It’s a clear blue sky as we get up early to prepare for our 4-day trek to Ala Köl and Altyn Arashan. The last two days it has rained, the first rainy days since we’ve left home. But now the forecast looks good, the weather should be fine for the next couple of days. Perfect timing to do the trek. We meet our 18-year old guide at the Tourist Information Centre in Karakol. For this trek we don’t necessarily need a guide, most people actually do it on their own, but we didn’t want to carry all the camping gear ourselves so therefore we hired a guide/porter.
The first stage of our trip is to walk up the Karakol Valley to the Sirota Camp where we will put up our tent for the first night. The taxi drives up the valley on a dirt road that I would consider only accessible with a 4WD. But not in Kyrgyzstan. Even a Lada goes up here. After we passed the entrance gate to the Karakol Valley National Park we get out of the car and start walking. We follow the river that comes down through the valley. It’s a pleasant shaded walk and the valley is beautiful. It’s much more an alpine scenery, very different from the Song-Kul area.
After about 3 hours walking we reach a field next to the river where some people have put up their tents. It’s a nice place to camp. We pause a little before we start the climb to our camp, which is another two hours away. We cross the wooden foot bridge and it immediately goes up, through the dense forest until we reach an open field. From there we can see the little pass we have to get over before we reach our destination for the day. We meet some other hikers and a girl with a mountain bike. It’s totally impossible to ride a bike on this path so I ask why she is carrying the bike all the way up here. “To go down at the other side of the pass”, she answers. She must be crazy.
The last hour of the climb is tough. The path goes up steep first and when we are at the top there’s a field of sharp boulders that we have to cross. Then we finally reach a small valley that is sheltered by mountain peaks from all sides. We are at 2800 meters now. The camp is in the forest next to a small wooden cabin. The place is ok, with a river running nearby. Carina had rather camped on the grass field in the beginning of the valley. I think she is right, that was a nicer spot indeed. As we start cooking we discover that the gas stove isn’t working anymore. It’s the gas canister that’s broken. We are lucky that we can borrow a stove from the girl-with-the-bike otherwise we had to make our noodle soup with cold water. The tent that we rented is also a bit damaged. My advise: don’t rent your stuff at Eco Trek.
The next day we get up early for the steep climb to the lake. We can see where we have to go from the camp. Hmm… quite challenging. We go up slowly and we pass some other hikers on the way up. After 3 hours we get to the top and suddenly I catch a glimpse of the turquoise waters of the lake. It’s amazingly beautiful. The lake is surrounded with black mountains, some of them still have rests of snow. The climb was heavy but this view is so rewarding.
We have lunch at the lake and Carina thinks it’s maybe better to camp here. She doubts whether she can handle another climb today. We are at 3500 meters now and the final pass is at 3900 meters. From there we have to go down into the Keldike Valley where we are supposed to camp for the second night. Or at least that’s the plan. I ask another guide (our guide only speaks a little English) about the difficulty of the climb to the pass. “It’s not so steep anymore, it’s more traversing than climbing”. This comforts Carina a little so we decide to move on.
From where we have lunch we can see a ridge where the path crosses. I measure the time as some other hikers go up there. It’s 20 minutes. So maybe it’s the “traversing” part from there? How wrong could I be. When we reach the point that we could see from below, we can see the real pass. In the distance. In the far distance. I guess it’s still at least another two hours to get there. And it’s maybe traversing, but it certainly is traversing UP. And pretty steep too at some points.
The views are gorgeous but it’s frustrating to see the pass in the distance and only getting there so slowly. As I walk up step by step I remember a phrase I read in my birth chart, a present I got from Carina for my birthday a couple of days ago. It said: “Just make sure you climb the right mountain!” Not literally of course but now that I am climbing a mountain I had to think of it. I also think of the fact that we can still travel for two full years. I really love this freedom. To be able to go out and see incredible places like this. I could do this forever. Somehow I should make it my job. Maybe that’s the mountain I have to climb.
I’m almost at the top now. Several other hikers are already there and they are supporting me on the last few meters. It’s windy. But, my god, how great does it feel to stand here at the top. All the physical effort was worth it. I support Carina on her last meters to the top. We did it! We are now on 3922 meters above sea level! Neither one of us has ever been on such height.
But now we still have to go down… And when I see the path going down at the other side of the pass my knees are getting shaky. It’s steep. Very steep. Like dangerously steep. Think of the steepest black slope you ever saw on winter sports. And then it’s steeper. I don’t think I would go down here on my snowboard. That steep. But we have to go down. And others were able to go down so it should be doable. The first part is scary. I have to lend with one hand to the mountain and go down step by step. If I slip away I go down the next 50 meters for sure. But I get through. And with some help of other hikers Carina gets through too. I heave a sigh of relief when we are both at the bottom.
Together with Tin Kei and Begaim, two other hikers that we met along the way, we set up our camp at 3600 meters. It’s a beautiful spot. There’s no sign of development or human presence as far as I can see. This is nature at its purest. As the sun goes down it gets chilly but the pasta we made tastes deliciously.
The next day we walk down the valley and it’s getting greener again. On the last night we camp at Altyn Arashan, a gorgeous valley with some guesthouses and hot springs. We buy some beers and relax in the hot baths. What a great trekking this was. One thing I know for sure: this was a right mountain to climb.
See the photo album for more pictures.