Hiking

Adygene Valley

From the alplager, backtrack around 300m down the road and cross a footbridge, and you should find yourself heading southwest up the steep Adygene Valley trail. Along this way is a poignant climbers’ cemetery in a larch grove. The track continues for about 7km to 3300m, below Adygene Glacier. Where the track divides it's better to keep left – you can return looping back the other way, but if you fork right, the way is harder to find outbound and involves a river crossing to avoid a scramble across a landslide that destroyed a section of the former trail.

Alplager

Ala-Archa's trailhead is a seasonal gaggle of yurts selling kymys (fermented mare’s milk), plus a pair of small hotels. The river divides 300m north of here where two idyllic alpine valleys converge. Relatively well-marked trails lead walkers up both branches – left to the initially steep Ratsek hike; right through the main Ala-Archa Canyon. The area gets relatively busy with picnicking locals on summer weekends but can be altogether deserted from October to May.

Ratsek Hut

Where the river valley divides 300m north of the alplager, the left branch of the trail leads you in four to five glorious hours to a glacier viewpoint. The viewpoint is just 200m up a minor ridge above the isolated 'Ratsek' hut (3370m), which is set in a little handkerchief of meadow surrounded by rocky spires with Patagonian ambitions.

In dry summer conditions it's a strenuous but straightforward day hike to Ratsek. However, snow can fall in almost any month, wet conditions can leave a few steep sections seriously muddy, and high water can make the two stream crossings virtually impassable. Check conditions with returning hikers. Even if you don't make it all the way to Ratsek hut, there are marvellous alpine views from the 'split-rock' viewpoint just 40 minutes' climb from alplager (well before the first stream crossing), and there's a waterfall (frozen November to May) to admire at around the half-way point to Ratsek.

For mountaineers, Ratsek is used as the base camp for a series of acclimatisation peaks, notably Korona (4860m) and Uchityel (4572m). There are also two unstaffed first-come, first-served cabins closer to the glaciers. Ornithologists have reported spotting alpine accentors (Prunella collaris) here.

Ratsek Hut, aka Ak-Sai Mountain Lodge, has accommodation in two 14-space bunk rooms and a six-space 'private' room, plus there are tent sites outside.

Ala-Archa Valley Trail

Forking right where the river valley divides just above the alplager offers an initially clear, easy route up the main Ala-Archa Canyon past a couple of yurts. The way is pretty, but stretching for 15km beyond the alplager it's a bit much for most people to trek the entire valley as a one-day walk.