Caitlin Parks in Kyrgyzstan

Young Explorers' Trust

This summer I spent 5 weeks hiking and exploring the At-Bashi mountain range in the south of Kyrgyzstan (located in Central Asia) with The British Exploring Society.

On arrival we spent a few nights at basecamp adjusting to life at altitude sleeping in a tent, washing in rivers (or the odd mountain lake), eating dehydrated food, with no electricity or toilets and chasing away cows that would frequently in the early hours, walking poles in hand.

As we moved away from the rolling, green hills and into the Rocky Mountains. We saw an array of different wildlife including yaks, camels, weasels, Himalayan griffins, and golden eagles. One highlight being witnessing a weasel using our tarp as a trampoline!

I also learnt a lot about geology after finding jade in the At-Bashi river. We were also very interested in physiology changes with altitude and how your body can adapt and get used to those changes.

We had many amazing interactions with the local people who continuously showed us how kind and hospitable they are, offering us to stay the night in their yurts or join them for a drink, one even told us how we could find gold! Google translate quickly became our best friend when speaking to local people, but we soon picked up the common greeting phrase “As-salaam alaikum.”

We were very quick to notice how unusual and unpredictable the weather could be in the mountains, where at the start of the expedition we experienced up to 30-degree heat but by the end we were waking up to ice and snow on the mountains. We got stuck in many a thunderstorm and even the odd hailstorm all squeezing into our 8-person emergency shelter or huddling under a tarp and although at the time these experiences weren’t the most fun, looking back on them I laugh.

One particular highlight was the day we conquered 4000m! After a few days hiking back away from basecamp with big ascents, we camped at around 3600m so we didn’t have too far to get the next day. Our leader decided as the weather was pretty good for the moment, we would be able to get to the top safely, so we got up early the next morning in preparation to get up over the rocky terrain and to 4000m. This was a massive milestone for us as we weren’t sure we would be able to get that high up, but we did and the views we saw were amazing. We also hiked past a small glacier which was very cool to see and at that point we could even see into some mountains in China!

Another one of my favourite memories was when we were lucky enough to witness the Perseid meteor shower with absolutely no light pollution. We spent many an hour once it got dark lying on the floor staring up admiring the stars and looking out for shooting stars. We also saw a star link which was incredible to see. One night my group all slept out under the stars all huddled under a tarp which was a lot of fun, despite all waking up to a herd of horses running straight past us very early in the morning.

No matter where we were this summer, we could always see the best views, an example of this being when we made it to Köl tor lake which despite being absolutely freezing, was stunning.

Overall, I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this amazing opportunity to travel to a country that this time last year, I hadn’t even heard of with people I had never met. I feel I have achieved so much. I feel more confident and able to cope with difficult and unexpected situations. I loved the peaceful and simple way of life and really valued the time away from my phone. I’ve made some great new friends and hundreds of memories. This has inspired me to travel more and experience different cultures and ways of life.

I would like to say a massive thank you to The British Exploring Society for making this expedition happen and to those at the Young Explorers Trust for supporting me in my journey without whom, none of this would have been possible.