Ever looking for that complete mountain escape? Living in a remote little shack, with no people around, only you in a giant valley overlooking snowcapped peaks. Wild horses roam the vast pasturelands as an ice cold glacial river flows through, adding a ribbon of blue to the bright green landscape. Pine tree forests add texture and contrast to the grey, rugged rocks that tower above. Frozen peaks disappear into the shifting clouds above that bring unpredictable weather. Up bubbles a mountain hot spring bringing warmth and comfort to the weary hiker. This place exists, and is only rewarded to those willing to hike the 17 km to this peaceful mountain oasis.
Altyn Arashan is one of the most popular hiking destinations of Kyrgyzstans fourth largest city, Karakol, yet still a place where you can escape humanity. There are only 2 or 3 guest houses up in their mountain valley and they are accessible only by hiking or the occasional, expensive 4×4 vehicle. However, the road road is considered one of the worst in the world and transports you only a little faster than the 4 or 5 hour hike.
Because you are following a rough dirt road that follows a river, the hike is actually a very lovely, low incline, well marked trail, as opposed to most hiking trails I have been on in Kyrgyzstan. But finding the trail is the hardest part for those who don’t speak the local language or Russia. We had a local help us, but essentially a local minibus drops you off on a random side road well our of town that takes you through a local village and then slowly snakes you along the river through the mountain valleys. No trailhead, no map, no indication of direction or distance, but just a road alongside a river. Once the road is found though, and you are confident it is the one that takes you the right way, it does turn into a wonderful stroll along the river. At a few clearings you will get little teases of the mountain peaks that loom in the distance. A few times you will even get a breathtaking vista of the peaks that await you with the bright blue river pointing the way through the valley. As you slowly ascend up out of the pines you start to see more and more of the snowy peaks until you are just a few hundred meters yourself from touching the snow. After a few hours, the valley opens up to the wide pastureland revealing a few tiny shacks that will house you in one of the most scenic overnights you could ever imagine.
Descending to the guesthouses you will be greeted by a few lovely dogs, but the guest house occupants might be a bit harder to find. They might be out in the field or tending to their animals, but once you do find them, they will make sure your stay is a very accommodating one. The guest house will provide you with proper bedding that will keep you warm during the frigid mountain nights, a few warm meals, and access to the hot springs that will soothe and cure your tired muscles after a long day hiking. Once the guest houses are reached there are a few other hikes that can be made, using this shack as a base. You can hike up to a mountain lake, or towards the glacier, or just through the pasturelands as you marvel at how small you are compared to these giant mountains. Altyn Arashan definitely did not disappoint my craving for outdoor adventure in a beautiful setting and allow me to feel like a real mountain explorer!