I first saw the white glow of the Ala-Too Mountains as I cruised into Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, at dusk three days ago.
A day later, aching muscles stretched, expedition bag repacked, corrupt driver haggled with, I was standing there amongst them.
I set off, alone in the mountains once more, from the last outpost in the valley at 2200m. The track was obvious, but not recently disturbed: a sun-beaten moonscape on the southern side of my chosen mount. At one point, I stood for twenty minutes as a giant eagle circled close above me, perhaps wondering what this strange foreigner was doing here.
I camped just above 4000m, my head slightly sore from the relative altitude. It was a cold night, -10'C at least, and snow fell often on my bare face which poked through the opening in my bivi bag. In the morning, after lacing my severely chilled feet into my frozen boots, I pursued the ridge on which I'd camped.
A freezing snow blizzard whipped through the mountains at dawn, but after an hour and a half I reached my chosen summit - Komsomol Peak (4150m) - and the skies began to clear, allowing me to observe an infinite mass of peaks and glaciers and spiralling clouds.
I've spent several years gazing at maps depicting this little-known mountainous republic, and now I was standing right in its rugged heart. It felt pretty awesome.
A long descent and a 40km hitchhike with a friendly local family brought me back to Bishkek. Tomorrow I will head south, eager to find what other gems lie in the wilds of Kyrgyzstan.