Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Saved... By a cup of tea

The group of Estonian mountain climbers started rescue operations a couple of minutes after the avalanche in the Khan-Tengri peak area. Now safely back in one of the Cholpan-Ata pensions, Yaan Kyunnap, the leader of the ascent, spoke to a "Vecherka" reporter about the tragic events, which took place on the morning on August 5...
- Climbers all over the world know that the temper of Khan-Tengri is very fickle, - he said. It is quite common for avalanches to occur on the ascent to the greatest peak of the planet. The ice slopes bear witness to a lot of tragedies and accidents. However, this majestic and terrible place draws extreme climbers and fortune hunters like a huge magnet.
Yaan Kyunnap is far from being a novice at mountain climbing. He was awarded the "Snow Leopard" honorary title after conquering four seven-thousand meter peaks. He has participated in numerous prestige ascents and, as a photographer, has taken part in exhibitions in eighteen different countries.
Based on long experience, the group of climbers had made several important recommendations to reduce the danger on the more perilous routes. For example, the ascent of Khan-Tegri should be started early in the morning as the possibility of an avalanche occurring is minimal at this time. Knowing this, several groups of climbers left the base one after another.
Pure chance saved Yaan Kyunnap's team from certain death. According to the established tradition, climbers take a cup of tea or coffee before starting on their way. This time the ceremony was prolonged because Priyt Yoozu accidentally overturned the simmering kettle. The ten or fifteen minutes required to repeat the procedure became a gift of fate to the ten climbers.
The avalanche fell at 5.05 am engulfing the Czech group and nearly reaching the Estonians. They had time to take shelter under the huge boulders and escape the lumps of ice rushing by. Like in a slow-motion horror movie they saw tiny human figures swept away in the path of the thundering ice wave.
A young Czech girl was the first to be taken out from the snow. Doctor Priyt Melnik verified death. Nearby a climber up to his waist in snow called for help. He was bleeding. At first the rescuers could not even see his face for the injuries. Having dug him out, they made him as comfortable as they could on the sleeping-bag. He was in severe shock. Melnik administered a calming injection.
There were groans coming from further along the ice slope. The next victim was rescued but his legs were damaged. At the scene of the tragedy the climbers from Omsk and surviving members of the Czech group did their best to save lives. Only the Estonian group had a portable radio transmitter. It was already working at full power. Information about the tragedy and a call for help was put on the air. After the second portable radio transmitter started working Mikhail Mikhailov, the director of the base, got in touch. He acted promptly, alerting the group of rescuers, who arrived on the scene at 9.30am to start the rescue operations.
Yaan and his colleagues managed to prepare the helipad and jointly with the Czechs and Russians took the victims to the vehicle. The search for the rest of the snow-covered climbers was hindered by bad weather. Plus, the detached ice shards were as hard as iron. It was difficult to chisel the huge pieces by hand.
- But, please, don't make my story serve as bad press for Khan-Tengri, - asked Mr. Kyunnap at the end of his story. What happened was an accident and unfortunately no climber can insure himself against this.
Today the members of Estonian team, who experienced these terrible events, are guests at Issyk Kul and are in good spirits. They admire the beauty of mountain lake and try to forget their terrifying ordeal. In reply to our question as to whether they will continue their dangerous ascents, they unanimously said:
Sure, it is integral to our lives, isn't it?
Maybe there are lessons to be learnt from these courageous people, who are so inspired by their passion and immeasurable love for the icy peaks and who overcome challenges most of us never have to face. Even at the expense of irreplaceable losses on the way up to the sought-after peak.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #2

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