Kyrgyzstan Climbing Festival: Alpinada in Ala-Archa
The outdoors community in Kyrgyzstan can be counted on for nothing if not an embracing sense of community and a dash of craziness. With that in mind, I set off from Bishkek on the afternoon of April 30th to join over 150 other hikers on a May 1st climb of the 4200m ‘Young Communists Peak’ at Ala-Archa.
Like so many of my hiking experiences around Bishkek, the trip started at the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan. Boarding a bus of almost 50 aspiring mountaineers, we set up camp at the foot of the Ala-Archa alplager base camp then hiking up for one ceremony at the climbers’ cemetery on the slopes above and back down for another at the alplager to declare the 2014 Alpinada festival officially open.
The Trekking Union crew got off to a 5am start, though we were definitely among the very first on the trail. This seems to have been for the best, though, as my strong start quickly succumbed to a raw heel from the day before and I was passed… and passed… and passed.
(I’ll spare you the heel photos, but always remember to make good sock choices!)
Though frustrating, this slower-than-normal speed gave me the opportunity to pay more attention my fellow hikers on the countless ‘photo stops’ I found myself taking.
There seemed to be no real description to cover all who attended. There were young boys and old ladies and Kyrgyz and Frenchmen and at least one other American. In a way this really does continue the International Alpinada festival tradition first marked in Kyrgyzstan in 1967. Though that original celebration was at significantly higher Peak Lenin (7,134m/ 23,406ft), the ongoing version is at the significantly more daytrip friendly Pik Komsomolets (4,204m/ 13,792ft). This is no slouch, still, as the day sees an ascent over over 2,100m / 6,890ft from the base camp below!
The craziest thing to be seen was, without a doubt, the three guys who pushed and pulled and shoved a mountain bike all the way up to the peak so that one of them could ride it back down. Just after that second shot, he pulled a hard right down a nearly vertical slope. If only I’d been expecting it, I would have positioned myself a little more carefully for the shot!
It should tell you something about my pace for the day that ‘bike guys’ were my benchmark. “As long as I make it up before them,” I told myself, “I’ll be happy!”
I did beat them to the Peak by about an hour, but of course that offers fairly little to be proud of!
Even without being in top form, the experience at the end is that same. That one last killer uphill, cursing the snow and the mountain and the day, the final push, and the big goofy smile at the peak.
It is, as they say, all downhill from there.
Joining in on the Alpinada independently is pretty easy – just show up and start walking! Minibus 265 leaves from the intersection of Toktogul and Beyshenaliev (near Osh Bazaar) in Bishkek and stops at the village of Kashka-Suu a few kilometers from the park entrance. From here you’ll need to hitch/hire about 14km to the Alplager. Alternatively, you should be able to hire a taxi directly from Bishkek starting from 1000 Som.
If you don’t want to fool with transport, the TUK organizes a trip each year that departs on the afternoon of April 30th and returns the night of May 1st. The price for 2014 was 350 for non-members – this included transportation, park entrance (normally 80 som), plus stove/gas/boiled water in camp. Of course, the bonhomie is free!
In Bishkek, the Hostel Inn is probably the closest accommodation to the TUK office. Check them out – they’re also one of the cheapest city center options I know of. At Ala-Archa itself there is an overpriced hotel or an underwhelming guesthouse. Your best bet, of course, is to take a tent.
P.S. – In Bishkek as a traveler? Check out my Bishkek Travel Guide for thoughts on what to do while you’re in town!