Day 58 - Monday 29th May - Into the Tien Shan

The Russian army truck was waiting for us at the front gate of the hotel at 10am. Our departure had been delayed a short while to allow time for the mechanical crew to remove the rear shock absorbers off Ginger and take the mounts to a local welder to be strengthened. One had broken on the previous day’s rough roads.

Our journey into the Altyn Ayrashan valley was billed as 3 hours of hell. Not one to get unnecessarily concerned about things, I can confess that looking over a couple of the seeming sheer drop-offs that fell for a hundred or so metres only inches from the side of the truck as we ponderously lumbered over football sized boulders, gave concern of the consequences a couple of times, especially on the occasions when the truck struggled to find its gears. But the scenery was breath taking.

Below us the Altyn Arashan raced down the valley. Pencil thin pines cluster on the steep, grassy hillsides. Above us the mountains soared skyward.

But the billing of the trip was wrong. It only took a little over 2 hours. Thankfully. We covered the last 500m to our mountain lodge on foot as a particularly rugged section appeared over the horizon and the valley opened up before us.

Akay, our guide had described the lodge as a Soviet style mountain hut. I think that conveyed that it was rustic. Six shipping containers formed the hut. Bunk beds, shared rooms branching off a central dinning room. The toilets were of the long drop variety, the water came from the icy stream that rushed by the front door, the kitchen was a lean too with a couple of small wood fired stoves on which the owners wife conjured up a series of rustic mountain meals and baked the best bread we had tasted in months, the electricity came from solar panel charged batteries and the milk was so fresh it was tethered to a rail waiting. The hut was warm and dry.

But it was outside the front door that we were more interested in. The valley was dotted with tents and Yurts. The shepherds had driven the horses, cattle and sheep up into the high pastures for the summer grazing. Foals, calves and lambs strutted or in some cases just struggling to their feet to make their first steps in life. Hot springs fed baths by the river and in a couple of yurts.

At around 5500m, Altyn Arashan stood like a giant chisel at the far end of the valley. We walked for the afternoon up a side valley and marvelled at the majesty of it all. We were not alone. We met a few groups of other trekkers who had travelled from Europe to hike the mountains of the Kyrgyzstan Tien Shan.