Can You Find Kyrgyzstan on a Map? Now Might Be The Time
Of course, there is no shortage of places to go hiking in the world (at least for now). The AT, PCT, and CDT are more than most people can get to in a lifetime, but it never hurt to add another dream hike to the adventure bucket list, and Kyrgyzstan, a small country where about 90% of landscape dominated by the Tian Shan and Pamir mountain ranges is more than 4,900 ft above sea level, certainly deserves a spot on that list.
While the country remains for now a little known hiking destination, that is changing quickly. These days, rather than crossing roads or powers lines every few hours, while hiking in the backcountry of Kyrgyzstan the only signs of society one is likely to see are a herder tending their flock, a family’s summer yurt camp, or a kindly stranger on horseback carrying a dead sheep who will point you in the direction of fresh rhubarb growing on a hillside.
But things can not stay the same forever, so now is the time to breakout your map. Here is a little help: Kyrgyzstan is south of Kazakhstan, north of Tajikistan, east of Uzbekistan, and northwest of China.
Too-Brief History of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a relatively young country, having declared independence from the USSR in 1991 and having been admitted into the UN in 1992, but the Kyrgyz culture is ancient, following a long line of nomadic history.
Traditionally the Kyrgyz people are nomadic, due in large part to the extremely mountainous nature of their environment. With so little land suitable for farming, there was little choice but to live a transient life, moving from place to place, setting up camps in tents wherever they went. Such a life in practice is not so different from that of the modern backpacker, these mountains continue to serve such a life well.
Climate and Weather of Kyrgyzstan
As one of the most landlocked countries in the world, Kyrgyzstan has a continental climate with four distinct seasons. Summer temperatures in June, July, and August average around 80F, but can rise above 100F (especially in the southern part of the country). In the winter Kyrgyzstan receives heavy snowfall and reaches temperatures well below freezing.
Most of the year Kyrgyzstan is fairly dry, but there is a substantial uptick in rainfall in the spring, which tapers off in the summer. The best time to visit the country for the purposes of hiking is be between April and October.
A Blossoming Backpacking Tourism Community
Though it is still a relatively little known hiking destination, Kyrgyzstan’s reputation for great hiking is growing. This increase in hiking tourism has seen the development of a network of Community Based Tourism (CBT) groups throughout the country.
The main goal of CBTs is to make sure that the emerging outdoor adventure tourism sector in Kyrgyzstan is sustainable for the environment and benefits the Kyrgyz people rather than international tour agencies.
CBTs provide many services, offering a number of different tours and treks that range from one night stays in yurts, to horse trekking in the nomadic tradition, and guided backpacking treks, but they also can help backpackers chart routes for unassisted backpacking treks, and many run hostels.
While there is nothing like unassisted backpack, at this point in Kyrgyzstan it is probably best to organize a guided trek through one of the CBT organizations. There are a number of reasons for this, but mostly because by working through the CBT is the best way to ensure that as Kyrgyzstan becomes a more well known and popular hiking destination the influx of trekking tourist traffic will be organized in a sustainable manner that is beneficial to the country as a whole. A full list of CBTs in Kyrgyzstan can be found here.
How Did I Get Here?
When I hiked the AT SOBO in 2017 after graduating from college, I said I was going to “figure out what I wanted to do with my life.” After a couple thousand miles and almost five months I had figured somethings out (mostly that I love mountains and never want a mortgage), but still had no idea about the big question.
While living in my parents basement, depressed with mountain withdraw and working two jobs as a sandwich delivery person and substitute teacher, I was scanning the internet for English teaching jobs abroad. I was looking for another adventure, another escape to go off and figure out what to do, when I came across the beautifully mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan.
I have now been living and teaching here for over six months. With school ending and summer weather upon us, I will finally have the opportunity to go out and explore the mountains that called me.
Kyrgyzstan does not yet have a designated long distance trail, but there are still many shorter routes to be explored. Currently, the most popular hiking destinations in the country a right now are in the Issyk Kul region (due mostly to its proximity to the Capital Bishkek and the existing tourism industry surrounding the lake), but some of the best hiking can be found in the south of the country.
Over the next three months I will be volunteering with the local Osh Alay CBT in the southern region of Kyrgyzstan, marking trails and such. During this time I hope to write more about the wonderful hiking that this country has to offer.
Below are a few of the hikes I will be doing, and here you can find more information about hiking in the Alay Mountains in Kyrgyzstan.
Routes to be Reviewed
Heights of Alay Valley
On this six day guided trek hikers a deep dive into the some of the least traveled mountain ranges in the world, encountering a diverse array of environments: staggering mountain, lush green valleys, blue alpine lakes, high deserts, and more. The vistas from the mountain passes at Sary Mogul (14,127ft) and Jiptick (13,730ft) offer especially fantastic vistas.
Jitpik Pass to Lenin Peak Glacier
Standing at 23,405ft Lenin Peak is the tallest mountain in the Alay range, and the second tallest in Kyrgyzstan. During this five day take in fantastic views of this colossal geological protrusion and all of the accompanying phenomenon, such as glacier fields and the like.
Truly Nomadic Land
This trek offers the opportunity for travelers to experience a taste of the nomadic life. Spending five days riding horses through the untamed Alay mountains and nights in traditional yurts with Kyrgyz host families, travelers will get the opportunity to dip their toes into a culture that has been shaped by the mountains. While not a traditional backpacking trip, this trip might be very interesting to anyone who feels a sense of the nomadic spirit within them or who is curious about the ways in which mountains can shape culture over time.
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