The Triumphant Return and Subsequent Retreat From Ala-Archa

Posted by on July 10, 2013

I’ve been to Ala-Archa once before, of course, but it absolutely did not look like this.

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Ala-Archa Snowy Pano.

If my first journey to Ala-Archa National Park was characterized by herds of horses and Couchsurfers, this second trip was all about the snowfall and convivial Kyrgyz co-campers.

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Group shot!

Walking into the trail towards Ala-Archa Upper Ski Base, a relic of Soviet holiday-making in this still-frozen former-Soviet, my path crossed ways with only one or two other hikers.

Entrance to Ala-Archa

Entering Ala-Archa.

Though I spied some other walkers up ahead, I ended up never finding where they went and thought I’d have my meterological-station campsite boringly to myself for the night.

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Hiker-spotting on the walk in.

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Rest stop before setting up camp.

Splendidly I was wrong, and when I awoke from a Tolstoy-induced nap I found to my delight seven gregarious Kyrgyz setting up camp just across a small clearing from my own.

King of Campsites

King of Campsites.


While trekking is amongst my favorite pastimes, solo-camping is at its very heart quite boring. How fortunate, then, to have randoms to spend two a day hiking through snowy mountains and the nights huddled around a warm campfire and big bowls of hearty stew.

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Morning light.

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And, morning portrait.

These guys were up with the sun, and after a quick breakfast (which, like every other meal while we shared a campsite, they insisted I join them for instead of eating the pre-packaged backapacker food I’d had leftover from Greece) it was off and into the snow.

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Time to hit the trail.

Solo Climb

Exploring uphill for a better way.

And I do mean into the snow. If I’d been solo I probably wouldn’t have tramped as far as I did, but with such good company (and who seemed so comfortable in the elements here)  it seemed a shame not to press on.

Too Cold by Far

Too Cold by Far.

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The path that must be followed.

Sitting in the Sky

A pause for sitting in the sky.

Route Review

Reviewing the route.

Soviet Ski-Base

Soviet era Ski-Base.

After hiking all day over snow-covered trails and up frosted ridges, we walked back to that Soviet-era ski lodge for a quick tea and chocolate-heavy lunch break.

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Resting in the deserted ski base.

Uphill Both Ways in the Snow

Uphill Both Ways in the Snow.

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On the road towards home.

As the light began to wane, though, it was soon time to head back down the trail towards Base Camp for another night hiddled around a small fare drinking tea and vodka (though not at the same time, of course).

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Parting is such sorry.

It was with a certain tinge of sadness that I waved goodbye to these guys as they took off the next morning, but I lay back in the sun to read and promptly feel into another Russian-Lit nap.

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Too much snow for me.

When I awoke the world was once again covered in snow, which is generally my signal to leave as well. Those miles to the edge of the snowfall were quiet and reflective, not least of which wondering how I was lucky enough to come across such good company in such a remote campsite.

Shortly after making that video I made it back to less scary precipitation and set up camp, but even by the next morning the weather never cleared.

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Campsite on a drippy morning.

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Clouds roll in as I roll out.

And so it was once again back to Bishkek, to try to be useful and maybe even find a job? But, uh… more on that soon.


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2 Responses to The Triumphant Return and Subsequent Retreat From Ala-Archa

  1. steven

    Still not sure if I will be here next week or should stretch myself to get to Sary-Chelek, but your pictures do make it attractive to head back.

    • Stephen

      I’ve heard great things about Sary-Chelek too, but Ala-Archa is just so accessible from Bishkek that I keep heading back. My current darling, though, is the Issyk-Ata Canyon. I’ve already camped out there twice recently and have plans for one or two more outings once I get back to Kyrgyzstan in October.

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