5 day solo trek in the Tian Shan mountains (Jeti Oguz – Teleti Pass – Karakol Valley – Ala-Kul – Altyn Arashan)

Aaron/ August 19, 2018/ Central Asia, Hiking/ 0 comments

A 5 day solo trek in Kyrgyzstan in the spectacular Tian Shan mountains, across idyllic mountain valleys, over snow covered mountain passes, and passing the magical alpine lake, Ala-Kul. Itinerary: Jeti Oguz – Teleti Pass – Karakol Valley – Ala-Kul – Altyn Arashan. Truly unforgettable landscapes and an experience like no other.

 

The main reason I did this trip to Central Asia was for a trek in the Tian Shan mountains, the scenery having left a deep impression ever since the tourism board of Kyrgyzstan got more than a handful of bloggers to write about the region and left stunning pictures splattered all over my Facebook and Instagram feeds. I had been looking forward to the Switzerland/New Zealand/Patagonia of Central Asia. That costs were a fraction of its comparisons were a big bonus.

 

Continuing where I left off at Bishkek, I took a mashrutka and ended up in Karakol 5 hours later. Spent the rest of day preparing for the trek and got up the next day raring to go. More details on preparing for a Tian Shan trek from Karakol in the next post! There was a small hiccup, as the day I arrived in Karakol was a public holiday and the tourist office, as well as most of the market, was closed. Nonetheless, I got all I needed and woke up the next morning all ready to go!

 

Day 1: Jeti Oguz Kurot to Jeti Oguz Valley

Finding transport from Karakol to the trail head at Jeti Oguz Kurot

The street to the main bazaar was packed, with cars on either side and taxi touts calling out. I was determined to find the public bus that Aidar from Ecotrek had told me I could find at the bus stop at the southern corner of the main bazaar, junction of Torgoeva Street and Aldasheva Street. If you have Maps.me, it is the bus stop in Karakol labelled Jeti Uguz Kurot.

To my dismay, there were no buses to Jeti Oguz Kurot in sight at the bus stop, and stopping at that corner was an invitation for a tout to corner me. He started at 500 som, but I was still hopeful for the bus. The price edged downwards as I held my ground.

After some time (probably not too long after, as I’m not particularly patient), I was on the verge of giving in and decided to give a call to Rakhat from Destination Karakol to check if what the tout had insisted on about the bus coming a few hours later might be correct, and if the price was reasonable. After all these trips I couldn’t help being slightly paranoid about such transport touts and was thankful for the tourist office for being able to help in such situations.

 

Giving in

Turned out it might be possible that the next bus would take hours to arrive, and that the price of the ride is likely to be in that range given that I was alone in intending to get to the sanatorium (kurot). It was getting late in the morning and I didn’t want to delay my trek any further too, and the math finally got to me that it actually didn’t cost that much in dollars. If you’re having this option you should never have to pay more than what I paid and should be able to get a much better bargain especially if you’re traveling in a group.

“300 som.”

“350, kurot.”

“Okay let’s go.”

I was ushered into a car of seniors getting to Jeti Oguz village (couple of kilometers before the kurot, where the paved road ends).

 

Car ride from Karakol to Jeti Oguz Kurot

The other passengers were friendly and tried to communicate with me with little success, given the lack of a common language. It was fun though. The driver didn’t speak much and had a fierce look, or what we might call an RBF, so I was slightly terrified being alone with him in the car after the other passengers got off at Jeti Oguz village.

 

The Broken Heart

We drove down the road across flat plains, leaving the village for the soaring mountains. The driver suddenly got animated as he pointed towards a huge rock, split right down the middle. He pointed towards his chest and gestured wildly, and it took me awhile to figure he was trying to tell me it was the ‘Broken Heart’, which fortunately I had read about as one of the landmarks in Jeti Oguz. He stopped for me to get a couple of pictures and slowed as we got close. Didn’t look so fierce after all.

The 'Broken Heart' of Jeti Oguz.

The ‘Broken Heart’ of Jeti Oguz.

 

Jeti Oguz Kurot

Finally, we arrived at the end of the paved road, where there was sort of a mini village around the sanatorium, and where it might be possible to stay for the night with a view of the legendary seven bulls of Jeti Oguz. I had plans for the day though, and had to get going. The driver (who suddenly looked much friendlier) helped my bag out of his boot, gave me a firm handshake, and left.

Houses around Jeti Oguz Kurot.

Houses around Jeti Oguz Kurot.

 

It was as though I had stepped back in time, looking at the cars and houses around. There didn’t seem to be any foreign tourist around at that time. The backdrop of the village, definitely unmissable, are the stunning seven bulls that Jeti Oguz is known for – these dramatic red sandstone cliffs standing out on a hill.

The seven bulls of Jeti Oguz.

The seven bulls of Jeti Oguz.

 

With my heavy pack and long day ahead I decided not to get closer to the seven bulls, and headed for the trail. Facing the end of the road (where the sanatorium is), the path to the trail head is on the left, close but not exactly at the end of the road, beside a restaurant as seen below.

Path to the trail head at Jeti Oguz.

Path to the trail head at Jeti Oguz.

 

The trail head

From that path beside the restaurant, turn right and follow the path behind the restaurant. Where the buildings end, the raised barrier marks where the adventure begins.

The raised barrier after all the buildings, at the edge of the Tian Shan mountains.

The raised barrier after all the buildings, at the edge of the Tian Shan mountains.

Jeti Oguz Gorge/ Canyon

Driving through Jeti Oguz Gorge/ Canyon.

Driving through Jeti Oguz Gorge/ Canyon.

 

The trail was through the gorge was wide enough for cars to pass, even as the towering rock face narrowed. Bridges crisscrossed the fast moving stream but the approaching storm clouds meant that the bridges were unlikely to be enough to keep me dry for the day.

Like a bridge over (slightly) troubled waters.

Like a bridge over (slightly) troubled waters.

 

Jeti Oguz Valley

The gorge came to an abrupt end and suddenly opened up to grazing plains where there were yurts, horses and cows dotting the expansive landscape.

Exiting Jeti Oguz gorge/ canyon.

Exiting Jeti Oguz gorge/ canyon.

 

Yurts on the fields.

Yurts on the fields.

 

A cowherd and what looked like his son were herding cows deeper into the valley. Calfs tried to make a run for it but the little boy was faster, though looking a little helpless when a few made runs in different directions. Eventually they got everyone on their way. From what I understand cowherds bring their cows into the Tian Shan mountains in the summer months to enjoy the fresh mountain grass, and get them out to lower ground in winter.

Cowherd and cows.

Cowherd and cows.

 

Pine forests and misty mountains

After a bridge crossing halfway through the plains, there was a fork, and right one is to the left. Pass a couple more yurts and head into the forest again. There were lesser and lesser people as I progressed, still with the occasional car and friendly local gesturing for me to hitch a ride. I politely declined, insistent on doing it the ‘right’ way, though they probably thought it strange for someone to decide to walk with a heavy bag when a ride was offered.

Mountain streams rushing as the snow caps were melting in spring. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Mountain streams rushing as the snow caps were melting in spring.

 

The climb was gentle, but the landscape was changing much faster. A thick fog covered the trees just above, adding a enigmatic feel to the mountains, and somehow being alone made it feel all the more … mysterious.

Misty mountains. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Misty mountains.

 

Nonetheless it was nice having the trail to myself, getting deeper in touch with nature after all the time in the city.

The forest trail. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Sparser areas of the forest.

 

Occasionally the foliage opened to views like this one below, which felt more like a scene from a fairy tale … or horror movie?

Beautiful mountain streams and forests. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Beautiful mountain streams and forests.

 

The last settlement

Near where a few trails branch out there was a settlement, the first one in hours, and the last one for another day. A wooden shed, a yurt, and a man minding his business.

First settlement in hours. Last one for days. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

First settlement in hours. Last one for days.

 

Across the bridge at the settlement, the trail to keep on is on the left, following the stream/river further upstream. On that trail, the road soon became impassable to traffic. The nice solid ground turned into a slushy muddy trail through dense forests.

Bridge at the junction of a couple of trails. The right one to take is towards the left, following the river upstream. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Bridge at the junction of a couple of trails. The right one to take is towards the left, following the river upstream.

 

There wasn’t much to see in the forest, and the muddy/rocky ground wasn’t the nicest of terrain to walk on. It was getting late in the afternoon, I was getting tired, and couldn’t wait to get out of the forest.

A brief respite from the slushy ground.

A brief respite from the slushy ground.

 

Out of the forst

Occasionally the forests cleared for nice leafy patches. And finally, (probably high enough in altitude), the trees cleared. The wide open grassy fields looked so inviting to camp upon. I had never imagined seeing such beautiful fields in the wild mountains, as the city boy in me thought such short grass could only be maintained on sports fields or golf courses.

The trees giving way to shrubs and more open grassy fields. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

The trees giving way to shrubs and more open grassy fields.

 

Looked more like a maintained garden to me, with the short grass and winding stream.

Natural gardens. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Natural gardens.

 

Done for the day … or not

Finally, I decided upon the spot below to pitch my tent and call it a day. First time ever pitching a tent. The tent was a little floppy but I was tired and didn’t really mind that. Slipped into my sleeping bag and immediately fell asleep.

Where I pitched my tent.

Where I pitched my tent.

 

An hour later, I woke up to whistling outside, and unzipped the tent to a herd of approaching cows. Behind them, 2 cowherds on horses. They gestured if I was alone, and I gestured that I was. They asked if I wanted to join them at their yurt further down the valley. Cold, wet and hungry, I couldn’t pass up on that offer. Screw doing it the ‘right’ way. I had to pack though, so I told them to go ahead first and that I would head over soon.

 

Not the best time for an adventure

Nightfall was close by the time I was done taking everything down. After the excitement had died down I realised that I may have made a very bad decision. I had no idea exactly where further down they were, who they were, and if I had just passed up a great camping spot for the night. The dimming light and smoky mountains made the potential bad outcomes seem more likely than they should. But I decided to try my luck and push ahead.

Through another dense cluster of trees (not much of a forest) and emerging to denser clouds/ fog.

Through another dense cluster of trees (not much of a forest) and emerging to denser clouds/ fog.

 

Well the dream like scenery did help to distract my worrying mind a bit. In the silence of the mountains your thoughts seem loud. But fast moving waters may help to drown that out a little.

These photos were the difference in letting me know it was not just a dream. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

These photos were the difference in letting me know it was not just a dream.

 

Finally, I saw cows in the distance, and heaved a sigh of relief. One thing I had learnt that day was that there are no wild cows in the mountains. I still couldn’t be sure if they belonged to the cowherds I met earlier, or if their yurt was near, but according to the map I was near the end of the valley and guessed I shouldn’t be too far off.

These cows were probably as surprised to see me as I was to see them. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

These cows were probably as surprised to see me as I was to see them.

 

First night: In a cowherds’ shelter

Taking a close look, the cowherds’ yurt (more of a small shelter than the regular yurt I had in mind) was there in the distance, on the left. The fog grew increasingly dense as I approached, and beyond the fog someone shouted out to me. I looked around, found the bridge to across the stream, and got to the yurt. I was saved. For that night, at least.

Night in the cowherds' yurt.

Night in the cowherds’ yurt.

 

Google Translate was not very helpful that night, even with my downloaded Russian translations (no reception out here, and I was glad to have been prepared). Nonetheless, we shared food, photos, and laughs in that small room which was their living room, kitchen, dining room and bedroom. It was barely enough for 3 people yet they had invited me over, and shared their bread, pasta and tea with me. Not sure if I’d ever get such hospitality elsewhere. They even helped me to get my wet stuff dry by placing them around their fireplace.

 

I was thankful that I was able to share a little of what I had too – electricity from my portable charger to charge their phone, bread and instant coffee. I didn’t have sugar though, an item they seemed to have asked for. It was an unforgettable night, but eventually I couldn’t take it any longer and fell asleep. Dry and warm. Couldn’t ask for more.

 

Day 2: Teleti Pass to Karakol Valley

Approaching Teleti Pass

The sun was up early and so were we. Outside the yurt, the fog had lightened a little overnight and I was hopeful for better weather. We had breakfast together, I washed up and got ready for another long day ahead.

Outside the yurt where I had spent the night with 2 really nice cowherds. Tian Shan, Jeti Oguz, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Outside the yurt where I had spent the night with 2 really nice cowherds.

 

I hadn’t realised how close I was to the snow capped mountains till I got back on to the trail, and with the clearing fog, caught a glimpse of the majestic snow covered mountains that felt close enough to touch. Turned out they were heading in the same direction that day, a little up the Teleti Pass to survey the land and their herd. Difference though, were that they were on horses, and while we left at the same time, they soon disappeared towards the snowy mountains.

The cowherds riding off towards the mountains. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

The cowherds riding off towards the mountains.

 

And I was alone again, wandering deeper into the wilderness, in awe of the soaring mountains, perfectly grassed slopes, and weaving streams from gently snow-flaked peaks.

The weird, twisting landscape. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

The weird, twisting landscape.

 

The climb to Teleti Pass

Somewhere along the main valley a stream slipped in from the left. It was time to take the valley to the left, which ascended quickly towards the Teleti Pass. The path was steep, with multiple switchbacks. Every now and then I stopped to catch my breath and a few snaps of the mountains around.

The majestic snow covered mountains, the ones in the photo with the cowherds riding off that morning. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

The majestic snow covered mountains, the same one in the photo with the cowherds riding off that morning, from higher ground.

 

I had underestimated the climb to the Teleti Pass, and it seemed to went on forever. Some respite along the way though, was meeting the cowherds who were done with their work there and heading back. We took some photographs together, said our final goodbyes, and continued on our ways.

Towards the Teleti Pass.

Towards the Teleti Pass.

 

With every turn, the valley I came from seemed further away, and further below. The fog was also starting to roll in again.

Last view of the valley I came from, now on much higher ground, but with still a much longer climb to go. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Last view of the valley I came from, now on much higher ground, but with still a much longer climb to go.

 

Up till then the terrain was encouragingly grassy, but this abruptly ended in rocks, snow and ice. Possibly the worst terrain for summer hiking. Flashbacks to the nightmares I had at Kebnekaise and Tarfala in Sweden. There was no turning back, only hope that the pass was near and conditions would get better soon.

It started with small patches. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

It started with small patches.

 

Let it snow, let it snow, let it … no …

But it was only the beginning of a few terrifying hours high up in the mountains with declining visibility and dropping temperatures. The snow patches got larger, the snow thicker, and the fog not helping either.

Footprints of someone probably a few hours ahead of me. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Footprints of someone probably a few hours ahead of me.

 

It was Kebnekaise all over again, being alone with close to zero visibility in the snow. Would have been fun if it wasn’t in the mountains, but out here, it was terrifying.

Snow and fog on the approach to Teleti Pass. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Snow and fog on the approach to Teleti Pass.

 

Lunch break in the snow

Despite that scary looking weather, it was neither raining nor snowing yet, a small consolation. I tried to make the best out of the situation by having a hot snack break beside a big rock to cheer myself up. As the water heated up rain started to fall. Can’t get worse, I thought. Then I noticed snow accumulating on my bag. Why now.

Winter wonderland ... in summer. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Winter wonderland … in summer.

 

I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of my hot snack break, and had some coffee, cereal porridge and biscuits before trudging on. By now the snow was getting heavier and I was concerned about snow prints of the trekker in front being covered, which had been my main source of navigation.

Following the snow prints of someone who went by earlier. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Following the snow prints of someone who went by earlier.

 

Teleti Pass

Though really terrifying to only be able to navigate by trusting the footsteps of someone ahead, it was also a really interesting experience. I was able to see each step the person took, every misstep, and where the snow was too deep that led to him/her falling over. It was a moment stuck in time. At least till when the snow covers over or when the sun decides it’s finally time for summer.

Taking a break when there was slightly better visibility, staring out into nothingness in what should have been a panoramic view. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Taking a break when there was slightly better visibility, staring out into nothingness in what should have been a panoramic view.

 

Finally, after hours of uphill climbs, I stood on a small ridge, where beyond seemed to be downhill. It was the Teleti Pass. Caught my breath, hoped for less snow, took some pictures, and carried on.

Looking back from the Teleti Pass, second highest point of the 5 day trek at approximately 3,800m.

Looking back from the Teleti Pass, second highest point of the 5 day trek at approximately 3,800m.

 

The descent was appreciated, but snow noticeably thicker on the other side. I continued following the footsteps (literally) of someone I had never met, which included sliding down the snow for a couple of meters as seen below. I was so worn out and conditioned to follow the steps by then that I had not realised what a dangerous thing I had just did until I got down, where I took that picture below.

The 'slide'. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

The ‘slide’.

 

More snow ahead, deeper and longer stretches. I could ‘see’ the person who was here a few hours ago struggling with the snow too. It became apparent from the prints that of all the people that had been there that day I was the only one without hiking poles. Not that it mattered much I guess.

A tiny avalanche from the peaks on the side. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

A tiny avalanche from the peaks on the side.

 

Teleti Pass to Karakol Valley

After hours feeling small and terrified at the mercy of the mountains, I got out of the snow, onto a golden carpet of little flowers. On thing to note on getting from the snowy part to the fields, is to stick to the right where applicable, or risk being on the wrong side of the river (when the stream becomes one).

Carpet of flowers. Tian Shan, Teleti Pass, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Carpet of flowers, looking back at the snow covered mountains.

 

It was late in the afternoon, I was exhausted from walking in the snow, and couldn’t wait to get down to the Karakol Valley to set up camp for the night.

The carpet of flowers, looking in the direction of the Karakol Valley below. Tian Shan, Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

The carpet of flowers, looking in the direction of the Karakol Valley below.

 

The descend over grassy fields was as comfortable as it could have been that day. Soon the treeline began, and the trail went into pine forests again.

Revisiting pine forests. Tian Shan, Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

Revisiting pine forests.

 

Edge of the pine forest. Tian Shan, Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

Edge of the pine forest.

 

The pine forests also marked where Karakol National Park began. There is supposed to have been an entrance fee and nightly camping fee collected by rangers, but perhaps as I was too early in the season, no one approached me for payment throughout my trek.

Entering Karakol National Park. Tian Shan, Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

Entering Karakol National Park.

 

Karakol Valley

Near the end of the forest a couple of steep switchbacks brought me down to the valley. Exiting the forest, I saw 3 men in the distance, and waved wildly to them. I was just happy to see people again and picked up my pace to catch up. They were 3 brothers doing the same trek I was on.

 

So these were the people whose footprints I had been following that day. I asked if I could join them for the night. They were heading towards the yurt camp further down the valley, another 2 kilometers or so more. I had originally planned to just set up my tent when I reach the valley and was near the river, which I was by then. But yurt camp doesn’t sound too bad after an exhausting day with melted snow in my boots. And so we became a party of 4!

Complicated stream crossing facilitated by logs between islands. A little shaky, but sufficient.

Complicated stream crossing facilitated by logs between islands. A little shaky, but sufficient.

 

The weather was much friendlier as dusk approached. So was the terrain. We had a comfortable stroll along the river, stopping to check out the cows and horses.

Cows in Karakol Valley.

Cows in Karakol Valley.

 

A warning to potential deserters from the herd? Tian Shan, Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

A warning to potential deserters from the herd?

 

It’s amazing how appreciation for the mountains can change with the weather.

Walking down Karakol Valley, looking back.

Walking down Karakol Valley, looking back.

 

With company, everything seemed less scary, even with the last bit of light slipping away before we’ve found the camp. We arrived in the end, with the final rays left.

Karakol Base Camp.

Karakol Base Camp.

Second night: In a yurt at Karakol Base Camp

There were a few yurts in the area, mostly catered to tourists. Cold, wet and tired, we approached the first one, where a lady was waiting. 350 som for a place to sleep in the yurt that could probably sleep 6, 400 som if we wanted to have a fire going. It was a no brainer.

Arrived at Karakol Base Camp with the last rays of light left for the day.

Arrived at Karakol Base Camp with the last rays of light left for the day. Beautiful pasture with horses roaming about.

 

Thin mattress to sleep on, and the fireplace in the middle.

In the yurt. Thin mattresses to sleep on, and the fireplace in the middle.

 

After a carbs heavy dinner, I went back to the tent and slept soundly for the night in my sleeping bag. The fire died halfway through the night, the brothers tried to get it up again to no avail. But the roof over our head and 0 degree rated sleeping bags were sufficient.

 

Day 3: Approaching Ala-Kul

Leaving Karakol Valley

I got out from the yurt the next morning to this view of the Karakol Valley. Nothing short of spectacular.

View just outside the yurt. Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

View of Karakol Valley just outside the yurt.

 

Some coffee, cereal, and some leftovers from the previous night before getting on my way again.

How to use the mountains: Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

How to use the mountains:

 

The first half hour or so was easy, over flat ground moving further out from Karakol Valley. Where there was a stream to cross, we moved further upstream (to the left) till there were logs laid across the stream. As had been for most of the trail, there mostly isn’t a need to get wet over these crossings.

First stream crossing along Karakol Valley, from Karakol Base Camp.

First stream crossing along Karakol Valley, from Karakol Base Camp.

 

After that crossing, there was an immense rock wall. Looked like a mountain had collapsed or something.

Huge wall of large rocks. Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

Huge wall of large rocks.

 

Crossing the small wooden bridge into the forest

And then the second water crossing to get on the other side of the valley. This time there is a bridge across the water into the forest. I think this is also where the trail for the 3 day trek joins the trail for the 5 day trek.

Bridge crossing over to the other side of Karakol Valley to head up to Ala-Kul.

Bridge crossing over to the other side of Karakol Valley to head up to Ala-Kul.

 

I had one last look at the mesmerizing Karakol Valley on the bridge, before getting into the forest with not much of a view for some time.

Last view of the stunning Karakol Valley.

Last view of the stunning Karakol Valley.

 

A nicer forest

The forest path was much of what you’d expect. I should be grateful that it wasn’t as slushy as the forest trail I did on the first day. There are a couple of forks on the trail but they generally head in the same direction. The general direction to be heading is away from the river, towards the mountains.

The forest trail, leaving Karakol Valley.

The forest trail, leaving Karakol Valley.

 

Occasionally the path is blocked by fallen comrades of the forest. Usually when that occurs there is an alternative path already trodden nearby.

Fallen trees right on the trail.

Fallen trees right on the trail.

 

Not that much of landscapes in the forest, but full of life. Looking down, there were critters of shapes and sizes, and looking up, eagles soaring above the trees.

Slugging it out. Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

Slugging it out.

 

Couldn’t get a good shot of the huge bird above, which I suppose was a eagle. Some drama going on above the trees, as a raven or some black bird kept disturbing the eagle like creature by following it from tree to tree.

Looks like small bird from here, but it looked rather big in real life. Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

Looks like small bird from here, but it looked rather big in real life.

 

At an opening in the forest, I stopped and looked up. All was quiet, except for birds chirping all along the valley. It was incredibly calming.

Taking a break to eavesdrop on birds. Pure peace. Karakol Valley, Kyrygzstan.

Taking a break to eavesdrop on birds. Pure peace.

 

The climb to Ala-Kul

Beyond the forest, I couldn’t help looking back every few steps at the spectacular, ever changing views as the trail climbed higher and higher. The Karakol Valley stretches lengthwise from left to right in the picture below.

The view, looking back. Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

The view, looking back.

 

At another clearing there were horses about the bushes. Not sure how they got that high up but they seemed a little scared to see me and started moving downhill.

Horses in the mountains. Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

Horses in the mountains.

 

The lush forests gave way to an area covered by huge boulders, which was quite difficult to walk on. As the rocks got bigger it also became harder to figure where the right path was. Often, this can be found through cairns (rock stacks left by trekkers) or by ground covered in smaller rocks, which would indicated somewhere often stepped on by trekkers.

Huge rocks and boulders in the way. Clouds started to close in.

Huge rocks and boulders in the way. Clouds started to close in.

Approaching the first camp

Somewhere along that rocky section there is painting on the rocks indicating the camp ahead where there might be stuff being sold in summer. This was also where the weather took a turn. The relatively hot sunny weather made way for a drizzle, and as I took out my raincoat I noticed the sound of rain changed, looking down to see the ‘raindrops’ bouncing off the ground. I had been warned to prepare for all seasons in a day but hadn’t experienced it till then, where the weather went from sunny to raining to hailing in a matter of minutes.

1st camp right ahead. Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

1st camp right ahead.

 

As fast as it began, the hail stopped and sun got out again. But that cycle went on for much of the afternoon. Closing in on the first campsite, I could see the end of the valley, with a magnificent rock formation rising sharply like a sleeping dragon stirring in its sleep.

The sleeping dragon. Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

The stirring dragon.

 

Alas, this was all I found at the first camp. There was no one there. Probably too early in the season. The structures look similar to the one I slept in with the cowherds on the first night, without the covers.

The first campsite from Karakol Valley to Ala-Kul when I visited in mid June 2018.

The first campsite from Karakol Valley to Ala-Kul when I visited in mid June 2018.

 

The landscape changed as the trail got higher in altitude. Here, just beyond the first campsite, was another garden-like spot. Cute little plants and flowers line the path.

Nature's garden. Karakol Valley to Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Nature’s garden.

 

The second camp (Sirota Hut)

Not far from the first campsite is the second, more well known campsite. There is a permanent wooden hut here but likewise deserted in early summer. This is also the final marked campsite before Ala-Kul.

Sirota Hut. Karakol Valley to Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Sirota Hut.

 

I arrived alone, having separated from the brothers at the wooden bridge as they took a comfortable pace up. I knew that I would meet them again as there was only one way up. As word was going round that the lake Ala-Kul was still frozen, I thought it would be crazy to proceed alone to the next known campsite beside the lake. It was still early in the day (past noon when I reached), and the campsite at the lake was likely the furthest I can reach that day.

 

So I waited for the brothers at the Sirota Hut to see if they’d want to proceed or call it a day (sounded too early for that though). The Sirota Hut became a meeting point of sorts. For people doing the 3 day trek this is usually the campsite for the first day. I met trekkers heading in both directions, some having turned back at Ala-Kul as the weather had just been too harsh up there that day.

Map of the surrounding mountains and trails painted on a rock at Sirota Hut.

Map of the surrounding mountains and trails painted on a rock at Sirota Hut.

 

Sirota Hut was shrouded by trees, and with that strong looking wooden hut looked like a comfortable place to spend a cold night (relative to sleeping on open ground).

View from Sirota Hut campsite.

View from Sirota Hut campsite.

 

Sirota Hut to Ala-Kul

The brothers arrived around 2 in the afternoon and the weather looked better then, so we decided to make a push towards Ala-Kul. Though I couldn’t imagine sleeping beside a frozen lake in stormy weather. The cycle of sun rain and hail continued, though it looked less terrifying with good company.

Continuing towards Ala-Kul, clouds clearing.

Continuing towards Ala-Kul, clouds clearing.

 

The trail got steeper, narrower and rockier beyond Sirota Hut.

Same valley different view. Karakol Valley to Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Same valley different view.

 

Chasing the dragon. Karakol Valley to Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Chasing the dragon.

 

Following the stream to its source, the trail took a right near the rock formation, and that was where things got freezy again. It wasn’t cold (yet), but walls of ice could be seen against the rocks in the distance.  The source of this stream, the famous Ala-Kul.

Into barren land where things started to freeze again. Ala-Kul, Kyrygzstan.

Into barren land where things started to freeze again.

 

The final stretch was not any easier. The frozen waterfall marking the start of the stream could be seen, but a huge wall of rocks stood in our way.

Scrambling over huge rocks. Ala-Kui, Kyrgyzstan.

Scrambling over huge rocks.

 

Third night: Tent beside a frozen waterfall at Ala-Kul

As we got nearer, we saw that a couple had set up camp on a grass patch beside the waterfall. The frozen lake Ala-Kul was just over the waterfall, but this spot sounded more inviting to sleep on than the open surface beside a frozen lake.

The outlet of Ala-Kul, partially frozen mid June. One of the brothers at the frozen waterfall for scale. That was our water source for the night, one of the freshest waters ever.

The outlet of Ala-Kul, partially frozen mid June. One of the brothers at the frozen waterfall for scale. That was our water source for the night, one of the freshest waters ever.

 

So on my first night ever alone in a tent, I camped beside a frozen waterfall at approximately 3,500m. Well not totally alone, the 6 of us formed a small community guarding (or rather, blocking) the way and enthusiastically greeting hikers who had gotten over Ala-Kul and were heading to Sirota Hut. Well I assume they were going to end at Sirota Hut as it was getting late, probably past 5 in the afternoon by the time we got our tents ready.

Still learning the ropes. Fortunately it didn't rain, given that saggy set up. Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Still learning the ropes. Fortunately it didn’t rain, given that saggy set up.

 

Turned out the couple had actually reached Ala-Kul but found it too miserable to camp at, even contemplating getting out of the valley without crossing to Altyn Arashan. In the end, they decided to camp at the waterfall and attempt another crossing of the Ala-Kul pass to Altyn Arashan the next day. Sounded like a good decision, as the weather had totally cleared up by that evening. It was a nice evening basking in the warm sun, drying stuff out, cooking dinner in the open, and enjoying sunset.

Sunlight filtering through the valley at sunset. Karakol Valley to Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Dinner view. Sunlight filtering through the valley at sunset.

 

A cold and starry night

I woke up at 11 to the nightmare of everything freezing up, frost building on the tent, and me getting out of the tent to find no one around. Check on the thermometer said 4 degrees celcius in the tent. Not so bad after all. The 0 degree celcius rated sleeping bag from Decathlon was sufficient. As long as I stayed in it. But I had to pee.

Really fortunate it didn't rain or snow, else I'd have been soaked in that poorly set up tent.

Really fortunate it didn’t rain or snow, else I’d have been soaked in that poorly set up tent.

 

I tried to hold it back in and went back to sleep, but an hour later I couldn’t take it any longer and gingerly unzipped the tent. There was a gentle breeze blowing outside, but at that temperature felt nothing like a breeze. In the complete darkness outside was the most beautiful toilet break ever. And since I was out I decided to finally put my tripod to use, which I had lugged around for the past few days but was always too tired to wake up in the middle of the night to use.

In the direction of the sunset valley above.

In the direction of the sunset valley seen 2 pictures above.

 

Capturing the Milky Way at Ala-Kul

I knew the Milky Way had to be somewhere, but it wasn’t clearly visible so I had to set my camera to long exposure in a few different directions to lock on the Milky Way. The positioning of the Milky Way was perfect, at that time I got up to pee it was just above the frozen waterfall. I had taken pictures of the Milky Way before but never before was I able to see it so clearly in the resulting photograph without editing. Yes, the picture above and below are with absolutely no editing, straight out of the camera!

The Milky Way above the frozen waterfall at Ala-Kul. Astrophotography, Kyrgyzstan.

The Milky Way above the frozen waterfall at Ala-Kul.

 

I shivered each time I waited for the long exposure shot to complete, but at the end, satisfied with the haul, I went back to sleep, feeling stupidly happy with myself for having witnessed all of that. Only possible regret though, was having no one to share that joy with.

 

Day 4: Ala-Kul to Altyn Arashan

Like the previous days, this morning was beautiful too. Not that I was getting sick of it. Had the usual breakfast for coffee, biscuits and cereal before packing up. It was hard to say goodbye to such a lovely place.

The same valley looking different at sunset, in the middle of the night, and now in the morning. Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

The same valley looking different at sunset, in the middle of the night, and now in the morning.

 

The brothers were still enjoying breakfast in their tent when I was done packing, so I decided to start off first, assuming that I would meet them again later in the day. The couple had gotten up to an early start and had left by then. This was the final strenuous day and I was looking forward to getting it done and enjoying the hot springs at Altyn Arashan at the end of that day.

Last look at the frozen waterfall before taking the trail (almost invisible) up the left side of it. Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Last look at the frozen waterfall before taking the trail (almost invisible) up the left side of it.

 

The trail went by the left of the waterfall, up a near vertical pile of small loose stones. It looked deceptively short, and I took a bit of time to get to the top. Here’s a closer look at the frozen water flows halfway up.

Near the top of the frozen waterfall. Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Near the top of the frozen waterfall.

 

Ala-Kul

After 4 days of trekking, I got my first glimpse of Ala-Kul, what most people come to this part of Kyrgyzstan to see. Most people see it in summer when all has thawed and the water is a magical turquoise, but here it is, surface still frozen, in mid-June.

Ala-Kul, first impressions.

Ala-Kul, first impressions.

 

On the near end of the lake there are some camping spots where people have built rock walls to keep out the wind at night. I’d imagine it can get pretty serious.

Rock walls to keep the wind from tents at night. Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Rock walls to keep the wind from tents at night.

 

Couldn’t have ask for better weather that morning. The trail went along the left side of the lake to near the other end, before another sharp ascent to the Ala-Kul pass, highest point of the 5 day trek.

A walk on the wild side. Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

A walk on the wild side.

 

Ala-Kul isn’t a very big lake, but nonetheless a special one, sandwiched between the mountains at 3,500m. After a few turns I could see the end of it. All around were snow covered mountain faces, except for the one I was on. Thankfully.

Ala-Kul, snaking between the mountains.

Ala-Kul, snaking between the mountains.

 

Finally, the Ala-Kul Pass in sight. it isn’t exactly clear but the trail crosses, somewhere before that sharp point on the ridge. Not to worry about the exact crossing point though, it will be clear once on the ridge so you’ll just need to follow any of the paths leading to the top.

The Ala-Kul pass!

The Ala-Kul pass!

 

Ala-Kul Pass

After what seemed like hours of non stop uphill climb, I arrived on the top of the Ala-Kul pass, at 3,900, the highest point of my 5 day trek. Literally the top of the world feeling, with snow capped peaks going as far as I could see.

Ala-Kul, from Ala-Kul pass.

Ala-Kul, from Ala-Kul pass.

 

The end of Ala-Kul that's closer to Altyn Arashan.

The end of Ala-Kul that’s closer to Altyn Arashan.

 

Close up of the heart shape lake and the stunning blue waters, a teaser of what was to come in summer. Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Close up of the heart shape lake and the stunning blue waters, a teaser of what was to come in summer.

 

It was a really special feeling standing atop the Ala-Kul pass and getting amazing views all around, all 360 degrees of it. Perhaps even more after that 3.5 day slog to get here.

Standing on the ridge that is the Ala-Kul pass.

Standing on the ridge that is the Ala-Kul pass.

 

On the other side (the non lake side), the valley leading out to Altyn Arashan. In the distance, even more snow capped peaks.

The valley on the other side of the Ala-Kul pass, leading out to Altyn Arashan.

The valley on the other side of the Ala-Kul pass, leading out to Altyn Arashan.

 

With the weather (when I reached) and the view, I could stay there all day. I had some tea and biscuits before a slight drizzle started, probably a sign for me to get going.

Could tea break views get any better? Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Could tea break views get any better?

 

Descending Ala-Kul Pass

After staying out of the snow for 2 days, it was time to get down and dirty again. While the lake facing side of the pass was snow free, the other face was covered in slightly deep snow. The extremely steep gradient did not help either, but the downhill probably made it a tiny bit less tiring.

Crossing the Ala-Kul pass, into the snow again.

Crossing the Ala-Kul pass, into the snow again.

 

The snow was quite thick and judging by the footprints of those before many had fell over multiple times. It got steeper until it was near vertical. Hard enough on loose rock, worse in snow.

The snowy descent down Ala-Kul pass.

The snowy descent down Ala-Kul pass.

 

Met a couple on Ala-Kul pass who had arrived to the bottom of the pass on the other side by horseback. Here they are carefully getting down the snow covered slopes back to their horses. Definitely not an easy downhill. The only consolation was that the weather held up till I was done.

Getting down Ala-Kul pass in the snow is not easy. So is getting up.

Getting down Ala-Kul pass in the snow is not easy. So is getting up.

 

There were many possible paths down that different groups undertook, but none looked easy.

The different paths down Ala-Kul pass. Looks totally different from the other face.

The different paths down Ala-Kul pass. Looks totally different from the other face.

 

And back down on solid ground, it is easier to appreciate the beauty of it all. Fortunately or not, that was the last of the snow I had to get over for the rest of the trek.

Snow covered mountain slopes. Ala-Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Snow covered mountain slopes.

 

Keldike Valley

If you’re done for the day after that exhausting conquering of Ala-Kul, there’s a yurt just a little further down (visible from the Ala-Kul pass), and a campsite where you can call it a day. I was determined to get to Altyn Arashan for the hot springs, so I know I had just got started.

First camp after Ala-Kul pass. Altyn Arashan, Kyrgzystan.

First camp after Ala-Kul pass.

 

Further down the valley there is a larger yurt camp, slightly off the trail and down by the river.

The second yurt camp from Ala-Kul on the way to Altyn Arashan.

The second yurt camp from Ala-Kul on the way to Altyn Arashan.

 

This side of the mountains looked more lively, with tour groups doing day trips from Altyn Arashan to Ala-Kul, which included elderly Korean folks. Here, a group of horsemen were getting out of the valley, presumably having delivered stuff to the yurt camp closest to Ala-Kul.

Horsemen of Kyrgyzstan.

Horsemen of Kyrgyzstan.

 

An animal encounter

On one of the earlier days I had spotted a dog like creature scurrying about the steppes, but it disappeared before I could get a closer look. I was quite certain that it was not a dog though, as like horses and cows, it is unlikely for wild dogs to be up here in the mountains. This time, I spotted a similar creature curiously eyeing the horsemen galloping past. It did not seem in a hurry to hide in its burrow even as I stood at a safe distance observing it. As I learnt latter, this was a marmot, a species of squirrels. Looks so cute here, but apparently a pest in some cases, as some rodents are.

A wild marmot appeared! Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

A wild marmot appeared!

 

Here it is out of the burrow.

Marmot modelling. Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

Marmot modelling.

 

Another horseman along the way was carrying what seemed to be a doorway up. He asked if I needed a lift and I politely declined. But honestly speaking I was tiring fast by then. Here he is posing with his door and horse.

Doorman/ horseman/ dorseman? Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

Doorman/ horseman/ dorseman?

 

The longest stretch

The nice blue skies were gone and so was my motivation. Each step grew harder in the barren steppes of the valley but I knew I had to push on till the end of the valley.

Mostly barren, with the occasional rock jutting out. Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

Mostly barren, with the occasional rock jutting out.

 

Another few hours later the trail reached a muddy patch which ended in what seemed like a cowherd’s shelter. This is where the trail crosses the river on to the other side and continues out of the valley. The trail goes behind the shelter (between the shelter and the river). A muddy and messy downhill later there is a shallow stream to cross, which again shouldn’t require getting wet by stepping over stones and picking the right path.

This is where you'll need to get down to the stream and cross over to the other side. Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

This is where you’ll need to get down to the stream and cross over to the other side.

 

The shallow stream to cross. Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

The shallow stream to cross.

 

Uphill again for another uneventful stretch towards the next valley seen just ahead in the picture below, the Altyn Arashan valley.

Supposed to have been a comfortable section, gently downhill over firm but not too hard ground, but somehow I wasn't enjoying it. Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

Supposed to have been a comfortable section, gently downhill over firm but not too hard ground, but somehow I wasn’t enjoying it.

 

Looking back at the snow capped peaks. Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

Looking back at the snow capped peaks.

 

Altyn Arashan Valley

My pace had gotten to a crawl by the time I reached the valley. Glad as I was to be almost at the village, my legs could carry me no faster, so I did my best to enjoy the scenery.

Almost a familiar sight by now, the grassy valleys and pine trees. Still love it though. Altyn Arashan, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Almost a familiar sight by now, the grassy valleys and pine trees. Still love it though.

 

Where the valleys and rivers met there were a few yurts set up. Not sure if they were al for tourists but at least some where. If you had just a little bit of energy left, like I had, just push on a little more and you’ll be at Altyn Arashan.

The yurts where the valleys and rivers meet. Altyn Arashan, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

The yurts where the valleys and rivers meet.

 

Couple more streams to cross. Took it a little more carefully with my tired legs this time.

Last few streams to cross before Altyn Arashan. Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Last few streams to cross before Altyn Arashan.

 

Altyn Arashan

Through the forest once more for about a kilometre or two, and there it was, Altyn Arashan! A couple who had passed me earlier in the forest asked me if I was alright as I was really, really slow by then. With the cabins finally in view I was able to muster the last of my strength for the day to push through the drizzle and get to Altyn Arashan.

Approaching Altyn Arashan. Karakol, Kyrgzystan.

Approaching Altyn Arashan.

 

There are a couple of guesthouses available at Altyn Arashan, one on the near side (VIP Guest House), and the rest on the other side of the bridge.

Map of Altyn Arashan. Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Map of Altyn Arashan.

 

The bridge over the river to the other guesthouses at Altyn Arashan, and also to continue on the trail out of the mountains. Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

The bridge over the river to the other guesthouses at Altyn Arashan, and also to continue on the trail out of the mountains.

 

Cold, wet and tired, I couldn’t really be bothered to check out the other options and headed for VIP Guest House. Seems like the other trekkers from Ala-Kul might have felt the same too. It was a reunion of sorts as I saw the couple I had just met outside Altyn Arashan, the couple I met on Ala-Kul pass, and the couple from the frozen waterfall the previous night all there.

VIP Guest House at Altyn Arashan. Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

VIP Guest House at Altyn Arashan.

 

Fourth Night: In a wooden cabin

VIP Guest House is run by a nice Kyrgyz man and has both yurts as well as bunks in cabins. Having slept in a cowherds’ shelter, a yurt and a tent on the previous nights, I decided to go with the cabin option. There was a fireplace in the room and once it got fired up the room was as comfortable as can be. I took the opportunity to lay out all my wet stuff around it.

Clean and comfortable cabin at VIP Guest House at Altyn Arashan.

Clean and comfortable cabin at VIP Guest House at Altyn Arashan (500 som per person).

 

I hadn’t had a proper lunch that day and was famished by then fortunately, meals can be bought at VIP Guest House, and I finished every bit of my dinner (300 som).

Dinner at VIP Guest House, Altyn Arashan.

Dinner at VIP Guest House, Altyn Arashan. Fried rice, dried meat, salad, bread and hot tea.

 

Later that evening, a friendly guy joined me in the cabin. We hit off really well and ended up meeting up again in Almaty (a story for later). But having my growling stomach filled and wet clothes changed there was one thing left to do at Altyn Arashan.

 

Altyn Arashan Hot Springs

Each of the guest houses at Altyn Arashan have their own pools filled with hot sulphurous water. All of them are on the other side of the river, which meant that for VIP Guest House I had to cross the bridge to get to their pool. Though I got a little lost halfway and slipped in the mud as it was all dark, the effort was all worth it.

VIP Guest House's pool in a wooden cabin. Altyn Arashan, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

VIP Guest House’s pool in a wooden cabin (200 som per person).

 

VIP Guest House’s hot spring pool, located in house 6 on the other side of the river (from the guest house), was the perfect way to end a long, cold and tiring day spent trekking. In the cold weather, the water felt really hot, and took awhile to get used to. After relieving all the aching muscles there is a cold shower also in the same building to get washed.

VIP Guest House's hot spring cabin. Altyn Arashan, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

VIP Guest House’s hot spring cabin.

Crossed the bridge once more, and had a really good sleep. The fire died again in the middle of the night and proved impossible to relit, but the blankets provided were sufficient to keep warm (though a cold weather sleeping bag would be better).

 

Day 5: Back to Karakol via Ak Suu

Around VIP Guest House

As I had arrived late at the guest house the previous night in inclement weather, I hadn’t noticed how beautiful the surroundings were. It was my last morning in the mountains, so I took awhile to soak it in.

From VIP Guest House, inwards of the valley. Altyn Arashan, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

From VIP Guest House, inwards of the Altyn Arashan valley.

 

The other side of VIP Guest House, outwards of Altyn Arashan valley. Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

The other side of VIP Guest House, outwards of Altyn Arashan valley.

 

Yurts at VIP Guest House. Altyn Arashan, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Yurts at VIP Guest House.

 

Leaving Altyn Arashan

Finally time to leave. Well the views can get slightly similar after many days but I don’t think I’ll get sick of it. At least for awhile.

On the bridge across Altyn Arashan. Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

On the bridge across Altyn Arashan.

 

Across the bridge the mud trail that is wide enough for vehicles begin. Can’t get much easier to follow the way out. I passed a couple more yurt camps and guest houses on the way out.

Altyn Arashan.

Altyn Arashan.

 

Leaving Altyn Arashan, the mountains and village perfectly framed.

Leaving Altyn Arashan, the mountains and village perfectly framed.

 

A couple of Soviet era off-road buses ferrying tourists in as I made my way out. With such a rocky and muddy road it definitely did not look like a comfortable ride. Occasionally these buses tip dangerously to the side as they navigate difficult terrain.

Off-road buses bringing tourists from Karakol to Altyn Arashan.

Off-road buses bringing tourists from Karakol to Altyn Arashan.

 

The morning weather was beautiful as usual, and I found myself able to walk much faster than the day before, though some fast trekkers still zoomed past me.

Walking in the pine valley, beside the river. Altyn Arashan, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Walking in the pine valley, beside the river.

 

Then the river dropped quickly below while the trail took a more gradual descent. The gap opened up and the trail was soon way above the river.

Looking back into the valley. Altyn Arashan, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Looking back into the valley.

 

Altyn Arashan Gorge

I saw a trail all the way below, as well as a cabin and some equipment, and for some reason hoped very hard that that was not the right trail, as it was so far down. And of course, it had to turn out to be, as the trail I was on led to steep switchbacks which went down all the way to that cabin below.

Trail down below. Altyn Arashan, Ak Suu, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Trail down below.

 

Down at the bottom there was another gateway of sorts.

Passing the second gateway by the river. Altyn Arashan, Ak Suu, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Passing the second gateway by the river.

 

Not long after, caught up with my friendly roommate and the (also friend) couple from the frozen waterfall. They had left slightly earlier (or me slightly late) and it took awhile for me to catch up.

The final stretch through the gorge. Altyn Arashan, Ak Suu, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

The final stretch through the gorge.

 

There was one more bridge to cross. This was where tiny bits of cell reception were picked up. After 5 days without any reception any bit of internet is gold.

Bridge on the way out. Altyn Arashan, Ak Suu, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Bridge on the way out.

 

The gorge looked similar to the one I entered on the first day, but with good weather everything looked better.

Altyn Arashan Gorge. Ak Suu, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Altyn Arashan Gorge.

 

Some sort of dam. There was a huge container as well as the third gate just around here. Altyn Arashan, Ak Suu, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Some sort of dam. There was a huge container as well as the third gate just around here.

 

Cell reception

And this was where all cell signal returned. Checking on the news, it was as if we had entered a time warp and returned to a world different from the one we left.

Where cell signal returned. Altyn Arashan, Ak Suu, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Where cell signal returned.

 

Up next was a small but busy village where there were people sitting along the road. Some offered a ride to Karkaol but we knew the bus stop had to be just ahead and continued.

Back in civilisation. Altyn Arashan, Ak Suu, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

Back in civilisation.

 

Very close, but not quite there yet.

On the road beyond the village, looking back at the mountains. Ak Suu, Altyn Arashan, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

On the road beyond the village, looking back at the mountains.

 

Bus back to Karakol

And … we did it! Went it 5 days ago alone and came out with 3 new friends. The mashrutka stops just ahead in the picture before the house (not that mashrutka on the left), on the right side of the road. On Maps.me it is the bus stop at 42.473244, 78.530222

Out on the road again for the mashrutka back to Karkaol.

Out on the road again for the mashrutka back to Karkaol.

 

View from near the bus stop, of the mountains.

View from near the bus stop, of the mountains.

 

The bus stops near the fork in the road between Ak Suu and Altyn Arashan. If you’re taking the bus to Altyn Arashan you’d also stop at this point and walk the rest of the way in as the bus turns in to Ak Suu. We did not have to wait long for the bus shortly past noon. We managed to get seats but the bus got packed as we continued towards Karakol.

The fork between Ak Suu and Altyn Arashan. Where the bus stops.

The fork between Ak Suu and Altyn Arashan. Where the bus stops.

 

Back in Karakol, we had lunch at the bazaar beside the park with the Monument to Tagay-Biy, where you can taste the interesting local foods of Karakol. One dish you’d definitely have to try in Karakol is Ashlan-fu, a cold noodle dish. It is easy to find in the bazaar here.

 

Conclusion

And that is it! My first fully equipped multi day trekking trip, though I ended up only camping for one night. The people I met, landscapes I witnessed and weather I experienced made everything complete. The ascents were tough, but none were too long, and the ever changing, spectacular scenery meant something to look forward to and look out for most of the time.

This should be quite a manageable multi day trek for people with not much experience as there are no technical areas (though not that easy too). Probably want to avoid being too early in the season like me though, as the snow can pose some difficulty. More details on preparing for a trek in the Tian Shan mountains here!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>
*
*