From the town of Karakol – near the lake of Issyk-Kol – in Eastern Kyrgyzstan, I hired a local guide. With Chinggis and horses we set out into the nearby mountains, passing glaciers and winding into valleys to get to the hidden, high-attitude Ala Kol Lake.
For an amateur rider like me (only on a horse some years ago in Colombia & Mongolia) these 4 days were to prove the most challenging ride yet.
The terrain was steep. Very Steep. Sometimes the trail was lost in scree.
My horse, a large and tall 7-year-old male, was a little naughty – always stopping to munch grass or scrub, and sometimes not so sure-footed in his fatigued-state during the late afternoon of each day. But mostly, he was reliable. And, I didn’t fall off …
The first day was an easy, hilly climb thru open pasture – avoiding crazed nomad dogs and their packs of roaming horses – and pine forest. We camped within a grassy valley ( far-right of image above ) and watched the sun set over the forested slopes high above distant Lake Karakol.
Continuing up this valley the path became steep scree and then the path was lost.
The winter last year had destroyed the way. This pass was no longer passable. We dismounted again and lead the horses – sliding down some 200 metres or so of scree and large loose boulders to another valley and around-about on a high slope leading into another valley (image below) and down, way down again, to the river valley floor.
Camped that night in hot springs village (5 houses) of Altyn Arashan, to follow the swift river the next day til we rode for some hours, climbing thru forest and empty rocky valleys towards the hidden gem of Ala Kol Lake.
The horses were left below (middle of pic; brown area) as it was impossible to take then any further as we scrambled up a nasty slope of loose scree on all fours – dog-like – over the Ala Kol Pass (3860m) to see this snowy peaks and stunning Ala Kol Lake vista.
Upon this wonderous, scenic saddle, I cracked open a bottle of vodka, ate bread, salami and cheese, as freezing winds rushed around us …
Travel Advice for horse-trekking trips to Ala Kol Lake in Kyrgyzstan:
Often best to get guides thru the local-community-based home-stay office network across the country; they are very helpful and only take a small percentage as most goes to the local guides:
COSTS: You pay his fee @$20 / day including his horse; your horse @ $10-15 / day; food for both of you @ $10+; maybe also hire a tent, sleeping mat and bag – these cost a few bucks per day, too; and maybe park fees (in some cases) You may want to tip him upon the completion of an excellent wee trip.
Basically, $US 30+ / day total: should include everything (but it may differ depending your location and a plan BUT it will still be way less than a pre-organized trip from home.
Take all necessary food and cooking kit with you (guide with have the kit and usually buy agreed food items at market (at local prices); you bring extras like: extra cheese, snacks, salami, chocolate, vodka, etc.
CLOTHING & GEAR: obvious mountains mean even in summer carry warm-rain-proof gear like a fleece jacket, gore-tex, , warm hat, gloves, thermals, sun- hat & block; everything is within saddle bags so have day pouch or pack for stand-by stuff: camera, waterbottle, sunglasses, jacket, etc.
Drinking water is often available on route via clean mountain rivers BUT check beforehand and always carry a few liters.