When I booked our homestay, I mentioned that we would like to rent some donkeys for hiking. The girls have been dying to go donkey hiking ever since I made the mistake of speculating out loud that we could probably rent some donkeys from the local and let the poor things do all the work while the children rode in style.
So the evening we arrived, the host asked Brandon if we would still like to rent those donkeys. We arranged for two and agreed that a picnic would a nice idea too. I figured we'd hike up to somewhere nice for a picnic and head back to the homestay to relax. Sounded like a good idea to me.
The next morning after breakfast, the donkeys were ready and waiting for our 9 am departure. The girls were, of course, thrilled. I was happy to not hear any complaining about hiking. I like hiking, but the children don't.
We started our hike at the top of the fourth lake and hiked along the river that came from the fifth lake, winding through a pleasant little valley and town. I'm constantly amazed by how much green can be achieved by digging a few hundred little irrigation ditches that wind through any arable land.
The fifth lake wasn't particularly big and we circled it pretty quickly and headed up the slope to the sixth lake. There is pleasant hiking - winding through mountain valleys and passes, with some elevation gain but not too much at once. And then there's unpleasant hiking - just going straight up. I remember looking at the top of a particular slope and thinking that when got to the top, we'd be at the sixth lake. Instead it was another valley and more unpleasant switchbacks.
The weather had started out pleasantly sunny, and we worried about everyone getting too hot. Then weather blew in and everyone was freezing. Sophia's lips were blue and we had to stop in someone's house for a few minutes until the worst of the blowing wind and rain had stopped. We thought we'd have to turn back, but our guide knew the weather better than we did, and we just kept going.
We hiked around the edge of the whole sixth lake. The lakes fill up each summer as the glaciers melt and then empty each winter as the glaciers stop melting and start freezing. We were able to cut across the top of the sixth lake where the lake hadn't filled up yet. According to Jumaboy, the lake still had about 20 meters left until it was full.
We walked through the little village at the head of the lake and then stopped for lunch. The spot was beautiful and green, and if you're a local, provided plenty of drinking water from streams running down the middle of the road.
At this point Jumaboy assured us that we only had three kilometers left until we reached the seventh and final lake. I hadn't exactly planned on going all the way to the seventh lake, but we were almost there so we pressed on.
It was at this point that I realized several things: 1. Altitude makes a difference. We live at 2,300 ft in Dushabe. Our hike had reached about 7,000 feet by this point and would finish around 8,000. 2. I still hadn't recovered from months of hypo. 3. I was pathetic compared to our local guide and his son - who was hiking in sandals. We spent three kilometers hiking up a 10% grade and it was rough, some of the hardest hiking I'd ever done. Also, hiking on rocks and gravel is no good. Where's a nice soft forest path when you need one?
At the top there was a lake.
And an Edwin posing as a dinosaur.
And all of us. Eleanor and Brandon were both soaked in sweat.
And our guide. He re-spread the picnic and everyone ate and enjoyed the sunshine and shivered when the sun went behind clouds. Because of the geography around the lake it was very windy and quite cool - about sixty degrees. I imagine it's quite nice at the height of summer. The lake was, of course, beautiful. The beautiful things are always the ones that it's an unholy pain to get to.
And then we hiked down. Every single time I hike, the whole up trip is spent anticipating the down trip. Then of course the down trip is painful in it's own new, different kind of way. But at least you're not horribly out of breath. So that's good. By the time we got back to the homestay, everyone was quite ready for dinner on the tapchan and then bed (after a reasonably scary shower that involved flip flops).
When we made our way back to Dushanbe, I mapped out our route and was floored to realized we had hiked fourteen miles. I've never hiked - let alone walked or run (no half marathons for me, thanks) - that much in my entire life. And Brandon did it with twenty-five pounds of Eleanor on his back and ten pounds of my backpack on his front (thanks, sweetie). Of course now in retrospect, it's wonderful to have seen everything, but by the end I was bone tired.
So, moral of the story: If you ever go to Seven Lakes, drive to the sixth lake, park your car, and then hike the last 3 kilometers to the seventh lake. You'll still see all the lakes, even if it's by a car. Trust me, everyone will be happier that way.