Ala Kul Lake
Ala Kul is an alpine lake located high up in the mountains at a height of 3,530 m (11,580 ft). The climb up to the lake over Ala Kul Pass is even higher at 3,900 m (12,800 ft). It is a challenging hike, with lots of climbing, but well worth the trouble of getting there. The 9km drive from Karakol heads south to Karakol valley and cuts deep into the slopes of Teskei Alatau.
These slopes and along the banks of the Karakol river are covered with thickets of sea buckthorn, barberry, rose hips and Tala drawn up around emerald green steppe meadows. Snow and glacier melt from 4000 m high mountains around the lake feed Alakul. Against the backdrop of Tien Shan firs there are many small waterfalls along the way, flowing from Ala Kul lake down into meandering streams.
In addition, there are a wide variety of unique alpine plants which bloom in summer. From the month of May on through summer snowdrops, primroses, alpine aster, white anemones, edelweiss and even wild tulips bloom turning slopes into a flourishing wild botanical garden.
Climbing the Karakol valley, you will move about from the steppe foothills to the mountain forests, woodlands, subalpine and alpine meadows and even into the realm of perpetual snow with bare rocks and glaciers. An Alpine base camp is located in upper valley and often used for camping or picnicking as people adjust to the altitude and climbing.You will have views of the Takur Tor Glacier at the east end of the lake as you climb.
From the Karakol valley national park at 2,900 meters up to Ala Kul Lake at 3,500 meters, you have to climb up steeply and from Ala Kul to Altyn Arashan, there are also very steep climbs and drops.
It is cold year round, even in August (getting down to about 5 degrees C) so bring warm clothes as it can snow at any time of year.
You must cross several boulder fields on the way up to the lake, so wear sturdy boots. Travel season is usually possible from June to mid October. The most popular tour takes 3 nights/4 days, starting from Karakol valley, going up the Takyr Tor Gorge and trekking from Ala Kul to Altyn Arashan. The hike can be done in as little as two very long, challenging days, but four days is the standard time for this hike.
Altyn Arashan Hotsprings
“Altyn” means gold in the Kyrgyz language and “arashan” means spa, giving the meaning of golden spa. The hot springs and lodges are located along the river valley at approximately 3,000m (9,850 ft) high. It lies along the trekking route from Teploklyuchenka (Ak-Suu). The grass is green in summer, and there’s a slight smell of sulfur mixed with the mountain air, a result of the natural hot springs found in the area.
There is a hot spring development set in an alpine valley complete with quaint outdoor toilets and a “hotel” (Kholhoz) that serves hot food.
On the 20km drive there from Karakol you cross the Arashan River an old wooden bridge as you make your way up mountains and through picturesque forest landscape at an altitude of 2350-2435 meters.
One of the highest peaks in view (4,260 meters or 14,000 ft high) at the end of the valley is called Peak Palatka (Russian for ‘tent ridge’ or ‘tent peak’) as it looks similar to the shape of a tent. From the right angles and in clear weather there will opportunities to also see majestic panoramic views of Djigit Peak (5,130 m) and Karakol Peak (5120 m) along with Prjevalsky (4,283m), Jukov (4,450m), Telman (4460m), Dimitrov (4450м), Fuchika (4,210m), Gastello (4,350 m) mountains of Terskey Ala Too. At Altyn Arashan’s southern end you can see the snow capped tent mountain almost the whole time.
This is the most popular destination near Karakol for trekking and visited by many tourists throughout the tourist season. The beauty of the Arashan river, colorful flowers, green slopes, hot springs and trees make this a site not to be missed.
Hot springs are located in little maintained cement buildings along the river and are available year-round. These are man-made concrete baths in timber sheds, fed by the steaming natural springs below. Although you miss out on the view outside, being protected from the relentless wind proves to be a welcome respite. If you make it all the way out here spending a few hours enjoying the natural hot spring and the showers that are available for guests proves to be just what you need before more cold mountain hiking. The hot springs water is hot, around 50° C (122° F) and is the perfect antidote to weary hiking bodies in light of the cold mountain air that surrounds you. People claim that the water contains three groups of nitric thermal spring elements. The resort area has numerous wooden sheds which contain hot sulfurous pools that many believe cure various ailments.
At Altyn—Arashan a person can enjoy the pure mountain air and stunning scenery of Peak Palatka. The accommodation offers semi comfortable beds, traditional yurts and flat areas for camping.
In addition, guests can eat three fresh meals a day with tea. There is even electricity available from 6pm-11pm. The resort is set in a botanical research area called the Arashan State Nature Reserve which has about 20 snow leopards and several bears. These are rare and solitary creatures that are highly endangered so you needn’t worry about running into one of them. It is rumoured that at 25 of these beautiful wild snow leopards were captured and sent to zoos all over the world until the former USSR cancelled all hunting permits in 1975.