For 50,000 years, people have crossed the ‘Golden Mountains’ under their own power; we mean to follow. With a pair of skis strapped to touring bicycles, we will trace a 4,000 kilometer circle through four countries to better understand the range and, specifically, explore how the arbitrary lines on the map have helped and hurt the lives of the Altai peoples and the conservation of its lands. This last refuge of snow leopards, nomads, and shamans is thought to be the legendary location of Shangri-la, but now open to the world, it is in peril as ironclad conservation practices, and community-based sustainable tourism and development have been unevenly adopted.
In the course of nine weeks in Spring 2014, this little visited range will be explored, and its sights, sounds and stories captured: the sounds of Tuvan, Mongolian, and Altay throatsinging; the whip of wind off the Belukha glacier; the alarm sounded in interviews of conservationists and rangers; the call of yaks and naks (female yaks) as a ger is packed for movement; the click and call of Kazakh eagle hunters in the hills; and the laughter in a snow camp as the tea boils for explorers and reindeer herders trying to communicate.
We will cycle around and through the range, and at points in all four countries, store our bicycles and much of gear, and move deeper into the mountains by ski, here in the home of skiing. This is not a bike trip, or a ski trip, but rather a simple exploration of a dynamic landscape. If there happen to be substantial skiing opportunities roadside and in the backcountry, we will be obliged to explore them.
We know that adventure and effective storytelling can provide the inspirational fuel for sustainable ecotourism, transboundary conservation, and human-powered exploration, whether in the Altai or at home, and are excited to share this journey with you.