The main tourist highway up to Ala Kul and down to Altyn Arashan can leave you feeling similar to cattle being prodded along. If you want to make your trip to Ala Kul a little more spicy, then this 3-4 night extension could be just what you’ve been hunting for.
It is a bit of a stinger with 2 major passes over 3800 m, a couple of river crossings and an extra 65 kilometers in total, but you have several options to shorten (or lengthen) the trek.
The main draw of this trail is seeing a touch more culture along the trail. Yurt camps can be found all over the area, but this trip allows you to meet some local people who aren’t constantly bombarded with tourists.
Shortcuts and extensions
Jeti Oguz is situated right in the middle of Kyzyl Suu and Karakol, near the main road and in between the 2 passes. If doing both passes sounds too ambitious there is an option to skip on the first/last day.
If you want more, the trail to Peak Karakol can be accessed midway through the trip.
Kyzyl Suu -> Ala Kul or Ala Kul -> Kyzyl Suu?
Here we’ll be going from Kyzyl Suu to the Ala Kul trail, but the trip can be done either way. It is not easier or more difficult one way or the other, and both end points (Kyzyl Suu and Altyn Arashan) have hot springs where you can relax your body, although we have not found free hot springs in Kyzyl Suu yet.
Maps and trail markings
The route we follow is marked both on the old maps issued by the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan as well as the new maps from USAID.
There are few trail markings, but following the map with the occasional double-checking with shepherds along the way should be enough for the majority of hikers to not get lost.
Day 1: Kyzyl-Suu to Jyluu-Suu (2o km)
Should you be in Karakol, head to the Western bus station and grab a marshrutka to Kyzyl Suu (20 minutes). Now if you’re feeling loose and ready to start walking, then hit the road, which starts on the southern end of town and heads into the broad Chong-Kyzyl-Suu valley.
It’s a rather flat (400 m ascent) 20 kilometers from here to the Jyluu-Suu hotel & hot springs along a country trail, full of life and the daily grind of rural folks. You are not in the mountains yet, so if you would like to skip this part, grab a taxi to the hotel & hot springs.
About 10 kilometers down the road, yurt camps start popping up if you are hiking in season. These folks will gladly stop their day for some tea and a chat. Once you’ve completed the 20 km by whatever means possible, you’ve got a hot meal, hotel and a paid spring in Jyluu-Suu waiting for you. That is of course, if you are with your grandmother. For the rest of us there is some dirt to sleep on.
Day 2: Jyluu-Suu to Archa-Tor Pass (15 km)
The next day starts from the bridge by the hotel, beyond which lies a gentle incline and a couple of extremely shallow river crossings. After 4 kilometers, take a right to pass over a wooden bridge and find yourself at a small weather station. Apparently, you can stay overnight with the scientists – more info welcome!
Past the weather station, make your way to a cable car over the river and give a holler. A pile of kids will start running from the yurt camp on the other side to the cable car. Why are they so eager to take you across? Well it turns out they’ll extort a good stack of som out of you once you’ve made it over. No need to be cheap, it’s well worth it.
The alternative to all this is to take a left before the bridge and miss all the fun. Not recommended at all.
You have now left the Chong-Kyzyl-Suu gorge (which continues past the weather station for those seeking solitude) and entered the Kashka-Tor gorge. Follow it for 3 km and then take a left. As the Archa-Tor Pass (3890 m) comes into sight, things start to get real. The incline picks up and before you know it a good sweat will start. This is the story for the next 6 kilometers until the top, and as you proceed the trail will get ever steeper.
Depending on the weather and your stamina, you can camp either 1 km before Archa-Tor at 3500 m, or 2 km past the pass at 3400 m.
Archa-Tor pass could be a little sketchy if you are up there with some tumultuous weather, for visibility and wind reasons. If you are inexperienced, make sure the skies are clear.
Day 3: Archa-Tor Pass to Telety Pass (18 km)
It’s a straightforward day if you already crossed the pass. If not, get ready for a long day. Once past Archa-Tor, follow the valley until you come to a steep drop.
As far as we could tell, there is no easy way to navigate this steep drop, but a good option is to follow the creek. Once you make it to the bottom you’re now in the Asantukum gorge and wow, you have some gorgeous peaks to stare at.
We came across a yurt camp just before the Chatyr-Tor gorge. They were happy to sell us bread and butter, and they offered us a horseback ride across the river. We were there early July and the river was pretty high. Enough to get us soaked up to our chests, so the ride across is probably worth it.
We took a while to do the next 6 km as invitations to kymys were frequent from the families in the yurts here.
At the confluence of the Jeti-Oguz and Telety rivers there is a nice solid bridge to take you across. Continue south towards the 7 bulls and the village of Jeti Oguz if you would like to end here. It’s 5 km to the site of a yurt camp where it should be possible for you to stay, and another 6 km to the Jeti-Oguz resort.
This also makes a good entry point. Taxis ply the route until the yurt camp.
If you decide to continue, follow the switchbacks past the bridge up to the clouds. It’s 7 km from here to the bottom of the climb to the Telety pass. A great place to camp but the pernicious slope you have to climb the next day will be staring you down all night.
Day 4, Telety Pass to Ala Kul circuit
The Telety Pass (3800 m) is a substantial climb – roughly 4 km with 800 m of vertical climb. An idea could be to camp on one of the plateaus at the start of the climb the night before to make this day a little easier.
Once at the top, it’s 14 km downhill. A lovely valley to take your time with and enjoy the peaceful nature of your surrounding before you reach the crowded Ala Kul circuit.
2 routes connect to Ala Kul: the main route along the Karakol river, and the direct route over Panorama Pass. A real beast of a climb with roughly 1 km of vertical climb, but the views are well worth it.
Big thanks to Devon Jones for this trek report.