Participant Q&A

Amy Rhodes, 2013 Wild Altai Trip Participant 

How did you learn about The Altai Project?

I came to know The Altai Project through the director, Jen. She and I have children in the same play group (small town!) and as the 2013 expeditions were being planned she invited me to apply for the upcoming trip.

What interests you the most about Altai?

Before going to Altai, I was lured by the aspect of traveling to a place so far from my home. I was interested in learning about a different culture and an environmental cause, but it is the people who fascinate me the most. The local culture and traditions are deeply intertwined with the natural environment in Altai. The passion and dedication of the researchers are intensely inspiring.

What impressed you most about your trip to Altai on the Wild Altai expedition?

The program and the leaders of the expedition impressed me. But most of all, what impressed me to the core, was the spirit of Altai. Looking at pictures of the trip, it is easy to almost see the experience but obviously difficult to be in Altai – to know that sensation. Altai is a magical place on this world. It is not a tangible effect. It is felt deep down, in your heart. It is a sacred, remote, vast, beautiful, amazing, and magnetic place. No words can really express until you are there. Only then, you will understand it’s magical appeal.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about going on an Altai expedition?

You will not regret it. Sounds cliché, but it truly will live with you for decades to come. It is magic – not something you can really express or read about and really feel. Having been in Altai, I look at everyday life in my community so differently. And that perspective is good. It ignited a different (more passionate or compassionate) traveler and the adventurer in me. Having gone on this expedition shows my young girls what it means to follow your dreams, to a part of something important and enduring, to be a strong mom/teacher/female/wife… The trip was physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It wasn’t just a trip; it was a defining experience I am forever grateful for.

Share an anecdote that was particularly memorable/funny/interesting during your trip…

When we reached the end of our last trek, I walked back with Sergei Spitsyn, side by side. Sergei is a stoic, hardcore researcher, hard-to-crack-a-smile kind of guy. This man is intelligent, intense, simple, focused, and quite possibly obsessed. I adore him. In our small sub-group of hikers, we were returning to camp filled with feelings of great satisfaction. We had gathered important data from the camera traps, discovered new information about the snow leopards in the area, trekked one of the most beautiful valleys I had ever seen…And over the last 10 days we had faced some intense treks – some of the most exhilarating miles I’ve ever traversed.

After a leisurely lunch break atop one of the ridges, mixed with quiet naps and reflective moments, we neared our camp. Ahead on the horizon were our trucks, our tents, our expedition drivers and fellow expedition members. Sergei stops mid-stride. In his broken English, he suggests that we walk back to camp together, as a team. It was then that I understood that our work was indeed teamwork. Myself, the other participants, and Sergei shared more than time trekking together. We knew that the work we did mattered and it was important to the history of the snow leopard conservation efforts. We were a team.