Oct 24

Trekking the Tian Shan Mountains, Kazakhstan

Ryder-Walker’s secret agent girl, Barbara ‘Babsi’ Glanznig, spent three days trekking the Tian Shan mountains in Kazakhstan. Tian Shan literally means “Celestial Mountains” in Chinese, and after hearing about Babsi’s experience, the region sounds incredibly “heavenly.”
Babsi offered to share her trip with our readers. Enjoy!

Trekking the Tian Shan Mountains, Kazakhstan

Day 1

At 8 am Asya and Den, our guides from the Kazakh Trekking Club, picked us up at our hotel in Almaty and off we drove to the entrance of the Ile-Alatau-National Park (1.600 m), about 30 minutes from the city centre. I had arranged the trek with Asya before hand and she prepared everything for us. She supplied us with sleeping bags, mats, tents and food for the next three days. Asya and her husband own the trekking company and both are great mountaineers, organising tours all over the world. I was surprised by how professional and incredibly helpful Asya was throughout the booking process!


So, off we went! With our backpacks stuffed to the absolute maximum, we started hiking in the snow towards Butakova Pass (2.800 m). I had no idea what to expect. As soon as the road ended, there was absolutely NOTHING but wilderness. We had to carry all of our supplies including food for the whole trek. The only thing we did not have to bring was water, as we could refill our bottles along the way. I was a bit afraid at first, but the water was of incredible quality. There is no major city and no animals around that could potentially pollute it. We were able to drink the freshest water, coming straight from the Tian Shan Mountains!
The hike was rather tiring, we had to carry quite a bit and the snow made the trail very slippery. Fortunately the weather was perfect – clear blue skies and sunshine – and therefore nice and warm. By lunchtime, we reached the Butakova Pass and Den immediately started preparing lunch. He pulled out his cookers, and we had hot tea, dried fruits, crackers and fresh fruit. On the top, we were able to see the beautiful surrounding mountains, most of them around 4.000 meters and above, glaciers and big granite walls. Den mentioned that the area is well known for ice and rock climbing and mainly Russians come here.
We slowly started our descent into the Left Talgar Valley, where we made camp at around 1.800 metres. After pitching tents, we collected firewood and Den made a yummy supper. The day ended with us sharing stories and laughing around the campfire, listening to the sounds of the Talgar River close by.

Day 2

This day was an easy one. We moved our camp further up the valley, then hiked to the end of the valley where we had another wonderful lunch. We watched the sun disappear behind the high peaks. Unfortunately, bad weather was moving in faster than expected and we were a bit anxious about hiking over the pass on the following day.
We decided to leave early, trying to avoid hiking in the snowstorm. Again, we enjoyed our campfire after another 6-hour hike but went to “bed” rather early. This night was much colder, and we snuggled up in our down sleeping bags, trying to stay warm.

Day 3

After a quick, hot brekkie, we packed our bags and started to make our way back into civilization. The temperature dropped significantly during the night and when Den took off, quiet as usual, we stuck to his heels, making our way up a super steep trail. First we hiked to Small Talgarsky Pass at 2.700 metres above sea level. There we had a lunch break and then Den led us to Talgarsky Pass at approximately 3.100 metres. The pass is also the highest point of Almaty’s ski resort, from where we hiked down to the bottom of the ski lift where Asya was already waiting with the car to drive us back to the hotel.
All in all, I was truly blown away by the Tian Shan mountains! Everything seems so untouched, unexplored and pure, definitely something you don’t experience a lot in Europe. The Kazakh people are very friendly, quiet and humble and even though it is sometimes hard to communicate, they are always extremely helpful. Our guide spoke broken English, but when it came to talking about mountains, hiking and climbing, we definitely spoke the same language. I realized pretty quickly that he was a true mountaineer, loving the quietness of the mountains.
It was another slightly surreal but wonderful experience, and I hope to return and join Den on another hike through the wilderness of southern Kazakhstan.
Images: T-B; The Left Talgar Valley; Babsi Glaznig; On top of Butakova Pass (2.800 meters); Descent into Left Talgar Valley; Campfire; View of the Glacier from Small Talgarsky Pass; Den on top of Small Talgarsky Pass; Tea time after the trek.
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