I re entered Kyrgyzstan and headed straight to Karakol, bought supplies of dried fruit, nuts, chocolate and tinned fish and took the marshrutkha once again to Ak-Suu. And began immediately the hike to Altyn Arashan.
What had taken 5 hours back in April, I managed in just 3 hours this time. It was early July. Hot Alpine sun, I was out of shape, way too much of the good life in recent weeks and arrived at Altyn Arashan wiped out. Not a very good sign for an up and coming 10 hour round trip hike up to a 3900m pass.
Ala-Kul Guest House is a great place to stay. English speaking family with great food. 600som inc breakfast. Lunch is 200som and dinner 300som. When coming up from Karakol it's the first one on the right hand side.
Beautiful Summer Pasture. An active rest day.
The first day I rested. Active recovery they call it, I walked up the valley a ways, then I walked the way I would be going a few days later, which is known as a recce.. reconnaissance mission.. in army slang... when the thunder boomed I turned tail. Daily soaks in the hot springs. Day 3, up another valley to the left. Day 4 another active recovery day and on Day 5 I was ready to go. I hydrated well, ate a huge breakfast and at 7am I was on the trail.
First the bridge river crossing, then 3 small streams where I stopped to put my Crocs on. The water was freezing, mid calf deep, I simply did not want wet shoes so early in the day; there was a long way to go and the socks I had were crap. I reached the small nomad camp where the path turned right. Up wards, always up, never flat. Huffing and puffing cursing myself for all those beers. I got to the point I had reached 2 days before, in just under 2 hours. How the hell had it taken 4 hours before? The path was confusing. I scanned the way ahead and spotted hikers a ways up to my right. I slogged up the slope to join a better path. Then the going was easier despite the height gain and I could see the way ahead. A wall of mountains. Where the hell was the crossing point?. Some more hikers coming down, I asked where the path was.
The Wall. Spot the other hikers ?
The way up is the scree slope and then you have to cross the snow at the narrowest point.
Well there was basically one option going up. A super steep 40% slope of small stones and a 5 meter scramble thru waist deep snow. Coming down was either the same path or some demon descending down a snow slope of equal gradient. I spotted hikers toiling up the hill. Even though they were way ahead, I saw they were stopping regularly. A group of 3 with one out front and another group of 4 further back.
I didn't get the nick name of Little Mountain Goat for nothing and I made a deal with myself that I would catch them before the top. I hit the bottom of the steep bit. OMG. the path veered up like the proverbial, but the hikers hadn't made much progress. They had made a prolonged stop at the base of the climb and were struggling. I may have been what I call out of shape but I could and would keep going. My pulse rate was thru the roof. Lungs screamed for more air,
I was nearing 3700m. I caught the 4 guys. Enormous ruck sacks with everything they would not be needing in the next days, I cruised past them leaving them for dead. The group of 3 had dwindled to 2. the one out in front had reached the pass. I reached his 2 friends and left them grovelling in the dust. I don't do cities or night clubs, I do mountains. I searched for a better stretch to climb up. It was useless. The whole hill side, just a mess of very loose stones. My back pained me, my lungs screamed. Memories of Gunung Rinjani came back. 'just keep going, no matter how slow or desperate the forward progress but just don't stop'.
I hit the snow. A massive effort to lift my right leg in to the snow. I sunk to my waist. Holy shit. I some how struggled free, and was thru the cornice. I caught my breathe. The other 2 arrived and some time later the other 4. A glass of vodka was offered and we toasted the mountains. @ 3860m, high in the Tian-Shan mountains looking down on to Ala-Kul lake 300m below me. 2 weeks ago it had still been frozen.
This is what I had come to see, Ala-Kul Lake!
July 8, 2015 - Day 583. Despite my earlier doubts as to whether my body was up to making a possible 10 hour round trip, I returned this evening jubilant. The Mountain Goat is back in business!!