Ala Archa National Park – (nearly) Climbing Peak Uchitel

We recently took a trip back to Ala Archa, our first time since going last year during PST.  The previous trip was easy to arrange as our host family owned a marshrutka and a group of us just hired them to take us up for the day.  This trip we had to find a taxi on our own which is a pain even when we speak the language.  After too many phone calls and conversations at the bus station, we negotiated a ride, picked up our friends and drove to Ala Archa.  Of course upon arrival the driver showed us an ‘official’ price list that said the price was nearly double what we agreed to and he seemed to forget our previous conversation.  Too bad guy, we’re not falling for that… we gave him the agreed upon fare and headed into the park.

The hike up to the hut was a little less pleasant that our previous trip.  Between the persistent mist that soaked everything and our heavy packs, things were a little less than ideal.  There was also a bit of snow to deal with than our last trip which was at the end of August.  After a few hours of hiking we neared the hut, the clouds parted and we got a glimpse of the towering peaks that make Ala Archa so special.  We set up the tents and settled into one of the kitchen huts (which you have access to if paying for a tent site or spot in the Ratsek Hut) to make dinner.

The next morning we got off to a bit of a slow start but eventually left the camp area under beautiful blue skies to find the trail for Peak Uchitel.  When we found the turnoff just a couple hundred meters up the valley, what we didn’t realize at the time was that nearly the whole trail is visible in front of you…. Straight up the hill.  The ‘trail’ climbs nearly 4000’ to the summit in less than two miles.  We headed up, alternating between scree slopes, sand and large boulders that necessitated using our hands.  Our pace slowed way down after reaching 12.5’ and we took several long breaks to catch our breath.  At 13.5k feet our friends decided to turn back but Taylor and I kept going, we wanted to at least get to 14k’.  It took another 45 minutes to reach the milestone and we were rewarded with a view that looked exactly like our last stop, oh well.  The peak was clearly visible in front of us but at this altitude the last 900’ would take at least another 2 hours and we’d likely end going back to the tent in the dark, so we turned back.

The hike down was pretty grueling.  As we descended breathing became easier but pounding on our feet and knees grew very tiresome.  Finally we reached our campsite and immediately crashed for a well-deserved nap.  The rest of the night was spent talking, drinking whiskey (some things are more than worth their weight to carry up) and taking photos.  We slept really well the second night!

The hike out felt extra-long due to our fatigue and more rain.  We trudged on and couldn’t have been happier to see the parking lot.  The next challenge was to find a ride out since we hadn’t wanted to spend the money to pre-arrange a ride.  While sitting and discussing our options, two other volunteers showed up and it turned out they ran into somebody in the park they knew who had exactly enough seats left for us.  Transportation is a weird thing in Kyrgyzstan, it’s often so difficult and annoying to arrange and barter for rides but sometimes things work out perfectly such as this free ride back to Bishkek with TUK (an awesome hiking organization to check out if you visit.)  I hate not summiting peaks but it was still an awesome weekend and I’ll be back later this summer to try again.

If you’d like to visit Ala Archa it’s best to find a taxi in Bishkek, it should be 1000-1500 som for the ride.  A campsite near the hut is 200 som per tent per night and a spot inside the hut is 600 som per person/night.  No need to reserve a space in the hut.  They have mattresses but bring a sleeping bag.  They say they have food available but it didn’t look that appetizing and it was expensive, bring your own.

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