Mountain hiking in Kyrgyzstan – looking for Snow Leopards in Ala-Archa

Day 89, 22nd of September 2017, 23°C, clear sky and no wind. At 7 am I was already taking a taxi to Osh Bazaar, from where I took the mashrutka (local minibus) number 265 to Kashka-Suu, the closest village to Ala-Archa National Park, just 40 Km south of Bishkek.

It wasn’t easy to catch that mashrutka, though: first, the stop was not the big one in front of Osh Bazaar main entrance, but the one one block south on the Beyshenaliev Street; second, when it finally came it barely stopped, the time it took me to pickup my backpack it was already accelerating down the street and even though I ran and yelled like crazy didn’t manage to catch it… You won’t believe it but I also missed the next one, hence had to run again, this time even faster, and just caught it because the traffic light at the end of the street turned red.

For an extra 100 som (1,5€) the mashrutka driver droped me at the Park gate, saving me 5 Km. The entrance to the National Reserve cost 80 som (1€). From there to the trailhead it was another 10 Km, so I accepted to share a ride with two friendly Israelis in their fifties that were doing the silk road in three weeks…yes, three weeks!

At 10 am I finally began the climbing to the Ak-Sai Glacier. The trail started steep right from the beginning, not allowing time for my muscles to warm-up. Initially thru the middle of a pine tree forest, going up the valley, passing by the plateau and the waterfall,that was almost dried and where it becomes really steep. It took me 4h30 to do the 6 Km to the Ratsek Hut, from there one can do three treks: 1) Ushityel Peak, 2) Tomskiye stoyanki and 3) the Ak-Sai Glacier trail.

Ak-Sai Valley
Mountain goats supervising my climb

As it was still early I decided to try the last one. The trail was very very steep and the terrain really hard (sliding loose stones). I was about to give up when three guys that had been practicing on the glacier crossed paths with me and assured me that it was possible to do the trail all the way up to a mini flat surface where I could camp. The first view of the glacier made me cry… At 6 pm an exhausted me arrived at the most impressive camping spot I’ve seen so far, set the tent and jumped inside the sleeping bag because the temperature was already freezing. Nonetheless, I endured having dinner with the door open in order to contemplate the breathtaking scenery for as long as possible.

Ak-Sai Glacier
First night camping spot

Day 90, 23rd of September 2017, 0°C, clear sky and no wind. The night was freezing as expected. Woke up very early but stayed in bed waiting for the sun to warm me up. At 10 am, after having a nice muesli for breakfast, started the descent to the Ratsek Hut. On the way I went on the glacier to fill my bottle with the most fresh water you can imagine. Around midday arrived at the Hut, left my backpack and started the climbing to Uchityel Peak at the same time that it started to snow. Soon the valley was covered by dense fog and the snow was falling heavier. It took me 4h to overcome the steep slopes of rocky terrain to reach the summit. It was only 2.2 Km but with an elevation gain of 1200m (from 3300m to 4500m). For a while I was afraid I wouldn’t make it, the weather was getting worse and I didn’t want to be out there after dark, thus decided that no matter what at 4 pm I would return down… Reached the peak at 3h55 pm! Took some pictures (only fog and snowfall) and initiated the descent right away. Two hours later I was setting up the tent, not by the Ratsek Hut because there you have to pay 200 som (3€), but 500m higher. It was still snowing… Had dinner, another can of tiny fish (no idea what kind) in tomato sauce with bread and a chocolate for dessert. My body was cold, wet and exhausted, but my mind was in peace, fulfilled by Nature’s love!

On the way to Uchityel Peak

Day 91, 24th of September 2017, 5°C, clear sky and no wind. Barely slept due to the glacial cold. Only at 10 am after the sun had melted the ice that covered my tent I was able to pack and move. It was my last day in that breathtaking place and the plan was to go all the way back down to Kashka-Suu village, where I would took the mashrutka number 265 to Bishkek.

At 1 pm arrived at Alplagel, where the trail started, had lunch and started walking the 15 Km that separated me from Kashka-Suu. After half an hour a nice guy driving an off duty mashrutka gave me a ride directly to Bishkek for free; the blisters on my feet are still thanking him!

Returning to Bishkek

Once again it was an amazing weekend in the amazing mountains of an amazing country. And it was my last day in Kyrgyzstan.  I’ll be back for sure, Lenin Peak and World Nomad Games await!

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