Sunday, September 22, 2013

Travel Warning 2 - Ala Archa National Park

The Archa tree is common here in Kyrgyzstan and it is common in the United States, where it is called...the juniper.  Yes, the tree that gives us gin berries is all over the world and quite numerous in Kyrgyzstan.

Ala Archa National Park is quite close to Bishkek, between 20-30 kilometers away.  On Sunday, Sept 8th the school organized a new faculty hike.  We met at 9am at school and then loaded into a mini bus and puttered our way out of town.

Bishkek is polluted.  I've been in more heavily polluted areas, but it is still noticeable here.  Not terrible, but omnipresent.  Cholpon Ata in Issyk Kul was worse.  But Ala Archa is like a shower/bath/spa treatment for your lungs.  A million shining happy clean brushes revitalizing your insides and your soul.
We clambered out of the bus and across a raging but small river with a bridge that was partially improvised out of birch logs.

The Bridge

 On the Bridge

Then a steep ascent up a hill with a lot of switchbacks affording an incredible view of the valley and the mountains.  The snow covered peaks (glaciers) are at an altitude of over 4000m.  Here's a view of the valley we rose above, with one of the peaks in the background

On the hike we passed a few trees with cloth ribbons hanging in their branches.  According to our colleague/guide/friend/alpinist Valerie, you tie these ribbons in order to wish for good things for your friends and loved ones.  Never for yourself.

At a certain point in the hike, most of trees we were used to - juniper, Tian Shan Fir (looks like Douglas Fir), birch, cottonwood - these familiar trees gave way to Siberian Pines, a beautiful, slender tree that, in Kyrgyzstan, grows at high altitudes

And we soon arrived at the Alpinist's Graveyard.  The Alpinist's Graveyard contains monuments to mountaineers that lost their lives in Kyrgyzstan.  Sometimes the monuments are just monuments, but sometimes they are actual graves.

We had a brief history of the graveyard, although I was too busy chasing my son around to absorb a lot of it.  Until then, my son had been strapped onto my wife's back like Yoda in Empire Strikes Back and was enjoying his freedom by picking up sticks and hitting things with them.  My son was also obsessed with this monument, once he found out that it was an actual part to a helicopter.  It was a rotor blade from a helicopter that crashed during a hunting expedition in Ala Archa.  Our guide said, "Hunters always bring bad luck."

Also, seeing this rotor up seems to only be held to the helicopter with the two bolts you see holes for here.  Seriously?  No helicopters for me.

The Graveyard was truly a beautiful place with a deep stillness and fresh cool air.  I wondered how they got the fences up the narrow trail and the monument stones as well.  No idea, but the rumor is that skilled Kyrgyz horsemen can basically get horses to climb mountains.
Some tombs were old fashioned and I think at least two of them were for women

And some were ultra-modern

There was also a box where you could leave a note, poem, drawing or whatever to commemorate your visit.  It was made from a converted Aeroflot food service cart

And a few more shots from the graveyard

And our friend Valerie's lost friend that he visited with us on that day

Then we stopped for lunch and poetry.  What's a trip to the mountains without poetry?  After the rest, it was time to hike further onward and further upwards.  For the next few kilometers we ambled through a cool forest before emerging onto an alpine meadow/hillside.  Here we paused to bask on the rocks and look out at the beautiful landscape.
The rocks

The landscape

Then it occurred to someone to suggest continuing on to a nearby peak.  Thinking we were going on a trail, we all agreed and...started trailblazing straight up the hillside.  It was extremely difficult and steep and the footing was treacherous.  Since we my wife had a two year old on her back, we turned back after 100 feet or so and waiting at the rocks for everyone else to return.


We watched their assent closely, wondering if we should have tried it, but convinced that we could not have.  And we definitely could not have.  We also got to commune with some local flora and fauna.  

Some sweet mountain lichen

And we saw a large bird of prey, possibly a Golden Eagle.  It's hard to see as it was far away, but it's more or less in the center of the pic/of the sky

Watching our friends ascent

And their less orderly descent.

Jean Baptiste proved the most sure footed on the way down!

And then the long trip back down.

And home.  Don't worry, we've made it back to the mountains again...since we did a totally different hike, you'll here all about it too.

Also, our friends also posted on their blog about the trip.  Click here for another version of that sweet day!


  1. damn, that is fantastic. Great views. Very lucky.

  2. Thanks so much for posting...these views/your experience help us non-traveling Ithacans know the vastness of this world! Miss ya...Michele, Mariah and Joshua

    1. Miss you too! I know it would be hard, but you're always welcome to visit!