Tian Shan glacier

Still a bit tired from our first hiking experience in Arslanbob we spent 2 relaxed days in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. Apart from some necessary shopping we were mostly hanging out in the guesthouse having some beers with fellow travelers and discussing different options for our onward route. We decided to head east towards Karakol, the starting point for many treks into the Tian Shan mountains and a hub for most hikers. On our way we stopped at Lake Issyk Kol, the world’s second biggest alpine lake (after lake Titicaca in Bolivia). Issyk Kol is a famous holiday destionation, not only for Kyrgyz, but also for many Russian and Kazakh people. The lake never freezes due to its thermal activity, enormous depth and its salinity. For us it made for a nice stop, although we only had a quick swim on our first day since it was raining heavily afterwards.

In Karakol we checked-in to a guesthouse, stocked up on food supplies at the bazaar and went to the CBT tourism office to check the different trekking options. We already had a 4-day trip in mind and the guy from the CBT confirmed it to be the best option for us. At first were unsure if to do it with or without a guide, but reading up on the internet we bravely decided to try it on our own (even though orientation is not the strongest of our assets).

Day 1 (6-7 hours)

The next morning we woke early and took the marshrutka 101  to the entrance of the Karakol national park (marshrutkas are minibuses that circle all over Central Asia). After paying the fee of 250 Som/person (approx. 5 USD) we started our hike through the beautiful and very scenic Karakol valley. The sun was shining, the path was easy to find and led us all along Karakol river deep into the valley.

Flowers Karakol valleyFlowers in Karakol valley

River Karakol valley
Scenic riverside Karakol valley

Break at Karakol valley

Little break at Karakol valley

After about 4 hours (16 km) walking we had to cross over a bridge on our left to enter into Ala-Kol valley. From here it went steep uphill for another two hours before we should reach our first camp spot at an altitude of 2.930 m. There were hardly any marks or indications for the path and several times Manu was not quite sure if we were heading into the right direction. Moreover, the weather had changed and it had started to rain. We reached the camp just fine, but since two groups had already arrived before us there were not many pitches left for our tent. In the end we set it up between some trees on very rocky ground so at least we had some protection from the rain. The temperature was harsh and the cup of tea after the hike tasted like heaven.

Tea at campsite

Glorious teatime after trekking

Day 2 (7 hours)

When we got up in the morning the weather still had not changed. The peaks above us were covered in clouds and it was raining lightly. We set off for the most exhausting part of the hike. That day we would make it up to Ala-Kol Lake, then set over the Ala-Kol pass at almost 4.000 m into the Arashan valley, where we would camp next to the riverside. After one hour of walking the clouds lifted a bit and we had an on-and-off of sunshine, dark clouds, rain and even snowfall. Although the conditions were not ideal, the weather made the whole scencery appear even more spectacular. When we caught the first glimpse of Ala-Kol lake we experienced a constant change of colours – everything from dark blue to the most amazing turquoise you can imagine. It was incredible!

Lake Ala-Kol

Incredible colors of Lake Ala-Kol

After the lake we had to cross the pass into the Arashan valley. The one hour hike uphill was pretty ok and brought both of us to the highest peak we had ever climbed so far. From there the views into the Tian Shan glaciers were that impressive that we didn’t even feel the ice-cold wind and snow crystals in our faces.

Altitude Ala-Kol pass

Almost at 4.000 meters!

Ala-Kol pass

Happy Fritz at Ala-Kol pass

So far, so good. The descent from the pass was more of a skiing session than a hike. There was no visible trail so we slid straight down the VERY steep hill from the pass. About 500 m in 10 minutes.

Descent Ala-Kol pass

Descent from Ala-Kol pass

That brought us down to green meadows again and we naively thought that that was it for the day. But it was not. By far.
Walking along the Arashan river, already checking for the best spot to camp, it all of a sudden started to hail. We rushed down the mountain for the next 15 minutes to reach lower grounds and to escape the storm. When we got down to the river it had stopped and we quickly built up our tent since clouds were getting darker every minute and thunder was rolling over the mountains. We just had time to eat a bowl of soup before hell broke loose. Lying in our teeny-tiny tent we waited for the storm to pass, when we got out again the scenery had changed.

Hailstorm campsite Arashan valley

Campsite after the hailstorm

I guess it’s not necessary to mention that the night was cold. Actually, the tent was covered in ice when we got up the next morning. Luckily, we came prepared and had the right gear, so we actually did neither get wet nor freeze and even had a good night’s sleep.

Day 3 (3-4 hours)

The next day was easy. It was all downhill till the village of Altyn Arashan, an agglomeration of the impressive number of 3 houses and one yurt. Good thing about Altyn Arashan (apart from its beautiful setting): there are hot springs to treat your sore muscles with before getting a home-cooked meal and a beer. And that’s exactly what we did. The hot springs worked magic on our aching bodies. AND: in the afternoon the sun came out and for the first time gave sight to the majestic peak Palatka overlooking the Arashan valley and the village.

Peak Palatka Altyn Arashan

Peak Palatka overlooking the Arashan valley

Day 4 (4 hours)

The last day was a pleasant walk out of the valley until the village of Ak Suu, where we took a mashrutka back to Karakol to a nice guesthouse and a long, hot shower.
Despite the rough weather conditions the trek was just awesome! Looking back hail and thunder even gave it a more spectacular twist. Hopefully, one day we will be back for more!

By the way, we have tracked the hike, if your are interested in the details, check here:

Karakol – Ala-Kol – Arashan valley (day 1+2)
Arashan valley – Altyn Arashan – Ak Suu (day 3+4)

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