Actually I have already been to Kyrgyzstan twice. But somehow I don't have the feeling that I have been there yet. The first time I was on my way from Tadjikistan and I wanted to continue as fast as possible to Tibet. Therefore I only rode to Osh. The second time Kyrgyzstan was the start of a long Asia journey and April was still too early to go into the big mountains.
But this time everything should fit: 1 month time only for Kyrgyzstan in midsummer. When planning my route I was inspired by the Silk Road Mountain Race (www.silkroadmountainrace.cc). Although I didn't know about it until 10 days before the trip, it was interesting to find out that a lot of my plans were matching.
After it has been so hot this summer in Europe, I am looking forward to cooler temperatures in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. But in Bishkek it is also 37 degrees Celsius when I get off the plane. Off we go into the mountains. Through the Kegety valley I want to get over the same named pass to the south. Oh yes, up we really go, from 800m straight up to 3800m. When I cross the pass it even snows at the top. The initial heat is forgotten. On the south side of the pass, the road has been completely buried for a long time. I push the bike down the steep scree slope for quite a while. Down in the valley then it is very idyllc: wide green meadows, with single yurts on it and great snowy mountains in the background. While I ride west for the next 2 days, I don't see a single vehicle on the road. Instead I constantly pass magnificent glacier covered mountains. The start could not have been more beautiful.
There are at least 6 different ways up to Son Kul (Kyrgyzstan's most famous mountain lake). But I wouldn't really recommend the one I chose. Half way up there is a coal mine. Anyway, in the evening I look as if I would work there. On the wide green meadows around the lake there are many yurts. Many spend the summer here with their animals.
In Naryn it's time to fill up the bags again with supplies. Because almost all Kyrgyz are self-sufficient, the selection in the shops of the small villages is extremely limited (vodka and sweets) and so I have to top up my supplies in the few bigger cities. At the CBT office I can also pick up my permit, which I organized in advance.
Only armed with this document I am allowed to ride further south near the border to China. The ride up to Torugart Pass is not very interesting yet. It is a 100km endless long, barely perceptible ascent through a barren, lonely landscape. A few km before the Chinese customs I leave this transit route and continue east along the border instead. A great, wild and completely deserted high valley.
Here in the mountains there is a mountain lake, Kel Suu, to which I want to ride up. The last stage to the lake is fantastic. It is an up and down through narrow, green valleys and ahead there are always great views of the glacier mountains. The lake itself is dried up at the moment, but lies spectacularly between impressive rock faces.
For the way back to the main valley I chose another route. 'Old 4x4 Track, not in use anymore' is written on my map. Sounds promising. When I first see the path at the top of the steep slope, my jaw really drops. What, I'm supposed to go up there, is that even possible? There follows one of the most extreme hike-a-bike passages that I have done yet with my bike. 300 meters of vertical meters, I drag the bike up an impossibly steep path. I don't manage to get more than 10 meters at a time before I have to recover. But somehow I reach the top. A few kilometers further I have to push, but then I meet a horse track. With a big grin on my face I ride this single trail over the hills back to the main valley. Back in Naryn I stock up supplies again and start for the next stage.
I head northeast towards Tosor Pass. As most of the time here in Kyrgyzstan, the first km, where there are still villages and some traffic, these are the worst. Here the road is often very rough, which usually means badly corrugated. But as soon as you get to the mountains, it is quiet and I can count the vehicles per day on one hand. In this valley it is no different. Once again it is a very diverse ride. First I cycle through an alpine valley with green meadows, forests and a beautiful canyon. After I have crossed the tree line, I reach wide, green valleys and more and more often glacier covered mountains appear in the background.
As usual, I camp next to a beautiful mountain stream and when I get up the next day, I think that according to my extrapolation, the first riders of the Silk Road race should pass me. While packing up the tent I actually see a cyclist passing by. Half an hour later I have caught up with him. It is no one less than Jay Petervary. A legend in these ultra long bikepacking races, who has won all the big events like the Iditarod, the Tour Divide etc. several times and is the current leader (and later winner) of this race. We ride together the whole day across this beautiful wild valley after leaving the route just before the Tosor Pass. I almost feel a bit like being on a wellness tour when I hear what he is doing: He sleeps about 4 hours a day, the rest of the time he is on the road, non-stop, for 9 days. Insane and absolutely unthinkable to me.
At the end of the valley the trail leads up to a 3800m high pass. The view is simply gigantic: all around me glaciers covered mountains. The short detour to a 4000m high pass, which is right next to my route, I can't miss the next day. Afterwards I have some trouble to find the route. I ride half the morning up and down the road to find the right turnoff to the trail. I almost want to give up, when the second placed rider of the race appears and together we tackle this section. No wonder I couldn't find the trail, there simply is none. For the next 4 hours we drag our bikes through marshland, over bumpy meadows and cross numerous rivers. Then we reach a beautiful mountain lake and along that lake there is now a great single trail. At its end we reach the pass. Only downhill from now on... But when I see the 'path', I have to look twice. For several hundred vertical meters I have to climb over big, loose boulders down into the valley. The trail is already dangerous on foot because everything is in motion. With the bike I have to watch out like hell not to sprain a foot or that the bike gets damaged. Of course I also ask myself a few times what I am actually doing here. But just one hour later these thoughts have vanished. The valley through which I now descend is simply fantastic. It starts with a turquoise green mountain lake, then alpine meadows and beautiful forests appear, all garnished with ever new glacier covered mountains in the background - simply great.
At the end of the descent I reach the main road at Issyk Kul Lake. I cycle west towards Karakol and want to make some detours in the mountains south of the city. On the first day this works quite well, but then I have to realize that this route is too steep for my bike. Instead, the next day I follow the lake, completely flat for a change. This may sound relaxing, but I soon long for the bumpy roads in the mountains again. Because although there is asphalt here, I voluntarily ride on the shoulder next to the road. Most drivers in Kyrgyzstan are not used to cyclists on the road and expect you to make room and leave it.
It is not long until I leave this road again. My route goes up to the Tosor Pass, a 2250m long climb I have been looking forward to for a long time. But when I start in the morning I already sense evil: up in the mountains there are black clouds. Nevertheless, I start making my way up the many hairpin bends. At 3000m it starts to rain lightly for the first time, which quickly turns into snowfall. Finally the storm becomes so strong that I decide to pitch the tent although it is only noon. After a good hour the worst seems over. I pack up my things again and continue climbing. It doesn't take long and I reach the snow line. At 3500m there is snow on the road. But I can still ride up to 3700m, but then it's over. The remaining 200m I stomp through 15cm deep fresh snow until I have reached the top of the pass. The view of all the freshly snow covered mountains is gigantic. The following days I ride past beautiful, lonely valleys to the west, before I descend again to the town of Kochkor.
Not far from Kochkor, up in the mountains there is a mountain lake, Kyol Ukyok. That's where I want to go next. The path there is short but a great mountain bike route. At the top I pitch my tent on the shore and enjoy the great surroundings. The next day I walk up the valley on foot. At 3500m there is a second lake surrounded by beautiful peaks and glaciers.
In the evening I study the map. this journey is slowly coming to an end and I am looking for an interesting route back to Bishkek. The following day I cycle up to Kyzart Pass and leave the dusty road at the top of the pass. Here I found a path on my map, which I want to ride. It starts with a drivable 4x4 track which ends at the last yurt. I ask whether the track continues and I can cross the mountains with gestures. I interpret the answer as 'yes you can get to the other side'. A little further I pitch my tent and start the next morning. I push the bike on a horse path up the lonely valley. Further up the tracks disappears, I continue across the alpine meadows. After 600 vertical meters the terrain becomes much steeper. Should I now turn left up to a pass or right? I decide for the right side. According to my GPS it should be better to go down from there afterwards. But the slope is too steep and I can't push the bike anymore. Instead I have to haul up my luggage and bike separately. Atop then the anxious look down the other side. Yes, I should be possible to get down here somehow. But first it is a steep scree slope until I can finally ride over meadows down into the valley. A hip-deep ford I have to overcome finally and I have reached a road again.
Due to a lack of better alternatives I decided to take the route over Kegety Pass one more time to get back to Bishkek. What did I write at the beginning of this trip: I wouldn't ride this pass from the south. But it's not that bad at all and so I push my bike up the long, steep scree slope again. It' s a worthy finale. The next day I only have to cruise 3000 vertical meters down to Bishkek.