Paltua Canyon Hike

Paltua Waterfall – January 2022

On Sunday I went on a Boris-led hike up to the Paltua waterfall in the Chatkal Mountains. The bright, blue skies and the massive walls of snow and rock were so awesome and the day outdoors lifted my spirits. The hike begins from the far end of the road that circumnavigates Charvak Reservoir. We took a dirt road (covered in ice and snow) to an Uzbek military checkpoint and guard post to present our passports to the soldiers. The source of the Paltua River is near the border with Kyrgyzstan and so everyone who visits the waterfall and the valley must get approval from authorities. The waterfall is 4 kilometers from Kyrgyzstan. Stalin created odd borders and the line goes along the top of the Koksuy range. It would have made more sense geographically to put the border on flat ground.

The mountains resemble “The Wall” from the HBO series Game of Thrones

There was a strong wind blowing when we pulled up to the guard post early Sunday. There is a gap in the mountain range that winds howl through where the guard post is located. I felt bad for those soldiers and we were all a bit worried that it was going to be a long, cold walk. However, as soon as we got up the side of the first hillside and into the protected valley, the wind died down and the warm sun made it a delightful day. There were two small buses of local hikers, which is rare in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. We had a pleasant conversation with them at the waterfall where we had lunch. Our guide Boris Kasimov is a legendary mountain hiker and they were taking selfies with the grand old man of Chimgan!

The view from the Obi Rakhmat Grotto

There are two interesting sites before reaching the falls. “Pulat-tau” means Iron Mountain as the area was historically an iron mine. There is an abandoned horizontal shaft into the side of one of the canyons along the river. You can walk safely to the end of the tunnel, about 20 meters inside the rock. Another highlight of the hike is the Obi Rakhmat grotto which is an archaeological site and was the home to people 50,000 years ago. About 500 stone items and human remains have been found in the cave. It is a natural shelter and I see why humans long ago sought protection there. From the back of the cave, looking out at the mountains I thought about what the landscape must have looked like for them and what type of flora and fauna was there.

Liz and Boris on top of the Paltua Valley

The 38-meter high waterfall was the goal of the hike. It was mostly ice but there was still liquid water coming down and the stream was flowing under a layer of ice and snow. There were beautiful icicles along the rock walls lining the waterfall. After lunch, we hiked back down to the guard post alongside the river.

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