Disclaimer: Due to the number of comments that have been received it has been felt necessary to clarify that this trip is in no way based on "The Long Way Round" which the authors of the trip were not aware and nor was it first broadcast of at the time at which this trip was drunkenly conceived. The authors of this trip would like to distinguish their intended trip from the journey undertaken in "The Long Way Round" in that unlike Charlie Borman and Ewan McGregor they are not experienced riders (they have both only been riding motorbikes for just over one year), they are not receiving sponsorship and they will not have a support crew with them at any point on the journey. Just to avoid any further confusion it has been thought that it would be helpful to point out that Tom Horovitch and Peter Caley are both fictional characters and are not famous film stars.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Ala-Archa Canyon (20 miles outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)

The Ala-Archa Canyon, Kygyzstan
Having lunch by the river on the way up.
In our hostel in Bishkek we met Dean, who was writing the Kyrgyzstan update for the Lonely Planet, and Liron who was traveling after having completed his national service in Israel. They had invited us to do a 20 mile walk which they had been told about by Itay, Liron's traveling companion. He described it as an easy trek (which he had done a without Liron the week before) along a plateau to an abandoned ski lodge where we could spend the night and in the morning make the jouney back. Having not really done any trekking since the walk to Nordkapp (in Norway) and having just spent nearly four weeks in central Asian cities it sounded like just what we needed. So early on a Sunday morning, with our ruck-sacks packed with food and sleeping bags, we boarded the local bus to Osh Bazaar. At the Bazaar we bargained with taxi drivers and for 400 Som (about six pounds) we took a taxi the 20 miles into the national park where the Ala-Altra canyon lies. The canyon begins at 2200 metres, higher than most ski resorts that I have been to but the height wasn't noticeable as the weather was fine, if not a little overcast. We set off following the river which was flowing fast from the top of the mountain and the many streams joining it along the way. Having only very basic instructions from Itay and the listing in The Lonely Planet (Dean said it was unlikely that the previous writer had actually done the walk) we immediately took a wrong turning going over the first bridge that we found. Had we crossed the second bridge we wouldn't have found ourselves battling through undergrowth and rock climbing for 1.5 miles. Emerging from this experience at the second bridge with scratches all over our arms and looking like we'd been involved in failed suicide attempts we found the walk pleasant and easy going for the next 3 miles or so. Through some fairly stunning countryside, I walked and talked with Dean while Peter did the same with Liron a little further ahead.

The Ala-Archa Canyon, Kygyzstan
Peter and I on the second bridge
We found that we needed to cross the river again to continue along the canyon. Unfortunately the bridge that we needed was down and so, whilst considering the problem, we took 30 minutes for lunch by the side of the river. The problem with crossing the river without the bridge was that the water was fairly deep, fast moving and cold. There were rocks dotted around but not enough it seemed to form a path for us to get over. If we put our feet in the water for more than 30 seconds they turned blue and if we tried to stand where the water was too deep we would be knocked over by the current. What was needed was the courage to jump over parts of the river and to wade quickly through other parts. Minutes after lunch Dean showed such courage and stood triumphantly on the other side. The other three of us were more cowardly and looked in vein up and down the river for a path of stones that just wasn't there. 45 minutes later Liron somehow got over, but by then I'd climbed back down the canyon quite some distance, deluded that the river got narrower some way off. Peter, torn between going with Liron or with me, had made the wrong choice and followed me. I'd fallen for the common trap of not considering properly that things further away look smaller, and the reality of the situation turned out to be that the river was the same width and the same difficulty to cross further down. This wasted a considerable amount of the afternoon and by the time Peter and I got back up to where Liron and Dean had crossed if we hadn't found a plank of wood which we used get us most of the way across I think we would have turned back.

An hour and a half later, having all made it across, it was onwards and upwards, but now it was starting to rain. We passed a derelict building outside of which horses were grazing on a flat patch of grass. It was getting cold and our lack of coats and gloves was becoming a problem. The climb was also quite steep at times. It was necessary to do some rock climbing and at one point as I remember there was an almost vertical ascent to a point above an abandoned bulldoser. Peter and Liron had gone on ahead and I was lagging behind badly because my thighs were aching from the climbing. Dean was in the middle, stopping periodically to let me catch up. It was also becoming increasing difficult to breath normally and I was finding it necessary to stop more and more often to catch my breath and give my legs a rest. The rain was starting to turn to snow and visibility was decreasing. Dean's calmness had kept me calm because I couldn't believe that we would be getting ourselves into a perilous situation with this well traveled Lonely Planet writer, but as the snow became heavier, the night came closer and there was still no sign of Peter and Liron who Dean suspected had gone the wrong way I sensed panic in Dean's voice as told me that I had to hurry. We carried on for another 30 or so minutes in what had now become a snow storm. The visibility briefly improved and we were very relieved to see Liron and Peter on a path below us coming in our direction. We climbed down to the path but the news was not good. They had walked quite a distance ahead of us and hadn't seen the ski lodge and the question now was what we should do. We guessed that we had about 45 minutes of light left and if we couldn't find the lodge there was no way that we would survive the night in the open without even a pair of gloves between us. We decided to carry on for 30 minutes and if we didn't find the lodge we would have to head down in the dark to the derelict building where we had seen with the horses grazing outside and try to make camp there with whatever we could find. In the snow, in the dark and with all the climbing we would need to do we knew that this wasn't safe and could take quite a few hours if we were in fact able to do it at all. So we pushed on. I checked my GPS and we had climbed 1300 metres and the reason for my dizziness was the fact that we were at an altitude of 3500 metres. I was now walking with Liron and starting to laugh a little uncontrollably about our situation when Liron said he thought he could see something in the distance which could be the lodge. Was it some sort of snowy mirage I thought. Liron went ahead to investigate when Dean shouted from ahead that he had definitely seen it. With only about 20 minutes of light left I limped the last 100 metres to safety.

The Ala-Archa Canyon, Kygyzstan
The illusive ski-lodge in the morning
Inside the lodge, which was full of an assortment of rubbish from previous expeditions, we immediately got into our sleeping bags and Liron lit the camping stove. We were freezing and Dean and I both had some symptoms of altitude sickness. We did however settle down after some soup and some pasta, much talk of how badly the night could have ended, how stupid we had been do that walk so ill equiped and how Itay was going to get a piece of our minds when we got back.

We had feared that we might have been snowed in if the snow had continued to fall at the same rate as it was falling when we had arrived. We were however pleasantly surprised when we awoke to find that only a couple of inches had settled.We were out of the lodge by 8am and after a couple of Ibuprofen my headache from the altitude was gone in 20 minutes and we were making the decent in beautiful sunshine. The walk down was extremely easy by comparison with the ascent the day before. We crossed the river (which was running much lower) in 5 instead of 90 minutes and once we were off the snowy peak we found ourselves walking in tee-shirt weather through countryside with colours much more vibrant than the day before due to the sunlight and among butterflies dancing around us.

The Ala-Archa Canyon, Kygyzstan
Walking down

Walking down

We had lunch by the river near to where we started the walk the day before. We all agreed that we didn't regret having done this trek but that in retrospect it had been a reckless thing to do. Dean said that he would revise the Lonely Planet entry to take account of our experiences, and if nothing more memorable happened to him during his time in Kyrgyzstan he would include this story in his personal profile at the start of the book. We all agreed that Itay, for his misdescription of the walk, was going to get it when we got back to the hostel, but when we eventually got back none of us had the energy to give it to him and so we settled for showing him the pictures and telling him the story instead.

Dean, The Lonely Planet writer for Kyrgyzstan Liron, walking in the Ala-Archa Canyon, Kygyzstan

Dean (left); Liron (right)

The Ala-Archa Canyon, Kygyzstan
Luckily, not any of us...

Written by Tom.


At Tue Sep 19, 08:49:00 pm BST, Anonymous Jo x said...

You muppets!

At Tue Sep 19, 09:21:00 pm BST, Anonymous rod said...

Bloody hell the adventure continues... are you going to get to Australia? - whats after Kyrgyzstan?

Boy oh boy it must seem a long way from Spring Place...


At Wed Sep 20, 02:09:00 pm BST, Anonymous caro said...

cool webpage...
hope you aren`t still in bishkek ;o)
germany greets kyrgystan

At Wed Sep 27, 11:52:00 am BST, Anonymous shimi said...

liron you look so beautiful give my you phone number....
we miss you here in israel
"ya maniak"
shimi pachas ropia

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