Andrey Babenko: a brave man, a great companion

Andrey Gennadyevich Babenko

I have some very sad news to report. Andrey Gennadyevich Babenko, a national parks inspector and one of our official guides for the 2018 Zhetysu Expedition in eastern Kazakhstan, was killed in July when his horse was swept away while crossing the Agynakata River in the Djungar Alatau Mountains. Andrey, 49, was a highly experienced and competent inspector and his death is a tragedy. This river runs through the Solnechnaia Dalina (‘Sunny Valley’), and eventually into Zhassyl Kol, a place I have visited three times in the past. The Agynakata River is fast and strong and when we crossed it in 2018, it required good teamwork and safety ropes. However, we all got across it without trouble. The next day, Andrey – who had arrived that morning to escort us down the mountain to the campsite at Zhassyl Kol – enjoyed a moment of peace on the Suyk Plateau together with his colleagues Sergei and Maksut.

Andrey Babenko, on the right, along with Sergei and Maksut during the 2018 Zhetysu expedition.

We extend our condolences to Andrey’s family and take a moment to remember a real professional. These national park staff spend their lives out in the wild mountain areas of the Djungar Alatau, in every kind of weather. We salute their bravery…

I should add that in 2019 I was also swept off my horse into a fierce mountain river, the Big Bascan, not far from Zhassyl Kol. On that occasion, my life was saved by one of the national park inspectors, Ruslan Nurgozhanov, to whom I will eternally be grateful. You can see film of that event here.

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