There are so many amazing places in this world. With an element of wanderlust and a few dollars in your pocket, you can check out snowy peaks, pristine lakes and rivers, high elevation pastures and rolling hills. But not everywhere can you see all of these features combined, in a shadow of a mountain named after Vladamir Lenin after sleeping in a yurt! A yurt stay and trekking Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan is not just about the hike, but an adventure in nomadic culture and spectacular scenery.
Peak Lenin is located on the border of Southern Kyrgyzstan and Northern Tajikistan, in the Pamir Mountain range. The Pamirs are known as one of the most spectacular and tortuous mountain ranges around, especially for the cyclists who think it’s a good idea to bike through them (aka not me). But I did want to get up close and personal with Peak Lenin, if you know what I mean.
After over a year living in Southern Kyrgyzstan, my partner in crime and adventure Dana and I planned on making the trip to Peak Lenin for a weekend in July. We had worked hard planning a summer camp for a bunch of teenagers, so it was time to treat ourselves to some mountain scenery and yak milk. Find out what to pack for a yurt stay in Kyrgyzstan and how to get to Peak Lenin Yurt Camp below…
CBT Yurt Camp, Peak Lenin
The CBT Peak Lenin Yurt camp is on a flat bit of green land, nestled between rolling hills, a couple of kms north of Peak Lenin. It backs onto the river that springs out from the base of Peak Lenin and sits on a pleasant little lake, for picturesque moments sake.
We arrived in camp and immediately put on more clothing. Peak Lenin is 7,134 meters. The base camp area is at 3,500meters, so while not as high as it could be, is still much higher than us non-Sherpas are used to. Despite it being mid-summer, it was cold and windy! Long thermals: Check!
There were other travellers at the camp, and some were sleeping in their own tents and cooking their own food. This seemed like a lot of work to me, so I was glad we were going to be in the yurt.
Yurt Stay in Peak Lenin, Kyrgyzstan
This wasn’t my first time sleeping in a yurt, though it was the most remote. Yurt stays in Kyrgyzstan are like sleeping in an igloo in Alaska, somewhat cliché, but totally awesome and something that you have to do, I don’t care how snobby of a traveler you are.
Yurts are traditional nomadic dwellings, round structures that can be broken down and put up anywhere you have some flat land. There is an opening at the top for light and ventilation, which is a crisscross of wooden beams called a tunduk (which is also the symbol for Kyrgyzstan and on the Kyrgyz flag). Most yurts for tourists have a coal stove in the middle to keep it nice and toasty. The yurts at Peak Lenin were about 10 meters in diameter and on one of the nights slept about 12 people. Yes, I had my ear plugs, snoring…
I love sleeping in a yurt! It’s absolute darkness, your hosts supply ample blankets and pillows, and you get to eat pretty regularly, which everybody knows it important to me! After Dana and I put on our long underwear, our hostess who was tickled pink we could speak Kyrgyz, gave us some fresh out of the hole in the ground baked bread. To top it off, we smothered the bread with yak butter, which for the record, is way better than cow butter.
We wandered around a little bit taking some pictures of the horses and the yaks. A yak is an odd animal, it really is. I had learned in Lang Tang, Nepal that a female yak is actually called a nak, so I impressed Dana with that factoid while we debated how close we should get to the admittedly androgynous looking animal.
For dinner that night we ate in the dining tent with the other travellers, enjoying a full compliment of Kyrgyz mountain food, noodle soup, rice, some sheep, some yak yogurt and of course delicious bread! Tea all around!
The thing about yurt stays, like camping, you end up going to bed pretty early! Which is totally fine for this nana. It’s so quiet out in the mountains, and so very dark that that sun goes down and your body is tricked into turning in whether it is only 7pm or not! The good thing about going to sleep early, you catch sunrise over Peak Lenin!
Hiking in Peak Lenin Kyrgyzstan
The next morning, after a carb fuelled breakfast, Dana and I set out wandering in the general direction of Peak Lenin. We were not looking to summit Peak Lenin; the peak is over 7,000 meters and people actually do that with an Everest –like expedition. We just wanted to hike towards it, get a good look, and enjoy the remoteness of it all.
As we walked up the river path, we noticed strange screaming noises. At first I thought that Dana was suffering hard on this hike, but then like geniuses, we figured out that we were in marmot territory. After spotting a few of the hole dwellers, and fully convinced my hiking partner was fine, we kept going, stopping along the way to look over the river to the Peak Lenin Base Camp (home to those summiting climbers).
This part of the Pamir range is incredibly unique because of the large amount of minerals in the soil. The variety of colors layered throughout the cliff sides and the mountains make for stark contrasts with the lush green pasture land. The massive scale of the mountains around you and these colours give the sense that you are not only very far away from civilization, but that you are actually in a kind of magic mountain parallel dimension. With yaks and marmots.
Trekking the Pamir Region
Dana and I hiked along the east side of the river basically as far as we could go. We got to a point where we would be forced to make a pretty dodgy river crossing, one that I wasn’t totally comfortable with being only just healed up from my previous hiking injury (I fell in a hole!). The sky was also looking pretty ominous, so I turned back while Dana met up with a few lazy guys on horses and she went onwards with them and their guide.
The timing of these guys on their horses arriving was actually pretty shocking. Because we felt so incredibly alone in this remote place, Dana and I had just finished taking a couple hiking portraits featuring more than just the curves of the Earth. Those guys on horses will never know how close they were to the real Peak Lenin show.
Once I arrived back to the yurt camp, and after a quick stop at the outhouse, I wandered to the lake and tried to spot some more marmots. Then the rain started and I escaped in to the yurt, really hoping Dana was still with that guide. And then the rain turned torrential, as if ordained by Lenin himself. Dana walked into camp soaking wet not too much time later, in one piece at least. Thanks Vlad!
Getting to Peak Lenin CBT Yurt Camp
The closest airport to Peak Lenin is in Osh. So fly there first. To get to Peak Lenin from Osh, Kyrgyzstan, you hop a share taxi to Sary Mogol, about 4 hours south of Osh in the Alay region. Sary Mogol is the gateway to the Chong Alay mountain range, aka the Pamirs, and where you can find the Sary Mogol CBT.
From the CBT, you have several options. You can hike to the CBT’s Peak Lenin yurt camp (about 20km), you can ride horses (also 20 km, and approximately 20 reasons why your ass and thighs will never forgive you), or you take a 30-minute taxi ride. You can probably assume what Dana and I did.
What to Pack for a Yurt Stay in Kyrgyzstan
Warm Clothes: Yurts are by nature at high elevations, so it gets cold at night!
Warm hat: In Canada we call them toques, and you will definitely want something warm for your noggin when you are this far from sea level.
Sunscreen: Again, being this high in elevation means you are that much closer to the sun. I fry like an egg at this elevation, say no to epidermis rupturing damage!
Easy on/off shoes: You take your shoes off when you enter the yurt, so you will want footwear that is simple to get on and off. I always take my rubber Birkenstocks when I hike so I can take off my boots and have sweet relief.
Headlamp: It gets dark in a yurt, there are no windows! Plus, a light is a must for your nighttime trips to the outhouse
Toilet paper: Remote outhouses, need I say more?
Snacks and sweets: You can get meals from your hosts for a cost, but the hiking snacks and anything you might want a night, bring along with you. There are no stores near by
Solar charger: Yurts have no electricity. Though don’t expect to get mobile reception at most places were yurts exist.
Cash: You will pay your camp hosts directly, so bring as close to exact amount of payment as possible. Making change isn’t a Kyrgyz talent in general, and even less so in the mountains.
Water bottles: You can get boiled water from your hosts, but they won’t have bottled water for sale. Being up this high, it’s important to stay hydrated especially if you’re hiking.
Booze: If you want a nightcap, BYOB!
Intrigued by the yurt country and looking for more? Check out the rest of my Kyrgyzstan posts!