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Name Ruby Mitchell
Age 32
Country United States

Trekking to Ala Kol

Joni and Veronika, friends from Germany, dropped by for a substantial 3-week visit this summer. They know how to vacation right! After a few days in Bishkek, they headed to Karakol, where I caught up with them and our trekking adventures began.

Trekking in the mountains is one of the major draws that landed me in Kyrgyzstan in the first place, but in the past two years I had only been to Ala Archa, Skazka Canyon, and the Chong Kemin valley. In the past two weeks, I finally got to break my boots back in and bust out the backpacks!

In Karakol I stayed at the Snow Leopard Hostel (unrelated to White Leopard Travel), which had only opened a few days before. The owners are a young, dynamic couple that immediately made me feel at home and welcome in their new place. I met up with Joni and Veronika, and we managed to secure spots for a sunset boat cruise on Lake Issykul, complete with the 4x4 van ride, techno DJ/driver, and bottles of Arpa as we gratefully surveyed the pink-soaked peaks.

I include mention of the sunset cruise for it introduced us to Saher, an intrepid Bulgarian woman who became the 4th of our exploration party to Ala Kol the next morning.

The hike begins shortly outside of Karakol, following a road that meanders alongside the Karakol River for approximately 16 km. The 101 mashrutka goes to the gate, or a taxi will take you for 150-200 KGS. The entrance fee is 250 KGS, and, if you have an incredibly sturdy 4x4 vehicle it is possible to drive all the way up this road to a yurt camp.

We did not have the said 4x4 vehicle, however, so passed about 4 and 1/2 hours pleasantly by foot, climbing around 600 meters and soaking in sunshine along the way. At the yurt camp there is a bridge across the river, and from here the hard part of the day began. We climbed another 400 meters in 2 km, as clouds rolled over, winds picked up, and rain began to fall. Sirota Yurt camp was a welcome sight around 17:00, and we were soon digging out dry clothes and sipping at hot laghman. 

The next day was the "height" of all our anticipation: Ala Kol Lake, Ala Kol Pass, and Altyn Arashan valley. It was quite the breathtaking day, in all meanings of that word. Ala Kol Lake sits at 3560 meters, and the pass is at 3900. The lake was still quite frozen over, but the edges hinted at the majestic color that would emerge a little later in the season. We enjoyed a mid-morning snack break at the water's edge, but could see the small blobs of color the represented other hikers making their way up to the scree covered pass. We still had some climbing to do.

Every step towards the 3900 meter pass began a deep breathing exercise, and it took all of my mental power to move forward, imagining the incredible satisfaction of being at the top of the pass, looking down on the next green valley, and knowing that it was all downhill from there.

Upon reaching the pass, my hopes were met with a wall of snow and essentially a bobsled chute that hikers were cautiously climbing down, one by one. I braced myself for ice and cold as I waited my turn to go down, while at the same time thunder began to rumble and snowflakes began to hit our faces. When my turn came, I pulled on my gardening gloves, grabbed a couple of rocks as "ice picks", and threw myself over the edge. It was actually quite fun, though my hands were pathetically frozen relatively quickly. As soon as the slope lessened in its steepness I turned around and followed Joni's example of a haphazard slide/run the rest of the way. Once at the bottom we high-tailed it to some barely visible yurts about 1 km away, where mugs of hot tea were worth MUCH more to me than the 100 com that we paid for them.

After warming up, we decided to push onwards toward Altyn Arashan. It took 4 hours at a brisk pace, but the weather improved, the valleys greened, and we stripped off layers as rapidly as we descended. Rock marmots occasionally could be seen sunning themselves before noting our arrival, and wildflowers were abundant. Even a few patches of Edelweiss were growing alongside the trail! At 6:00 we arrived at Altyn Arashan and chose to bunk down at the Nomad's Life yurt camp (recommended to us by the yurt owner in the mountains). We had arrived just in time for dinner, another feast of laghman, and then spent some time soaking in the hot springs, reflecting on everything that had comprised of that day's experience.

The next day was a long gradual descent along the Arashan river, walking on the road for approximately 4 hours before reaching the bus stop at the village of Ak Suu. It was a gorgeous valley with plenty of points to stop and enjoy the views and the roar of the river. My feet and knees were quite exhausted, however, by the time we reached the bus stop, and I was looking forward to a hot shower and cold lemonade. The 350 mashrutka (30 KGS) arrived in about half an hour, and we were back at the hostel in another 20 minutes. Home sweet home with more hiking on the horizon!

Name Ruby Mitchell
Age 32
Country United States

I braced myself for ice and cold as I waited my turn to go down, while at the same time thunder began to rumble and snowflakes began to hit our faces. When my turn came, I pulled on my gardening gloves, grabbed a couple of rocks as "ice picks", and threw myself over the edge.

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