Despite fatigue, dizziness or breathing difficulty, most ambitious mountaineers on Muztagata do not stop until they reach the summit.
However, Bikmirza Turdil, a 24-year-old Kirgiz herdsman dreaming of standing on the peak one day, always turns around a little over halfway up.
Bikmirza was born and raised in Subax, a village at the foot of the mountain in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. For locals, attempting to conquer the 7,546-meter-high Mount Muztagata, or “father of ice mountains” in the local language, is a symbol of bravery and even regarded as a coming-of-age ceremony.
Subax is a famous place for mountaineers in China and abroad. At the age of 18, Bikmirza started helping climbers carry equipment and supplies every climbing season.
“In our village, almost all youngsters have been engaged in the part-time job,” says Bikmirza. They are glad to bring in additional income aside from what they make herding animals, the traditional way of earning a living in the region.
“It’s sometimes hard for ordinary people to continue climbing, especially when they are loaded with heavy bags. I’m proud to give real-time instruction and ease their burden to keep them going up,” he explains, adding that he carries bags as heavy as 40 kilograms.
Strong and experienced, Bikmirza and his peers, born naturally acclimated to the harsh environment, have gradually become indispensable for people who embark on expeditions.
According to Bikmirza, mountaineers get lost much more easily as they climb to higher altitudes. Even worse, raging blizzards and frigid temperatures may occur at any moment.
“When trouble comes, we spare no effort in rescuing whoever is in danger,” he says.
The golden season for local mountaineering lasts from late June to mid-August. Before the season kicks off, Bikmirza takes targeted training on commuting between the base camp and the summit at a height of over 5,000 meters many times a week.
“For the safety of my clients, I have to stay fit, maintain equipment and make all-around plans in case of emergencies,” he adds.
“The closer to the summit, the happier we will be,” he says, adding that the splendid views from high above make him feel as if he were flying.
Though he has helped many mountaineers reach as high as 6,200 meters, Bikmirza is still eager to be the first among his peers to reach the top of the mountain.
“I’m in a dilemma. I am too busy helping others climb the mountain to summit it myself,” he says.
As the only breadwinner in his family, Bikmirza would feel guilty if he sets aside his job to obtain a certificate, which is a time-consuming process.
But he is still optimistic about the future as he could earn more than 30,000 yuan ($4,700) in a busy climbing season.
“I’ve bought a car and a house in nearby Akto county, and I’ll have enough savings to back up my dream soon,” the young man says, grinning.
“In local folklore, the summit is supposed to be the resting place of the white camel, a legendary creature. I cannot wait to see it with my own eyes,” he says.