While waiting the 7 days for our Kazakstan visas, instead of hanging out at the hostel, we decided to ride in a loop for 6 days and end up back in Urumiqi. Our route had us heading south and going over part of the Tianshan Mountains, then doing some desert riding before heading back into the city. The first day was uneventful but we were able to climb to 2000 meters and got about 50km from the top of the mountain, which was 4200 meters high. We were hoping to get up and over the next day but Mother Nature had different plans.
The day started out nice enough. We had blue skies and gorgeous scenery but the roads were rough going. It was a constant up and the roads were beaten up because of all the trucks. About 2 1/2 hours in to our day we realized our dream of making it over the mountain in a day was far fetched. Our new goal was to get to the base of the climb and do it all the next day. This put a tiny kink in our food supply. Since we had thought we would be over in 2 days, we didn’t have as much bread as we should of had, but we would be fine.
As the day went on and we climbed higher and higher, the clouds started moving in a bit. We didn’t think much of it, in fact our number one priority was making sure the river we were on didn’t turn to ice and snow. Around 2pm we stopped for a little break. We were about 10 km from the base of the climb and were hoping to get there by 3 or so. While we were stopped a car pulled up next to us and 4 guys got out.
During our time in China it’s been pretty normal for people to stop and stare at us or even hang out the car and take pictures but most people don’t approach us or try to talk to us. These guys were different. They came right over and asked where we were from and where we were going. After we told them they asked us if we had enough water. We showed them what we had they immediately went back to the car and got us 4 bottles of water. We had some water but it was really nice to have good drinking water. They stayed and chatted for a few more minutes, told us they were policemen and where they were from. They were just about to leave when the policeman got back out and brought us two huge pieces of naan bread. We were thrilled! Our bread problem solved.
After they left we rested for a bit longer then decided to get going. The clouds ahead weren’t looking too good and we still needed to find a place to get water. About 2-3kms down the road we saw a good place to get down to get water and fill the water bags. As Jared was getting the water, the weather really turned. We could no longer see the mountains ahead because of the storm brewing. We quickly decided we need to stop for the day and found a place to camp.
As we were unloading our bikes as fast as we could, the cops showed up again. They told us there was big snow coming and to go with him. We told him we were okay and had plenty of warm clothes for the weather. He asked if we had enough food and water and we assured him we did. He was reluctant to leave us there but in the end trusted we would be okay. We raced to get the tent and tarp up as fast as we could, then got all our sleeping gear and cold weather clothes in the tent so we could change. We were able to get in the tent before it really started snowing.
After an hour nap, because what else are we going to do when it’s snowing outside, we assessed the situation. It hadn’t snowed too much but the sky didn’t look good so we decided to get dinner going and get back in the tent as soon as we could. As we stared getting dinner ready, it stared snowing much harder. Thankfully we had the tarp to keep the snow off the tent and to give us a place to cook out of the snow.
Jared sat outside and worked the cooker as I prepped dinner while sitting in the tent to stay warm. As we were cooking, the snow started piling up. Every so often Jared had to knock the snow off the tarp so it wouldn’t sag and hit the tent.
Our bags and bikes were getting covered in snow and we even had a sort of fort shaping up on one side of the tent, but at least it was blocking the wind.
Dinner was small but quick and we got everything cleaned up and got back in the tent as soon as we could. We spent the evening watching TV on the iPad and since we had a nap earlier we weren’t that tired. the snow wasn’t letting up and Jared had to get up one more time to knock it off the tarp. Thankfully it stopped before we went to bed so he didn’t have to worry about it throughout the night.
The night wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Yes it was cold but we had colder earlier in the trip. We woke up to about 3-4 inches of snow (7-8 cm for my metric friends) and partly clear skies. The mountains looked beautiful and I’m sure the other side looked equally as beautiful but we decided to bail on out mountain pass and head back the way we came.
It was a bit of a bummer to not get to do our loop but we don’t think it would have been smart to head over not knowing what the weather was like on the other side. Especially since the roads were dirt and Jared’s bike was already broken.
As we headed down we saw 3 groups of ibex on the mountain sides, some with massive curved antlers. It was really neat to see them all in the wild, we assume the snow drove them lower into the valley. We also saw lots of marmots and a group of vultures. It truly was a National Geographic day for us.