The Terskey Ala-Too range that rises behind Karakol offers a fine taste of the Tian Shan. Of the numerous possible routes that climb to passes below 4000m, the most popular is the two-day route to alpine lake Ala-Köl. A range of trekking and camping equipment, including stoves and tents, can be rented from CBT and several tour agencies, notably Ecotrek and Extreme Tour. Guides, horses, and porters are available for hire for these three as well as Kyrgyz Tour in Karakol, or from the Jyrgalan public association.
Stretching from Jyrgalan in the east to Jeti-Ögüz in the west (and onwards to Kyzyl-Suu and the southern shore), the most impressive valleys include:
Tyup Directly parallel to the east of Jyrgalan Valley, this wide valley leads south to the Kara-Kyya Pass and on to the settlement of Echkili-Tash 58km away, or beyond to the beautiful Sary-Jaz valley (the latter of which both require border permits).
Jyrgalan Circle from the village and back along the 65km Kesenkija Loop Trail, past Eki-Chat yurt-camp and the Ailampa lakes, or turn south at Eki-Chat up the Terim-Tör Bulak valley for several smaller lakes and a potential two-pass day through Tiorgei Ak-Suu and on to Boz-Uchuk.
Boz-Uchuk Two small but astounding lakes crown a plateau at the south of the valley, with a pass connecting to Jyrgalan in the east and Jergez in the west.
Jergez Visit Köl-Tör Lake as a long day trip, or drive all the way to the south of the valley for a smattering of small lakes as the path climbs west to the Aylanysh Pass and on to Ak-Suu.
Ak-Suu Though short, the Ak-Suu valley makes an attractive alternative to or from Altyn-Arashan or as a connection to Jergez.
Altyn-Arashan The popular hot springs here make it the most-visited of any valley near Karakol, but the joy of a long soak after days of trekking can't be denied. Visit as a radial hike from Ak-Suu village, or connect to the Karakol Valley on a two-day hike via Ala-Köl.
Karakol Using this valley as a conduit to Ala-Köl or Jeti-Öghüz is most common, but look a little further for a number of challenging walks that tackle the glaciers at the end of the valley. Take care, and, for all but the most experienced of trekkers, a guide.
Jeti-Ögüz Starting from the Jeti-Öghüz sanatorium, set aside a minimum of four or five nights to hike from Jeti-Öghüz to Altyn-Arashan (via the Karakol Valley). The trail heads up the Jeti-Öghüz river valley (there are spots to camp along the way), crossing east over the 3800m Teleti Pass into the Karakol Valley.
You can combine any number of these parallel valleys to make as long a trek as you like. You can also add on wonderful radial hikes up the valleys, for example from Altyn-Arashan to Pik Palatka. There are also longer, more technical variations of many of these routes that should not be attempted without a knowledgeable guide and some experience with glacier walking.
Maps of the region are available from TUK in Bishkek, Destination Karakol, and Destination Jyrgalan; as well as many tour and trekking agencies. Most routes are only faintly marked, if at all, and should not be attempted without a quality map or a trekking guide.
Ak-Suu village to Altyn Arashan & Back
To get from Ak-Suu Village to Altyn-Arashan, just follow the main jeep track for four or five hours. Easy, despite the altitude gain (1800m to 3000m), beautiful and no need to carry heavy gear as there are lodges at the top. Trailhead accessible by Ak-Suu minibus.
A day-hike extension from Altyn-Arashan could take you 4½ hours further up the valley, branching east and then south for views of Palatka (4260m).
Kyzyl-Suu to Altyn Arashan, via the Jeti-Öghüz & Karakol Valleys
To hike from Kyzyl-Suu to Altyn-Arashan, via the Jeti-Öghüz and Karakol Valleys, you'll need to set aside at least five to seven nights. From Kyzyl-Suu head up the Chong-Kyzyl-Suu Valley to the Jyluu-Suu hot springs or on to a camp site below the 3800m Archa-Tör Pass. The next day cross the pass, head down the Asan Tukum Gorge into the Jeti-Öghüz Valley. From here it’s over the Teleti Pass to the Karakol Valley and on to Ala-Köl, Altyn-Arashan and Ak-Suu.
Trekking around Karakol
When to Go
The trekking season around Karakol normally runs from late June to early October. August is a popular time for picking mushrooms; blackcurrants are in season in September. For Altyn-Arashan, you could go as early as May or as late as the end of October, but nights drop below freezing then and the surrounding mountain passes are snowed over.
Weather is the region’s biggest danger, with unexpected chilling storms, especially in May, June, September and October. Streams are in flood in late May and early June; plan crossings for early morning when levels are lowest.
A range of maps that cover the region are sold at most tourist information centres, both in Karakol and elsewhere through Issyk-Köl and Chuy oblasts.
Traditionally viewed as a summer playground, the Ak-Suu region has become popular in recent years for winter sports as well. Karakol Ski Resort is without argument the best in the country but for many the real draw is getting off-piste and into the backcountry in areas like Jergez Valley and Jyrgalan, both of which have some limited infrastructure to cater to adventure-seeking winter visitors.