So during a rally from London to Mongolia, Phil and myself split from the other two in our car, and headed to Kyrgyzstan by ourselves. We had an amazing time from the first time we entered Kyrgyzstan, with a couple of relaxing days in Osh, before driving up the Karakol highway over a couple of days to the capital Bishkek. Once here we consulted the Lonely Planet to get some accommodation. We managed to get a space on a hostel rooftop, where we could set up camp quite literally as there was no rooms, never mind beds left.
Whilst we had been in Osh we had been chatting to a couple of climbers and trekkers who had been talking about what they had been doing and what they had planned to do. We heard about the Ala Archa national park, and that there was a few treks that were at altitude, but without any technicalities. So once we were in Bishkek we searched out some specialist equipment, which ended up being a gas stove, a thermal mug, and that was about it! Oh yeah, and a map of sorts from the only map shop in town.
We set off to the park, and grabbed some food en-route, a couple of flat breads, pasta, stock cubes, and a couple of bottles of water. We also managed to pick up a hitch hiker as we entered the park, Etienne was his name and he was trekking to the same alpine base camp as we were, although he seemed somewhat prepared for this venture in comparison to us with our trainers and day packs! We parked up BOB (the car) and set off as a group of 3.
The route up to the base camp was easy enough to follow as routes to huts often are. There was some amazing scenery en-route, and some amazing views, we kept the right side of a valley and made our way up a clearly defined path. Eventually this path did steepen once past a waterfall, unfortunately this was also the home to a lot of scree and Phil’s trainers and mine were slipping a lot, but we carried on… I had a bit of morale from the fact that Phil’s trainers had even less grip than mine. We rounded the top of the scree and now had a view of the glacier ahead; there is something amazing being out and about in nature and this view helped me remember why I loved the mountains so much.
We followed a little stream and this eventually reached the alpine camp. This was a couple of huts, and collections of tents next to a lovely rock face with a waterfall streaming down it. We spoke to the guardian and booked ourselves in. We needed to do this as we only had a sleeping bag between us and some extra clothes if this was not enough, so a bivi was ruled out. We were also lucky to chat to a few Brits who were there, they pointed us in the right direction, and as a bit of a check before morning we walked further to where the path to Utchitel led off the main track. We took this opportunity to sit at the foot of the glacier and just take in the stunning views. Later I managed to get some pre cooked grub, so saved our amazing cooker a first outing. All had an early night.
I got up early ish, 6 or so, and gave Phil a nudge, was told to fuck off and that he had not slept through the cold all night and as such was no longer coming. To be fair I had a shit night too, but as Phil did not climb, I don’t think this bothered him too much!
I set out and met Etienne who was still getting ready. We set off and started the plod, I remember thinking that I needed to ensure that I took it steady, not only under foot, which quickly became scree… non-stop scree… But also to pace myself, I was not acclimatized and had come from 1000m to 3500 in a day and was about to add another 1000 to that, so it was all playing a little on my mind. Etienne and me walked most of the route together and got to know each other a little better. After this entire driving trip that we have been on, Etienne was one of the few people who I have kept in touch with and hopefully in the future will have another adventure!
The climb/trek was simple enough, lots of scree, so I kept loosing my footing, but apart from that it was a nice trek with some great views that developed with every step taken! At one point in the climb I noticed that Etienne was a little behind, but I kept on and waited at times when I was having a water break. I did feel tired and at times short of breath but nothing too strenuous. I eventually reached the ridge and turned right to walk on the scree side of the snowline. I continued this way to the summit! Once there I enjoyed a good 10 minutes of serenity and solitude having the summit to myself, after a look around me and a few photos, Etienne arrived and we sat and had some lunch. After a few more pictures we set off from the summit fro the return leg.
This was harder than the way up, as it often is, with the goal achieved all I wanted was to be down and rested. My trainers were sliding all over the scree and Etienne was nice enough to lend me one of his walking poles, which helped but did not fully cure my ice-skating style of decent! Although it had been a couple of hours getting down, once at the alpine camp we had some more food and me and Phil decided to get down into the valley rather than spend another night freezing in the hut. As Phil had done little that day I believe this was an easier decision for him!
I punished myself a little on the way down, I had no doubt that I was dehydrated and had sunstroke. I felt so tired, my legs were on a literal autopilot, and my mind was just concentrating on one thing, BOB and sitting down. This entire trip we had done so little physical activity, and I was severely unfit, but still I pushed on and eventually leveled out and found BOB. I am not even exaggerating when I say that I sat in the seat took off my clothes ate some biscuits and crisps, and fell asleep, I even forgot to roll the seat back.
That was me, until a very stiff morning! But what a great couple of days, I love the mountains, and I love being in nature, after a trip that had so far not really encapsulated me, this was by far the highlight and although I was stiff for the next week and as ever my knees and ankles hurt it was definitely worth it. Although I may never try to get to the top of a mountain in trainers again, the lack of preparation was absolutely stupid, I have time again seen and read stuff that I have commented on to be stupid and fool hardy, however after a year without any mountains, I was determined not to let this one slip from my grasp, so, I just took it, and I’m glad I did as it was amazing in every sense of the word!
I will be back to Kyrgyzstan, and hopefully to Ala Archa and other mountains in the Tien Shan, as this is a beautiful part of the world that I would like to spend much longer exploring!