Introducing: Kyrgyzstan’s Alpinad Festival

long line of hikers
Out of my tent and onto the trail at 05:00, the mountains of Kyrgyzstan’s Ala-Archa National Park look somehow less imposing before the sun rises fully to illuminate the top of ‘Young Communists’ Peak nearly 6500ft above. Despite my pre-dawn enthusiasm, I’m quickly put in my place as one after another member of the ‘Alpine Club of Kyrgyzstan’ ambles past me on the way to the summit.

hiking up the mountains

Though the 2014 Alpinad sees around 150 participants filing up the trail to Pik Komsomolets to join in the annual celebration of Kyrgyzstan’s climbing history, I’m told that in better years (meaning better weather and, importantly, better dates: May 1 this year falls on a Thursday and makes a difficult trip for the traditionally-employed) crowds can grow upwards of 500 hikers or more.

hikers taking a rest

Resting yet again on the long steep walk from the trailhead at the Ala-Archa base camp, my fellow hikers slowly lose the anonymity that a crowd offers and become individual mountain enthusiasts. I walk for a short time with Kanat, a tourism student studying nature/outdoors who considers the full-day hike a study session of sorts. Three guys who adopt the name “Team Hero” slowly push a kitted out mountain bike up the mountain so that one of them (how do they choose?!) can ride all the way back down. One man, who somehow I never get around to chatting with or photographing, puts down his rucksack at every rest to check on the pet cat he has stashed inside.

mountaineer at the pass

Kyrgyzstan has a long history of climbing, starting from the 1950s when the area that today comprises Ala-Archa National Park was used as a training center for Soviet mountaineers. In a country classified by various sources as 90% mountainous it should be no surprise that there are plenty of opportunities for alpinists!

kyrgyzstan's alpinad festival

Luckily for me, one of the characteristics that defines the Kyrgyz Alpinist crowd is a sense of community. At various points throughout the climb I’m offered a spare pair of socks to stave off blisters (lifesaver!), water and snacks to push back fatigue (helpful!), and cigarettes to clear the head (less helpful!).

pik komsomolets

Thanks largely to that very support, I do indeed make it to the top of Komsomlets 7 hours after leaving camp in the morning and still fully 5 hours or more before getting back to a cup of hot coffee. Sitting on the peak at just under 13,800ft (4200m), taking in the views to the Tien Shan mountain on all sides, I can reflect only that this is a community I definitely want to be part of.

tian shan mountain glaciers

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The Alpinad Festival climb of Komsomolets happens every May 1 in Kyrgyzstan’s Ala-Archa National Park. Taking part is as simple as showing up – many participants will camp just in front of the valley’s alplager base camp on the night of April 30th. For more of a group feeling, the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan also organizes an excursion.