In the August 2018 issue of The Great Outdoors, Gavin Macfie crams an expedition to Kazakhstan into a week’s annual leave. This photo diary tells the story of his adventure

(You’ll need to pick up a copy of the magazine to read the full feature!)

Header image above: “We arrived in Almaty from Kiev in the middle of the night. The first light blushed the summits as we drove through the suburbs of Almaty towards Medeu, where a gondola provided access to the ski resort of Chimbulak, and our acclimatisation peak, Chimbulachka (3,500m). This popular short hike gives great views to Peak Komsomala, a spectacular peak that dominates the view of the mountains from the city below.”


“We camped on the Tuyuk-su moraines at 3,400m, beside a stream carrying meltwater from the glacier above. The dark, forbidding peak to the left is Tuyuk-su, riven by glaciers and seemingly impregnable, defended by curtains of regular rock fall. To the left, Peak Pogrebetskiy towers high and white above the remaining two-mile stump of the Tuyuk-su glacier.”


“Next morning we set off towards the glacier by torchlight through still, cold air. As we crunched towards the Tuyuk-su col the morning light began to seep down the wall of ice before us, illuminating garlands of icicles below overhangs. It gave an illusion of solidity and permanence, but two previous collapses had left the glacier littered with fridge-sized blocks.”


“The long ridge walk to the summit was one of those perfect mountain days, warm with clear, still air. We trod the line between two worlds; the view south was all winter, while to the north the sun-exposed slopes had been stripped back to red-hued scree and dark, foreboding faces of broken rock.”


“Two ridgelines away to the south, in Kyrgyzstan, lay the Issyk Kul, the second largest mountain lake in the world, over 180km long and 60km wide. There was no sign of its great bulk, no sense that such a vast body of water lurked unseen between the snow ridges.”


“Approaching Tuyuk-su col on the descent. According to Matthew Kregor, author of ‘Outside Almaty’, this is one of the finest views in the Zailiskiy Alatau. He chose a similar shot for the cover of his excellent guidebook.”


“After the mountain we drove east onto the steppe to camp in Charyn Canyon. We had been primed to expect a pestilential alliterative troika of snakes, scorpions and spiders, but there were only flies, and a friendly, vodka-soaked Russian rafting group.”


“An exposed spur gave a fabulous view of this great canyon amid the steppe, where scrubland abruptly gave way to the great cleft cut by the Charyn River. It was time to return to Almaty for a night of horse steaks and nightclubbing before returning, somewhat reluctantly, to normal life.”

Many thanks to Gavin Macfie for this superb photo series. To read the full accompanying story, pick up a copy of the August issue.