We left Kashgar China on Sunday June 19 in three Land Cruisers and a truck carrying some 2.2 tons of equipment. After an hour signs of the sprawling city fell away. The road skirted the Taklimakan desert. The trip from Kashgar to the small village of Ilik where we will start walking is not long as the crow flies—480 kilometers (300 miles)—but it is a rugged trip that takes two days. The rough road is being reconstructed. We had to climb two spectacular passes, get past three Chinese checkpoints, and contend with four flat tires. Our truck busted a gearbox, and Iskander, our liaison officer, had to scramble to find a replacement. While all the freight was being transferred we waited in the roadside settlement of Mazar, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Ilik.
Just outside Ilik we entrusted our passports to Chinese soldiers who hopefully will return them when we head home in August. At Ilik, the entire team unrolled their sleeping bags in the living room of Daniyal Osman, the mullah and patriarch of the Kirghiz village which is home to about 250 people. Kazak and Kirghiz languages are close enough that Maxut was able to talk to the mullah and his wife and children.
“The people were so friendly, they opened their homes to us,” said Gerlinde.
In the morning, 40 camels appeared, led into the meadow outside the mud-brick compound by eight camel drivers. It was a very colorful scene with beautifully dressed Kirghiz women helping the men to load the camels. Donkeys were braying, children were dashing around underfoot, sitting on the expeditions blue plastic drums. Around midday the caravan got underway and we were on our way to K2 at last.