Tomando mate en el techo del mundo

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While in Leh l met a Mexican-Israeli cycle-tourist and mate enthusiast, by the name of Moy, who was interested in trying some off-road touring (and sharing the kilo of mate l was carrying around – a gift from Simon in Sebastopol because l had been more or less living on the stuff while we worked overtime to get as much done as possible on our treehouse project before l left).  He waited patiently while l cobbled together my equipment, and when l finally had everything strapped onto my bike we dragged ourselves out of Leh and the clutches of convenience and headed towards the town of Korzog on the shores of Tso Moriri on a shakedown cruise for me and an intro to extreme mtn bike touring for him.

The first few days we wound leisurely along the Indus through small towns on increasingly rough roads, sipping Argentinean hierba by chortens covered in prayer flags, giant prayer wheels and lovely vistas undecorated by human hand. Turning at a little town called Mahe we made our way over a small pass to the spectacular high mountain lake. Nearly 25 kms long, glacier fed and ringed by snow capped peaks, its waters are surprisingly fresh seeing as it has no outlet.  The lake is graced with not one but two military bases thanks to its strategic location near the contested border with China, and the unremarkable town of Korzog, where we resupplied before heading out to circumnavigate the lake on trails authored by nomadic herders.

My first day of off-road touring on this trip was idyllic.  Tricky but rideable single track, clear blue skies and world class scenery (which naturally l neglected to take pictures of).  We camped at the head of the lake by the dug-in tent foundations lined with rocks and random detritus that mark a nomadic camp site, and turned off the beaten track.  This meant crossing a lot of river channels, and delta-like mud flats interspersed with tundra style hummocky grass land, searching for fords and less muddy crossings.  We reached the other side of the lake rather exhausted and non-plussed to realize, during our requisite mate break, that this side of the lake was a lot steeper and mostly a loose sort of sandy scree – not particularly promising in terms of rideability.  Suffice it to say that we managed to ride a surprising amount of the rest of the way.

Mostly side-hilling on nonexistent trails (after l elected to abandon the “main” trail which seemed to go straight up and/or down whenever possible), scaring the wild burros whose tracks we were following. And envying the ease with which they ascended the cliffs we had to drag our bikes over.  A bit of a trial by fire for Moy on his first hardcore bikepacking adventure, from which he emerged smiling and ready for more (and thoroughly impressed with the efficacy of Fat bikes).

My freshly made gear had passed the test too, with the possible exception of my soda-can-alcohol-stove. Its main problem was a lack of high quality alcohol to burn – designed for 90% denatured alcohol (methelated spirits) l was making do with 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol which was inefficient at best and surprisingly difficult to obtain.  Indeed l was already running out of fuel and none was available in Korzog.  Fortunately l had a backup plan, because l wasn’t about to back track to Leh just for stove fuel.  So with a ceremonial mate, Moy and l parted ways. He headed towards the Leh-Manali highway,  and l towards a less conventional route, and off the edge of my map.

all photos courtesy of Moy

2 comments

    • Sergio Bollana   •  

      It’s been with me for the past 15 years… and has seen a lot of things with me. Volcanoes in the southern Andes of Argentina… salt flats in the North… even the Mississippi corn fields in the US Midwest!

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