a 4700m pass will always be an achievement, but in this case feeling good at the top was what really made me smile.

We took the obligatory photos, and I brewed a pot of Pakistani tea (grains rather than leaves, lots of milk and lots of sugar) to share around. We chatted to the border guards, and looked the other way as they received a delivery of Chinese fire-water from a minivan of tourists. Around 3pm we turned around and rode back the way we had come, enjoying what Pavel terms 'the cyclist's reward', the real reason people like cycling up mountains: the descent. Nothing beats the adrenaline rush of a 35km semi-controlled freefall, with the added spice of knowing that we needn't climb again at the end. Not today, anyway.
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