Toes of the Tien Shan

During my first weekend in Kazakhstan, I headed to the hills.

The #6 bus starts just a block away from KIMEP and travels for a half hour up to Medeu, which is a large outdoor arena used for a number of sports, but especially bandyball (you’ll have to Google that one). It only costs 100 tenge (about 70 cents) each way, so I doubled down and went two days in a row.


The first day, Julia accompanied me up to the mountains. We had no idea where to go or what to see, so we just turned it into an improvised adventure and tried to find trails. Much to my delight, the bus dropped us off next to a new gondola system that takes one from the bus stop up to Chimbulak, the local ski area, which I’m sure I’ll become much more acquainted with when the snowflakes start flying.

One long staircase

We decided to save a gondola ride for later, and followed the road to find a massive staircase, probably almost three times longer than at the Red Rocks concert venue outside of Denver. The stairway was a little touristy, complete with vendors hawking water, soda and treats every few hundred stairs or so. We joked that the prices probably go up the higher you climb. The stairs also had plenty of random things, like skinny horses and hyper children.

Different than in the City Center

We hoofed it up all of the stairs (a local told me there are at least 800), and found a simply awesome view.

View from the top of the stairs

From the top, we walked along the road a little ways until we found something that looked like a trail. We followed it, save for avoiding a random bull, and found a sheepherder at the end of the actual path. We turned around there.

Sheep in the shadows

We made it down the stairs and rode the #6 with a golden eagle all the way back into town. For more on the first day, be sure to check out Julia’s take on the adventure.

While we were at Medeu, I got a call from my Kazakh coworker Gulmira to see if I wanted to go on a hike the next day, which I accepted. Along with her sister and the Supervisor of the Writing Center (one of the places I work), we took the #6 again, but got off before the top with a large group of Germans going to the same place. We walked up a side road for a little while and then discovered a true trail.

No need for switchbacks

The trail went straight up for a ways, and it was apparent that there would be no switchbacks. We were greeted at the top of the first hill with a view of Almaty, one that would continue to get better the higher we went.

Almaty from the first hill

Eventually the trail mellowed out and became really, really nice. We stopped at the top of a pass/trail intersection, where we enjoyed some lunch in the ever-hot sun.

The Tien Shan
Пик Кумбель, which I summited two weeks after this hike, and will certainly be the centerpiece of many posts

We made our way back down slowly, mindful of the slick trail and non-hiking footwear of my coworkers, and found the bus stop. It was a terrific weekend on the Toes of the Tien Shan Mountains, and I have a feeling I will continue to spend a significant amount of time there this year.

Author’s note: My brother is quickly becoming the top contributor on this blog! Just as I was starting to get settled in the new apartment, however, the landlord pulled the rug out from under us so I’m moving again on Friday. Rumor has it that there is internet at the new place, so maybe I’ll finally be able to post from there using a handy VPN so I don’t need to email any more HTML. Big thanks to my brother Steve for helping me keep you up-to-date on my antics in Kazakhstan, and to Andy for developing me a way to use a WordPress page to format my posts properly.

Click any photo for an enlarged version


4 thoughts on “Toes of the Tien Shan

    1. Yeah, despite the big fuss they make here about contracts, they really don’t mean anything as far as I can tell. At the end of the day, this is just another tally in the “living struggles” column of life in KZ.

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