The last tree and an illusive Lake

I undertook an expedition to Kyrgyzstan in 1997 to collect walnut seeds from the wild walnut-fruit forests.

Walnut journal entry – Tuesday 7th October 1997

Walnut-fruit forest at Sary-Chelek
Walnut-fruit forest at Sary-Chelek on the last day of our expedition. On the ridge tops the indigenous spruce Picea schrenkiana replaces walnut.

We were up at 6am and started collecting seeds in the forest just after 7am.  We were welcomed to the day by a beautiful dawn, the sun rising above the high mountainsides as we collected from our last ten trees of the three week expedition.  It was quite an emotional moment collecting the last walnut seeds from our last selected tree.  A total of 2349 seeds from 253 mother trees.

Afterwards we returned to our ‘guesthouse’ for a second breakfast; this time the usual mutton and vegetable stew.  Then we set off for the lake.  It was a dramatic drive lasting over one half hour of climbing steep and dusty mountain tracks.  When we arrived we were stunned by the scale, beauty and isolation of the lake.

Sary-Chelek Lake
My journal entry and sketch of Sary-Chelek Lake

Sary-Chelek Lake is apparently over 5km long and is situated at just under 2000 metres altitude. It is closed to tourists, and theoretically the local people too.  The five of us were completely alone and the silence was deafening.  The strangest aspect was the lack of wildlife, except for a large fish that jumped out of the water nearby, and a mountain goat on one of the distant cliffs that caused a thundering rockfall that echoed across the lake. The rocky slopes were covered with pines, mostly along the ridges.  It is a local species –  Picea schrenkiana.

Sary-Chelek lake and our expedition team
Sary-Chelek lake and our expedition team. Left to right: Peter, Askar, Mamajan, Sergei and the author.

Gabriel Hemery

Gabriel's walnut journal
Read more from my Kyrgyzstan walnut journal

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