Almaty Kazakhstan is located near one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Central Asia. As a result, there are plenty of alpine recreation opportunities located within close distance of the city center. Therefore, my friend and I decided to spend the day hiking around the Shymbulak ski area. It was summertime, however the lifts remain open during the summer for lift access hiking.
Introduction to Shymbulak
Shymbulak is the most popular ski destination in Central Asia. Conveniently located, the base lift is 25 kilometers south of Almaty. Additionally, the ski lifts are situated in the upper reaches of the Medeu Valley which is part of the Zailiysky Alatau mountain range. Zailiysky Alatau stretches for about 350 kilometers and it is the northernmost range of the Tian Shan mountain system.
Shymbulak has a base elevation of 2200 meters and the top elevation is 3200 meters above sea level. Most recently, the 2011 Asian Winter Games were held at Shymbulak. In addition, Almaty is also bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Unique Shymbulak Weather Year Round
The ski area is popular for abundant snowfall. However, they also claim that a minimum of 9 out of 10 days are sunny. Although ski season runs from December until April, the ski area also has high quality lift access for summer alpine hiking. As a result, visitors can get a ride to the top and then explore the surrounding ridge tops and the local glacier.
Shymbulak Summertime Lift Access
Talgar Pass is reached at the top of the lift. From here, visitors are presented with some different hiking options. Most visitors visit the receding glacier, however the majestic ridge line directly in front of us seemed to be a more rewarding option. As a result, we elected to go and climb to the top. However, there is also an option available to hike to the nearby glacier.
We hiked up this trail and over the second ridge to our ultimate destination. Once we reached the second ridge we continued about another 2 kilometers until we reached the highest point. Hence, we had a great vantage point for some HD video and photos.
Talgar Peak Seen from Shymbulak
Also known as Pik Talgar, this is the highest mountain in the Zailiysky Alatau Mountain Range. As a result, the peak is very popular with mountaineers due to it’s close proximity to Almaty. It is named after the nearby Talgar River and city. The most widely quoted elevation of the mountain is 4979 meters, although sources differ.
Almaty’s Receding Glaciers
My friend and I were visiting this area without a guide. However, the guide that I used for my Altyn Emel Singing Sands adventure was full of interesting anecdotes about life under the former U.S.S.R.. As a result, one story in particular was concerning the glaciers in the nearby mountains.
The collectivist agricultural policy imposed on Kazakhstan by Joseph Stalin came with very strict and challenging quotas. As a result, the local Soviet administration decided to see if they could increase water flow for crop irrigation. So they coated the glaciers with black ash in the summer in order to speed up the melting process.
This resulted in greatly increased the melt water, but it also depleted the mountain glaciers very rapidly. Unfortunately, the glaciers will take hundreds of thousands of years to regain any significant mass. Therefore, Shymbulak and the surrounding area are now faced with water shortage.