This past weekend I went hiking in the Tian Shan mountains just a short drive outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
I came across this hiking opportunity through the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan which has an office in Bishkek and runs weekend hikes every Saturday and Sunday during the summer months into the nearby mountains for very good rates. They also offer several longer over night hikes throughout the summer with gear rental, and they list this information with dates on their website. I am not sure of their winter activities. My guess is limited, but I know that during the summer they usually have two options each Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes this includes rafting and other activities besides hiking. Vans meet in the morning outside their office, and they’ll take you to the mountains for the hike and bring you back at the end of the day. Its best to book ahead by visiting the office or calling them.
I signed up for the Saturday morning trip to Ala Archa and we left at 8:00 am. We climbed a little bit in elevation up to the park which was perhaps a 30 minute drive from downtown Bishkek. At the base, our “guide” really just pointed to the direction we had to go and said be back at six. The trail up was pretty straightforward so it wasn’t really an issue from there. It took about 4 hours to summit passing through trees, then following a grassy ridge along the mountain river until we walked into a large cloud. I walked through the clouded area for a good 1.5-2 hours on mostly rocky terrain until reaching the top hut which was still in clouds at my arrival. The top is not technically the top as you can continue to go much further up into mountains, but it would have to be a technical climb beyond the hut. Many people bring tents and camp at the top for the night.
At the top, I found myself woefully unprepared for the weather because it was snowing! Snowing in August! I fortunately had a jacket, but I wished I had gloves and pants. I caught a few glimpses of the mountains through the clouds, but they were too thick to get a good view of where I was. I was waiting for the clouds to hopefully clear at the top of a ridge in the blistering cold for a good 15 to 20 minutes, and just when I was about to give up, the clouds cleared into a remarkable view of steep rock faced cliffs covered in snow and a massive glacier running down between two mountains. It was spectacular and completely worth the trip up.
The way down wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I got to try some of the mountain water! I felt a little sick a few hours after drinking it, but I wasn’t sure if it was relaxed to the hike and altitude changes or the water. Since, I have water in Bishkek, I decided to not drink anymore stream water just in case.
In summation, great weekend getaway and I hope to hike again with TUK soon!