At 3,560 meters high, Ala Köl, also Ala-Kul, (Kyrgyz: Алакөл “the Motley Lake”) is a glacial lake in the Terskey Ala-Too mountain range. The lake itself is small approximately 1.5 sq. km with depths of over 70 m. It is one of the most stunning turquoise color we have ever seen. The lake feels like an Instagram filter, but it is real life!!
It also helps that it is situated in a colorful bowl of rocky ridges with white tops. There are two ways to reach the lake. Oihane and Aitor has ascended through the Ala Kol pass on their way to Altyn-Arashan. We ascended from the Altyn-Arashan valley where we left our horses and hiked up to the top.
To reach the valley, it was a three hour horse back ride from our yurt camp in Altyn Arahsan. Our evening in the hot springs and resulting 15 hour sleep finally had us feeling like ourselves again so we were in high spirits when we set off from camp.
This was our second day on horseback and we were starting to overcome some of the jitters of our first day. We left with our guide Adilet shortly after 9 and rode the first hour with just the three of us. We crossed a narrow bridge over the hotsprings where the night prior we had seen herds of goats and sheep cross and started on switchback mountains trails where even cars don’t travel.
This was some of the most amazing scenery we have ever seen and it was ever changing. We started on a green pasture alongside a river and then ascended into a forest in the mountains. This opened up to valleys where we saw cows, sheeps and goats grazing. We also took desolate paths along the river where we saw wild horses drinking from the stream. We stopped shortly at a yurt camp to pick up two more travelers who were taking the horses up to the Ala Kol pass. We met several young girls who lived at the yurt who loved the sheet of stickers gave them. This little one put them all over her face and then later stuck them back on the sheet on by one so she could use them again later.
Here we also picked up our #1 most favorite and impressive person we’ve met on the trip so far: two year old Ba-ya-man.
We figured out later that this must be some sort of mountain babysitting / training system. He was picked up from his family and spent the rest of the day horseback riding with us and was deposited back at the end of the day. Let us remind you that Ba-ya-man is two. While he rode shotgun with our guide for the majority of the trip, he was also quite comfortable riding on his own.
In fact at one point we had to do a large river crossing and our guide got off the horse to help guide ours and fearless young Ba-ya-man led the way by whipping his horse with his little tassel and led our menagerie of foreigners and horses across the river. We were so impressed with him.
The remainder of the two hour ride to Ala Kol pass was breathtaking. We kept seeing glances of the glacier peak and scenery kept changing as we approached the pass. Pictures do not do it justice and we thought it best that we don’t attempt with words, so here are some of our favorite shots.
We also somehow started getting comfortable on our horses. We think it was sometime after Jesse scraped the side of his face when he rode his horse into a tree, but we both settled into the saddle and were no longer gripped the reins with fear. Quan’s horse was pretty bossy and enjoyed being in the lead, so we called him Neverlast. Jesse’s first horse (the one that rode him into a tree) we called Scarfoot, but he was soon replaced with Grandpa who was much gentler an easier to manage.
We left our horses in the Valley and had two hours to hike up to Ala-Kol lake. The ascent is a steep rock scramble, but it was refreshing to get to stretch our legs after a 3 hour horse back ride. We stopped at a snow mass that we thought was the lake for lunch. There were trails that led further up and Jesse couldn’t take his eyes off of them. After lunch Quan opted to stay and told Jesse to hike up the trails on his own.
Thankfully she made friends with fellow hikers from Israel who told her that the real lake was up the steep trail. One of the hikers was a pediatric neurosurgeons from Israel familiar with the products Quan’s company develops for the field. It was an amazing small world moment to have this encounter on this mountain pass in Kyrgyzstan.
Quan and Jesse met as he was descending and he was glad to see that she was making her way up. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that she’d miss the lake! Here again, the photos barely due justice to the majesty of this summit:
This was the highlight of our time in the mountains and one of the many reasons why this region is famed for its hikes. We were in high spirits when we descended and were ready for the 3 hour horseback ride back to the yurt camp. Adilet had thankfully roped our horses together which made the mountain descent much easier as he didn’t have to steer our horses to stay on trail.
Upon returning we saw once again Aitor and Oihane and go to spend our last evening in the mountains hanging out with our friends in the Big Yurt!