After settling into the Tent Hostel in Karakol (read more about hiking in this area in Kyrgyzstan) we planned a two-day hike through the Karakol valley up to Ala-Kol lake for the next days. Usually you can do this hike as a three-day hike continuing from the lake over a mountain pass to Arashan village (see here for some information about the three-day hike). But again, the early arrival of winter upset our plans – there would be too much snow and the weather too unstable to safely hike from the lake to Arashan village. So we decided to hike the first day through the Karakol valley up to a camping site (Sirota hut) in a small forest just at the timberline. The second day we would ascend to the Ala-Kol lake, descend again to the camping site and return all the way back through the Karakol valley.
We knew already that it would get freezing COLD in the mountains with temperatures at minus 10 degrees! So the days before the hike we spend a lot of time preparing for the coldest night in our life – googling about techniques to survive in freezing temperatures, symptoms of hypothermia, running from shop to shop buying warmer clothes and renting extra huge North Face fleece jackets. Once having accomplished these tasks there was no return and all settled for the hike.
Hiking through Karakol Valley
The next day the infamous (even in the Lonely Planet mentioned) driver Victor would bring us with his 200 years old Russian army jeep to the Karakol National Park, past the entrance and to a bridge which got damaged last summer and is now not accessible anymore by car. So our hike would start at the bridge following a 4WD road through the forests of Karakol valley for about 8km. We were not super lucky with the weather, it was rather cloudy and foggy with some rain drops in between. Still we enjoyed being “on the road” again and as we were (as always) super off-season, we didn’t meet many other hikers.
The only thing that happened during these first hiking hours was, that we somehow managed to loose David (or David lost us…). As Kevin’s knee was still bit destroyed, we walked a bit slower while David “ran” some 200-300m ahead of us. Because the original path now ended in a rather sketchy river crossing, there was a detour through the forest marked with arrows. However, David, lost in thought, just walked straight ignoring the stone arrow and waited for us at the river crossing! Obviously, we (walking through the forest) did not pass the river crossing, so David was waiting for quite some time. We only found out when we met a fellow hiker, asking us whether we would be waiting for another white guy called David who was waiting for us! In the end we sorted everything out and met David, who eventually continued walking, maybe half an hour later.
After the 8km walking through the Karakol valley on the 4WD road, we came to a small bridge leading to a deep forest and following a small path up the mountain. These last 4km steep up to the campsite were definitely the hardest of this first day, plus it started to snow and get colder. Nicole was actually pretty fine hiking up having found a steady rhythm but Kevin was still struggling. Once up, we got rewarded by nice mountain views (although still quite misty – we knew there’re HUGE mountains all around us but could only catch glimpses of them).
Camping at the Sirota Hut
The Sirota hut campsite is located inside the forest with lots of campfire sites and wooden benches and even has a wooden cabin. While it’s probably quite busy here in summer time (there is even a bar!), we were the only ones when arriving (although a small group of French and Belgians came late in the evening). However, it was quite sad that the campsite was filled with waste from the summer that no one has bothered to clean up.
After setting up our tents and putting on all our clothes, we managed to light up a campfire after struggling with the wet wood, an altitude of 3000m and burning a Russian book (hopefully not the bible…). And Nicole had the best idea to warm up our feet at the fire (and trying not to burn them).
At around 6:30pm we already went into our tents as it was getting colder. With three layers of clothes for our feet and legs, five layers for our upper body (with another three potential layers in petto), scarf and hat we crawled into our warm sleeping bags…only to find out later this was a bit exaggerated J. The night was of course cold, but our tent was very protected from the wind with all the trees at the campsite. So, as you might have guessed by now, we survived this night! And we know, we’re well equipped for even colder nights in the future :).
We woke up in a white winter wonderland! :) The whole forest being covered in snow it was fucking freezing cold the next morning to get up early, leave the tent and pack up everything. Especially Nicole’s hands and feet literally hate minus temperatures…
The climb up to Ala-Kul lake
Now we would face the steep ascend up to Ala-Kul lake! We knew already it would be a strenuous hike of only 2.5km but 600m up over a rocky slope. The snow definitely didn’t make the hike easier! With each step we had to ram our hiking boots deep into the rocks to get enough grip for the ascend. Step by step we climbed up, always watching the impressive mountain that was lying ahead of us. The weather changed every five minutes from sun (with breathtaking views) to snowstorm (letting us worrying whether it was a smart idea to continue the climb). But it was amazing to feel the power of the mountains being for sure much stronger than we are!
Particularly David was struggling a lot during the climb as his hiking boots turned out to be very shitty ones – soon his feet were soaked wet and he had almost no grip on the slippery rocks. Therefore, it took us a while to climb up but finally, after two and a half hours, we saw the lake and all the sweating and fighting was already forgotten. The view of the clear blue alpine lake nestled between these powerful mountains and all covered in snow was breathtaking and one of the nicest views in our life. The steep struggle up through the snowstorm was definitely worth it!
… and back to Tent Hostel
Descending down to the campsite was of course difficult, but actually not as bad and dangerous as expected – and David and Kevin decided to basically descend on their butts when it got too steep ;). Coming closer to our campsite and with the sun shining now, the snow started to melt. From there, the rest of the trail from the campsite all the way back was a pleasant hike and now we could actually see and enjoy the nice views we missed in the foggy weather the day before.
When we have followed the 4WD track to the crossroad with the detour through the forest (where we lost David yesterday), we were suddenly surprised by Viktor! He had arrived early, and, because he wanted to test the limits of his old Russian military jeep, he simply crossed the gushing river with his jeep (the bridge was of course still unusable for any vehicle)! On the way back, he even asked David to film his incredible feat while laughing and being happy all the time. After the quite adventurous ride, we arrived safely back in our second home, the tent hostel in Karakol, tired, but endlessly happy to have witnessed the probably most beautiful alpine lake in the world.
Kevin and Nicole, written in Karakol