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June 2011
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Kel-Tor Lake Hike

Kel-Tor Lake

The hike to Kel-Tor Lake is one of the most rewarding, but strenuous, of the short hikes near Bishkek.  At only about three miles each way, the hike is not long, but the climb of close to 3,000 feet makes up for it – and makes some steep stretches of the trail at least as hard to navigate coming down as they are laborious, going up.

Meadow at Morning

That said, the meadows of wildflowers, pine woods, and glacial lake at the top of your climb will compensate you fully for your efforts.  The trail also features some nice campsites, and perhaps the best way to do this trip would be over a long weekend.

Getting There

Kel-Tor Gorge is the second gorge to the east of Issyk Ata.  It is directly above the village of Kegeti and just this side of the Burana Tower and Tokmok.  The drive to the Jailoo is about 60 miles and takes 1.5-2 hours. The .gdb file can be used in your GPS or in Google Earth to see the route in detail.

Low Road to Kel-Tor - click to enlarge

There are two direct routes to Kel-Tor.  The .gdb file shows the lower route, out Prospect Zhibek Zholu to Ivanovka (23.5 miles from the intersection of PZZ and Shabdan Baatyra Ulitza -Almatinskaya) and then up through the fields to the opening into the gorge, between Yuryivka and Kegeti. Pavement ends about halfway up to the Jailoo, but a vehicle with good ground clearance will get you the whole way.

Hiking Route - click to enlarge

The trailhead is at the Jailoo.  I’ve marked it as “Akhmat” in honor of the Oksekhal who has his camp there.  He and his family have been taking up residence at this particular spot for several years now.  He’s very hospitable and friendly, and will no doubt share with you a cup of Kumis, or fermented mare’s milk.  Though I have only had trouble handling my Kumis once, I would rather not be in the wilderness if my stomach goes south on me, so I will think twice before accepting a drink before leaving.  A better bet would be to accept his hospitality on the way back down.  In that sense, you may want to bring along something to share (he suggested to me a trade of Kumis for vodka).  At his behest, I parked in Akhmat’s little camp and left my jeep in his care.

A short ways up the trail is the first river crossing.  Here there are two logs forming a crude bridge.  The water is pretty fast and deep here, so the logs are very helpful.  The second ford is not bridged, but the water is much more spread out here, and a bit of a wade will get you across.  After the second ford, at about one mile, the trail becomes noticeably steeper and switchbacks take you up the side of the mountain.  The trail levels out a bit again after about seven-tenths of a mile.  At about 2.1 miles a very nice set of campsites, scattered down the side of the gorge in thick pines will certainly tempt you, if you are carrying a heavy pack.  This is probably the best option for camping, though there certainly is something to be said about waking up next to the lake.

The Spring

Since the campsite is two-thirds of the way in and also about two-thirds of the way up, you still have another climb of 1,000 ft. to make over the next mile to get to the lake.  The climb is delayed a bit, though, as you wander through some meadows of wildflowers (where the trail can easily be lost).  A beautiful spring flows out of the side of the mountain just before you begin your final assent, so that’s a good place to stop, enjoy the view, and rest up a bit before pushing up the last ridge to the lake overview.

Take a short tour of some of the natural beauty of the area.

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