During the first few weeks of July, my good friends James and Tristan decided to leave Almaty for new opportunities in Tblisi, Georgia. I, and many other friends here, were super bummed, but luckily these two guys were not about to leave with out a series of awesome going-away parties, including a long day poolside surrounded by gorgeous women, and a weekend in the mountains staying at an observatory above Big Almaty Lake.
The last time I visited Big Almaty Lake, I had a unique experience that did not really seem too inviting for a return. This time, in mid-July with a big crew and transportation to the observatory, I was anxious to head back up to check it out again. I packed up my skis and rode up at sunset for a night of heavy celebration with a great crew.
We got up early, really early, in order to drive down to the lake and get hiking before the border guards woke up. After a night of heavy celebration, it was tough for most of the crew to get going, but eventually James, Tristan, Riley, Tim and I made our way down from the observatory to the lake to meet Matt for the day’s adventure.
Riley tried to haul up his skis as well, but didn’t make it too far before he decided to shed the weight. I trudged on with the full set-up strapped to my back, past the lake and up the valley. Before long, we found the sunlight and started up the south facing hill.
After gaining about 500 meters from the road, the border guards caught up with us. Luckily, we were 500 meters above the road and a few kilometers away, and the guards were not to anxious to leave their Lada 4×4 or the road. They shouted and whistled at us, but we played deaf until we arrived at the top of the ridge, and at that point we lost sight of them until we arrived back at the observatory later that evening.
At the top of the ridge, it became apparent that the previous night’s libations were catching up with us. Luckily, however, the weather was forgiving, and the sky was that wonderful Kazakhstani Flag Blue.
Seven hours after setting out from the lake, the crew arrived at the summit. I took photos, tied up some Nepalese Prayer Flags, and strapped on my boots, much to the jealousy of the rest of the boys.
As far as timing goes, we moved a bit slow thanks to the night before and, for me at least, a pretty heavy pack. The summit snow was ripened corn, and soon turned into the best July ski I have ever had.
I skied the line continuously from top to bottom, enjoying the best skiing I’ve ever had in July. At the end of the snow, I took off my boots and enjoyed a nap while the other boys started to glissade down a different snow field. We all met up back at the road with smiles on our faces and glad we pulled through on the long day. I’m pretty sure my line was a repeat of the first descent done by the Powder.kz crew in May, hopefully I’ll be able to ski with the “sport” crew this winter and spring.
We found the lake and the car and drove back up to the observatory. To get to the observatory, we had to drive through a border guard camp. Here we were stopped and yelled at by a young guard, very upset about something we had done. The boys in our vehicle didn’t speak any Russian, which went unnoticed by the guard as he continued to shout at us no matter how many times we said we didn’t understand him. He followed us into the observatory campus, where Matt was able to figure out that we were in trouble for not descending off the mountain when the were shouting and whistling at us that morning. We got out of trouble, however, explaining that we were just stupid Westerners and we’re all OK and not going to pay any money so go away, which the fellow did eventually.
Big Almaty Peak
That evening, much of the crew headed back to the city to prepare for parties, trips, and moving from Almaty. James, Tim, Alenka and Alina stayed around, however, and the next day we hiked through the rain to check out Big Almaty Peak.
We hiked from the Observatory up to a small, semi-abandoned science village, left the girls behind, and hiked up to the relatively simple peak in a few hours. From the summit, we saw large, dark clouds moving in, so we didn’t linger long before scree-skiing back to the village.
We made it down through the fog, and then watched an amateur rally-car race taking place on the road between the lake and the science village, and then made our way back to Almaty.
All things considered, this was the all-around best weekend I have had in Almaty to date. I’m still bummed Tristan and James are gone (and haven’t come back!) but it was great to spend such a good time with them nonetheless. I can’t wait to meet up with them again here, there, or some other far-away corner of the globe.