Hikes & Treks
The higher reaches of the Zailiysky Alatau are beautiful and spectacular, with many peaks over 4000m, deep river valleys, many glaciers, and Tian Shan firs on the steep valley sides. The Kazakhstan–Kyrgyzstan ‘green border’ – foot trails through the mountains – is closed for foreigners, with border guards patrolling the access routes, so it’s no longer possible to trek all the way across the mountains to Lake Issyk-Köl in Kyrgyzstan. Some routes that approach the border without crossing it also tend to fall foul of the border guards, but it is still possible to take a hike of one or a few days in the Zailiysky Alatau. To avoid problems with the border guards, go with a knowledgable guide, or at least get the most reliable information possible from Almaty sources (such as trekking agencies) beforehand.
Agencies such as Trekking Club, Silk Road Adventures, Kan Tengri, Valentina Guesthouse and Karlygash Makatova in Almaty can provide guides and organisational support for mountain treks. Rates for small-group treks of more than one day with English-speaking guides start at 40,000T to 50,000T per day, including car transfers.
Day Walks from Chimbulak
In summer, it’s a 3km hike (or ride in the gondola) from Chimbulak 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, with some steep sections, 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 first.
GES-2–Ozero Bolshoe Almatinskoe–Kosmostantsia–GES-2 Loop
The road up to the Zhusalykezen Pass is now paved all the way, but if you prefer to do this traditionally popular route (or just part of it) on foot, it's still a fine walk – about 22km all the way from the GES-2 bus stop to the pass, with an ascent of nearly 1900m. For acclimatisation reasons it's a good idea to give it two days, with a night en route.
You can start walking where bus 28 terminates at GES-2, or save 8km by taking a taxi to GES-1 (around 5000T from central Almaty). Here climb the metal steps beside the broad water pipe rising sharply up the valley, then walk up beside 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 2½ hours up the road to Kosmostantsia at the Zhusalykezen Pass (3336m). From here you can continue 2km north to Pik Bolshoy 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. Unfortunately it's no longer possible to return to Almaty by descending westward to the Prokhodnaya valley, as the route through Alma-Arasan has been blocked.
Chimbulak to Alpiyskaya Roza Hotel
This two-day route doesn't stray too close to the Kyrgyzstan border or Ozero Bolshoe Almatinskoe so is unlikely to fall foul of border guards. From Chimbulak, hike up the valley road to the Tuyuksu meteorological station (where it's possible to sleep) then ascend westward and cross the Molodyozhny Pass (3750m). Descend the scree on the west side of the pass, cross the Kumbel River (in the morning, before it rises with meltwater), cross the next ridge west and follow the Chukur (Shukyr) river down to the Alpen Rose.
Medeu to Butakovka
This is a relatively leisurely hike of three to four hours, through wooded hills in the middle section, with buses at both ends. Start by heading east up the paved side road 100m downhill from the Medeo ice rink. After about 1.5km take the track up to the left between two large properties with high stone perimeter walls. About 800m up here, take the path heading left up through the trees for 500m to the Komissarov Pass (2060m). Cross straight over the little pass and descend the valley path about 1.5km to the paved road at Berezovaya Roshka. You then have a 5km road walk down the valley to Butakovka village, passing a couple of picnic spots and shashlyk joints and some enormous high-walled mansions. From Butakovka bus 29R heads back to Almaty (Dostyk) once or twice an hour.
Medeu to Kok Zhailau, Peak Kumbel & Tri Brata
This is a fairly straightforward day hike.
There’s a turn-off to the right just before the bus stop before the ski lift for Chimbulak. Take it and follow along the river for 100m until a green arrow points you right towards Kok Zhailau. Follow the steep track through the forest until it flattens out into the Kok Zhailau meadow a couple of hours and a 700m ascent later. It takes another two hours or so to ascend the steep trail that leads up to Tri Brata (Three Brothers), three craggy bluffs on the western flank of Peak Kumbel, and then on to the peak itself, from which you get tremendous views over Almaty. From here, you can go back the way you came or descend into the Almarasan Valley, to the main road, where there are umpteen shashlyk restaurants.