99/1 Naurizbay Batira St, Almaty, Republic of Kazakhstan
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The Dzungarian Alatau (Almaty Region, Kazakhstan)

A unique tour around the central part of the Dzungarian Alatau to see its most important gorges, glaciers, alpine meadows and high-altitude lakes. The places are wild and rarely visited by tourists, which makes the route rather extreme.

Route: The Dzungarian Alatau (Almaty Region, Kazakhstan)
 Season: June to October
Recommended period: August to September
 Route difficulty: very difficult trekking for experienced tourists
Elevation: 760 to 3500 m above sea level. 


Day 1. Almaty—Taldykorgan—Sarkand

Departing from Almaty at 7:00. Arriving in Taldykorgan at 10:00. Visiting the Local History Museum of the Almaty Region. Lunch. Moving to Sarkand (about 150 km). The 2 hours' trip includes 2 to 3 stops near sights of interest and memorial as well as visiting the central office of Zhongar-Alatau National Park.  

Shoqan Walikhanov was the first to mention Sarkand in his essays on exploring Semirechye. It was back in 1857. Sarkand was initially a stanitsa founded by Siberian Cossacks. The first large settlements appeared on the bank of the Sarkand River in 1858, when 22 families moved from Kopal and Lepsi Uyezds. The first school opened in 1872. Sarkand District was established in 1928. In included Cherkasskoye Volost and Lepsi Uyezd. Sarkand became an urban-type settlement in 1964 and a city in 1968. Today it is a small but pretty town. Locals are mostly engaged in agriculture producing excellent wine. They even have a small brewery and a cheese factory. 

Arriving in Sarkand about 6 p.m. Check-in. Dinner, free time, and preparation for the start. An overnight in a Sarkand hotel.  

Kilometers to be driven: about 400.

Day 2. Sarkand to Maly Baskan Cordon to Maly Baskan Valley

Rise at 07:00. Breakfast and packing. Moving to Maly Baskan Cordon. Lunch at the Cordon. Crossing to the right bank of the river and going up Maly Baskan Gorge. The first 2 km will be a relatively difficult path with tall prickly shrubs, nettles, and windbreak. Then there is a decent dirt road leading to the first overnight stop.  

Maly Baskan Gorge lies on the northern slope of the central ridge of the Dzungarian Alatau it is highest part and stretches from south to north. The length of the Maly Baskan River to the junction with he Bolshoy Baskan is approximately 40 km. They meet near Yekiasha village, previously Pokatilovka, so our way to the beginning of the gorge includes the locality. The gorge begins at the circus of the Jambyl Glacier, one of the bigger glaciers in the area. Three highest peaks of the Dzungarian Alatau lie in the eastern part of the Jambyl Glacier: Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky Peak, Smusky Peak, and Abay Peak. Jambyl Peak lies in the western part of the Jambyl Glacier.  

Arriving at the overnight site. We then put up a camp for dinner and rest. 

Kilometers to be driven: about 50. Walking distance: 7 km

Day 3. Maly Baskan Valley 

Early rise, breakfast, and packing. Trekking up the gorge to the upper border of the forest. We will be moving across country throughout the day, sometimes with no path at all. In some places, however, there is a decent dirt road. We will see a number of brooks that join the Maly Baskan. We will have to wade across them. When we have passed the border outpost and crossed the Kumbasay River, we stop for lunch and a short rest. Then we continue moving. We wade across two more tributaries of the Maly Baskan and reach the upper border of the forest, where we put up a camp. We will then have dinner overlooking the mountain tops and rest. 

Total walking distance: 14 km

Day 4. Maly Baskan Valley to the Jambyl Glacier

Early rise, breakfast, and packing. We cross the largest tributary of Maly Baskan, the Archevaya River that begins under the Shumsky Glacier We cross several branches of the overflowing river. The water level can vary depending on the season. We will probably have to wade. A short walk in the alpine meadows is followed by a very nasty obstacle—a huge stone roadblock. When we have crossed the roadblock, we enter more alpine meadows and come to the moraine-dammed lake. The lake's water level varies depending on the season. We stop for lunch and a short rest on the bank of the lake formed by an old moraine blocking the gorge. Then we cross to the moraine formed by the Jambyl Glacier. Putting up a camp for dinner and rest. 

Total walking distance: 12 km

Day 5. The Jambyl Glacier to Maly Baskan Valley

Early rise at 4:30, breakfast and packing. Radial entrance to the Jambyl Glacier, the point overlooking Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky Peak.  

The Jambyl Glacier has a total length of about 6 km, while its exposed part is about 5 km long. Its floor areas is about 11.5 square km. Experts observe the glacier to shrink by about 2.5 m every year. Ablation is relatively intense here as for the area. The glacier was named after the outstanding Kazakh poet Jambyl Jabayev. 

We come down to the glacier moraine for lunch and rest. After lunch, we come down to the Archevaya River along the ascending path. Having crossed the stone roadblock, we choose a camping ground. We then put up a camp for dinner and rest.  

Total walking distance: 16 to 20 km

* Experienced tourirsts are offered an opportunity to climb Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky Peak (4665 m above sea level). In this case the programme will be prolonged by 1 day. 

Day 6. Radial entrance to the Shumsky Glacier.

Breakfast. Radial entrance to the Shumsky Glacier. 

Many tourists who have been to the Shumsky Glacier say it is the most beautiful glacier they have ever seen. Locals call the glacier Saukele, which is the ethnic Kazakh bridal headgear. Indeed, the shape is very similar. This glacier is about the same size as the Jambyl Glacier: it is about 6 km long with an area of about 10.7 square km. The glacier was named after a Soviet scientists, one of the founding fathers of Soviet glaciology, explorer of the Arctic and Antarctic Pyotr Shumsky.  

Returning to the camping place for dinner and rest.  

Total walking distance: 10 km

Day 7. Maly Baskan Valley—Suurly Pass

Early rise and breakfast. Packing and trekking down the gorge to the upper border of the forest. Wading across the Kumabasay River. Stopping for lunch and rest. After the rest we move towards the Suurly Pass, which is about 2800 m above sea level. Having descended to the Suursay River, we choose a camping place. We then put up a camp for dinner and rest.  

Total walking distance: about 13 km 

Day 8. Suursay Valley—Bolshoy Baskan—Terensay Gorge

Breakfast and packing. Descending Suursay Gorge to the border outpost and the junction with the Bolshoy Baskan River. A stop for lunch and rest.  

The Bolshoy Baskan River heads from four large tributaties coming from the largest glaciers in the Dzungarian Alatau. The longest Dzungarian glaciers are the Abay Glacier (about 10.5 km long with an area of about 13.5 sq. km) and the Shumsky Glacier. The maximum height of Bolshoy Baskan Gorge at Shumsky Peak is 4445 m above sea level. The part of the river that follows the junction of the Karangurt and the Terensay is called the Bolshoy Baskan River.  

After lunch, we continue to trek up Bolshoy Baskan Gorge until we reach the Terensay tributary. We will have to move across country most of the time, though a decent path and even a dirt road appears here and there. We reach the upper border of the forest near the Bezymyanny Pass and choose a camping place. Dinner and rest.  

Total walking distance: 16 km

Day 9. Terensay Gorge—Bezymyanny Pass—Solnechnaya Valley—Upper Lake Zhasylkol

Breakfast and packing. We reach the Bezymyanny Pass, which is about 3200 m above sea level. Then we ascend the wide gorge with a clear path in some places. We will have to overcome a small talus near the saddle. The saddle of the pass offers a beautiful view of the Solnechnaya Valley in the lower reaches of the Kora River and Terensay Gorge. Rest on the pass. Descending from the pass to the broad valley on the simple graddy slope with an excellent path appearing occasionally. When we have passed the Solnechnaya Valley, we stop for rest and lunch at the junction of the Kora and Bala Kory rivers. After rest we ascend the Alisa Pass, which is about 2980 m above sea level. It is a difficult ascend as we will have to walk on a steep grassy slope with patches of very tall grass. Yet, it offers a view that will impress even a very experienced tourist: Upper Lake Zhasylkol with its turquoise glassy water in the east, the Solnechnaya Valley with the upper reaches of the Kora and Bala Kory in the west, and the snow caps of the circus of the Kolesnik glacier, the largest one in the area, that can only be seen on a sunny day.  

Descending from the Alisa Pass to the bank of Lake Zhasylkol, choosing a camping place, dinner, and rest.  

Total walking distance: about17 km

Day 10. Upper Lake Zhasylkol

A rest day by the lake. Walks in the nearby. An overnight in a tent camp by the lake. 

The lake is 2200 m above sea level on the bank of a tributary of the Kikozen River, the Kyzylauz River. It formed due to a big earthquake. The right slope collapsed, blocking the gorge with a large rock dam. The lake is 3.3 km long with an average width of 300 m. It shape is reminiscent of the Semirechensk salamander, an endangered species that is found in the Jungar Alatau only. The lake is a bluish green that matches the green slopes with alpine meadows and think low shrubs on them. It is a pity that the lake attracts few tourists due to its remote situation because it is no less attractive and picturesque than the lower lake.   

Day 11. Upper Lake Zhasylkol—Centipede Pass—Ak-Tas Plateau

Breakfast and packing. Walking along a pass leading through a wide alpine meadow, sometimes crossing the overflowing rivers, to the junction of the Agynakaty and Yekiasha. Before the junction we wade across the Agynakaty River and walk on along its right bank, leading to Tersai Gorge. Wading across the Tersai River. Stopping for lunch and rest. After the rest, we climb the Centipede Pass. The pass is called Centipede because it has an elevation of about 1000 m and the path on its slope has 40 winding branches, each about 5 km long. Experienced tourists generally prefer the straight way since its faster. To cross the pass takes a lot of energy anyway. After the ascent we rest on the Ak-Tas Plateau. Then we cross to the brook near which we put up a camp for the night, offering a view of Lower Lake Zhasylkol. Dinner and rest.  

Total walking distance: 15 km 

Day 12. Ak-Tas Plateau—Lower Lake Zhasylkol

Breakfast and packing. Crossing the Ak-Tas Plateau to the mirror spring. You will enjoy crossing the plateau and the views it offers. It is surrounded by vast alpine meadows and intricately shaped granite rocks. You can see nearly every peak of the Dzungarian Alatau in the distance. Rest and lunch by the spring. Then we descend to the lower Lake Zhasylkol. The path traverses the slope, which is partly covered with thick tall grass and is thus hard to walk on.  

Lower Lake Zhasylkol lies on the northern slope of the Dzungarian Alatau mountain ridge in the Agynykatty Valley at 1640 m above sea level. The lake's maximum length from the northern bank to the southern mouth of the Agynykatty River is 2070 meter with a maximum width of 751 meter in its norther part. A human being hardly entered the place until the 1980s, which is no wonder as it is the state border. Since the turbulent Agynykatty River enters the lake, which is also fed by numerous springs heading from the glaciers of the Dzungarian Alatau in summer, the water of Zhasylkol is turbid, a bright blue and green most of the time. It is home to beautiful red deer.   

After descent we cross to the lake bank, put up a camp, have dinner, and rest.  

Total walking distance: 10 km

Day 13. Lower Lake Zhasylkol—Zhalanash Cordon—Lepsinsk

After breakfast we pack and move to the highest apiary of the Dzungarian Alatau, honey from which was sent to the last Russian tsar. A stop at the apiary to taste honey. Then we move to Zhalanash Cordon and then to Lepsinsk. 

Artefacts that have come down to us suggest that the area where Lepsinsk lies was inhabited back in the 12th century. To prove it, a burial mound stone known as Bal Bal, which dates back to the 12th or 10th century, was found in 1989. The oldest of locals report that there used to be three burial mounds with Turkic stone sculptures of granite in Lepsinsk. One used to lie near the porch of the Village Soviet's building. The second one is in a local's home. The third stone is believed to have been ploughed in near an Amur spring. In his 1390 campaign to central Moghulistan, Emir Timur made burial mounts on the Uygentas Pass not far from Lepsinsk. Those were to signify the borders of his empire. He put a sign of three rings onto his personal belongings. Such a sign was found near the foot of Kok Tobe near Lepsinsk in 1994. The modern history of Lepsinsk began in 1822. The abolition of khans' power caused the Kazakh clan known as Wusun to seek association with Russia. However, the first attempts were failed. It was not until 1846 that the agreement was signed under which Semirechye was included in Russia and Lepsinsk became a stanitsa. This is just a small part of the fascinating history of the small village. The oldest of local residents will tell you much more.  

Check-in at the guest house. Dinner, steam bath, and rest. An overnight stay at the guest house.  

Kilometers to be driven: about 30. Walking distance: 3 km

Day 14. Lepsinsk—Sarkand—Taldykorgan—Almaty

Breakfast. Departure from Lepsinsk at 07:00 a.m. Lunch in Taldykorgan on the way. Arriving in Almaty at 21:00.  

Kilometers to be driven: about 700 km.

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