We’re determined to explore every bit of Kyrgyzstan while we’re here so we headed down to Toktogul to squeeze in one last backpacking trip before the snow comes. Getting to Toktogul from our home in Balykchy requires a trip through Bishkek and we spent the night there to break up the long journey. In the morning, we headed to the taxi stand to locate a taxi. Normally we would take a marshrutka between cities but apparently due to a large number of accidents on the bad mountain roads they are no longer allowed. We found a Toktogul taxi driver who told us he’d be leaving soon, just needed two more passengers… maybe 30 minutes. An hour later the two additional passengers were sitting in the car but the driver was just strolling around and didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Another 30 minutes went by and we became increasingly aggravated as another passenger had taken a seat but still we waited. Finally enough passengers showed up for the taxi to fill and we took off, only to stop after 15 minutes so the ladies could spend 15 minutes buying bread. Just double the time you think you need to get anywhere in this country.
An hour later we were out of the city to a part of the country we hadn’t seen before. Turning towards the mountains we drove up and came to a toll booth, after this the road became twisty and climbed steadily. I struggled to make out the scenery through the limo-tint glass as the road kept climbing the mountains. I turned on my phone to see we reached 10,200’ at the top of the pass as we entered a very long and narrow tunnel. We entered the tunnel under sunny skies but 3 or 4 minutes later we popped out and into winter. Snow was falling and covered the roadway. We stopped here for a rest stop, it felt 30 degrees colder than when we left Bishkek. Heading down the mountain we reached a high plateau, technically in Talas Oblast, that seemed beautiful but I could barely see through the window. The next two hours were mostly uneventful except for the amusing incidents where the car is forced to slow and honk its way through herds of sheep moving down the road.
Another fun weekend adventure! This time we were headed to Jeti-Oguz (means ‘7 bulls’) for a little trip organized by our friend AJ and his organization, Eco-Trek. They had asked us to help them with a couple things including documenting the accommodations and a couple hikes with photos and GPS tracks. We were helping them put together some packages to give to their clients to offer a better product. In exchange, they put us up in their yurt camp and arranged for the transport out there.
We head out from Balykchy and stopped by Cholpon Ata to watch some of the World Nomad Games. It was pretty fun and really an impressive event for Kyrgyzstan, a couple dozen countries were there participating including the US with 5 PCVs forming a Kokuz Torgol team (a strategy game similar to mancala.) We weren’t there long and some other PCVs wrote about it more, you can read Shaun or Anna’s blogs to here more about the event. Also, here is a short video showing the opening ceremonies.
After the horse games we went to Karakol and stayed with AJ. The next morning we walked with him to his office and his director drove us up to his yurt camp in Jeti-Oguz. We didn’t really have an idea of what to expect as things here tend to be a little (a lot really) less consistent than we’re used to at home but this just lends to the adventure. The drive became very beautiful as we headed up towards the mountains, passing the small village of Jeti-Oguz before the road cut through a scenic, narrow river gorge. As the road opened up into a large valley we saw many other yurt camps, this is a very popular destination for both local and foreign tourists. Arriving at the yurt camp, we were given a brief tour of our very nice yurt (with the best looking bed I’ve seen in a yurt yet and power!) as well as the toilet (not an outhouse) and shower… yep, this would do. We unpacked our bags and took a look at my map to figure out where to head. The GPS showed a waterfall nearby so we followed the road that direction. After a bit of confusion we found the correct cow path that represented the trail we were supposed to follow. Heading up the fill the cow path turned into a real trail and we began passing Russian tourists and Kyrgyz people picking juniper (the branches do all kinds of magic but you can’t have a juniper tree on your property as it will sap the life from your family.
Morning arrived and it was finally time for the hike! This was the part of the road trip we were most looking forward to. Our itinerary:
Day 1: Down the South Kaibab trail to Phantom Ranch – all the way down to the Colorado River – to the Bright Angel Campground for the night
Days 2 & 3: Shorter hike along the river, up to the lowest plateau to camp for two nights at Indian Garden Campground
Day 4: The toughest day, hiking back up to the rim
Day 1 – What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?
We woke, packed our remaining items, and had breakfast at the hotel. We were in a bit of a hurry since there were only three hiker express shuttles from the lodge to the trailhead – we had to be on one of them. The first two weren’t happening (for us, at least) and making the third was going to be close by the time we were finished with breakfast. Driving into the park we got lucky and found parking spots right by Bright Angel trailhead – this is where we’d be coming up in four days. We caught the hiker express and thirty minutes later we were at the South Kaibab trailhead getting ready to head down.
The South Kaibab trail is 6.7 miles to the campground, dropping about 4,780’ along the way. The trail is very uneven despite constant work from the trail building crews due to the constant mule traffic. It also generally follows steep cliffs, so it can be a very unnerving first backpacking experience, especially if you have acrophobia. The South Kaibab trail also lacks water, which can be an issue in summer, but temperatures were barely above freezing when we started, although it warmed up pretty quickly as we made our way down. One interesting thing when hiking in the canyon is how much the temperature varies as you change elevation – it’s typically 20-30 degrees warmer at Phantom Ranch in the bottom as it is on the rim. Continue reading “West Coast Road Trip – Days 7-10 – Hiking the Grand Canyon”