Partners for alpinism in Kazakhstan

I want to propose a small trip to Tuyuk-Su, Kazakhstan, the very place I wrote about in the last newsletter. I’ve been there three times before, and, as it is likely that I’ll go to Central Asia again this year mid to late July for other objectives, I am vaguely considering doing some alpinism in the area as well. This post is to gauge any interest and explain what’s on offer. I am not promising that I’ll go this year, however even if I am not going this year myself, I may go next year if there’s company or an NLMC party can go without me. Another advantage of going next year is that the second edition of the guidebook should be released in 2025.

What’s there to climb

I am mostly interested in climbing alpine routes from the modern guidebook which are doable in a day from Tuyuk-Su camp. There are other, more distant options in the area, including very unpopular routes, second ascents or even first ascents. I am not massively interested in those at this time, if you’re motivated to do a Scottish grade 1 first ascent of a peak in a Soviet country, you should contact JT, the club specialist on those.

The area offers a variety of alpine routes, including pure rock routes, mixed routes, and ice routes; ridge routes and wall routes. The balance is somewhat skewed in favour of pure rock routes though. Some of the mixed routes are only in during the winter, however some snow gullies and ridges are always in. Personally I am mostly after the rock routes myself, I can be bothered to do one or two routes in a trip which require crampons but maybe not more. I am even considering leaving my Phantom Techs at home. Detailed objectives can be discussed though.

Here are some examples of the routes which can be done. Unfortunately, I don’t have the full guidebook with me at hand at the time of writing this, I may come up with some better suggestions and advertising later.

I am listing a Soviet alpine grade for each route, see the note on grading below. Additionally, the guidebook lists detailed rock, ice or mixed grades for each pitch as well.

Acclimatisation routes:

  • Peak Abay from Abay glacier, 2A or 2B: 300m of AI2, then 250m of a broken ridge to the summit.
  • Peak Shkolnik by the South ridge, 2B: 4 rope lengths of III climbing.
  • Peak Antikainena by the North-west ridge, 2A: some easy ice, some easy rocks, some screes, great views.

Warmup routes:

  • Peak Asker by almost any route, 3B: not terribly long approach, several pitches of quality 6a climbing, a couple can be done in a day.
  • Peak Chkalova by the North-east ridge, 3A: one of the few routes where you can use the ski lift for the approach.
  • Peak Mayakovskogo by the South ridge, 3B: a classic route which is partially covered in snow all year round.
  • Peak Ordzhonikidze by the North-west ridge, 3A. At 4410m, peak Ordzhonikidze is the biggest and highest mountain of this gorge, most of the routes are mixed and ice ones, and doing any of them is a major undertaking. The North-west ridge is the easiest of the sane routes there in terms of climbing, however it’s the most intense route of the grade in the area. It’s a lot of hard work, it requires great efficiency and good routefinding and navigation skills in complex terrain.
  • Peak Manshuk Mametovoy from the eponymous pass, 3B: a local benchmark ridge route, most of the climbing is not hard, the distinct crux is aidable.

It is worth noting here that there is almost no bolts on alpine routes, and only a small number of in-situ pegs can be trusted, so the rock routes are more like British trad, not trad in the Alps.

Meaty routes:

  • Peak Maria by the West rib, 4A: 7 pitches of climbing (6a, II, 5c, 5c, 5b, II, 6a+), then a short ridge to the summit. This is a great but not very popular route (we did the third ascent), so absolutely zero in-situ gear.
  • Peak Mayakovskogo by the West wall, 4B: 7 pitches between IV and 6a+, steep and no in-situ gear.
  • Peak Komsomola by the South-West wall, 4A: all the climbing is only IV but there’s a lot of it, and it’s not escapable.
  • Peak Uchitel has a lot of nice warm wall routes at 4A-4B, mostly at about 6a with one notoriously hard 6b offwidth, called Zhopa locally.
  • Peak Pioneer is practically the same mountain and also has some steep wall routes.

This is only a small sample, I’ve surely missed a lot of good routes. In particular, I missed many harder ice and mixed routes.

In winter there’s stuff to be done as well, if you’re interested in climbing technical alpine winter routes when it’s actually cold (not like in Scotland), Tuyuk-Su can be considered. However another good venue is Ala-Archa, which is outside of the scope of this post.


The Soviet alpine grading system is similar to the French grades in its spirit, it tries to grade the overall difficulty and scale of the climb. An important difference is that the Soviet scale is close-ended, the grades go from very rarely used 1A to 6B, and there are no harder grades. For instance, the hardest routes around Tuyuk-Su are graded 5A, and those are quite hard routes indeed. While mostly the grades can be compared to the French ones using this table, a direct conversion is not always possible or useful.


The guidebook is very beautiful and detailed. A sample chapter is available here, unfortunately it only has some of the easier routes which are mostly used in training courses. I have a copy of the guidebook which you’re free to borrow in London. If you’re not too fluent in Russian, you won’t be able to appreciate the witty writing, however climbing schemes, topos and photos are international.


Tuyuk-Su is located in Maloe Almatinskoe Gorge. It is within one hour drive from Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city. There are direct flights from the UK to Almaty, however they are expensive. Same goes for the indirect ones. It is cheaper to fly to the Alps, there’s nothing I can do about it. Once you’re in Almaty, a transfer service can be hired at reasonable price to the alpine accomodation itself.


For 270000 KZT (485 GBP) per person a comfortable accommodation can be hired from Tuyuk-Su camp for two weeks, which includes a place in the hut (bed linen included), toilets and showers, all the meals, route information, coordination of the teams (so that you don’t all queue for the same routes), and a contribution to the rescue efforts, see below. Two weeks is a reasonable time to get acclimated and do a bunch of good routes. Shorter stays can be hired at about 55 USD pppn with all the same amenities and food. I am not sure personally if I want to go for two weeks or shorter. You can also camp next to the hut practically for free and cook for yourself, or eat at the canteen at a reasonable price. The mobile reception is decent. More details on accommodation and recommended kit is available at their website, but generally it is a comfortable place to stay which cares about becoming better.


While this is not remotely a high-altitude endeavour, with the base camp at 2400m and most of the peaks roughly at 4000m, some acclimatisation is usually beneficial for one’s performance. I plan to tackle this by doing one or two acclimatisation hikes and then doing easier routes in the beginning of the trip.


The approaches are usually long but not technical. Only a few of them are glaciated, the rest only require fitness and navigation skills for walking 4+ hours uphill and not getting lost. As you usually use a text description of the approach and not a map or track, this adds to the adventure.

Camping under the routes

While as a general rule a fit team in summer should be able to do any route in a day base camp to base camp, I wouldn’t mind camping under some of the routes to make the approaches easier. A single camping place can be used for several routes or even peaks sometimes.

Rescue services

You should not rely on rescue being available. In case anything happens to you, you’ll be rescued by the instructors and guides of the Tuyuk-Su camp, who will come on foot and sad about you ruining their day. Cavalry will not come.

Local rules

If I go, I will try to abide by the local rules myself. In particular, this means that I’ll try to present our team as a capable independent team which is reasonably efficient and doesn’t require oversight. So this is not an instructional trip unfortunately. Other than this, I’ll play the Soviet alpinism game if I feel like mostly for my own entertainment, and this should not affect you. I may try to tick some summit when it feels unnecessary (no summit = doesn’t count) or present you some funny-looking paperwork. I may though give up on this entirely as soon as it is practical, if I feel so.

Non-alpine climbing and other activities

There are some good bolted multipitches on peak Oktyabryonok (see UKC), that’s the closest peak to the base camp, you can be at the start of a route within one hour. There is also a fair amount of bolted or partially bolted climbing doable from Tuyuk-Su. Nice hikes can be done around peaks or through the passes to adjacent gorges. Legality of hiking to Issyk-Kul is questionable.


The best season for summer alpinism in Tuyuk-Su is September, however July should be pretty good with occasional showers. Most of the annoying snow should be gone.

Free after 22nd July? Do you have a set of dates more specific? I know it’s early days but definitely interested

(If you do go 2024)

Following all the questions, Tuyuk-Su is pretty good in catering to all food preferences, vegetarian, no lactose, no coriander, vegan, etc.

Bit of grade 1 Scottish to inspire:

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Trying to make sense of the climbing options there. Do you have lengths of the routes? E.g. is it like 300m of up to 6a climbing, or more like 800m of 6a? When you say IV, is that UIAA?

Yes, Latin grades are UIAA.

In terms of lengths, probably it’s easier for me to post you the guidebook :slight_smile: But generally, this is neither big wall (Karavshin is good for those) nor Comici-Dimai. A list of pitches gives a fair estimate, as a pitch is very rarely above 60m, usually shorter.

The guidebook has the lengths of the climbing part of most of the routes, I can list some of them to give a non-representative sample. I believe all of those are lengths along the climbing line, not the vertical ascent.

  • Maria West rib is 400m
  • Ordzhonikidze North wall is 850m (mostly ice climbing)
  • Ordzhonikidze North-west ridge is 600m
  • Asker routes are quite short, 150m?
  • Most of Pioneer routes are about 250m of the wall part plus 400m of ridge. Uchitel should be the same
  • Zhopa is 500m of climbing
  • Chkalova ridge is 1200m
  • All the nice multipitches on Oktyabryonok are about 250m. The ridge to the summit from there is about 750m

Whether all this makes sense is a fair question! Especially given that a mountain is a mountain :slight_smile: I think, economically it’s easier to justify such a trip for one of those reasons:

  • One combines it with other objectives (that’s my plan)
  • One stays for a prolonged time, making use of the fact that the cost of living in Kazakhstan can be extremely low if one tries
  • Novelty value, remoteness and seriousness

Otherwise, if you’re not particularly in love with some particular route (which you might be after studying some reports or the guidebook but that’s not guaranteed to happen), it may make more sense to go to Italy or Switzerland.

how have I never seen this before? Brilliant!

Maybe I will loose my job and join you …

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That’s the spirit!