At 3,700 metres above sea level, we arranged a trek with a guide and two porters for a three day, two night excursion up to Ara-Kul lake from the Altyn Arashan valley.
I asked our guide, Lida, who was worth her weight in gold, what the terrain would be like and she said, “up, up, all the time up”. And how were we going manage that?.
We took it slow, as the altitude adds another layer of difficulty, and it took about six hours or so. We camped underneath the pass we were to ascend the following day. It did not look like there was a way up; it appeared to be a 90 degree angle. Spent a freezing night in the tent, but the starscape took my breath away.
Day Two: 3,800 metres above sea level: today I learned that I’m afraid of heights. We climbed the ‘pass’; 100 metres straight up a slippery mess of mud and gravel, like a StairMaster from hell. I repeated to myself over and over: don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down. The last fifteen metres was snow and ice, and extremely slippery. The top made it all worth it. We came up into a corridor that connected two peaks with just enough space to walk comfortably. And on the other side, nestled between two mountain ranges, was a shimmering, opalescent turquoise lake.
The descent was soul-curdling (so glad we had a guide to help us!). We spent another night under the lee of the mountain; shared chocolate and a starlit campfire, and returned to Altyn Arashan the following day.