June 22, Maxim Popov and I climbed the north face of Turgen Peak, 4407 m. The mountain is located in the upper part of Turgen Gorge, at the eastern tip of the Ile Alatau mountain range.
While the Tuyuk-Su area near Almaty is well explored, most of the valleys see little climbing activity. Trekkers occasionally visit them, but few alpinists venture there. The further a valley is from Almaty, the less people know about it.
Most of the mountains near Almaty were climbed in the 1930s and ’40s. Dan Scherbina and Vic Vassiliev made the first ascent of Turgen in 2011. The second ascent happened four years later, in 2015—Yuriy Yushin et al. Ours was the third ascent of the mountain.
The first time I saw a photo of Turgen was in a Facebook post by the local trekking guide Michael Kaymirasov in 2015. I realized that this mountain were practically in my backyard, and I had been meaning to climb it when I found a week-long break in my guiding schedule. Silently eight years had passed by. In 2020 I saw it myself when returning after climbing Talgar, 4979. In reality, it is much more impressive than in photos, but I was flailing around even after that.Thankfully, Max Popov had twice the energy I do, and he finally persuaded me to tackle Turgen during the first available gap in my work.
On the first day of our approach, we ascended almost 1000 vertical meters and reached the alpine meadows, where a rescue hut provided shelter for the night. The following morning, we hiked to the impressive Upper Turgen plateau, known for its several lakes. We mistakenly scrambled onto the moraine too early, leading us to traverse unstable boulders instead of walking on grassy meadows. By noon, the rain started, but we were relieved to find a sandy beach near a moraine lake that made an ideal spot for the base camp.
The next day, we began climbing a couloir that stretched almost from the bottom to the top of the face. The couloir comprised eight pitches with ice up to 70° and one loose rocky section. Upon reaching the notch at the top of the couloir, the weather was warm and sunny, but rain clouds loomed, and distant thunder echoed.
From the notch, we climbed one traversing pitch to the base of a mixed corner. From below, it appeared to be a combination of icy patches and loose rocks covered in snow. It turned out to be exactly as we expected, with 60 meters of delicate climbing. There were some uplifting moments when 17 cm screws reached halfway into the ice. After completing this pitch, we climbed two more short pitches of pure rock and reached a snow ridge. After 30 meters of snow, we finally arrived at the broad west ridge of Turgen. The summit was a mere 40 meters away, and it took us just a few minutes to walk there.
Although I consider myself knowledgeable about the Ile Alatau mountains, I could only recognize one mountain I had climbed before from the summit—Talgar (4979 meters). The rest of the mountains visible from the summit had faded from memory and were known only to local mountain enthusiasts. Not to mention the unexplored northern slopes of the Kungey Alatoo ridge, which remain largely untouched by our standards. The sight of so many mountains was like being a kid in a candy store! With this exhilarating feeling, we began our descent—five hundred meters to the west, then ten rappels using Abalakovs, and finally, we found ourselves on the flat glacier. An hour’s trek on slushy snow led us back to our tent, feeling content and proud of the route we had just climbed.
The following evening, we returned to the hot summer of Almaty. Soon, I will head back to the mountains for work. I absolutely love this lifestyle.
— Kirill Belotserkovskiy, Alatau Guide