Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Salutations: Hiking near Almaty

The mountains just outside Almaty
The mountains outside the city are riddled with hiking trails and many people go hiking on the weekends.  Some of the trails are very well traveled, others are obscure and remote and require a comprehensive knowledge of the terrain to hike without getting lost.

While easily accessible from the city, the mountains outside Almaty are also a powerful force - even for those who have lived at their feet for their entire lives.  Two of my colleagues have told me stories of hikes just outside the city that turned very dangerous this summer.  For one, it was a simple wrong turn off a well used trail that led to hours of bewildered meandering through the national forest before a ranger was able to point her in the right direction.  For another, a decision that "made sense" given the terrain let her and her hiking partner to the proverbial "place between a rock and a hard place" (though in this case it was a cliff and a waterfall).  With these cautionary tales fresh on my mind, last week and this week I went hiking with several of my colleagues. 

A Well-Traveled Path

The view of Almaty from the plateau
Last week we took the very well traveled path that leads to the mountains that overlook Medeo.  This is a very well traveled path as each weekend many people hike the trail from Medeo over the mountains.  In the winter, people hike up on the Medeo side and ski down the other side.  We went the opposite direction hiking up through the gorge that leads to big Almaty lake, over the ridges toward Medeo. We followed a logging road for the first half of the hike which, while occasionally steep, was never really challenging.  At the top (well, at our top) there was a plateau where several dozen hikers were enjoying a picnic lunch high above Almaty among grazing herds of horses and the fresh air.

Turgen Falls
Statue of The Golden Man
Looking back down the trail
Yesterday several of my colleagues and I went out to Turgen Falls.  The canyon is about three hours east of Almaty.  Just inside the park entrance there is a giant statue of "The Golden Man," a warrior from the 3rd or 4th century BC who was unearthed east of Almaty.  The statue overlooks a spring that is said to be a fountain of youth.

After a quick stop at the statue and spring, we continued driving up the gorge gorge until we came to the trail-head for Turgen falls.  The Turgen Falls trail is a popular tourist destination for people from Almaty and there were several bus loads of people there while we were there. It takes about thirty minutes to hike the trail along, and from time to time through, a bubbling creek before reaching the falls.  While the falls are small, they are beautiful and the views  along the trail are well worth the climb.

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