Barskoon it’s a big valley to the south of Issyk-Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan. It connects the lake basin with high-altitude plateaus over the Terskey Alatoo range. A well-maintained road running through the valley is extensively used for bringing supplies to the Kumtor gold mining plant.
In the lower part of the valley are several creeks with stunning waterfalls that freeze shut during the winter. Ease of access and variety of lines makes this area the best ice climbing destination in Central Asia.
Ice Climbing season here lasts from December to the end of February. Some ice will probably exist in march, but it will be too wet.
Let’s start from the most obvious and the most popular and will move toward lesser or still unclimbed ones.
1. Chasha Manasa (Manas’s Cup) and cascades over it
Chasha Manasa (WI2 30m) is the most popular route in the area.
Approach. From the yurt camp, go up and to the right. It takes 15 minutes to walk there from the parking.
Climbing. Climb the first step (60° 10m), and here it is. The main cascade is followed by these: (1) 60° 15m → (2) 60° 40m → almost flat 200m → (3) 70° 25m. To the right from this last step standing 5 meters high ice pillar—Khobotok Popova, named after the first ascensionist Max Popov. Climb the step (3) to the left. From this point, it makes sense to reverse your way down to the bottom of the route. If you feel curious, there are approximately 200 vertical meters of stomping up the frozen creek before reaching a massive bulge visible from the road. Alas, its steepness is around 50°, so walking up there doesn’t make much sense.
Descent. If you turn back from below this massive bulge, you can walk down the grass and scree. I do not recommend it, as the extremely steep forest at the lower part of the descent still could demand rappelling. Stick to the ice instead.
2. Boroda Aksakala (Oldman’s beard) and Koksakal (Blue Beard)
These are the first cascades on Sharkarytma stream.
Approach. From the parking, walk to the slope with the spurs and follow the trail to the left. When it leads you to the stream (15 minutes), walk along for 10 minutes more. Put on your crampons when the trail hits the stream and follow the ice.
Climbing. After 50 meters, you’ll have to climb a 15-meter 45° bulge, then a 30-meter 60° groove will lead you to the small cwm. Right in front of you is Boroda Aksakala (40m WI3+), and to the left is Koksakal (20m WI3).
Descent. Rappel or climb down the way you came.
3. Barskoon (Snow Leopard’s tears) and Malenkiy Bars (Little Snow Leopard)
On the same stream as Boroda Aksakala but further shines Barskoon—the most beautiful waterfall in the area.
Approach. To get there, follow the trail (marked on most maps as Gagarin trail) and turn left before it steeply climbs up when out of the forest. Go thru bushes, put the gear as you reach the ice, and walk 200 meters up the frozen stream with occasional bulges.
Climbing. Barskoon (70m WI4) is in the right part of the face. Usually, it’s more or less wet. In the center is a steep sheet of ice up to 40 meters high. In the left part—Malenkiy Bars (25m WI3).
Descent. From the top of Barskoon you can walk down the trail but it won’t lead you to the bottom of the climb. If you plan to do so, keep your backpacks on. If you stayed at the bottom of the waterfall, keep in mind the way down—usually, it takes approximately 1–1¹⁄₂ hours to get to the car. Routes #2 and #3 could be done as one multipitch. For the team of two, it will be a fair day on the go.
4. Kurgak Say (Dry Deep)
It’s visible from the road as you drive toward Barskoon.
Approach. Leave a car before the bridge next to the 15th-kilometer marker. Follow the trail first, then turn right towards the waterfall. Check your position on the map. Walk up the forest until you end up in the dense bushes next to the overhanging rock. There is a log leaning to the rock—it helps to climb over the overhang. Walk/scramble for 100 meters and reach the bottom of the ice.
Climbing. The formation is 40 meters long and climbs at WI3.
Descent. Hike down the forest to the road.
5. Lesnoy (Foresty)
It’s a good option for those with a lust for exploration. Go there, if you climbed all the rest.
Approach. Head up the valley first on the trail, then on the stream bed. After about an hour, you’ll reach the first waterfall.
Climbing. Lesnoy (25m WI5) is short, steep and chandeliered. It’s easy to climb around it on the right (WI2).
Descent. Rap from the top of the route—there is a dedicated log for that—and walk down the way you came.
6. Khobotok Letavskoy (Letavska’s trunk)
If you climbed Lesnoy, then why not to climb Khobotok if you are already here?
Approach. Walk up the stream for half an hour from Lesnoy (#5), and behind the bushes on the right, find Khobotok.
Climbing. It’s a 15m WI4 trunk of ice beneath an overhanging rock.
Descent. Drill a V-thread on a top and rappel to the ground. Then walk back to Lesnoy and further.
7. Sunny and the cascades above it
It’s a series of cascades in the same valley as Lesnoy and Khobotok Letavskoy.
Approach. At the same level as Khobotok but on the opposite side of the stream, a scree climbs up. It leads to the small jagged curtain—Sunny.
Climbing. The curtain is 15 meters long, vertical, and fun. If you are still eager to climb something after it, climb over the big bolder above you, and walk up the scree to the bottom of an ice bulge. It’s 30 meters long and climbs at WI2 (60°).
Descent. Use V-threads and trees to get to the bottom of the gorge. Then reverse your way up. Be conservative when planning a day schedule—the descent will take quite a while.
8. Chachuu (Spray)
It’s a hidden spot. Find a waterfall called Brizgi Shampanskogo (never touches the ground) on the map—it’s approx 2¹⁄₂ kilometers down the valley from Barskoon parking. Have a look at the topo below—there is a mark for Chachuu.
Approach. Get into the forest and work through the famous Kyrgyz mountain jungle until you can downclimb or rappel to the streambed. Follow the stream for an hour and reach the first step.
Climbing. The first step is a thin 40-meter 70° gulley. After that, you will find a 50-meter pitch that starts from the slope and turns into a column.
Descent. Drill a V-Thread to rappel to the streambed. Follow it until you reach first big drop—a step above Brizgi Shampanskogo. Rap off the tree to a flat spot over Brizgi. Then rap again to a flat ground and a trail. Last rappel is less then 50-meters, but I’m not sure that doubled 60-meter rope will reach the ground.
The best option is to stay at Tamga village. There are many guesthouses, but during the winter they are mostly closed. We live at “U Pavla”.
Also, there is a military sanatorium that works year-round.
There are several grocery stores to buy basic stuff like bread and sweets. No ATM or card payments, only cash.
Most probably, you will start from Bishkek. From there, hire a taxi to Tamga. It isn’t fast (≈ 6 hours) nor cheap (≈ 80$), but it’s the best option. Otherwise, get into a shared taxi (or even more esoteric—marshrutka) to Karakol and ask a driver to drop you at Tamga junction. Then walk for two kilometers to the village. Again, save your time—hire a taxi.
What to do on the rest day
Go to Issyk Kul lake. There is nothing to do except sit on the shore and shoot pictures of the lake.
Drive to Skazka canyon. Walk along red-colored clay walls and hills.
Drive to Karakol. There is a ski resort with gear rental and instructors (if you need one).