Passing through alpine forest, steep rocky inclines and enjoying the snowy peaks, waterfalls and turquoise Ala-Kul Lake, you will find trekking the Ala-Kul Pass in Kyrgyzstan an exhilarating experience.
GUIDE FOR TREKKING ALA-KUL PASS
DAY 1 – TREK TO ALA-KUL LAKE
- Altitude: Karakol 1,760m / Ala-Kul Lake 3,600m
- Distance: 13km
- Time trekked: 5.5 hours
Starting the Ala-Kol hike
We set off from our guest house in Karakol in a Kamaz 6×6 Expedition Truck which was a rough ride along the track. We walked 2 hours to the signs where Ala-Kul Lake is labelled as 8km in distance with a nearly vertical wiggly line which makes you think this hike is going to pack a punch on the legs.
The path was pretty easy to follow up the Kurgak-Tor gorge. Whilst it was fairly steep, it was a joy weaving through the bushes, looking at the alpine wild flowers and generally socking up Mother Nature.
Siroto hut to Ala-Kol Lake
As we passed the Siroto hut, we noticed a sign painted on the rock announcing ‘Bar 150m’ with an arrow. That should surely give you some energy to keep going! As we hiked along the gushing river we came to the said bar which was a selection of vodka, beers and soft drinks resting on a wooden stand by some yurts. We were not resting our heads there for the night but we stopped to nibble on our packed lunches and carried on.
We reached a plateau by the beautiful waterfall streaming down over the rocks from the Ala-Kol Lake. We took a moment to enjoy the view and look back over Karakol Valley behind us, feeling quite victorious at how high we had come in one day… and yes, maybe a little exhausted, it sure was a steep climb. Then we looked up to discover the might ascend still to come. One final push up the rocky mountainside, a final scramble over some big rocks to discover the reward of Ala-Kol Lake. Wow, those waters are just pure turquoise, a real jewel in the mountains!
Sunset by Ala-Kol Lake
As the sunset, the temperature dropped. Time to shove on the woolly hats and add some cosy layers. The sun gifted us with a tremendous soft glow across the layers of mountains, the perfect way to say good night to nature. I sure was looking forward to a good kip, a shame the tents were pitched on a slope so I slipped down to the bottom of the tent in a heap with a boulder strategically placed in my back. Needless to say, that wasn’t the most fulfilling shut-eye I’ve ever had but I guess that’s the joys of camping!
DAY 2 – TREK TO ALTYN ARASHAN VIA THE ALA-KUL PASS
- Altitude: Ala-Kul Pass 3,860m / Altyn Arashan 2,400m
- Distance: 22km
- Time trekked: 8 hours
Crossing the Ala-Kul Pass
Waking up as tired as the moment I got in my sleeping bag, the only thing for it was a sweet coffee to get my eyes open. Until the sun made it over the peaks, there was still a chill in the air.
We set off around 9.30am along the side of Ala-Kul Lake. The grey boulders and scree contrasted sharply with the vivid turquoise waters, the colours changed as the clouds danced across the skies.
Whilst it took us 3 hours to ascend 460m to the summit the Ala-Kul Pass at 3,860m altitude, we did take a number of stops along the way to enjoy the views and take photos, it’s hard not to take in those breath-taking landscapes.
As with everything, what goes up must come down! We headed down the other side of the Ala-Kul Pass towards Keldike Valley. This reminded me of the scree descent from Kilimanjaro but less exhausted. Some of the guides went down at some crazy speed and some were helping the group stay upright, it sure was a slippy one! We sat and refueled with lunch whilst basking in the sunshine.
Trekking through Keldike and Ekichat Valley
This final hike of the day just seemed never-ending and whilst the lush, green terrain was getting easier, we were exhausted. Horses and cattle are dotted around Keldike Valley grazing, we crossed a big river and headed down to Ekichat valley by crossing small rivers over logs.
Hot springs at Altyn-Arashan
Arriving at Altyn Arashan, I was desperate to get my trekking boots off and enjoy the last of the warm sun rays. Altyn Arashan translates to ‘Golden Spa’ and is a stunning resort with Takyr-Tor hot springs. As I scrambled out of my tent in my bikini ready to experience the nitric thermals springs on the right side of the Arashan River, I looked up at the beautiful snowy peak of Palatka with a majestic height of 5020m.
We booked a one hour slot in the spa before dinner. Firstly, we relaxed in the sulfurous water in the private wooden hut, it is believed to cure aching joints, skin ailments and indigestion. Next it was time to jump in the ice cold Arashan River. I can understand why this is not recommended for people with cardiovascular diseases, the shock of the temperature totally took your breath away.
DAY 3 – LEAVING ALTYN ARASHAN
- Altitude: Altyn Arashan 2,400m / Karakol 1,760m
- Distance: 16km
- Time trekked: 3.5 hours
Back to Karakol
With the hypnotic sounds of the Arashan River, the horses and the pitter patter of rain against the tent, I slept like a baby… or maybe just jaded from the tent experience the previous night!
We followed the meandering Arashan River passing yurts through steep mountain gorges full of Asian spruce trees. We had a puppy that followed us the whole way, she had way more energy than us. Our bus met us once we started on the path to take us back to Karakol.
TIPS ON TREKKING ALA-KUL PASS & ALTYN ARASHAN
What to bring
Sleeping bag, good trekking shoes (waterproof are best for the river crossings), waterproof jacket, sunglasses, suncream, sunhat, warm hat and jacket for the cold nights.
Best time to hike in Kyrgyzstan
We were super lucky with the weather when trekking Ala-Kul pass, July brought us sunshine in the day but a real chill at night. Now the weather can be unpredictable but general speaking, June to September is the best time to go hiking in Kyrgyzstan.
Tour guides for hiking
We did the trek as part of a group with Trekkup from Dubai which including permits, tents, food, and transport.
If you download Maps.me and are a confident hiker, this trip can be done without a guide. Just be careful of the weather and ensure you have all the right gear. If you want a local guide, it is reportedly cheaper if you do this from the ground rather than booking online. Visit Destination Karakol for more information.
Alternative treks in Issyk-Kol region
For a longer hike in the region that still takes in the beautiful Ala-Kul Pass, try a 7 day Ak-Suu Transerve Trek starting from Jyrgalan and ending in Altyn Arashan.
Insurance for Kyrgyzstan
Always make travel insurance a priority for any adventure! World Nomads is my go-to guy, I’ve learned this from experience. You can buy and claim online even when you’ve left home. I love that they give a little back too and support community development projects in various countries.
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