After enjoying a great New Year's Eve in Almaty, I cannot resist the view of the Tian Shan mountains to the south of the city, and take the bus to Medeo. It is completely full: many people are on their way to go skating, skiing, or hiking in the mountains. I am secretly jealous of the inhabitants of Almaty, who not only have a pleasant city to live in, but also such wild nature on their doorstep, which you can enjoy any time of the year. My plan is to hike from Medeo to Butakovka, which is a valley to the east, and I walk up the road east of the main road right after I get off the bus. Just to be sure, I ask a Kazakh lady who was also hiking, but she tells me that I would have had to take another path, and asks me why I don't hike up to Furmanovka instead. She happens to be on her way there, and we hike up together through the forest. As soon as we reach above the trees, we get good views over the city and the lower mountains, and the steppes north of the former capital of Kazakhstan.
The sky is clearer than it looked like from the city, which unfortunately has a serious smog problem, and I recognize the trail: I have been here on an early winter day a few years before. Back then, I started out in the afternoon, and had to turn around, but this time, I have the whole day. We hike further up, pass a slope where a few skiers enjoy skiing down the unprepared snow, and walk through the snow to the last ridge with trees. My companion starts to feel the altitude, and turns back; I continue to what I think is Furmanovka, and which looks close. The mountain gets steeper, and I have to thread carefully not to slide down. One guy comes down the hill sitting on the snow. When I reach the top of this mountain, I am just over 3,000m, and the views all around are superb. To the east: Pik Talgar, just under 5,000m, to the south and west: more mountains, and to the north, Almaty and the steppes. I have seen it before, but it remains remarkable; after the spectacular, high mountains in the south, the perfectly flat landscape that stretches out to the horizon.
While I had thought to turn around here, I now see a higher peak, and I see footsteps; I still have time, and decide to push on. The walking gets a little easier here, even through there are small sections where I have to struggle through snow so deep it reaches my hips. I reach the top of the mountain, with a stone marker, but then, I see a ridge leading further south, and higher. I cannot resist, and continue. Suddenly, I feel the cold: a wind blows right over the ridge, which is why part of it is not even covered in snow anymore. The water bottle in my backpack turns out to be partly frozen. I put on my woolen cap and gloves. The summit at the end of the ridge is almost 3,400m high. I now am right above Chimbulak ski resort; I can even hear the music, and walk down a little. It would be great to descend here - but I do not see any trail or footsteps going down, and I decide it is not wise to risk. Neither do I see anything going towards Butakovka valley, which I will have to postpone for another occasion. It is getting late: sunset will be in an hour and a half, and I have to descend to 1,680 metres. The first part of the descent is easy, and there are sections where I can run down, slide down, almost ski down on my hiking boots. It is at lower altitudes that the snow is frozen, and I fall countless times. The forest is the worst: there is ice, there are stones, and in one case, I fall, slide down at always higher speed, steering myself towards a tree where I use my legs as an emergency brake. It is already dark when I reach the dirt track, and before taking the bus back to the city for a tasty Central Asian meal, I have a look at the Medeo ice rink where people skate on the once magical ice.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Furmanovka hiking (Kazakhstan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Furmanovka hiking. Read more about this site.