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