Hikes & Treks
The higher reaches of the Zailiysky Alatau have many peaks over 4000m, lots of glaciers, and Tian Shan firs on the steep valley sides. In summer the valleys are used as summer pasture. Sadly the Kazakhstan–Kyrgyzstan ‘green border’ – foot trails through the mountains, without border posts – is now closed, with border guards patrolling the access routes, so it’s no longer possible to trek all the way across the mountains to Lake Issyk-Kцl. But it is still possible to take a hike of one or several days in the Zailiysky Alatau. Officially a permit is needed to enter the border zone, which starts at the north end of Ozero Bolshoe Almatinskoe (camping is not allowed beside the lake), but there are good routes that avoid the border zone, and a good guide can smooth the way if you do pass through it.
Trekking warning - On any mountain hike or trek, you must be equipped for bad conditions. The trekking season lasts from about mid-May to mid-September; July and August have the most reliable weather, but at any time it can rain or snow in the mountains, even when it’s warm in Almaty. If you’re caught unprepared by a sudden storm, it could be fatal. There is also year-round avalanche danger wherever you see snow. And acclimatisation is essential: altitude sickness can affect anyone who ascends rapidly above 2500m, so spending a night on the way up is highly advisable.
DAY WALKS FROM CHIMBULAK - In summer, it’s a 3km hike (or ride on the ski lift!) up to the Talgar Pass at 3163m, where you can see glacier-flanked Pik Komsomola (4330m) rising 3km to the south. Or you can head on up the valley road from Chimbulak. It continues upward for 8km, paved most of the way, to end at about 3500m beneath the glaciers ringing the top of the valley. If you are going up to these high elevations it’s advisable to spend a night acclimatising at Chimbulak (it’s possible to camp here).
GES-2–OZERO BOLSHOE ALMATINSKOE–KOSMOSTANTSIA–GES-2 LOOP - This is a fine trek of about 35km. For acclimatisation reasons it’s best done in two days, with a night at the Tian Shan Observatory or Alpiyskaya Roza, even if you take a vehicle part of the way. You can start where bus 28 terminates at GES-2, or save 8km by taking a taxi to GES-1. Here climb the metal steps beside the broad water pipe rising sharply up the gorge, then walk up the pipe for the most direct route to Ozero Bolshoe Almatinskoe (two to three hours). From the lake, follow the road uphill to the right to the observatory (40 minutes). From the observatory it’s about 2,5 hours up the road to Kosmostantsia at the Zhusalykezen Pass (3336m), from which you can descend west to the Prokhodnaya valley (three to four hours) and walk 8km down the valley past Alma-Arasan back to GES-2. If you have enough energy and time to play with, from the Zhusalykezen Pass you can detour 2km north to Pik Bolshoe Almatinsky (3681m), which affords great views back down to Almaty (smog permitting); or 2km south to Pik Turist (3954m), which is easier walking though higher. Alternatively, get a vehicle all the way to the Zhusalykezen Pass and summit either peak in more leisurely fashion!
CHIMBULAK TO OZERO BOLSHOE ALMATINSKOE - This longer, more demanding, three-day route crosses high-level passes and runs through the border zone, so you should definitely take a guide. Start with a night at Chimbulak, then hike (or ride the ski lift) up to the Talgar Pass (3163m) and descend to the Levy (Left) Talgar River, where you can camp overnight at the Alpiyskaya Roza campsite. Next day hike up the Levy Talgar and camp on the grass beneath the Dmitrieva or Turist glaciers at about 3500m. On the third day cross the Turistov Pass (3930m) and descend to Ozero Bolshoe Almatinskoe, where guides should have a vehicle waiting for you.