For the second weekend in a row, we headed out towards the mountains to go on a hike. This time we were heading to the other side of Issyk Kul (the huge lake we live near) to Karakol which is the city I originally hoped we’d live in. Jake, Taylor and I took an early Marshrutka to Karakol and met all the other volunteers from Issyk Kul at Karakol Coffee for a quick meeting. After that, eight of us headed up to Altyn Arashan valley in an awesome (and ancient,) 4WD van. The road was the bumpiest road I’ve ever been on, often hugging the edge big cliffs. Although we were packed in tight, ½ way up we stopped to pick up two women with two kids (for free of course,) I was happy to be in the front seat at this point. After about 90 minutes of being bounced around we arrived to the valley and saw several houses scattered around. Most people camp here but we were hoping to hike to Ala Kul Lake so we continued on.
After an hour of walking up (sometimes in mud) the valley we reached our destination. We setup our tents near where Andrew’s extended host family stays in the summers. It was nice to know the people who’s land we were on since I’m not really sure in the mountains what is public land. They also said they would watch our stuff while hiking the next day which was comforting. It had been raining off and on but a fire sounded nice and Alex was determined to get one started. It took a bit of effort (and a little camp stove fuel) but we got it going. We cooked dinner, chatted and stayed warm next to the fire until bedtime.
The next morning we originally planned to get up early for the long, steep hike up to the lake. None of us seemed eager to get out of our tents since periodic rain continued to fall. We decided to just have a leisurely morning and walk up the valley to see where it went. We hiked for a couple hours and the views kept getting better and better. We reached the end of the main valley where the river split and had lunch. Half the group decided to turn back but four of us wanted to keep going and explore. We took a right since we couldn’t find a way to cross the river. The trail turned from an easy walk in a wide valley to a true hike up a cow path. Our pace slowed a lot and we only walked another mile or so before deciding to turn around. Massive glaciers were in front of us and I knew I’d be back here with more time to explore more. Andrew and I also saw what looked like a possible alternate route to get up to the lake next month. We turned around and head back towards our camp.
After two hours we were close to our camp when it started raining heavily. I jogged the last little bit and threw myself into the tent. We were planning on letting the tent dry out and hike down to where the houses and the rest of the group was but the weather was not cooperating. Thunder & lightning were followed by heavy hail so we decided to just wait a bit. This is what it looked like outside:
We caught a small break in the storm so we packed up camp and took shelter in the more permanent tent that Andrew’s family had. It was perfect to sit in the warm tent having chai and the best bread I’ve had here while the rain outside continued. After the break we walked down to find the rest of the group. We were wet, cold and muddy. We raced to setup the tent, change into our swimsuits and went to the hot springs. The rest of the night we hung out in the dining area and I played chess and darts with our host (losing both times.)
The next morning no one was in the mood for the 12 mile walk out so we negotiated to be driven down. This time our ride was a really old jeep. I didn’t take a photo of the outside but if you picture a WW2 Willy you’re on the right track. We made it down, got lunch and headed home. Best hike in Kyrgyzstan yet but all it did was make me want to get farther out. Here’s a map of our hike:
The blue is where we walked, the red is our drive up the bad road. We ended up hiking 13.6 miles and 2500’ of cumulative elevation.