Within thirty minutes, the blue sky had been taken over by ominous clouds. This being day 5 of our 7-day hike, it came as no surprise. This seemed to be the rhythm of the skies around noon. However, this time the God of Thunder suddenly roared:
“Get out of my way! I’m going to blast through the valley!”
On our very first hike, more than 15 years ago, in Pakistan, our then hiking companions Janneke and Jeroen taught us many things, one of them being: “When in the mountains, always choose safety.”
This morning we had hiked uphill a mere 700 meters and so, steep as the slope was, we descended rapidly back down to the Karakol Valley. Near the suspension bridge, where we had started our ascent, we set up the tent under the shelter of pine trees clad in rain gear while the drizzle grew into a rainstorm.
The God of Thunder repeated its warning, assisted by his companion, the God of Lightning.
The gods didn’t need much time to do whatever they felt was needed to do. Another hour later or so, silence reigned except for the thundering river next to which we stood. We stood outside and tried to read the sky. Did the rain let up? Nope, another session was in the making. We returned to the shelter of our tent and continued reading our books.
And then, just as suddenly, at 3pm the entire sky was as blue as it could be. Not a cloud to be seen. These mountains, south of Issyk-Kul Lake, in Kyrgyzstan, are totally unpredictable. That can be scary, fascinating, surprising, and adding to the adventure, or destroying it. Four seasons in a day are not uncommon.
We quickly packed up and climbed the slope once more, through the pine forest, across clearings, clambering over boulders, passing a popular yurt camp for hikers, and sought solitude below a waterfall. By then, the clouds were reigning again and we set up the tent in a hail storm.
As I said, unpredictable the weather is!
We woke to clear skies. No frost on the tent this time, the sun pleasantly warm. Lazy as we were, we took our time for breakfast and coffee (well, Nescafe) while enjoying a gorgeous setting of vertical rock walls with low vegetation, still green but showing signs of summer ending with the first leaves having turned yellow.
Another steep climb was ahead of us, a trail zigzagging up the slope and there it was: Ala-kul Lake. One of the most popular hiking destinations in Kyrgyzstan. And rightfully so. The view is magic, absolutely gorgeous: azure-blue water amidst the bare mountains sprinkled with snow.
We hid behind a rock to be protected from the wind and prepare a bowl of noodle soup. (Fellow hikers take note: stop peeing/taking a shit behind rocks that may serve as convenient places to sit to enjoy the view! Seriously, there’s plenty of space to do your thing. And while we’re at it: take your toilet paper with you. Thanks you!).
Another steep climb lay ahead of us, and even a much steeper descent after the pass. This is not a hike for those who suffer from vertigo. And yes, you do need to be in shape to hike here. The 4000-meter-high passes are rewarding to hike, not easy.
All the more rewarding was our final night at Ak-su guesthouse Altyn Arashan, a hamlet consisting only of a handful of accommodations. We exchanged travel stories with fellow hikers and rested our tired muscles in one of the many hot springs under a cave with a view of the river and the forest-clad slope on the other side of the water.
Hiking in Kyrgyzstan
There are plenty of hikes in Kyrgyzstan to chose from. Last year we enjoyed another multiple-day hike, in the Alay Valley in southern Kyrgyzstan. There are plenty of hiking destinations around Osh, Bishkek and Issyk-Kul Lake.
Journal of Nomads is a great resource with detailed descriptions of a number of hikes in the country. Find them here.
Ready for a Long-Distance Hike? Here are some ideas:
- Books on Long-distance Hiking
- Long-Distance Hiking Gear List 4.0
- Hiking in South Korea – 465 Miles on Foot Across the Baekdu-Daegan
- Hiking the Israel National Trail
- The Jordan Trail Hike
- Hiking the Pieterpad, Netherlands
- Hiking in Turkey – The Carian Trail Thru-hike
- End of the Lycian-Way Hike, with a Broken Hand
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