One of the trickiest parts of studying abroad long-term is anticipating how well you can pursue one of your hobbies as easily as you can at home. My fellow SRAS student Ross, for instance, arrived in Bishkek ready to rock climb. The Central Asian Studies program affords students enough free time to explore what the city and country have to offer. With a little bit of research and a readiness to be flexible, Ross has found many opportunities to continue one of his passions abroad.
Ross allocated enough room in his suitcase for his climbing shoes and harness, along with locking and wire-gate carabiners. He also brought the slings, chalk and a chalk bag he had from home, although these items are all readily available at sports stores in Bishkek as well. There are several in Bishkek, but the best one that Ross frequented for gear is Sport Expert, located at Chingiz Aitmatova Street, 73/1. There are many helpful employees there and the store carries Petzl, Vento, and Tendon rope climbing products. Ross bought 60 meters of rope, chalk, a shunt, and a grigi which were all very easy to find in the store. The prices of these products are all comparable to the same brands’ prices in America. Our friends Zak and Chris purchased climbing shoes and harnesses there as well. Harnesses and shoes are available at climbing gyms, but they had interest in rock climbing outdoors as well.
There are three climbing gyms in Bishkek: K2 Sport Club, Smile Trampoline Center, and On the Wake. K2, located a 15-minute taxi or marshrutka drive from the London School dorms costs 300 soms per visit, plus 50 soms for climbing shoe rentals. There is also an exercise gym there for the same entry fee.
Smile is a trampoline center and there are often lots of children keeping it busy. Smile is recommended only for bouldering, which is free. Smile is about a 20-minute walk from the London School dorms. On the Wake has the best facilities of the three and is 300 soms (about $4.25) per entry, with shoe rentals available. Trainers are there to coach you through your climbing session and can be somewhat intense. It is located 15 minutes from the London School by taxi or marshrutka. Harnesses for rope climbing are included at all of the gyms, but plan to bring your own chalk!
Climbing the Crags
Ross had discovered the climbing gyms through his own research, but after meeting a foreigner living in Bishkek who is also a climber, he was recently added into a Climbing in Bishkek WhatsApp group, where one can often find a climbing partner to join you at the gym or to plan a climbing trip outdoors. Ross has managed to rope (no pun intended) quite a few of us from the SRAS student group here in Bishkek into accompanying him on occasion as well.
Using REI’s near Bishkek, we discovered that there was a good climbing spot in a location called Raspberry Canyon (Malinevaya Ushelia) close to a village called Kashka Soo, about 22 kilometers from Bishkek. Marshrutka 265 runs between Kashka Soo and Bishkek for 25 som (about 35 cents), but we opted to take a Yandex Taxi for 400 som because we had backpacks full of gear. The Mountain Project app described the location, and using our phone service and the topographical map on our phones, (Google Maps and REI’s app isn’t entirely updated, although the Snapchat Map surprisingly showed the trail along the stream towards the valley) we requested that our taxi driver drop us off at a crossroad near the mountains. We walked about 45 minutes, following a small stream, toward what we assumed was the canyon, and our good navigational skills paid off when we came upon crags painted with names of who had climbed them before.
We found a trail to get us to the top of the rocks, where we discovered bolts placed by the USSR Alpinist Club! Ross set up a top anchor that guaranteed a lot more safety than the rusty bolts and started to climb. There were a lot of route options, and Ross had time for three before the sun set. The Mountain Project app rated these routes’ climbing grades around 5.10 – 5.12, which is an intermediate level.
Returning to Bishkek was a little more difficult. Yandex taxis don’t reach to the village. Although Marshrutka 265 runs between Kashka Soo and Bishkek, after a certain time some of the drivers are done for the evening. Our first time in Raspberry Canyon, we stood alongside the main road trying to flag down rides. We found a local man doing the same, and after about 15 minutes we found the marshrutka at about 6:30. Our second weekend, three route 265 marshrutkas drove past us without stopping at 7:30 (this is common when the vans are full). Again, we found another local trying to hitchhike to Bishkek and in about ten minutes, a nice Russian family stopped for the three of us and delivered us safely (for no cost!) back to the city.
We saw a lot of hunters and hikers frequenting the trail in the canyon. Rumor has it that there is a waterfall at the end of the trail! Even if you aren’t a climber, it’s a beautiful location and great opportunity to spend time in Kyrgyzstan’s rugged outdoors. Hobbyist and serious climbers will have no problem pursuing their interests while studying in Bishkek. Store and gym employees are always great resources for finding out about climbing opportunities as well.