After a couple days of fun but intense Fun-Directed activities, we were happy to have the weekend to ourselves. We knew we wanted to get back to explore the Nauryz street festival at our own pace, so after a visit to the gym we ventured over. The street fair included performances, artisans, crafts, foods and more. We watched some traditional dances, poked into the little craft stalls and found ourself at the food vendors. A plate of plov, meat-stuffed pastry, ice cream and a giant meringue later, we headed north to a new part of city.
We were looking for the Almaty Art Center, which was a little challenging to find. Hidden in the shadow of three high rises, it sits next to a large sports arena. Inside we found a few artists selling their work, a gallery of student work and a shop selling the official Kazakh art products – textiles, ceramics, leatherwork, etc… We also wandered into the workshops and found people doing jewelry work, sewing bedspreads, and felting. Kat was told to come back on Tuesday to discuss with the manager whether it would be possible for a non-Russian speaker to participate in any of the master classes. Feeling tired from so much sun, we headed home to enjoy some quiet time at our local coffee shop before dinner.
Saturday was also Kat’s birthday, and we went back to Luckee Yu for a celebratory meal of fantastic Chinese. Our second visit did not disappoint, and we’re already discussing the need for a least one more visit to finish out the menu.
Our plan for Sunday had been to get out of the city and do some hiking. Sunday dawned gray and gloomy with a threat of rain, but we are not easily dissuaded. We caught the bus to Medeo in a light rain, which transition to a gentle mist and fog further up the mountain. Our plan was to hike to Furmanov Peak, one of the most accessible peaks and the “gateway” to the Tien Shan mountains. We’d downloaded a set of coordinates from the internet, but they were a few years out of date and the trail has been developed a bit since then. As we hit the trail, the fog had closed to about 15 feet of visibility. There were other hikers on the path, and we choose to follow footsteps rather than trying to follow the coordinates. This turned out to be a relative poor decision. The original plan would have taken us up to a ridge leading to Furmanov. Instead, we made our way up a valley. As we climbed higher and higher, the snowpack increased. Eventually we were slowly making our way up a 38 degree incline (I measured!) of waist-deep snow. That eventually gave way to an equally steep but hard-packed snowfall left by a recent avalanche. That was much easier to climb, as long as one didn’t think too much about the specifics.
We knew there was at least one hiker still ahead of us – a nice young man holding an umbrella. Eventually, we saw him coming back the other way. Still holding his umbrella but also now holding a small yellow plastic sled, which presumably came out of his backpack. He did his best to ensure us that we weren’t far from the peak (though in hindsight, he may have meant that it was still a long ways). Then he sat down on his sled, deployed his umbrella as an air brake, and started sledding down the mountain. Brilliant. We pressed on for another half an hour, clawing for each bit of elevation gain. Without any visibility it was impossible to know how close we were to the summit. Eventually, another group of three young men came barreling down the mountain, this time using their jackets as sleds. They assured us that yes, it was still a long ways to the top, and they were giving up.
They seemed to be talking sense. We would later figure that we had about 1.5km to go horizontally, and also 1500 feet to go vertically. So, yeah, it woulda been a trek. We followed them down the mountain. One of them was excited to practice his English – a recent KazNU grad who majored in Law. By this time, some serious snow had moved in, making every surface incredibly slick. Either your feet sank up to your waist, or you slipped and slid at a scary pace down the hill. Neither was super fun, and by the bottom we were sore from falls, soaking wet, and plenty cold. But also quite happy we made the effort. Also Kat had been able to poke at some nice outcrops that looked very similar to the building material used extensively in Almaty. Pockets full of rocks, she was quite content.
As we got lower, the fog lifted (though the snow intensified) and we were able to spot all the places where the trail would have taken us up to the ridge, had we been able to see them. In the end, we covered about 4 miles of ground, with a 3200 foot elevation gain. Next time, we’ll pick a day where we can see the trail and make better choices.
Ironically by the time we were back in the city the fog and rain and moved out entirely. The rain knocked down the air pollution, and the mountains shone in high definition. We nodded approvingly, then raced home for fresh clothes and a hot shower.