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Talgar (4,973m), Northwest Face, South Talgar (4,950m), Southwest Face

For Almaty (Kazakhstan) climbers, the Zailiskiy Alatau in the northern Tien Shan is our most accessible mountain range and the foundation of our mountaineering. Even though roads reach 3,000m, climbing routes can be long and difficult; they allow climbers to gain the first level in our sports program. Talgar is the highest peak in the range, but access is relatively difficult. Roads are cracked and have not been repaired for a long time, approaches to the mountains are long and have not been maintained, there is a fee for parking, and base camps are at a shockingly low altitude. For the last 20 years it has been easier and cheaper for us to climb in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. However, in 2010 there was a revolution in Kyrgyzstan. If something else were to happen while we were climbing there, the return home could be extremely difficult. So this year we stayed in our home country.

The main development of the Talgar group took place in the 1970s when computers were not widely available. Nobody considered documenting climbing information on punch cards, because there would not have been enough cards to describe all the routes. There were no photos from that period, but I did discover more recent helicopter footage. Incidentally, I first went there with the Army in 1993, in my early climbing days, setting up base in the area of the former Soviet climbing camp.

Our 2010 trip into the Middle Talgar involved Boris Dedeshko, Andrei Kolbin, Vladimir Kolmagorov, Vitali Komarov, Vadim Trofimov, Ellina Vasilyeva, and me. We carried heavy sacks to above the tree line at 2,800m and made base camp next to a ruined building, which we covered with a tarp in order to have a good communal spot to spend gloomy, hopeless days. In poor weather Andrei and I climbed a rock route on the west face of Aktau, while Boris, Vadim, and Vitali succeeded on the north face of Karaulchitau. Andrei and I then tried the northwest face of Talgar, but after spending a night on the upper North Talgar Glacier surrounded by rockfall, we realized it was too risky in the prevailing warm temperatures and incessant rain. We descended, only to have the weather improve that evening.

Vitali and I rushed back up the next morning at 3 a.m. We ascended an ice couloir to the right of Pelevin's Route. The rock section on the latter looked discouraging, but in the old days no one climbed ice in preference to rock. Using a 57m rope we climbed 23 pitches and reached the summit at 5 p.m. on August 8, just as it started to snow. We started down the southeast ridge immediately, followed by the Korzhenevsky Glacier and Surovyi Pass, regaining base camp at 3 a.m. Our new route was nearly 1,200m, graded 5A, and close to the top reached an angle of 75-85°.

Taking advantage of clear weather, on the 10th Boris, Vadim, and I set off for the southwest face of South Talgar. Unfortunately, the weather began to deteriorate rapidly as soon as we started up an ice couloir between the Snesarev and Meshkov routes. We climbed 10 pitches before being forced to shelter on a rock ledge left of the couloir. After a night of snow and wind, we were greeted by clear skies, and we continued up icefalls for another eight pitches, eventually reaching the snow plateau on Baranowski’s route, not far below the summit. We pitched the tent and climbed up ice and rock (50°) to the top. We returned to the tent and early next morning, while the slopes were still well consolidated, descended Baranowski’s route, reaching base camp by 1 p.m. We graded our route 5B and there were two narrow sections of 80°.

Sometimes I feel the best days of my life are disappearing. Although still young and with plenty of strength, I can see what is happening. However, all’s well that ends well, and I was pleased with my 2010 ascents in Talgar, compared to my first 5A in the region during 1993. On the 12th, after having robbed the local bears of several plots of their wild raspberries, we started our return to Almaty.

Denis Urubko, Central Sport Club of Kazakhstan Army, translated by Ekaterina Vorotnikova