Since the first part of Pre-Service Training (PST) we’ve been planning a trip to Ala Archa National Park. Ala Archa is an alpine National Park, just South of Bishkek. Phase three of PST has miserably hot most days and a trip to the cool weather in the mountains was coming at a great time. Early last Sunday, 12 of us plus our brother and sister piled into the family marshrutka early in the morning and our host dad drove us up to the park.
Ala Archa has two main trails. The first is relatively flat and follows the main river up the valley. We opted for the trail to the left which climbs a steep valley, past a waterfall and ends at a climbing hut where several glaciers meet. The hike started up a steep hill and as soon as we reached the top the views were awesome. To the North-East, 15 miles of the Ala-Archa river valley could be seen and in front of us the large waterfall and beyond that, the valley where Racek hut, our destination, was visible.
After traversing the side of the valley for about a mile and a half we stopped for lunch before tackling a steep section that took us past the waterfall. Here, the trail winds through the Juniper Trees that give the park its name and is incredibly scenic. Across the valley we could see a herd of ibex(s?) scaling the steep slope. I’d seen many statues of ibex across the country and it was pretty awesome seeing them in person. Even though they were several hundred meters away, it was easy to make out their huge antlers.
After another short stretch where the trail leveled out came the steepest section which was also filled with boulders. We had climbed nearly 4000’ by the time we reached the top but the amazing views were worth it. The trail abruptly leveled out and began to follow a slow moving creek. We passed several campsites and Racek hut came into view. Reaching the hut we stopped to eat and met several other groups of people, mostly tourists but also a group of four JICA (Japanese) volunteers. We cracked open our victory beers and walked to the top of the ridge for a spectacular panoramic view of Ak-Sai Glacier. We posed for a group shot and began the long slog back down the mountain.
We were a little tired but the weather was coming in quickly and the hail that started to fall was motivation enough to get moving. We had a bit of rain occasionally but the weather created pretty awesome scenery as we hiked down. In the end, we hiked 8.1 miles roundtrip and had a cumulative elevation gain of 4728’ (about 4100’ in absolute terms.)
We definitely need to make it back to Ala Archa at some point. In addition to the Ala-Archa Valley hike that looks really nice, from the hut we stopped at there are tons of awesome routes, both technical climbing and easy (but snow covered) hikes to peaks that would be incredible. Expect more blog posts from this place next summer!