As the clouds were lifting from the sky above Almaty, the contours of the mountains to the south became visible. They exerted an irresistible attraction on me, and I was immediately on my way to the bus stop. An old Russian bus took me up to Medeo, where I first had a glance at the famous speed skating ice rink, where so many world records had been broken before the advent of covered ice rinks. From here, there are several options for a good mountain hike, and I chose to go up the Kim-Asar (or Kommisarov in Russian) valley. The beginning was very easy, on a tarred road up the valley; in the sunshine, it was pleasantly warm. I came across a friendly Kazakh family, and once again, I cursed myself for not speaking Russian more than a few words. They turned out to be tipsy; fortunately, I was able to get away without having to drink the vodka they offered. After all, I was short on time; I knew that the sun would go down within a few hours.
So I continued up the valley, which took on a different character pretty soon. The tarred road ended, and as I entered the shadow, I also entered the snow. The higher I came, the more ice I encountered on the trail, until I had to thread very carefully to avoid slipping down the path. Without any equipment to tackle wintery conditions (in Almaty, the weather had seemed spring-like), my only option was to walk in the deep snow rather than on the thick ice on the trail. Progress was slow, but higher up, the trail was littered with small stones and snow, which made for easy hiking. When I left the narrow part of the valley behind, I entered a wide area where the sun was still shining, and where much of the snow had melted because of it. At the end of it, I followed the stream that was almost completely frozen. Soon, continuing seemed hopeless, and I decided to climb up the mountain to the north, directly to the ridge of the mountain. Eventually, this seemed the right direction, but it was a difficult one as well. At one point, I had to drag myself through the knee-deep snow; at others, I had to pull myself up the steep sloping mountain using branches. But in the end, I encountered a real trail again, and followed it further up.
Having reached the ridge, all around me fantastic panoramas opened themselves to me. Above me, towards the sun, I saw high, snow-capped mountains. Ahead of me, the trail, leading close to a forest, and the bare Furmanova mountain. Below me, lower mountain ranges, forests, and clouds above what I knew were the steppes north of Almaty. As I continued to hike higher, I encountered a Kazakh hiker, smarter than me, because he was using poles to keep his balance in the slippery conditions. His English was more than sufficient for a conversation, and he strongly advised me to go down again. He had seen footprints of wolves in the snow, and the guy living in a shed close to where were standing, had lost a horse after it was attacked by a tiger recently. The Kazakh went down, but I could not resist going further up. The summit of the Furmanova mountain (around 3000m), looked irresistible to me, and it did not seem too far. But at one moment, as the sun was disappearing behind the mountain range, the wind was getting strong and bitterly cold, the words of the Kazakh were ringing in my ears again, and I decided to go down. With the freezing conditions, that would get more difficult anyway, and I realized that being down before the night would be my best option. So, the hike further up the mountain, and into the Butakovka valley would have to wait for another visit. I hiked down the mountain, taking a different path that led straight down and ended close to the tarred road. By that time, the horses I met were mere shadows in the night, and I was glad I made it down.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kim-Asar 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 Kim-Asar hiking. Read more about this site.