ASTANA – Incredible views, impressive peaks and breathtaking scenery. Kazakhstan’s unique and diverse nature has something to offer both for sophisticated professionals and curious beginners.
Mountaineering and climbing activities
The country has four mountain regions, including the Zailisky Alatau ridge, Dzungarian Alatau range in Almaty region, Altai Mountains in East Kazakhstan region and Karatau Mountains in south Kazakhstan region.
The 7,010-metre Khan Tengri Mountain is the highest point in the country and the most northerly 7,000-metre peak in the world. It is situated on the border of China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The summit is difficult to reach and attracts a lot of attention with its beauty and almost triangular-pyramid shape.
“Annually, about 150-200 foreign climbers come to climb the Khan Tengri Mountain. Local athletes and climbers ensure the safety of the ascent. They help to get to the summit. Since the route has its own difficulties, only 20-30 out of 100 people can reach the summit,” Kazakh Alpine Club President Baglan Zhunusov told EdgeKZ.
The Talgar peak, 4,979 metres above sea level, is the highest point of the Zailisky Alatau, the northernmost range of the Tien Shan Mountains.
“It is located not far from Almaty and serves as a training ground. It’s not so high and we invite beginners all year round to climb there. We have a mountaineering camp designed for the complex training lasting two weeks. Morning exercises, lectures, sports classes and then climbing are included in the programme. The participants receive the Mountaineer of Kazakhstan badge after the training. After the course, they are ready to climb with ropes and hooks as real mountaineers,” he said.
Zhunusov also spoke about the mountaineering federation and its activities.
“The mountaineering and climbing federation was established in the 1950s. The coordination of all sections and mountaineering groups at major events is one of the main activities of the federation. As a public association, the Kazakh Alpine Club also unites all climbers in the country,” he said.
The club has a tradition of holding annual alpiniads (mass ascent) with the participation of thousands of people.
“We prepare special routes and organise a special ascent to the mountains. Last year, about 4,500 were registered at the ‘alpiniad’ by climbing Abai Peak and about 250-300 people reached the summit,” he said.
The federation also organises domestic competitions.
Kazakhstan has been accredited by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA). Founded in 1932, the organisation has a global presence on six continents with 92 member associations in 68 countries.
“The Kazakh mountaineering school is considered one of the top schools in the world. Local athletes, being members of the former Soviet Union team, took first prizes. These are well-known climbers Anatoli Boukreev, Valery Khrichtchatyi, Kazbek Valiyev and Yervand Ilyinsky. This generation of athletes became famous all over the world. The first ascent of Mount Everest in 1982 is one of the main achievements of our mountaineering. The Soviet team opened a new route to Everest which has still not been conquered by anyone in the world,” he said.
Kazakh alpinists participated in a climbing programme on the 14 highest peaks in the world. It took about 20 years to achieve the goal.
“Denis Urubko, Vassily Pivtsov and Maksut Zhumayev completed the Crown of the Himalaya programme in 2011. This is the greatest achievement for the country,” he said.
The federation also provides support for the instructors’ school.
“Our experienced instructors are one of the factors affecting the attraction of foreign tourists to the community. About 50-100 people come to us every month from near and far abroad. They come for training and receiving athletic titles,” he said.
Zhunusov noted most of the climbers come from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, the Baltic States, Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. Tourists often stay away due to barriers such as the absence of maps, routes classified by region and description of localities and rules where trekking is permitted.
“Our federation is developing maps for hiking, as we believe mountain trails are very attractive for tourists. We have developed a comprehensive programme for updating the mountain trails. There will be signs, information stands with view points and benches for rest,” he said.
Last year, the Almaty Mount Fest, a unique international festival initiated by the Kazakh Geographic Society (KazGeo), was held for the first time Sept. 9-11 in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Tourists from Austria, the Baltic States, Germany, and Russia took part in the event and visitors from Nepal and the U.K. are expected to attend the next festival.
“It attracted more than 4,000 people. Such international festivals greatly contribute to the influx of tourists. We held a large conference and discussed the issues related to tourist attraction, the lack of maps and what measures are needed for tourism development. An alpiniad with the participation of about 1,500-2,000 people was also held. About 350 people reached the summit. The event attracted a huge audience. The world mountaineering cup was also held as part of the event. We hope the festival becomes an excellent tradition. Our task is to hold such events every year,” he said.
Mountain expeditions and guided tours in Almaty
A number of companies in Almaty offer mountain climbing tours. The outdoor adventure tours include hiking, trekking, mountaineering and bike, free ride, back country and ski tours.
The Trekking Club offers mountaineering and climbing tours and expeditions led by professional mountain guides. The mountaineering programme is a one or two-day training and expeditions to the most significant mountains of the North and Central Tian Shan.
“Climbing routes are different: from easy ones that do not require climbing skills to complicated ones where technical skills are absolutely needed. We also organise expeditions for experienced climbers,” said club head Alexey Raspopov in an interview for this story.
A professional mountaineering instructor, Raspopov has climbed seven of the 14 existing 8,000-metre peaks in the world. He also organised the High Altitude Himalaya Summit Climbs.
“We are proud of our experienced and attentive mountain guides whose work is not only making climbing safe and comfortable, but also teaching essential climbing skills such as using special equipment and general techniques,” he said.
The company provides transport, mountain guide (instructor) services, special climbing gear and individual sets of climbing equipment, foodstuffs, bivouac equipment (for two-day programmes) or accommodations at the club’s mountain hut.
“All classes are designed for specific participants according to their qualifications. Participants are both local and foreign people coming from Australia, Russia and Europe. Expats who live and work in Almaty or Astana have the opportunity to participate in the weekend school. We develop the entire schedule for the weekend or vacation days lasting from one to three months. Some of them specifically come to acquire specific skills and climb in the mountains near Almaty for five-seven days,” said Raspopov.
Kazakhstan’s attractiveness as a tourist destination has increased significantly due to the visa-free regime for most developed countries.
“There’s a huge variety of landscapes and geographical areas from the Northern Tien Shan glaciers to the Pribalkhash deserts in the Almaty region. Tourists coming to Almaty are eager to visit areas in the mountain gorges of the Zailisky Alatau, the Big Almaty gorge and lake, the Turgen and the Tuyuk-Su glacier,” he said.
Raspopov added the tourism industry has certain challenges like in any other sector.
“A lot of things are done for the development of tourism. A visa-free regime and large international events are held which certainly attract people and interest in our country as a whole. National parks are developing well, infrastructure and access to information are improving and this is important,” he said.
Group tours cost US$150 (one-two persons) and US$200 (three-four persons). The price includes transport from Almaty to the training place, rock climbing instructor services and renting climbing gear and a personal set.
Nazarbayev University Assistant Professor Evagoras Xydas told EdgeKZ about his climbing experience in Almaty.
“Since I came to Kazakhstan I wanted to gain some experience in mountaineering, because I didn’t have this experience in higher altitudes. I attended the mountaineering course with the Trekking Club. I have to say it was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was amazing. Alexey [Raspopov] has huge experience; he has climbed many peaks. He has much knowledge to share. Everything he said was based on his personal experience. For me, it was great. I gained knowledge which will help me to climb mountains in the future,” he said.
Xydas went to Almaty several times during his trainings. He admitted it was an enjoyable experience, although they climbed in winter when the temperature was very low.
“The course included training at rocks at the lower level in the Medeo or near the hub they had in the Tien Shin Mountains. It included hiking to the Tuyuk-Su glacier and also climbing the 4,000-metre Amangeldy peak. The views that you see from those mountains are like a dream,” he said.Will
“It’s just something you don’t see in many places. All these peaks in one place. It was so magnificent. I tell anyone not to miss the chance to visit Kazakhstan and to go to those peaks not only in summer, but also in winter. They’ll get a unique experience in winter,” he said.
Xydas added it takes only a couple of hours to get to the mountains from the city and it is really convenient.
“I was taught all organisational details for the trip and rescue procedures and this June I plan to go climbing again. Of course, I would like to join the Trekking Club in their expeditions again, because it was just great to be in the mountains with them,” he said.