In 2021 from September 14 to 16 I traversed most of the summits surrounding upper Maloy Almatinskoye gorge. During three days I traveled 27,3 km, gained 3742 vertical meters, and then dropped them down. And was pretty happy along the way.
Tuyuk-Su is a glacier that gave the name to the whole area. If one zooms in the map, it looks like this: Northern Tyan-Shan → Zailiyskiy (Ile) Alatau → Tuyuk-Su.
I spend here a lot of time. Say… 200 days a year. I climbed all the mountains and almost all the routes. With various partners or alone, I climbed dozens of first ascents here. So I know the area pretty well. There were one idea that flowed with the air here: traverse of the whole ridge, that forms the area. I even tried it once, but we had to bail at the end of the first day due to my partner’s lack of acclimatization.
In September 2021, I had a work gap and decided to try it again. I eagerly wanted to do it alone to live thru this route as fully as possible. For me, it was not as much physical activity but much more mental practice. Some people might bite their loved ones when they overflowed with tenderness. I can not bite so many mountains at one time, so I wanted to do this traverse alone, to achieve the maximum level of intimacy.
1. September 14
Distance: 7 km
Number of summits: 7
Peaks: Oktyabryonok, Mariya, Abaya, Amangeldy, Pioneer, Uchitel, Geroyev-panfilovtsev
Calm, warm, and sunny—that day was pure fun. The terrain is well known—I often climb here during guiding/instructing outings. After Oktyabryonok, Mariya and Abaya I walked by pik Khrischatogo, as it stands a bit outside of the main ridge. In retrospective I feel some discomfort, some sort of regret that I didn’t climb it. Well… imperfection is what makes things beautiful. None of the mountains was technically demanding, so I put on a harness at midday to rappel a couple of short pitches from Amangeldy. This night I spent on Manshuk Mametovoy pass. Snow around was full of tiny dry flies, blown here from the valley bottom. I prefer to drink my evening cocoa with a headlamp switched off.
2. September 15
Distance: 4¹⁄₂ km
Number of summits: 7
Peaks: Manshuk Mametovoy, Antikainena, Otechestvennoy Voiny, Mayakovskogo, Ordzhonikidze and Partizan
I woke up at 4:30, drank my cocoa, and started to readjust crampons. Somehow one of them got wild and hit me below the eyebrow. That would be so silly to bat an eye here, I thought. But the eyeball was safe, just a couple of drops of blood from the eyebrow. Keep going then!
Manshuk Mametovoy is harder (3B) than mountains of the previous day but still reasonably straightforward. After two more summits Mayakovskogo appeared. I’ve soloed it twice in winter, always with rope. In September, it went smoothly sans cord. Ordzhonikidze looks huge from Mayakovskogo. It really is.
From it’s summit I scrambled down to Partizan pass and climbed Partizan itself. I’ve never climbed a ridge between the summit of Partizan and Igly pass. Now I know that there is a classic local terrain: long and loose ridge. This day was harder than the previous but much easier than the upcoming. I spent a night on a leeward side of the Igly pass.
3. September 16
Distance: 13 2⁄₃ km
Number of summits: 10
Peaks: Igly Tuyuk-Su, Tuyuk-Su, Pogrebetskogo, Lokomotiv, Zoi Kosmodemyanskoy, Molodyozhnaya, Titiva, Pamayat, Mynzhylki, Medic
Once again, wake up at 4:30. It’s easy and fast to pack a bivy-sack and sleeping bag, so I start climbing in darkness. Climbing was not that easy, and holds were dusted with snow. So I opted to climb without a backpack and haul it on good ledges. For the rappel from the 4th summit, I carried a hammer and three beaks, as usually there are two 45-meter raps, and I had only one 60-meter rope. I didn’t find a place for beaks and rap from the horn. Beaks and a hammer proved useless this time. I finished traverse of Igly Tuyuk-Su a bit chewed but still full of joy. Then I crossed Tuyuk-Su and fog settled down. White snow, white fog, broad ridge.
A map on InReach is too general, so I used a smartphone to navigate. The ridge seemed endless, but I knew: in a physical world, distances seize if you walk forward on still terrain. The fog disappeared on the summit of Pogrebetskogo. Then loose ridges and moraines began: Lokomotiv, Zoya, Molodyozhnaya. The light faded when I was on the way to Titova.
New boots for the third day in a row were pressing some undefinable particles into my ankles. I tried to fix it with moving socks, releasing laces, adding tape—nothing. Dull, annoying pain in conjunction with dehydration and tiredness… ho-ho, that feels like real alpinism! Alpinists must suffer, otherwise they morph into sad old mountaineers. Keep pushing! Descent from Titova is easy when you see where to go, but it’s easy to get lost in boulders in the darkness. Somehow I found a turn towards Titova pass and went to Pamyat. A way down from the summit was a series of steps I had to downclimb. Mynzhilki and Medic are walkable hills, but they were big challenges in my state. I start to talk to myself:
— Oh, it’s so big! I won’t go there.
— You will, you will.
And I did. When it was time to turn down from the ridge towards the camp, my tank was empty. Every 200 meters, I sat down and rested for a few minutes.
Twenty hours after the start from Igly pass, I entered my room at Tuyuk-Su camp. That was a good day. That was a good journey.
Distance, time traveled, grades, etc. feels so insignificant when I think of the beautiful time filled with the joy of movement, breathtaking views, and feel of close intimacy with my favorite place.